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Inside Politics

9/11 recordings chronicle confusion, delay


story.staffers.panel.jpg
Members of the 9/11 staff present findings to the commission on Thursday.
more videoVIDEO
Aviation, military officials "unsuited" to handle 9/11 attacks.

Panel concludes the 9/11 plot originally involved 10 planes.

A look at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's role in the plot.
9/11 REPORT HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. military and civilian aviation officials were unprepared "in every respect" to stop the attacks.
  • Protocols in place at the time did not call for intercepting hijacked planes.
  • NORAD and the FAA "struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense."
  • The NORAD commander said the Air Force could have stopped the planes if notified immediately.
  • The military got first word of the American Airlines Flight 11 hijacking nine minutes before it hit the World Trade Center.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney relayed President Bush's orders to shoot down hijacked jetliners, but the orders were apparently too late.
  • The 9/11 attacks cost somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute, plus the cost of training the 19 hijackers in Afghanistan.
  • Al Qaeda spent $30 million per year, according to the CIA.
  • The largest expense went to the Taliban, at $10 million to $20 million per year.
  • Most funds came from donations, with much money raised in Saudi Arabia.
  • There's no evidence that any government gave money to al Qaeda.
  • There's no "credible evidence" that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda.
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    September 11 attacks
    Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

    (CNN) -- The commission investigating the September 11 attacks held a final public session Thursday to hear a staff report on the response of air traffic officials and the U.S. military on that day.

    The 29-page report gave glimpses of conversations as officials tracked the four hijacked airplanes, and it noted the difficulties that the Federal Aviation Administration and North American Aerospace Defense Command encountered. Here are some highlights, which include transcripts of tape recordings from the flights, air traffic controllers and defense officials:

    American Airlines Flight 11

    American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston, Massachusetts, at 8 a.m. It headed to Los Angeles, California, and at 8:13 a.m. flight controllers had their last conversation with the pilots.

    Sixteen seconds later Flight 11 ignored a command to climb to 35,000 feet. As a controller repeatedly tried to contact the aircraft, someone in the cockpit turned off the transponder, inhibiting ground control's ability to track the plane.

    At 8:24:38 a.m., someone, believed to be Mohamed Atta, talked to the passengers.

    American 11: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.

    The controller did not understand. But seconds later, Atta spoke again.

    American 11: Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

    The controller realized the plane had been hijacked.

    About 10 minutes later, someone on the plane issued a third warning.

    American 11: Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves.

    At 8:37 a.m., the FAA's Boston Center contacted officials at NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York, to tell them that Flight 11 was in the hands of terrorists.

    FAA: Hi. Boston Center TMU, we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed toward New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: Is this real world or exercise?

    FAA: No. This is not an exercise, not a test.

    The Northeast Air Defense Sector ordered two F-15s to battle stations at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts. At 8:46 a.m., the planes received approval to take off but didn't because they had no information of where Flight 11 was at that moment. About that time, Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. The F-15s finally departed at 8:53 a.m. and headed to military airspace off Long Island, New York.

    At 8:48 a.m., a manager at the FAA's New York Center spoke on a teleconference call to the national Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, about Flight 11. The manager wasn't aware that Flight 11 had already crashed.

    New York Center: OK. This is New York Center. We're watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they've told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have right now.

    United Flight 175

    United Flight 175 left Boston at 8:14 a.m. The controller watching the plane was the same one tracking Flight 11. At about 8:47 a.m., someone on United 175 changed the transponder code twice. The change went unnoticed for four minutes. After trying for several minutes to reach the cockpit of 175, the controller told a co-worker that there might be another hijacking.

    The word of a second hijacking made its way up the chain of command, but top-level managers were in a meeting, presumably discussing Flight 11.

    About 9:01 a.m., a manager from the FAA's New York Center called the national Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

    New York Center: We have several situations going on here. It's escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us. ...

    We're, we're involved with something else; we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.

    At about the same time, the FAA's New York Center contacted the New York terminal approach control about Flight 175.

    Terminal: I got somebody who keeps coasting, but it looks like he's going into one of the small airports down there.

    New York Center: Hold on a second. I'm trying to bring him up here and get you. ... There he is right there. Hold on.

    Terminal: Got him just out of 9,500 ... 9,000 now.

    New York Center: Do you know who he is?

    Terminal: We're just, we just we don't know who he is. We're just picking him up now.

    New York Center (at 9:02 a.m.): All right. Heads up man, it looks like another one coming in.

    United 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m.

    In Boston, a manager discussed the first hijacker transmission from American 11 on a ongoing conference call.

    Boston Center: Hey ... you still there?

    New England Region: Yes, I am.

    Boston Center: I'm gonna reconfirm with, with downstairs, but the, as far as the tape ... seemed to think the guy said that "we have planes." Now, I don't know if it was because it was the accent, or if there's more than one, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna reconfirm that for you, and I'll get back to you real quick. OK?

    New England Region: Appreciate it.

    Unidentified female voice: They have what?

    Boston Center: Planes, as in plural.

    Boston Center: It sounds like, we're talking to New York, that there's another one aimed at the World Trade Center.

    New England Region: There's another aircraft?

    Boston Center: A second one just hit the trade center.

    New England Region: OK. Yeah, we gotta get ... we gotta alert the military real quick on this.

