Rather than accepting blame for his command's complete lack of response that morning, however, or even expressing regret about what had occurred, General Eberhart instead spent the rest of his career attempting to pin the blame for this failure squarely on the FAA.
GEN. EBERHART: You've read a lot over the last two and a half years about what NORAD did and did not do that morning and should have done in the years and months leading up to that attack. Ground truth is that NORAD was charged to support the FAA in the event of a hijacking. Our role was to respond to the request from FAA to get airborne, fly, shadow the hijacked airplane, say whether the hijacked airplane was following the instructions of the air traffic controller, of FAA. And in a terrible situation that that plane crashed, or that airplane exploded in mid-air, document that tragedy.Although Eberhart's version of events was cemented into place as the official story of 9/11 propounded by the 9/11 commission, they are in fact self-serving lies.
(Source: Homeland Defense in the Global War on Terrorism)
In Eberhart's version of events, NORAD is completely subordinate to the FAA. In reality, however, NORAD is specifically tasked with dealing with such events itself, not waiting passively for FAA orders. NORAD's own regulations for dealing with hijacked jets specifically state that "FAA Authorization for Interceptor Operations is not used for intercept and airborne surveillance of hijacked aircraft within the [continental United States]."
These standard operating procedures were not merely theoretical, or some obscure regulation that would have been unfamiliar to the four-star general in charge of defending American airspace. In the year 2000 alone, NORAD scrambled fighters in response to "unknowns" - pilots who didn't file or diverted from flight plans or used the wrong frequency - 129 times.
Perhaps even more remarkable, however, is that Eberhart and NORAD offered not one, not two, not three, but four separate timelines of their complete lack of response that morning. The first, offered by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers just two days after the attacks during his confirmation hearings in the Senate, claimed that not a single fighter was scrambled to intercept any of the airliners until after the incident at the Pentagon. One week later, NORAD released a partial timeline that indicated they had in fact received advance notification about three of the planes with as much as 20 minutes warning, more than enough time for the planes to have been intercepted. A third story emerged in May 2003; this time, NORAD was only contacted about Flight 175 at 9:05, 3 minutes after it crashed into the south tower. The official story, found in the 9/11 Commission's final report, was that NORAD received no advance notice of any of the flights. Eberhart and the military were completely exonerated.
However, Eberhart had testified in October 2001 that NORAD had been notified about Flight 77 at 9:24 AM. The 9/11 Commission determined that this was a lie. Regardless of the truth or untruth of any of these accounts, the simple fact is that, according to the 9/11 Commission itself, Eberhart had lied to Congress, which is in fact a crime. By the 9/11 Commission's own account, Eberhart should have been tried.
But Eberhart's lies do not end there.
GEN. EBERHART: Many people will talk about that they knew that there was going to be an attack. They knew that people were going to take over an aircraft and fly it into a building. I can tell you that there was no credible intelligence at that time to go build a defense against that type of attack. Tragically, we were wrong. We were wrong.Once again, Eberhart's depiction of events is a self-serving and easily demonstrable lie.
(Source: Homeland Defense in the Global War on Terrorism)
Not only had NORAD envisioned such a scenario, they had been training for it extensively in the years leading up to 9/11. Between October 1998 and September 2001, NORAD had conducted 28 exercise events involving hijackings. At least five of those hijack scenarios involved "a suicide crash into a high-value target." Furthermore, at least six of the exercises took place completely within American airspace, putting to rest the oft-heard excuse that NORAD wasn't prepared for threats from within the US.
Another note that would be of interest to prosecutors looking at potential foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks pertains to Eberhart's dual role as Commander-in-Chief of US Space Command, where he was responsible for setting something called the "Infocon threat level." Established in March 1999, the Infocon threat level was designed as a measure of the threat to Defense Department computer systems and networks and different levels required different protocols for securing communications and information systems. At 9:09 PM on September 10, 2001, less than 12 hours before the attacks began, Eberhart reduced Infocon to Level 5 , the lowest threat level, making it easier for hackers to compromise Defense Department systems and controls. Eberhart has never been asked about this change in the public record.
There are a laundry list of other questionable actions that Eberhart took on 9/11. His failure to implement military control over US airspace. His decision to drive from Peterson Air Force Base to NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Control Center at 9:30 AM, right in the middle of the attack, despite knowing this would involve loss of communication for part of the drive, and the fact that it took him 45 minutes to complete the 30 minute trip. His decision to ground all fighter jets by ordering them to battle stations instead of ordering them to scramble at 9:49 AM. And even NORAD's inability to turn over basic documentation to government investigators.
The official story of 9/11 is a lie. But Eberhart's story is a lie within that lie, designed to absolve himself and other members of the US military charged with defending American airspace that morning from the most catastrophic failure in that mission in their history. And not only did Eberhart survive with his career intact, he was praised as a "9/11 hero" and moved into the private sector after leaving NORAD in 2004, as chairman and board member of a number of companies that directly benefited from the post-9/11 police state and the post-9/11 war on terror.
Ralph E. Eberhart remains at large.