November 1, 2002
On 11 September 2001, a key U.S. intelligence agency was running a drill in which a plane hits a government building. While U.S. spy satellites could easily observe what actually happened in New York City and Washington, this “bizarre coincidence” sent the people who operate America’s “eye in the sky” home.
On the very day that planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the “super-secret” intelligence agency that “designs, builds, and operates U.S. reconnaissance satellites” had planned to conduct an emergency drill in which a simulated plane from the nearby Dulles International Airport would have crashed into their building. When reality intruded in New York and Washington, the exercise was cancelled and nearly all of NRO’s three thousand employees, the people who operate the nation’s “eye in the sky,” were sent home.
The NRO, which works closely with the Dept. of Defense and CIA, had planned a simulated exercise in which a small jet “crashes” into one of the four towers at the agency’s headquarters on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The government said it was a “bizarre coincidence” that one of the most important U.S. intelligence agencies had planned a mock plane-into-building crash on Sept. 11, according to the Associated Press who reported the story on August 22. NRO headquarters are in Chantilly, Virginia, about 4 miles from the runways of Dulles airport.
The secretive NRO was created in 1960 and oversees the nation’s spy satellites for reconnaissance and defense purposes. For the first 32 years the U.S. government even denied its existence. The NRO recruits personnel from the military and the Central Intelligence Agency and has a budget that is estimated to equal the combined budgets of both the CIA and the National Security Agency.
The director of the NRO (DNRO) reports directly to the Secretary of Defense and the director of the CIA. On 11 September 2001 the NRO director was Keith R. Hall, who had headed the agency since 1996. As DNRO, Hall was responsible for the acquisition and operation of all United States space-based reconnaissance and intelligence systems. Hall also served as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space until December 8, 2001 when Peter B. Teets replaced Hall in both positions.
Hall had joined the Pentagon during the administration of George H.W. Bush, as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence and security, where he remained into the Clinton administration, until then CIA Director John M. Deutch brought him to the CIA. Hall crafted Deutch’s plan to create a new spy bureaucracy in the Pentagon, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) by merging the CIA’s center for interpreting spy satellite imagery with the Defense Mapping Agency.
“As Director, NRO, I have responsibility for the design, acquisition, and operations of all the nation’s reconnaissance satellites, reporting to the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence,” Hall told the Senate subcommittee on strategic forces in 1999.
The fact that the NRO had planned a scenario on 9-11 that was remarkably similar to what actually happened exposes the lie by some senior administration officials who claimed the events of 9/11 had not been foreseen. The “bizarre co-incidence” between the planned exercise and the grim reality suggests that the “game” was hijacked by unknown agents who overlaid it with a lethal scheme in the same way that former Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated during what was meant to be a security exercise.
The existence of the NRO’s pre-planned plane-attack simulation was first revealed in an announcement of a recent National Law Enforcement and Security Institute conference in Chicago. In a promotion for speaker John Fulton, a CIA officer assigned as chief of NRO’s strategic gaming division, the announcement read: “On the morning of September 11th 2001, Mr. Fulton and his team … were running a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building. Little did they know that the scenario would come true in a dramatic way that day.”
It was American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 767, which took off from Dulles at 8:10 a.m., 50 minutes before the NRO exercise was to begin, that reportedly struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11. The Pentagon was hit between 9:30 and 9:40 a.m. with 125 deaths on the ground and 64 reported on the plane.
The NRO scenario was planned to test employees’ ability to respond to a disaster, according to Art Haubold, spokesman for the agency. No actual plane was to be involved. To simulate the damage from the crash, some stairwells and exits were to be closed off, forcing employees to find other ways to evacuate the building. Haubold told me that is was meant to be a “make believe” drill, “like the fire drills we did as kids in school.”
I asked Haubold why NRO’s staff was sent home when there was no apparent imminent danger. Haubold said NRO employees had been sent home as federal workers in Washington had. A spokesperson at NIMA in Bethesda, Md., however, said that NIMA personnel had remained on the job on 9-11. NIMA is headed by Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper (USAF Ret.).
Asked about how many people at the Dept. of Defense and CIA had been made aware of the planned exercise, Haubold said that the Pentagon and the CIA were aware of the drill, which he called a “contingency response” test. Pentagon spokesman Ken McClellan could not say whether Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was aware of the exercise at NRO. However, regarding the threat of an airplane attack at the Pentagon or the World Trade Center, McClellan said, “people were prescient.”
“It was just an incredible coincidence that this happened to involve an aircraft crashing into our facility,” Haubold told the AP. “As soon as the real world events began, we canceled the exercise.”
While the story of the “bizarre coincidence” is of obvious interest, it has been removed from news websites where it appeared in late August. CNN and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for example, have both removed the story.
On Sept. 11, almost all of the 3,000 people who work at NRO headquarters were sent home, according to Art Haubold, NRO spokesman. Haubold said that after 10:30 a.m. the only people who remained at the agency were “mission essential” personnel.
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