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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Attack Scenario 404 *

How the Attack Might Have Been Engineered (But Probably Wasn't)

The case that the 9/11/01 attack was an inside job can be made quite apart from any specific theory as to how it was accomplished, by simply demonstrating that only insiders had the means and opportunity to execute key elements of the attack. The true nature of such an operation is undoubtedly hidden behind layer upon layer of cover story, and its details may never be discovered. Speculative theories of the operation, while not verifiable, nonetheless can be useful in answering important questions about the attack, such as the size of the conspiracy required to carry it out.

Attack Scenario 404 is such a theory. It shows that, although the attack employed a variety of sophisticated communications and weapons technologies, all of these technologies were available "off-the-shelf", having been developed by secret programs ostensibly for other purposes. Specific tasks required to fulfill the mission were outsourced to companies providing strict confidentiality and working on a need-to-know basis.

This scenario shows that, through their positions of access in the military command structure, a very small group of people would have been able to appropriate these technologies to carry out the attack. While the attack is engineered by a core of only a dozen people, vast numbers of people facilitate the attack and cover-up, for the most part unknowingly, by simply doing what they normally do in their positions: promote and protect their agencies and the status quo. The public at large participates in the cover-up by failing to question the attack and instead believing the relatively comforting myth of bin Laden.

This scenario contrasts with Professor A.K. Dewdney's Operation Pearl, which requires large numbers of insiders. One of the most persuasive arguments made by defenders of the official story is that an inside job would have involved a conspiracy too large to keep concealed. Attack Scenario 404 provides a counterexample.

Hypothetical Attack Scenario 404

last updated: 6/1/6

Attack Scenario

The attack consists of four component operations: All operations employ a combination of hierarchical command structure, secrecy, and automation to achieve their objectives. All rely almost entirely on infrastructure created for other purposes.

Disabling the Air Defense System

The stage for the air defense stand-down is set months before the attack through changes in procedures for responding to hijacked aircraft. A June 1, 2001 order from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff requires that all requests from FAA for assistance in suspected hijacking events be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense for approval. From June through September 10th, Rumsfeld's office promptly dispatches intercept requests, and the new procedure is not questioned.

The conspirators schedule a number of war games to take place during the attack and act as cover for the operation. Air Force and Air National Guard units are told to expect deviations of airliners as part of the exercises. Operation Northern Vigilance deploys most of the fighters normally available to defend the northeast to locations in northern Canada and Alaska. A war game setting Operation Vigilant Guardian against Operation Vigilant Warrior is played on the day of the attack. It involves the insertion of virtual radar blips, indistinguishable from the blips of real aircraft, on military radar screens. FAA radar screens are not affected, and FAA officials promptly notify NORAD of deviations. (NORAD and the 9/11 Commission would subsequently supply contradictory notification timelines which bore little resemblance to reality.) FAA requests for assistance are directed to Rumsfeld's office, as per the June 1st order. Rumsfeld's deputy finally orders jets scrambled from Otis Air Force Base just as the North Tower is hit, and later from Langley. The pilots from both Otis and Langley think that they are participating in Vigilant Guardian and fly subsonic as instructed.

The Langley jets did not take off until 9:25, but the pilots had been in their cockpits since about 9:10 -- only about ten minutes since the North Tower strike went live on most local TV affiliates. Vigilant Guardian was so much like the real thing that a participant could easily mistake radio chatter about the attacks as part of the exercises. However, these and other interceptor pilots might have learned that the attack was real by phone or television before scrambling and were a threat to the completion of Flight 77's mission. But the Pentagon attack was a bonus. Even if the military had managed to foil the attack, both of the Twin Towers had already been hit and the destruction in Manhattan could continue to unfold, sufficient pretext for the War on Terror.

Flights 11, 175 and 77

The use of AAL Flight 11 and UAL Flight 175 to attack the Twin Towers, and of AAL Flight 77 to attack the Pentagon requires the execution of two main tasks in each case:

  1. Rendering unconscious the flight crew and passengers, preventing any communications from them about events in the cabin.
  2. Taking over the flight computers, allowing the planes to be auto-piloted to their targets.

Task 1 is achieved with aerosol bombs of decapacitating gas hidden in luggage. The gas is fentanyl, the extremely potent opiate used by Russian forces to end the hostage crisis in the theater in Chechnya. The bombs detonate when the barometric trigger senses a cabin pressure corresponding to an altitude of 28,000 feet. The fentanyl gas diffuses throughout the cabin and is absorbed so rapidly by the victims that they cannot even pick up a cell phone or handset to initiate a call.

Task 2 is accomplished with an autopilot program in an upgrade package, disguised as a high-altitude stall-recovery program. The instrument-triggered program is started by the flight computer when the plane passes through 30,000 feet and proceeds to fly the aircraft into its target with down-to-the-meter accuracy.

Pairs of operatives at Logan and Dulles airports posing as passengers check the bomb-concealing luggage onto the targeted flights.

Technicians in a control center in Building 7 track the three jetliners and can communicate with the autopilot program through a data port. If necessary they can modify the programmed course of the aircraft.

On Flights 11, 175, and 77, a nearly identical sequence of events transpires. First the decapacitating gas is dispersed, knocking out everyone on board. Then, after about 5 minutes, as the plane continues to climb, the Trojan horse program is activated and it proceeds to turn the transponder off and begin maneuvering the plane toward its final target.

