The First Fifteen Minutes of September 11th
Within three hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Robin Hordon knew it was an inside job. He had been an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) for eleven years before Reagan fired him and hundreds of his colleagues after they went on strike in the eighties. Having handled in-flight emergencies and two actual hijackings in his career, he is well qualified to comment on what NORAD should have been able to achieve in its response to the near simultaneous hijacking of four domestic passenger carriers on the morning of September 11th, 2001.
“There had to be something huge to explain why those aircraft weren’t shot down out of the sky. We have fighters on the ready to handle these situations twenty-four-seven. We have NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) monitors monitoring our skies twenty-four-seven. We have a lot of human beings, civilian and military, who care about doing their jobs.”
I spoke to Mr. Hordon one afternoon at a coffee shop in Bremerton, Washington.
“You have to understand the emotions, the duty, the job of an ATC. We are paid to watch aircraft go across the country.”
It’s clear that Hordon is passionate about the subject. A lot of people are. The dark questions that the attacks have left lingering in the national psyche have been recorded. 49% of New Yorkers believe that the government had something to do with 9/11. Following an interview with Charlie Sheen, a CNN poll revealed that 82% of respondents believed that there was “a government cover-up of 9/11.” Jay Leno asked Bill Maher on The Tonight Show about the fact that 37% of Americans (according to Scribbs-Howard) believe that the government was involved in some way with the attacks (Maher was definitely not one of them).
As far as the “emotions, the duty, the job” of an ATC is concerned, Hordon puts it this way:
“Imagine yourself at a circus, a fair, a crowded sports event. You have in your hand your little child of five or six, you’re amongst hundreds of people and you turn around and see that your child is gone. How do you feel at that moment? You feel panicked. You feel that this is the worst thing possible, so what you do is you engage. When ATCs lose an aircraft, all hell breaks loose. They flip right into motion. We take action and do not wait for other things to happen.”
As a former member of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization), Hordon’s years as an ATC are particularly relevent to 9/11 researchers.
“I was a certified ATC in Boston west-bound departures, the routing that AA11 and UA175 followed on 9/11. I know it like the back of my hand.”
He even received a letter of commendation for his role in dealing with an actual hijacking. When it became clear that there hadn’t been a systems failure of any kind on the morning of September 11th, Hordon was certain that something had gone terribly wrong within the upper echelons of authority. A pilot (third level air carrier) as well as an ATC, he is well versed on in-flight emergency protocol. He is also adamant that if these procedures had been followed on 9/11 not one of the hijacked planes would have reached their targets.
“I’m sorry but American 11 should have been intercepted over southwest Connecticut—bang, done deal.”
According to Hordon, air emergencies requiring scrambles, or “flushes,” from fighter jets occur 50 to 150 times a year.
“It’s routine. At Otis AFB we would have practice exercises two or three times a year. We’d flush aircraft, get the B-52’s up, get the tankers up, get the fighters up. Just out of Otis there’d be twenty, thirty fighter jets. And on 9/11 there were plenty of fighters as well. They were just diverted over the ocean, tied up in drills, etc.”
The vast majority of air incidents are simple communications or routing failures, common mishaps that are easily remedied. Nonetheless, when a problem does arise, it is treated as an emergency and interceptors are scrambled.
“This is exactly what’s written in our manuals. We alert our immediate supervisors, we get another set of eyes on the scope. We have, two feet away from us, a little button that says ADC, Air Defense Command [nowadays NEADS (Northeast Air Defense Sector)]. Bing, hit the button. ‘Hey, this is me at the Boston Center air space. I just lost a target or I have an erratic target. He is twenty-five miles west of Keene, last reported at such-and-such location.’”
Pilots use similar checklists when responding to problems with their airplanes:
“If I lose an engine in a multi-engine aircraft I know exactly what to do. I start to control the aircraft to fly with one engine, I’ll shut the ailing engine down, I’ll get the aircraft trimmed up. It’s check, check, check.”
Hordon is not persuaded by those who make excuses for the lack of military response on 9/11. U.S. air defenses have been on hair-trigger alert to defend the nation from attack since the early sixties. The idea that, on the morning of 9/11, there was an inexplicable wave of incompetence on the part of his former FAA “brothers in arms” offends him deeply.
“The pilots are in their ready rooms, the planes are in open-ended hangars. You have frontline players, pilots and controllers. I’m there, I’m watching. The pilot is there, he’s flying. We have direct air defense command communications. That’s the way it’s been for fifty years.”
The unfathomable delays seen in military action on 9/11 are inconceivable to those who have painstakingly investigated the matter—and for a man who worked for years keeping air travel over the U.S. safe.