    NORAD was notified at 9:03 a.m., and five minutes later decided to change the course of the fighters that had been scrambled from Otis Air Force Base.

    Mission Crew Commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector: This is what I foresee that we probably need to do. We need to talk to FAA. We need to tell 'em if this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put 'em over Manhattan. That's best thing, that's the best play right now. So coordinate with the FAA. Tell 'em if there's more out there, which we don't know, let's get 'em over Manhattan. At least we got some kind of play.

    At 9:25 a.m., the two F-15s arrived over New York City. They were low on fuel so two fighters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were placed on battle stations.

    American Airlines Flight 77

    American Airlines Flight took off from Washington Dulles International Airport at 8:20 a.m. The last communication with its pilots was at 8:50 a.m. Four minutes later, the plane deviated from its flight path.

    At 9:32 a.m., Dulles located an eastbound "radar target." Controllers asked a National Guard C-130H to track the airplane. The guard pilot reported it was a Boeing 757. At 9:38 a.m., he reported that the plane appeared to have hit the Pentagon.

    NORAD was unaware of the search for American 77. At 9:21 a.m., the FAA, unsure of the identity of the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, called NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector to let officials know where it assumed Flight 11 was heading.

    FAA: Military, Boston Center. I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's on its way toward, heading toward Washington.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: OK. American 11 is still in the air?

    FAA: Yes.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: On its way toward Washington?

    FAA: That was another, it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That's the latest report we have.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: OK.

    FAA: I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: OK. So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right?

    FAA: No, he is a hijack.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: He ... American 11 is a hijack?

    FAA: Yes.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: And he's heading into Washington?

    FAA: Yes. This could be a third aircraft.

    The Northeast Air Defense Sector decided to use the fighters at battle stations to intercept the hijacked airliner.

    Mission crew commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector: OK, uh, American Airlines is still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading toward Washington. OK? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I'm gonna take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find him.

    The fighters from Langley took off at 9:30 a.m., and at 9:36 the FAA, tracking a flight that it had not yet identified as Flight 77, told the Northeast Air Defense Sector of the plane, which was six miles from the White House.

    Mission crew commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector: OK, we're going to turn it ... crank it up. ... Run them to the White House.

    Controllers at the Northeast Air Defense Sector located a signal, but it "kind of faded" as Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon around 9:38 a.m.

    United Flight 93

    After a delay of more than 40 minutes, United Airlines Flight 93 took off at 8:42 a.m. from Newark, New Jersey. The last contact with its pilots came at 9:28 a.m.

    About one minute later, a radio transmission came from Flight 93. Controllers at the FAA's Cleveland Center in Ohio heard what they thought was screaming. A moment later, they could tell what was being said in a second transmission.

    Flight 93: Get out of here, get out of here.

    Officials were unsure what plane was in trouble. A Cleveland Center controller noticed a change in Flight 93's altitude and tried to contact the cockpit. He received no response. At 9:32 a.m., someone on the plane spoke to the passengers.

    Flight 93: Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.

    Controller: Calling Cleveland Center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly.

    The controller repeatedly tried to contact Flight 93 but received no response. Instead at 9:39 a.m., one of the hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, spoke to the passengers.

    Jarrah: Uh, is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to have our demands [unintelligible]. Please remain quiet.

    Controller: United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead.

    There was no response.

    At 9:36, Cleveland Center had asked national Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Virginia about possible military intervention. The Command Center said that would be an FAA decision. Thirteen minutes later, the FAA spoke with the Command Center.

    FAA headquarters: They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 93.

    Command Center: Uh, do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?

    FAA headquarters: Uh, God, I don't know.

    Command Center: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.

    FAA headquarters: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.

    At 9:53 a.m., the FAA told the Command Center that discussions about scrambling planes were ongoing. At 10:01 a.m., a commercial plane tracking Flight 93 saw the United aircraft wavering its wings. Flight 93 crashed two minutes later.

    The same C-130H that had seen American Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon -- now back on its original flight path to Minnesota -- called in reports of smoke from a field in Pennsylvania.

    At 10:08 a.m., the Command Center notified the FAA.

    Command Center: OK. Uh, there is now on that United 93.

    FAA headquarters: Yes.

    Command Center: There is a report of black smoke in the last position I gave you, 15 miles south of Johnstown.

    FAA headquarters: From the airplane or from the ground?

    Command Center: Uh, they're speculating it's from the aircraft.

    FAA headquarters: OK.

    Command Center: Uh, who, it hit the ground. That's what they're speculating, that's speculation only.

    At 10:17 a.m., the Command Center confirmed to the FAA that Flight 93 had crashed.

    A military liaison from the FAA's Cleveland Center had called NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector at 10:07 a.m. to inform officials about Flight 93. The Northeast Air Defense Sector searched for the aircraft on radar, unaware that the plane had crashed. A few minutes later it called the FAA's Washington Center.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: I also want to give you a heads-up, Washington.

    FAA (DC): Go ahead.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: United 93, have you got information on that yet?

    FAA: Yeah, he's down.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: He's down?

    FAA: Yes.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation. ...

    FAA: He did not land.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: Oh, he's down? Down?

    FAA: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David.

    Northeast Air Defense Sector: Northeast of Camp David.

    FAA: That's the last report. They don't know exactly where.

    Source: 9/11 panel's Staff Statement 17


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