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SLUG: 5-56971 NORAD / Northcom









HEADLINE: NORAD Changes to Prevent Another September 11th

INTRO: The September 11th attacks in 2001 changed the way the United States looks at its domestic security. Part of that change was the establishment of a new military command for North America, and a re-focusing of the capabilities of one of the country's primary defense systems, the North American Air Defense Command, headquartered inside a mountain in Colorado. VOA Defense Department Correspondent Al Pessin visited the facility to find out how the defense system works.

TEXT: It is a short, cool, damp ride on the military bus through half a kilometer of solid rock. Even then, you are not quite inside the North American Air Defense Command complex in Cheyenne Mountain. There is still a short walk, past two sets of huge doors, each more than a meter thick and weighing about 20 metric tons each.


"We are the primary warning center for air, space and missile threats for North America."

///END ACT///

That is Major David Paterson, spokesman for the North American Air Defense Command, known as NORAD.


"There are many, many organizations that rely on the credible information that the Cheyenne Mountain operations center will provide. And ultimately, the President of the United States will make decisions based on the information that comes from the Cheyenne Mountain operations center."

///END ACT///

That information ranges from objects in space to missile launches worldwide to potentially threatening aircraft, like the small plane that entered Washington's restricted airspace in May. Major Paterson says all that gives NORAD a very special responsibility, especially when it comes to potentially disastrous threats, like a stray airliner or a foreign missile heading for the United States.


"There are three words, or terms, we use before we call the President of the United States. They are, accurate, timely, unambiguous. Of those three words, accuracy is the most important. Why? Because before we tell the President of the United States that somebody has launched a strategic missile attack against us, we must be 100-percent correct. Zero defects. We can not be wrong. Why? Because the consequences for the country we identify would be deadly, to say the least."

///END ACT///

Inside the huge tunnels carved out of Cheyenne Mountain in the 1950s, NORAD has several multi-story buildings, as well as power generators, water reservoirs, space to store large amounts of supplies, cafeterias, a store, even a barber shop and a basketball court, everything needed to keep the facility operational, even during a nuclear attack. The most sensitive areas are closed to visitors.

But down the mountain, it is possible to visit the operations center at the headquarters of the new U.S. Northern Command, where the staff monitors the information from NORAD and other sources on a wall-sized video display. It shows television news networks, all U.S. air traffic, and on this day, wildfires in the western United States and a detailed map of New York City, where several U.S. Navy ships are making a port call.

Officers here are prepared to respond to any threat.


"We've got an emergency on American (Airlines) 283, a 767 from Miami going to Los Angeles. He's turning around, coming back to DFW (Dallas/Forth Worth). The emergency is smoke in the cabin."

///END ACT///

That voice came from a loudspeaker connected to the Federal Aviation Administration, which controls all U.S. air traffic. The controller was informing Northern Command, and other organizations on the closed network, that an American Airlines flight was turning around and making an emergency landing due to smoke in the cabin. Northern Command officers would not have to worry when they noticed the aircraft altering its flight path.

A few minutes later, as the operations center chief Barbara Duink (pron: doo-INK) is giving a briefing, all the telephones in the room start ringing.


"We're able to push a button on any phone and talk to the Homeland Security Operations Center, so we have a lot of capabilities there. (Phones Ring) (Male Voice) This'll be a test. This'll be a test. (Phones Ring) (Duink) What they're testing is, they're testing those emergency action loops, conferences, and the communications to make sure everybody can get on the conference (call) and they do this numerous times daily, both day and night."

///END ACT///

That was just a routine test. In an actual emergency, dozens of military and civilian agencies would coordinate their response using a conference call.

It is a complex and high tech operation. But before the September 11th attacks it did not exist.


"I can tell you, when I got here three years ago, we were working off of scratch paper, faxes, e-mails."

///END ACT///

Commander James Benton is the chief of NORAD's Air Warning Center, one of the highly-classified facilities inside Cheyenne Mountain.


"If you were to say, 'where were we on 9-12(-2001) and where are we today in terms of communication flow, tactical awareness, decision-making capabilities?' We are light years ahead of where we were, light years."

///END ACT///

Even more than three years after the September 11th attacks, Commander Benton says the NORAD and Northern Command effort to secure the continent from attack is still in what he calls the "infancy stages" of a decades long mission.


"You know, advantage always goes to the enemy because they know what they're going to do, and you don't. Our job is to try to get ahead of them."

///END ACT///

Commander Benton says NORAD and Northern Command do that by exercising relentlessly, and by learning from every exercise and actual alert. The goal is to deter any attack on North America, and if that fails, to detect and block any attack before it creates another disaster like the ones on September 11th, 2001. (Signed)


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