July 23, 2008

The NORAD Papers III


In The NORAD Papers and The NORAD Papers II we learned from government/military documents, media reports, university curricula, etc. dating from before 1995 to 1999 that NORAD since its founding in 1958 was tasked with three missions:


1. surveillance and control of the airspace covering the United States and Canada;

2. providing the NCAs [National Command Authorities] with tactical warning and attack assessment of an aerospace attack against North America; and

3. providing an appropriate response to any form of an air attack.1


The last two missions constitute NORAD’s "outward" search for hostile aircraft approaching the North American continent. NORAD’s first mission, however, tasks the agency to monitor and control all aircraft within the United States’ and Canada’s air space. This is what NORAD calls "air sovereignty". As reported by the General Accounting Office in 1994, "NORAD defines air sovereignty as providing surveillance and control of the territorial airspace, which includes:

1. intercepting and destroying uncontrollable air objects;

2. tracking hijacked aircraft;

3. assisting aircraft in distress;

4. escorting Communist civil aircraft; and

5. intercepting suspect aircraft, including counterdrug operations and peacetime military intercepts."2


As Commander-in-Chief of NORAD between August 1998 and February 2000, General Richard Myers3 would, of course, have known what NORAD’s three missions were on the morning of September 11, 2001. He would have known that NORAD provided surveillance and control of the territorial airspace of the United States as well as watching outside the United States for an aerospace attack on September 11, 2001. Therefore when the former commander of NORAD stated in testimony he gave before the 9/11 Commission pertaining to NORAD’s failure to anticipate the 9/11 attacks, "I can't answer the hypothetical. It's more - it's the way that we were directed to posture, looking outward"4, he knowingly committed perjury.

In point of fact, not only was NORAD postured to look inward on the morning of 9/11, but not long after the ‘collapse’ of the USSR NORAD’s inward mission—air sovereignty—was to become the raison d'être for its continued existence. A NORAD strategy review emphasized a new justification for its core forces soon after the ‘demise’ of the USSR—that of peacetime air sovereignty:


"The dramatically changed threat and . . . development of post-Cold War defense policies suggest real possibilities for shifting NORAD's focus from deterring massive nuclear attack to defending both nations [Canada and the United States] by maintaining air sovereignty . . . . The size of the core force would equate to that required to perform the peacetime Air Sovereignty mission."5


By the mid-1990s the shift in NORAD’s focus was complete, as reported by the General Accounting Office:


"According to the Chairman [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], the air defense force was structured to intercept the former Soviet Union's long-range bomber force if it attacked over the North Pole. Since that threat has largely disappeared, the United States no longer needs a dedicated continental air defense force, and the force has refocused its activity on the air sovereignty mission"6


We learn that by 1995 NORAD had changed its priorities. NORAD’s main mission of defending the continent against a massive nuclear attack would now take a back seat to the less glamorous inward mission of air sovereignty.


Download the GAO report on NORAD, Continental Air Defense: A Dedicated Force Is No Longer Needed, at http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat3/151250.pdf.