Friday, November 14, 2008

Fabled Enemies Part VI

This section seems largely concerned with warnings. We get the mention of the Filipino government warning about Ramzi Yousef's plan to crash planes into buildings; what goes unmentioned is that this happened six years prior to 9-11, and that in fact that Yousef's main plot was to blow the airplanes up over the Pacific.

Bermas confuses the Phoenix Memo with the 8/6/01 PDB about Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US. The Phoenix Memo was an alert from an FBI agent about Arabs taking flight lessons in the US. It is indeed tragic that this was not followed up on, but it is easy to see the warnings we should have been paying attention to with hindsight. What we don't see or hear about is all the other warnings that turned out to be meaningless.

Dennis Kookcinich comes on to talk about the PDB; he mentions that it noted a plot by Osama Bin Laden to hijack an aircraft. What Frodo fails to mention is that the plot was to use the hijacked plane and its passengers for ransom to win the release of prisoners.

"We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [redacted] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to secure the release of 'Blind Sheikh' Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists," the memo says in part.

Peter Jennings reports on a USA Today article on a drill run that included a plane into the World Trade Center. The article is here. Note in particular that the drills took place two years prior to 9-11 (i.e., during the Clinton Administration), and that the scenario was different from 9-11:

The exercises differed from the Sept. 11 attacks in one important respect: The planes in the simulation were coming from a foreign country.

Until Sept. 11, NORAD was expected to defend the United States and Canada from aircraft based elsewhere. After the attacks, that responsibility broadened to include flights that originated in the two countries.

But there were exceptions in the early drills, including one operation, planned in July 2001 and conducted later, that involved planes from airports in Utah and Washington state that were "hijacked." Those planes were escorted by U.S. and Canadian aircraft to airfields in British Columbia and Alaska.

NORAD officials have acknowledged that "scriptwriters" for the drills included the idea of hijacked aircraft being used as weapons.

"Threats of killing hostages or crashing were left to the scriptwriters to invoke creativity and broaden the required response," Maj. Gen. Craig McKinley, a NORAD official, told the 9/11 commission. No exercise matched the specific events of Sept. 11, NORAD said.

"We have planned and executed numerous scenarios over the years to include aircraft originating from foreign airports penetrating our sovereign airspace," Gen. Ralph Eberhart, NORAD commander, told USA TODAY. "Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised."

Jason goes to another drill, called Amalgam Virgo. As described by Bermas, Amalgam Virgo included a hijacker taking control of a commercial aircraft and slamming it into the Capitol. This does not appear to be correct:

Amalgam Virgo is a joint-service, cruise-missile defense exercise at Tyndall AFB.

Fast, low-flying cruise missiles are hard to detect. To practice their part in defending the U.S. from these missiles, members of the 513th Air Control Group deployed to Florida for the "Amalgam Virgo" cruise missile defense exercise. The multi-service exercise tested the defense and response capabilities to a cruise missile attack on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 1-4, 2001.

No discussion of a hijacked plane there.