December 3, 2008


The NORAD Papers V


Down The Memory Hole: NORAD’s Air Sovereignty Mission And The 9/11 Commission Report


In this supplement to The NORAD Papers, I shine the spotlight on The 9/11 Commission Report’s assessment of NORAD in relation to the defense organization’s “air sovereignty” mission on 9/11. To accomplish this task, I compare the report’s view of NORAD’s air sovereignty capabilities before and on 9/11 with that of the historical record as provided by articles published before September 11, 2001.

The 9/11 Commission Report is correct when it affirms that, “NORAD is a binational command established in 1958 between the United States and Canada. Its mission was, and is, to defend the airspace of North America and protect the continent. That mission does not distinguish between internal and external threats…”1 The report becomes addled however when it explains NORAD’s seemingly poor performance on 9/11, “…but because NORAD was created to counter the Soviet threat, it came to define its job as defending against external attacks [see Appendix].”2

The statement that NORAD “define[ed] its job as defending against external attacks3 due to the Soviet threat, and that is why NORAD was taken off-guard on 9/11 is nonsensical on its face. The Soviet threat was the reason that NORAD was mandated to provide “surveillance and control of the airspace of Canada and the United States” in the first place. Soviet bombers, missiles or other aerospace vehicles breaching North American borders was just as much of a concern to the political leadership of North America, if not more of a concern, than Soviet bombers, missiles or other aerospace vehicles heading towards North American borders!

NORAD is a military organization. More importantly it is a joint American-Canadian military organization, and as such doesn’t get to pick and choose which mandates it will implement. Mandates given to the military are derived from civilian authorities, and are not negotiable once passed into law. The 9/11 Commission Report says on September 11, 2001, “NORAD’s mission is set forth in a series of renewable agreements between the United States and Canada. According to the agreements in effect on 9/11, the “primary mission” of NORAD were “aerospace warning” and “aerospace control” for North America. Aerospace warning was defined as “monitoring of man-made objects in space and the detection , validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles." Aerospace control was defined as “providing surveillance and control of the airspace of Canada and the United States.”4

What are we to make of this discrepancy of what NORAD was supposed to be doing on 9/11 as asserted by The 9/11 Commission Report…monitoring aircraft approaching the continent and monitoring aircraft within the continent…with the contradictory assertion made by The 9/11 Commission Report that “because NORAD was created to counter the Soviet threat, it came to define its job as defending against external attacks”? Is The 9/11 Commission Report subtly telling us that NORAD misappropriated monies that were meant to go towards the defense organization’s air sovereignty mission, or are we being told that Congress and the Canadian Parliament never appropriated the monies to fund NORAD’s air sovereignty mission? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.

Not only was NORAD monitoring aircraft flying through American and Canadian airspace on 9/11, but NORAD was also tasked with identifying 'suspect' aircraft flying through American and Canadian airspace on 9/11 (identifying as friendly or unfriendly) as detailed in the following article published in September 1997 by the National Guard Association of the United States:

Aircraft flying over our air space [emphasis mine] are monitored seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Much of the identifying process is done by hand.

Flight plans from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are compiled in logs and have to be manually searched to identify aircraft.
There will be a learning curve for Air Guard operators, but the system that Litton touts as faster and better will ultimately make their job easier. Unlike current operating procedures, the new system will mean fewer manual inquiries and phone contact with FAA officials about commercial aircraft. The FAA flight plan is now hooked up via computer with the new R/SAOCs so operators can easily track friendly aircraft through our air space without [emphasis mine] having to get someone on the phone or thumb through written log books of flight plans.”5

And what of NORAD’s air soverignty operations over Canada? In a 1998 article for Canada’s Department of National Defense, Major Francois Malo wrote:

In 1998, Canada posses the ability to detect, identify, and if necessary intercept aircraft over Canadian territory [emphasis mine]. The "Canadianisation" of NORAD operations over [emphasis mine]Canada is complete. Though we still rely heavily on the Americans for the Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment and mutual defense, we have successfully transitioned on at least one of the three core functions of NORAD. Today, Canadian air sovereignty is being monitored and enforced by Canadians in Canada.”6

