Thursday, August 03, 2006

Moving and Painful

Michael Bronner's 9/11chronicle of NORAD's futile efforts to protect the nation is a painful and moving piece of journalism. Based on access to 6.5 hours of detailed tape recordings and interviews with key players this is the definitive history of the military response to the 9/11 attack on our homeland.

It is hard to read about then Major Kevin Nasypany and his staff at the upstate New York NEADS (Northeast Air Defense Sector) without wondering what might have happened if warnings about possible airborne attacks had been taken seriously and heightened security and interagency coordination had been ordered by the Bush Administration (something history suggests the Clinton Administration would have done faced with similar input).
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. At one point, in the span of a single mad minute, one hears Nasypany struggling to parse reports of four separate hijackings at once. What emerges from the barrage of what Nasypany dubs "bad poop" flying at his troops from all directions is a picture of remarkable composure. Snap decisions more often than not turn out to be the right ones as commanders kick-start the dormant military machine. It is the fog and friction of war live—the authentic military history of 9/11.
The sense of failure and frustration that permeates NEADS as the duty crew watches aircraft they can't find on their radar screens crash into buildings on CNN is so tangible that it is gut wrenching.

Almost simultaneously, United 175 slams into the south tower of the World Trade Center, something several NEADS personnel witness live on CNN, including Colonel Marr, the commanding officer.

On the ops floor, there is considerable confusion as to whether the second hijacking New York Center just called in is the same plane that hit the second tower, or whether there are now three missing planes.

Read it. And weep.