“Military pilots would have their asses off the ground faster than you could imagine. I know how quickly our systems can respond. Why would you design a system that responds slowly to an emergency?”
Claims by authorities that, once a hijacked aircraft’s transponders have been turned off, the plane becomes virtually invisible to radar, is another sore point for Hordon.
“Bottom line, these aircraft were always radar monitored, we were always in communication with them, even if they were hijacked. The only way you can lose an aircraft these days is for the plane to flat out blow up.”
Since any genuine air attack would not likely announce itself as such, NORAD radar has to be able to detect anything. But there’s nothing stealthy about an enormous Boeing passenger liner, whether its transponder is operating properly or not.
“That aircraft is represented on their radar scope from the time it takes off to the time it lands. Even little puddle-jumpers out of our local airports. NORAD tracks all these aircraft. They have the world’s most sophisticated radar.”
After eleven eventful years as an ATC, Hordon naturally reacted with shock when he first heard that fifty years of tried and true in-flight emergency protocol was abruptly altered in June of 2001, just two months before the attacks.
“Rumsfeld put a third party in between the ATC and the Air
Defense Controller responsible for scrambling interceptors —the
“the phone calls went from the FAA to the Pentagon and were not answered. Therefore the Pentagon never reached down to the ADC base to release the aircraft. The Boston Center’s ATCs got so frustrated with the non-answer from the military that they finally said, ‘get these guys going anyways.’ That’s the way it’s been for fifty years. We scramble aircraft. We don’t wait for OK’s from third or fourth parties.”
The no-show status of the U.S. military on the morning of September 11th, 2001, has understandably become the single most compelling point that 9/11 researchers, writers and activists use to support their claims of complicity on the part of the U.S government (and its military and intelligence apparatus) in the attacks. When even those who condemn “conspiracy theory” in regard to 9/11 have questioned the military’s conduct that morning, it’s clear that this anomaly is worthy of intense concern and diligent investigation. Whatever the case may be, there are no doubts that history’s largest and most technologically advanced military was apparently caught completely off guard by four huge hijacked passenger jets that were in the air for almost two hours on the crystal clear morning of 9/11.
9/11 researchers have spent years speculating about what exactly did happen in the cockpits of the hijacked jets on 9/11. Theories run the gamut, from duplicate aircraft taking over the flight plans of the hijacked planes to passenger jets being remotely commandeered in mid-air. Naturally, the technical complexities involved in operating a huge commercial passenger jet can only be fully conveyed by someone with extensive aviation training and experience.
“For years, they have been improving what the common person will call an autopilot. The modern term is a flight director. You can program a flight director basically for your entire flight, before and after you take off.”
Flight directors—high-tech navigational computers—are used in commercial aircraft because they are always sensing every factor that affects an aircraft’s flight (wind speed and direction, fuel weight, atmospheric conditions, etc.) and instantly make the adjustments necessary to sustain the most efficient and economic operation of the plane.
“The Boeing 707 Series, I believe, were the last series of aircraft built where you actually controlled the plane using wires or cables. There are no cables anymore. What we have now are electronic or hydraulic sensors that transmit information to servos and other control devices that apply pressure to the control surfaces.”
The fact that the operation of modern aircraft is primarily computerized essentially makes the controls hackable, either from onboard or, if the proper receivers are installed in the plane, from a remote location.
“Internally the aircraft had to have a separate receiver
unit built into it; separate windows of access into the flight director
and an ability to disengage the manual controls in the aircraft
and take it over with all of the pre-determined information.”
if a flight director was redirected during a flight, the new flight-plan
would not necessarily be communicated to those on the ground.
Much has been made by 9/11 researchers about the seemingly limitless incompetence of the 9/11 hijackers as pilots—amateur aviators who could barely operate light aircraft. This odd fact has led many conspiracy advocates to speculate that the nineteen alleged hijackers may have been merely a gang of patsies or “Oswalds,” groomed by their handlers to take the fall for the attacks without their knowledge or involvement. Some researchers even speculate that these “terrorists” never actually boarded the planes at all. Although this theory may sound outlandish to many, it is however supported by the astonishing fact that none of the hijackers’ names appear on any of the published passenger manifests. But Hordon believes that, if the hijackers really were on the planes and did indeed take over the cockpits as reported, their ability to actually fly the aircraft to their targets is a distinct possibility.
“If anybody thinks that these flight directors weren’t sophisticated enough to be programmed to go to these exact, specific coordinates—WTC One and Two—they’re wrong. It has nothing to do with pilot competence.”
