The 9/11 attack took place when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
Surprising events took place before the actual catastrophe occurred.
Live Nuclear Weapons
According to NBC News, before the attacks occurred, almost three dozen live nuclear weapons were attached to U.S. Air Force bombers at three airbases – Louisiana, North Dakota and Missouri. Multiple Trident submarine and ballistic-missile crews in the western Great Plains were on high alert. Three Offutt-based E-4B command aircraft were already airborne.
It was part of a big exercise “Global Guardian,” consisting of U.S. Strategic Command’s staff at Offutt Air Force Base along with military personnel at various other U.S. bases.
Russia as the Practiced Target
North American Air Defense Command’s (NORAD) operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, was taking part in a huge Cold War-style training exercise called Vigilant Guardian. A war game was in play; the theoretical enemy was Russia.
Vigilant Guardian is a drill that deals with wartime operations command post exercise.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the war game was theorizing a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union. “NORAD must use Russia in its exercises at the strategic level since no other country poses a great enough threat to NORAD’s capabilities and responsibilities,” Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, explained.
Putin Called President Bush
Russian President Vladimir Putin called to speak to President Bush to know why the U.S. was prepping to go to DEFCON 3. However, the White House was unable to put him through to Air Force One because Bush couldn’t receive calls that time, as reported by Omaha.
After trying for 30 minutes, communicators from White House failed to put on a secure line between Air Force One and the Kremlin. Russian-speaking National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice finally got on the phone from an underground bunker with the Russian president, and they agreed to a cooperative stand-down.
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Timeline of Events Leading to the 9/11 Attacks
6:30 a.m. September 11, 2001:
- A sudden training exercise took place in the White House Situation Room, keeping in mind the scenario of a terrorist bombing in Yemen.
- NORAD was administering Vigilant Guardian.
7:00 a.m. – 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001:
- There were preparations for a training exercise called Tripod at Pier 92 on the Hudson River. The training was done to evaluate New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in responding to a biological-terrorism attack.
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001:
- NORAD Operations Center in Colorado were undergoing a Simulated Air War training exercise, in which the theoretical enemy was Russia, according to History Commons.
- Aircraft at the Andrews Air Force Base were taking part in training exercises. Andrews Air Force Base is a few miles outside Washington, DC.
- An “emergency drill” had been taking place on the 97th floor of the WTC South Tower. Technology consultants from California was visiting investment firm Fiduciary Trust for the drill.
- Global Guardian was taking place to evaluate the ability of U.S. military during a nuclear war.
- At 8:30 a.m., the Fort Belvoir army base near Pentagon underwent an anti-terrorism “garrison control exercise.” At the same time, firefighters who would later attend the WTC attacks were going through another counter-terrorism training. Washington Police Unit was also holding a training event for the upcoming IMF and World Bank Meetings.
- Three F-16 fighter jets took off from Andrews Air Force Base while flying to North Carolina for a routine training mission. They were about 200 miles from base when the attacks in New York took place.
- Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) commander saw a group of employees huddling around the radar scopes. He first thought it was because of the training exercise, but it was actually the 9/11 attack.
- Between 8:38 – 8:43 a.m., FAA’s Boston Center first contacted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to inform them about the hijacking of Flight 11. Personnel initially mistook the hijacking as part of a simulation exercise.
- While the attacks on the World Trade Center was taking place, two F-16 fighter jets were on a training mission eight minutes of flying time away from New York. However, the pilots were completely unaware of the events.
- At 9:27 a.m., “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise,” according to journalist Dan Verton.
- A pilot at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia was put under alert duty. However, he called higher authorities to take him off the duty as he wanted to go for a training mission with another pilot.
- Around 9:00 a.m., a meeting was held at the Pentagon. The meeting was about a planned “tabletop disaster exercise” occurring at the nearby Navy Annex building.
- Between 8:46 a.m. to 9:37 a.m., while the attacks on the World Trade Center were taking place, members of the Army’s aviation support unit for the Washington, DC were on a weapons training exercise. They did not return to their base until the Pentagon was hit.
- Special Operations Personnel were away from the U.S. for a counter-terrorism exercise in Europe.
- The U.S. Coast Guard was going through a “mass casualty exercise” based around the grounds of an explosion, possibly caused by terrorists, on a cruise ship in Tampa Bay, Florida. During the same time, President Bush was in Florida reading a book to a group of school children.
The 9/11 Attack:
- Four planes were hijacked: two crashed into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and one on a Pennsylvania countryside. The attack took the lives of more than 3,000 people.
- At around 9:00 a.m., Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, was told that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Upon hearing the news, he erroneously thought it was a simulated scenario as part of a training exercise.
- During the same time, a 9/11-style simulation was set to begin at a U.S. intelligence agency near Pentagon.
- While the attacks were ongoing, several phones started ringing at NORAD. Employees dubbed the situation as “crazy.”
- When Flight 175 entered the second tower of WTC, officials at NEADS thought it was part of a simulation.