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Project on Government Oversight




Joint Chiefs of Staff Rejected "Airplanes as Missiles" Scenario Five Months prior to 9/11

April 13, 2004 


According to an email obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), members of the U.S. military responsible for defending America's airspace were in fact concerned that a terrorist group would "hijack a commercial airline [sic] (foreign carrier) and fly it into the Pentagon."

Officials at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in April 2001 - five months prior to 9/11 - wanted to develop a response in the event that a terrorist group would use an airliner as a missile to attack the Pentagon, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff rejected the scenario as "too unrealistic." NORAD's mission is to "deter, detect, and defend" U.S. and Canadian airspace.

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice told the 9/11 Commission in her April 8 testimony that an August 2001 presidential briefing memo that was recently declassified did not contain specific threat information. "And it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles," she testified.

However, Rice hedged when asked directly whether she ever saw or heard any memos or discussions from the FBI, CIA or any other intelligence agencies that talked about using planes as bombs. She said she had not, but also added, "I cannot tell you that there might not have been a report here or a report there that reached somebody in our midst."

"We believe the 9/11 Commission should ask the Joint Chiefs why they prevented NORAD from training to respond to the possibility that terrorists might hijack commercial airliners and use them as missiles," said POGO's Senior Investigator Peter Stockton.

POGO has learned that this scenario was being suggested by Special Operations personnel who are trained to think like terrorists. These highly-trained military units have repeatedly warned that U.S. nuclear facilities are also inadequately protected against terrorist attacks.

"Maybe the 9/11 Commission should talk to these special operations experts," Stockton said.

Click here to see a copy of the memo.
Click here to see a copy of POGO's letter to the 9/11 Commission


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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