9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes
As Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility's mission-crew commander, drove up the hill to work on the morning of 9/11, he was dressed in his flight suit and prepared for battle. Not a real one. The Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), where Nasypany had been stationed since 1994, is the regional headquarters for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the Cold War–era military organization charged with protecting North American airspace. As he poured his first coffee on that sunny September morning, the odds that he would have to defend against Russian "Bear Bombers," one of NORAD's traditional simulated missions, were slim. Rather, Nasypany (pronounced Nah-sip-a-nee), an amiable commander with a thick mini-mustache and a hockey player's build, was headed in early to get ready for the NORAD-wide training exercise he'd helped design. The battle commander, Colonel Bob Marr, had promised to bring in fritters.
For the NEADS crew, 9/11 was not a story of four hijacked airplanes, but one of a heated chase after more than a dozen potential hijackings—some real, some phantom—that emerged from the turbulence of misinformation that spiked in the first 100 minutes of the attack and continued well into the afternoon and evening.
: Hi. Boston Center T.M.U. [Traffic Management Unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards BOSTON CENTER , and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out. New York
POWELL: Is this real-world or exercise?
: No, this is not an exercise, not a test. BOSTON CENTER
Powell's question—"Is this real-world or exercise?"—is heard nearly verbatim over and over on the tapes as troops funnel onto the ops floor and are briefed about the hijacking. Powell, like almost everyone in the room, first assumes the phone call is from the simulations team on hand to send "inputs"—simulated scenarios—into play for the day's training exercise.
WATSON: What was that?
ROUNTREE: Is that real-world?
DOOLEY: Real-world hijack.
"When they told me there was a hijack, my first reaction was 'Somebody started the exercise early,'" Nasypany later told me. The day's exercise was designed to run a range of scenarios, including a "traditional" simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum. "I actually said out loud, 'The hijack's not supposed to be for another hour,'" Nasypany recalled. (The fact that there was an exercise planned for the same day as the attack factors into several conspiracy theories, though the 9/11 commission dismisses this as coincidence. After plodding through dozens of hours of recordings, so do I.)
—Is this explosion part of that that we're lookin' at now on TV?
—And there's a possible second hijack also
—a United Airlines …
—Get the f*ck out …
—I think this is a damn input, to be honest.
The last line—"I think this is a damn input"—is a reference to the exercise, meaning a simulations input. It's either gallows humor or wishful thinking. From the tape, it's hard to tell.
– Vanity Fair (
Note that the article just mentions one simulated hijacking (was that the only simulated hijack for 9/11?) and that at about , Major Kevin Nasypany mentions the hijack drill wasn’t supposed to start for “another hour” which of course would be 9:38am, the time the Pentagon would be hit.
The article also mentions the military were chasing “phantom” Flight 11:
The call that sets off the latest alarm ("Another hijack! It's headed towards
!") comes from Boston and is wholly confounding: according to Scoggins, the Boston manager, American 11, the plane they believed was the first one to hit the World Trade Center, is actually still flying—still hijacked—and now heading straight for D.C. Whatever hit the first tower, it wasn't American 11. Washington
The chase is on for what will turn out to be a phantom plane.
NASYPANY: O.K. American Airlines is still airborne—11, the first guy. He's heading towards
. O.K., I think we need to scramble Washington right now. And I'm—I'm gonna take the fighters from Otis and try to chase this guy down if I can find him. Langley