Nuclear Deterrent Suddenly Had To Fight New Enemy
The events of September
11, 2001 represented a fundamental shift in America's approach to
defending against its enemies... because the enemies themselves had
changed. Nowhere was this more apparent than the headquarters for
the North American Aerospace Defense Command, under Colorado's
Cheyenne Mountain... as officers and strategists tasked with
defending the US from nuclear bombs, suddenly found themselves
combating religious fundamentalists armed with boxcutters.
Lieutenant General Rick Findley -- head of combat operations at
NORAD that fateful day -- said recently there was no plan in
place... no checklist they could refer to, that would tell NORAD
how to combat this new threat. In fact... the only benefit NORAD
had, was it was already on alert on 9/11 due to Russian bomber
wargames that day, as well as an ongoing fall military
"Anybody that was anybody was stood up," Findley told the
Canadian Press. "And because 9-11 occurred that morning, it was in
the middle of a shift change, so literally both shifts were there
at the same time."
While Findley disputes an article in Vanity Fair magazine that
implies a sense of chaos at NORAD that day, he does not deny the
agency had a difficult time adapting to the new threat. At one
point, the agency had targeted as many as two dozen potential
threat aircraft that didn't respond to initial requests for
identification -- relying on information (much of it later determined to be
flawed) from civilian agencies such as the FAA.
"You're talking about a big group of individuals that were being
recorded for a very short period of time," he said. "There were a
lot of other folks doing tremendous work. You're only getting a
snippet of the information or the idea of what was really going on
Now deputy commander-in-chief at NORAD, Findley says the agency
was never intended to protect against such a threat... but those
working the Mountain that day did the best they could.
"Our mission was entirely different," Findley said. "The way we
looked for air traffic, the way we looked for threats to North
America was very much looking out from North America."
Their efforts resulted in neither success nor failure, Findley
says... only that NORAD struggled to adapt to a rapidly changing
situation, as quickly as possible.