As the quotes above prove, not only were monies appropriated by the United States and Canada to fund NORAD’s air sovereignty mission and used for that purpose by NORAD, but NORAD’s air sovereignty mission was even more robust than commonly known…NORAD not only monitored aircraft “flying over our air space”, NORAD also identified aircraft “flying over our air space”! And as the publication dates in the articles show (1997 and 1998, respectively), NORAD was performing its air sovereignty mission even after the “collapse” of the USSR, six years after the “collapse” of the USSR according to Major Francois Malo’s article!

Why was NORAD still very much focused on its three missions7 so many years after the “collapse” of the USSR? In a pre-1997 article, Lt. Gen. L.W.F. Cuppens, then NORAD's deputy commander-in-chief, explains NORAD’s philosophy on its continued role in protecting the continent “post” USSR:

"'The three missions that NORAD was given by both our governments remain as valid today as they were when they were first given in 1958,' said Cuppens. 'It's true the Cold War has ended. But we, at NORAD, talk about two things, capabilities and intentions. And while the intention seems to have gone away to invade or attack North America, the capability still exists. We need to be ready to defend North America as long as there is a capability to reach out and touch us somewhere in the world.'"8 We can now clearly see the blatant, in-your-face, lie when The 9/11 Commission Report unashamedly says, “America’s homeland defenders faced outward.”9

NORAD’s air sovereignty mission was never a secret. It was known to exist, and known to be operational. Now one can more fully appreciate George Orwell’s 1984, and what Orwell tried to warn us about. The Ministry of Truth has been successful in purging most persons’ minds of the capabilities of NORAD on 9/11, relegating to the memory hole NORAD’s operational air sovereignty mission on 9/11.

1. The 9/11 Commission Report, p.16.

2. Ibid.

3. It should be noted that a military organization does not "define" itself in a republic, it is given definition by civilian authorities. 

4. The 9/11 Commission Report, note 96, p. 457.

5. NORAD: Air National Guard manning stations across the country, (National Guard Association of the United States, September 1997).

6. Canadian Aerospace Sovereignty: In Pursuit of a Comprehensive Capability, (Department of National Defense (Canada), 1998).

7.  Contrary to what the 9/11 Commission Report says, NORAD has three missions, not two. The three missions are aerospace warning (watching for aerospace vehicles approaching the continent), air sovereignty (watching aerospace vehicles flying over the continent) and air defense.

8. The Border Guards, NORAD: The Eyes and Ears of North America (The article was written before 1997 as determined by the interview in the article with NORAD’s commander-in-chief Gen. Joseph W. Ashy. On October 1, 1996 Gen. Joseph W. Ashy retired from the United States Air Force, hence The Border Guards, NORAD: The Eyes and Ears of North America was written before 1997.).

9. The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 352.



Despite what The 9/11 Commission Report claims, NORAD at no point in its existence "define[d] its job as defending against external attacks" only. As the 1 April 2000 Air Force Instruction 13-1AD, Volume 3 on Air Defense Command and Control Operations states in Chapter 3.1, under Mission, "The First Air Force Commander (1 AF/CC), in his role as the CONUS NORAD Region Commander, provides CINCNORAD/Commander US Element NORAD with TW/AA, surveillance and control of the airspace of the United States and appropriate response against air attack."1

All three missions tasked NORAD in 1958 were fully operational on September 11, 2001 as affirmed in Chapter 3.2.4. of the 1 April 2000 Air Force instruction, "Operational control of the three SAOCs and all forces available for air sovereignty, air defense and atmospheric attack warning."2

Amongst other instructions to be followed, the Air Force instruction outlines procedures to be followed by units/elements of the Air Combat Command (ACC) Air Defense System (ADS) of the United States,3 and was current on September 11, 2001. The instruction remains current to date.


1. April 2000 Air Force Instruction 13-1AD, Volume 3, p. 9.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, p. 5.