Hordon believes that it would be relatively easy for the hijackers to reroute a commercial jet’s flight director to hit any location with great accuracy, as long as they had acquired the proper training. This is apparently one of the few accurate scenarios portrayed in the Hollywood movie Flight 93, a film Hordon otherwise dismisses as elaborate propaganda designed to deceive the public and sell the official story. This point is intriguing when you consider the fact that a book recently published by the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine—Debunking 9/11 Myths—specifically claims that the hijackers of UA Flight 93 stormed the cockpit, took over the controls and drove the plane by sight, a method that PM and its army of expert technicians and specialists have nicknamed “point and go.” Besides representing a bizarre departure from Hordon’s expert analysis, PM’s “point and go” theory also contradicts the scenario dramatized in Flight 93. Although it’s difficult for many people to believe that such a lack of consensus exists among the “experts” who support the official story, this is really just one of many examples where this kind of unfathomable contradiction has occurred.
Some theorists have speculated that homing beacons may have been transmitting signals to Flights 11 and 175 from within the Twin Towers—all the hijacked planes had to do was follow these signals to their destinations. Although he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to this theory, Hordon elaborates on it as a possibility:
“When a commercial jet approaches its destination, the flight director interfaces with transmitters located at the end of a runway and makes the adjustments. All the pilots have to do is sit back, monitor the controls and watch the airplane land itself, even in “zero-zero” conditions [no ceiling height or visibility].”
This combination of computerized onboard controls and what is essentially a homing signal from the flight’s destination is called “coupling,” a technological dance performed by aircraft thousands of times a day at airports all around the world.
Often criticized by detractors for speculating about the use of “Buck Rogers”-style aviation technology in the attacks, 9/11 researchers are nonetheless vindicated by Hordon who believes that such speculation may not be so outlandish after all. Referring to elaborate experiments done by the military decades ago that involved the remote control commandeering of aircraft, Hordon responds:
“In the seventies, they were extremely sophisticated with aircraft. Could they commandeer an aircraft in mid-flight right now? Absolutely, in a heartbeat. Clearly the technology is there. It’s been there for a long time.”
It only seems reasonable that if this technology were the most efficient, reliable and discrete means to guarantee the success of such an elaborate operation, the conspirators wouldn’t hesitate to make full use of it.
The question of whether or not the hijackers piloted the planes themselves or if control of the aircraft was taken completely out of their hands by operatives from a remote location has always been central to 9/11 researchers. But, to Robin Hordon, it’s, at best, a moot point:
“My answer to you is it’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant whether the hijackers were real and were actually in the aircraft or whether the aircraft was commandeered by external forces. It could have been either one. One way or another, somebody other than U.S. certified airline pilots took over that aircraft, whether it be a terrorist sitting in the cockpit or someone outside the cockpit.”
Whatever scenarios Hordon may consider in regard to Flights 11, 175 and 93, he is adamant that 9/11 researchers shouldn’t rest until they’ve gotten to the bottom of the alleged crash of Flight 77 into the Pentagon. To many, the idea that a military jet or missile—not Flight 77—actually struck the Pentagon is a bizarre and almost inconceivable assertion. But for many 9/11 researchers, it is a central and compelling focus.
“The particular maneuver that was called upon for this huge
Boeing aircraft, OK, it’s highly suspicious that a flight
director could pull that one off. We also know that it’s highly
suspicious that if it were the pilot that people say was operating
the aircraft, we know that that guy couldn’t pull that off.
That was completely impossible.”
“I think we all have to agree that, one way or another, the U.S. military was involved in the attacks. The advantage that Rumsfeld had is that he can classify, reshape, make available, make unavailable any information that he wants, at any time and deny that information to the public for any reason, especially national security.”
Hordon believes that one facet of the plan that the conspirators could not control was the individual integrity of the civilians in the FAA—dedicated professionals who would not likely remain silent if they had witnessed something unusual during the attacks. Number one on Hordon’s list are the air traffic controllers: “What part of this whole thing is missing? Is it not the voice tapes from the civilian ATC’s? They had to devise a way to take the loose lips group, the civilian guys, and disengage them. If they are allowed to testify exactly as to their normal protocol behavior, they’re going to prove that the military were the culpable ones.” When he was in the FAA, Hordon was certified as the operator in his facility tasked to secure relevant data after an air emergency; if not entirely because of public safety concerns, certainly for liability reasons. “Whenever we had an incident, an emergency, on-air trouble, some type of a near ‘mid-air’ or a breakdown in aviation rules, we would immediately take the voice tapes and secure them. We would immediately take the radar data on that controller’s scope that day and secure them. Whenever there was an incident, all of the information, all of it was secured. Period.”