As Flight 77 swoops toward the Pentagon after a spectacular spiral dive, the program switches its transponder on, this time with a code identifying itself as a friendly F-16. Flying within 500 feet of the ground for the last mile of its approach, and at a speed of over 500 mph (three times as fast as jetliners normally fly so close to the ground) makes it appear to be a much smaller plane from a distance, with nearby witnesses being impressed by its size and sudden presence. Its friendly transponder allows it to avoid triggering the missile batteries on the lawn's perimeter. However, a specially-programmed surface-to air system, located less than 100 feet from the Pentagon's facade, fires a missile at the Flight 77 just as its nose begins to impact the facade. The explosion of the warhead shatters the plane's tail section, preventing the rudder from leaving an imprint on the facade. The speed of the crash prevents the explosions from greatly altering the trajectory of the plane's contents, which enter the building, mostly reduced to small pieces.

The aerobatic approach maneuver, the alteration of the impact damage shape by the missile strikes, the surprisingly and deceptively small appearance of the debris field, the immediate seizure of video capturing the attack, and the initial broadcast of a report of a commuter plane, would seed the notion that a 757 was not involved in the attack -- a notion later fed by releasing forged video frames from a Pentagon security camera. The idea that Flight 77 did not hit the Pentagon is seized upon by many 9-11 skeptics and is used to discredit all 9-11 skepticism.

Hijacking Flight 93

Flight 93 takes off from Newark and is shot down in Pennsylvania. The pilot of the interceptor is ordered not to discuss the incident. With the exception of the shoot-down, the events on Flight 93 are substantially the same as reported in the wake of the attack: hijackers on board do kill the pilots and seize control of the aircraft, and there is a passenger revolt.

The Destruction in Manhattan

The demolitions of the Twin Towers and Building 7 are accomplished through the detonation of high-explosive charges inconspicuously installed in all three buildings' elevator shafts, and, in the case of Building 7, small cutter charges placed adjacent perimeter columns near the building's base.

The number of explosive charges used in the Twin Towers is far less than would be employed in conventional demolitions of such large buildings, but their aggregate explosive energy is much greater. Each charge is contained in a capsule weighing about 40 pounds and encased in an impact- and fire-resistant casing similar to the casings that shield aircraft black boxes.

Each demolition charge has a detonator that goes off when it detects a radio signal that matches its unique code. Each charge is assigned to the nearest of a score of radio repeater clusters also hidden in the elevator shafts. During each tower's demolition sequence, a radio in Building 7 sends signals for the various explosive charges in rapid succession through the repeater clusters, forming a 2-level hub-and-spoke network. Software on the demolition-controlling computer allows the technicians to make last-minute changes to the programmed demolition sequences, such as to account for the positions at which the aircraft struck.

The high-explosive charges resemble conventional thermobaric devices, in which an initial charge disperses an explosive aerosol without detonating it, and a second charge ignites the aerosol, producing a strong blast wave. The delay between the dispersal and detonating charges is about five seconds, allowing the aerosol to traverse the distance between the elevator shafts and perimeter walls before being detonated. The explosive is designed to have almost no flash.

Personnel Requirements

By exploiting the hierarchical military command structure and automation, a small group of conspirators is able to execute the complex attack. The group consists of top-ranking Pentagon officials, top officials in the New York City government, and a small team of technicians. The technicians gain access to systems through authorizations passed down from the high-ranking officials.

The Pentagon

The Pentagon attack is engineered by simply gaining access to and programming the defensive systems already in place at the Pentagon. Most of the ensuing cover-up is carried out by personnel not knowingly involved in the conspiracy, but simply acting to protect their superiors.

The Destruction in Manhattan

The deployment of the explosive charges in the three World Trade Center skyscrapers is performed by a team of just three technicians working over a period of about four weeks. The explosive charges, disguised to look like lighting fixtures, are placed on the roofs of elevator cars and installed on the inside walls of the elevator shafts by a technician riding on the elevator. There are no security cameras inside the shafts to capture this operation. A controller is placed on each floor to signal the dozens of charges on that floor via short-distance radio links. After the attack, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani assures, through his control of the police force and over city contracts, that Ground Zero is sealed off and that the evidence is destroyed.

Total Personnel

The personnel who execute the attack are stratified into two layers: the command team, and several operations teams. The command team plans the operation, starting about a year before the attack, directs the operations teams for several months in advance of the attack, and monitors and coordinates the operation on the day of the attack. The operations teams perform specific tasks to prepare for the operation for several months before, and implement it on the day of the attack. Only the members of the command team are aware of the entire scope of the operation. Members of the operations teams are briefed on a need-to-know basis.

The Command Team

The command team consists of individuals in the highest levels of the United States government and the New York City government and selected deputies. Their executive authority uniquely empowers them to implement critical aspects of the operation and the official response to it without oversight, such as changing procedures for interception of hijacked aircraft, and disposing of the remains of the World Trade Center without proper investigation.

In addition to coordinating the preparations for and the response to the attack, the command team staffs the command centers on the day of the attack to coordinate last-minute adjustments in the operation, and implement fall-back plans in the event of failures. The two command centers are located Office of Emergency Management bunker on the 23rd floor of Building 7, and in the basement of the White House.


Why "Scenario 404"?

We chose this name for several reasons. First, it emphasizes that this is but one of hundreds of possible hypotheses that could be devised to explain the known facts. Its purpose is merely to show that the attack could have been executed by a small number of operatives using off-the-shelf technology. Second, it echoes the HTTP response code 404 issued by a web server when it cannot find a file requested by a client. Similarly, the evidence indicating exactly how the attack was executed will probably never be found, because part of the attack's design was to destroy that evidence.

page last modified: 2013-03-21