Posted by Patrick Morris on Oct 10, 2018
Mike Jellinek talks about his experience as the officer of the watch in NORAD Headquarters on Sept 11, 2001.
Mike Jellinek spoke on NORAD and 9/11 and Canada’s role. This is part of this year’s series on Canada’s role in the world, Past and Future. Mike had a varied career with the Canadian Armed Forces including the assignment about which he spoke, a tour of duty in NORAD Headquarters in Colorado Springs.
NORAD (the North American Air Defence Treaty) is a joint US-Canada military cooperation agreement that provides for mutual continental defence. It also means that the headquarters near Colorado Springs is staffed by joint US and Canadian personnel. His presentation provided a background look at how NORAD operates, how the system responded to the 9/11 attacks, and developments since.
The NORAD Headquarters at Colorado Springs were developed in response to the 1950’s threats posed by the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union. This led to the realization that a substantial blast proof installation was necessary and so a cave was excavated in Cheyenne Mountain, large enough to hold nine free-standing buildings and is designed to be self-sufficient with large freshwater reserves, generating capacity and all the facilities required for a staffing complement of approximately 1300. Of the five watches rotating through, four are bi-national (US-Canada) and multi-force (Army, Navy, Air Force and US Marines). The fundamental role of the HQ is threat detection, whether by aircraft, ICBM, or space; and also “theatre missile” threats (referring to a missile live in a theatre-of-war elsewhere in the world). The extent and capability of air defence surveillance technology means that detection and assessment can occur within seconds of a threat launch.
Mike was the watch commander on September 11, 2001. In the days before September 11, two planned events were in play in the environment: a Russian “forward deployment” exercise, and a NORAD exercise. The first signal consisted of a “hijacking in progress” and then the CNN images of the World Trade Centre tower in flames, followed by the sight of the second aircraft hitting the tower. The NORAD exercise was immediately cancelled and shortly thereafter the Russian military stood down its own exercise. Because it was impossible to identify friend from foe in the air, the decision was made to remove all non-military aircraft from US airspace. It was also realized that the threat to Canada was different; and dealing with many trans-oceanic flights without being able to land them in Canada would be virtually impossible. This was all facilitated by the joint nature of NORAD Command. The airspace problem also involved continuing to deal with air defence over major cities (“combat air patrols”) but also police-based air units and mercy flights. In the early stages of the event the military aircraft were not armed (the normal state in training missions) but the need to deploy combat air patrols involved arming a substantial number of fighter jets.
The post 9/11 environment is notably different. More thought was given to the rules-of-engagement, recognition of flights as potential threats (with the advent of ICBMs, the military aircraft threat had been considered less significant), the handling in-bound flights, and the handling of Canada-US flights. One result was the creation of NorthCom (which Canada decided not to participate in, despite the offer). In addition the NORAD suite of threats now includes the space-based threat and the development of ballistic-missile defence (or “hitting a bullet with a  bullet”).
Questions were raised regarding Flight 93; transponders on civilian aircraft; the CAP response in Canada; and the decision-making process in dealing with a potential threat from a civilian aircraft (meaning the decision to bring it down by military action).