Despite this rigid protocol, there have been shocking accounts of ATC records being seized shortly after the attacks and kept far from public scrutiny. Hordon believes that these ATC recordings have either been destroyed or mutilated.
“The reason that they’re not giving us this early-on information is because they want to paint a picture of confusion, and they had to somehow get the civilian eye-witnesses out of it.”
Although the 9/11 Commission, desperate to deflect the public’s attention away from official quarters, scapegoated the FAA for incompetence in regard to the attacks, Hordon believes that the real confusion originated in the Pentagon, a theory that jibes well with the timely and suspicious change in air defense protocol mentioned above.
“The FAA has given us the computerized information about the aircraft being tracked. What the FAA has not given us is the internal tapes from the sectors in the Boston Center who were controlling this aircraft.”
If there were one point Robin Hordon would like to impress most upon 9/11 Truth researchers and activists it would be that the truth about the non-performance of U.S. air defenses on 9/11 lies in a careful examination of the first few minutes after the planes were known to have been hijacked.
“The first fifteen minutes are the key. I have done the math. If we had scrambled some aircraft five or six minutes after we saw this huge deviation, the fighters from Otis would have intercepted American 11 over southwestern Connecticut or just south of Albany, NY. The federal government and the military, for extremely serious reasons, are keeping the public focused on after American 11 hits the tower. But the real focus for 9/11 researchers should be what NORAD was doing five minutes after American 11 lost its transponder and went off course.”
Whatever criticism Hordon may have for NORAD and the Pentagon, it certainly doesn’t extend to the individuals on the frontlines of our nation’s civil defense:
“These are military fighter pilots. These are good guys.
They figure stuff out. What do you think the pilots are doing? Ordering
coffee and donuts? No. They are up there, their blood is pumping,
they are thinking one thing: ‘My country is being invaded.
This is why I stand on the ready in the waiting room down at Otis
AFB; so that I can get up and defend my country.’ Do you think
they’re going to get on the tail of American 11 when it was
heading straight for the WTC and let it hit? No. What they’re
going to do is say ‘OK, there’s going to be some bodies
and shrapnel…boom.’ They’re going to take that
“What the 9/11 movement should do is band together and develop safe lives for whistleblowers.” Legal counsel, moral support, even physical protection could do much to inspire those who are considering stepping forward with potentially explosive insider testimony about the attacks.
Hordon would also like to see young people being told the truth about politics, history and the world in their schools. “The people who are our greatest assets are the kids in high school. If the military is taking advantage of the susceptibility of high school kids to seduce them to kill people, the peace movement needs to offer alternatives. We need to make available, at the end of the high school years, alternatives of thought in regard to the world’s economy and control apparatus.” Hordon’s plan, though idealistic, is not without a certain opportunism:
“I want to go to high school kids because it’s a two for one proposition. First, their ears are wide open. They’re skeptical about this government right now and they’re plugged into the internet. Second, if we give them material to bring home, it winds up on the kitchen table. And what happens when parents find contraband that’s come into the house? They read it. It’s two for one.”
Many 9/11 activists believe that their work on issues related to the attacks has greater potential for true social transformation than any other single issue, and Hordon emphatically agrees.
“I think that this 9/11 thing is the quintessential opportunity to expose all of the infecting poisons; more than Iran Contra weapons for hostages, more than rampant militarism, more than Watergate, more than Enron, more than the dark side of the world’s financial institutions, more than any other similar kind of thing. I think that this is pretty much their last gasp, and the reason is very simple; the internet. We’re going to catch’em.”
Activists with a sense of humor are always a breath of fresh air. After his stint as an ATC, Hordon worked for years at the comedy club Catch a Rising Star in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Something must have rubbed off:
“We have two parties in this country; we have republicans
and we have republicans dressed up in blue drag. And when we get
the blue outer clothing off of the fake democrats, they stand there
in their red Armani underwear.”
“They know they’re done with 9/11. They know they’re cooked. They’re just throwing boxes of nails in the road behind their car as it speeds away and they’re hoping that all our tires get flattened. But it’s not happening. They know they’re pretty much done.”
Grounded and well informed, Robin Hordon is not a typical pie-in-the-sky progressive, and he likes what he sees happening around him.
“There’s so much good work being done. There’s
such a cool pattern now and there’s so many kids coming up
who know not to believe the stories they’re being told.”
“Sixty percent of our elected officials are millionaires. Until we change that, we are going to struggle to make our democracy better. And I think that, you now, democracies are OK. I think it’s a pretty good plan. I think we should try to get one.”
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