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Written Statement of John S.

White
to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks
Upon the United States

On January 3 of this year, I retired from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with
almost 38 years of government service. All of this service was spent in the field of air
traffic control. In preparing this statement, I did not seek or gain access to FAA files
concerning the events of September 11, 2001 and I do not have personal files concerning
the events of that day. On May 15,1 was interviewed by two members of the
Commission's staff. During the interview, I listened to recordings of coordination that
took place, on September 11, at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center
(ATCSCC), in Herndon, Virginia. In a letter dated May 27, 2004, the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States requested that I provide oral
and written testimony on three topics related to the events of September 11, 2001. The
responses to the three topics have been developed from my memories of the events. As
these topics are addressed, any opinions provided are my own and should not be taken as
official FAA positions.

My career as an air traffic controller began in 1965 when I joined the United States Air
Force. My duty assignments included Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas
and Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. In 1970,1 was hired by the FAA and
assigned to Los Angeles Center in Palmdale, California. During my 171/2 years at Los
Angeles Center, I held positions as an Air Traffic Control Specialist, Airspace and
Procedures Specialist, and Area Supervisor. In 1987,1 was transferred to the Air Traffic
Division in the Western-Pacific Region where I served for more than two years as a
Planning Specialist in the Planning, Requirements and Automation Branch. In 1989,1
was promoted to the position of Assistant Air Traffic Manager at the Honolulu Center
Radar Approach (CERAP). During my three years in Hawaii, I also served as the Air
Traffic Manager of both the Honolulu Air Traffic Control Tower and the Honolulu
CERAP.

In 1992,1 was promoted to the position of Assistant Program Manager at the Air
Traffic Control System Command Center located at FAA Headquarters in Washington
D.C. During the eleven years I worked at the ATCSCC, there were many organization
realignments and the ATCSCC was moved from FAA Headquarters to its present
location in Herndon Virginia. In this period of time, I held the positions of Assistant
Program Manager, Assistant Division Manager and Division Manager. On September
11, 2001,1 held the position of Manager of the System Efficiency Division.

The specific role played by the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC)
on 9/11 in the immediate response to the hijackings, placed in the general context of the
ATCSCC's function within FAA organizational structure.

On September 11, 2001, the ATCSCC was the major organization in the Air Traffic
Tactical Operations (ATT) Program. Air Traffic Tactical Operations reported to the
Director of Air Traffic (AAT); which, in turn, reported to the Associate Administrator for
Air Traffic Services (ATS). ATS reported to the Deputy Administrator (ADA).

The primary operational purpose of the ATCSCC is to collaboratively manage the Air
Traffic Control System. Simply stated, the ATCSCC ensures that air traffic demand does
not exceed system capacity. Normally, this is accomplished through many avenues of
close coordination with system users and air traffic field facilities. The FAA
Administrator provides the ATCSCC the authority to manage the Air Traffic Control
System and to implement traffic management initiatives such as ground delay programs
and ground stops. This authority is described in
FAA Order 7210.3.

The ATCSCC is most effective when it collaboratively plans responses to system


constraints with all system stakeholders. On September 11,2001, the surprise terrorist
attacks required the men and women of the ATCSCC to take a completely different
approach in responding to the attacks. The following actions were initiated:

In retrospect, armed with our current knowledge, the threat of September 11th is obvious.
However, as the attacks occurred on that day there was nothing obvious about the
magnitude of the threat or even who the perpetrators were. In an effort to ascertain the
scope of the attacks, personnel at the ATCSCC began to gather as much data as possible.
Soon a dry erase board was pressed into service and was used to track system anomalies.
As I recall, the list of flights of interest reached eleven. As data was collected it was
passed to FAA Headquarters. The initiative and professionalism displayed by the men
and women of the ATCSCC in this and all their efforts on that day were truly impressive.
After the first attack on the World Trade Center, ground stops were implemented for New
York Center and Boston Center airports. These ground stops were expanded in relatively
quick fashion and, ultimately, a national ground stop was implemented.

ATCSCC personnel took action to refuse entry into United States' airspace to all aircraft
that had departed international airports. The Canadian air traffic control system did a
marvelous job of supporting this action. Eventually, the ATCSCC gave the order to land
all airborne aircraft at the nearest airport. This was the first time in the history of air
traffic control in the United States that this order was given. The air traffic control
system responded flawlessly.

The above actions were taken in an attempt to disrupt the terrorists' plan of attack. We
knew a hijacker had inadvertently transmitted, "... .we have other planes." We did not
know how many.

Each business day, the ATCSCC operations and administrative managers conduct a
review of the previous day's operation. On September 11, 2001 this meeting was
convened at 0830 EDT. At the time the meeting began, the ATCSCC had already
received reports of a hijacked aircraft. Subsequent, reports resulted in the termination of
the meeting and the management team moving to the operations room.
The Manager of the System Efficiency Division has no routine operational role in the
ATCSCC operational quarters. On the morning of September 11th management
personnel assumed roles designed to assist operations personnel respond to the national
emergency. Sometime after the managers had conducted a brief meeting in the
operations room, at which items such as internal security and the status of contract and
non-essential personnel were discussed, I received a telephone call from the Deputy
Director of Air Traffic. I took this call on the administrative phone at the first level
supervisor position in the East area of specialization. During this call, I was ordered to
remain on the line to facilitate instant communication. I remained at this ad hoc
communication position for approximately five hours. I received no information as to
where the "hotline" I was monitoring terminated. Initially, I believed it was connected to
a conference room in the Air Traffic suite in FAA Headquarters.
When I began to exchange information on this line with ATS personnel, I believed the
"hotline" had been moved to a conference room close to the FAA Headquarters
Operations Center.

During the time I worked this ad hoc communications position, I tried to provide
headquarters with information that was as complete and as accurate as possible.
Since much of the information the ATCSCC received that day was inaccurate, this was a
difficult task. As I recall, at least twice during the time of the four hijackings, the
ATCSCC received direction to take actions that had already been initiated by the
ATCSCC. A myriad of issues were handled on this line.

Initially, the information concerning the aircraft of interest were predominant.


As time passed, humanitarian and VIP flights into New York and Washington were
coordinated on this line as well as special waivers for certain air carrier international
flights.

Until my May 15th interview with two members of the Commission's staff, I believed
that, on September 11, 2001, the appropriate coordination between the
FAA and the Department of Defense concerning the hijacked aircraft had been
accomplished.

The only manner in which I can address this topic is to write how I believe coordination
should have taken place on September 11. The hijackings should have been reported by
the controllers up their management chain to the regional operations centers. The
regional operations centers should have passed the information to the Washington
Operations Center. The Operations Center should have advised the FAA official
assigned the responsibility of coordinating military assistance. I cannot say that during
the attacks of 9/11 my personal understanding of the process was crystal clear, but I did
know that the request for military assistance had to come from headquarters. During my
May 15th interview, I listened to coordination concerning United 93, in which I asked if
headquarters had made a decision to request the launch of fighter aircraft.
There was a clear expectation that the responsibility for this action belonged in FAA
Headquarters.
I do not recall any ATCSCC coordination that took place with the military during the
hijackings. This does not mean that none took place. The Central Altitude
Reservation Function (CARP) and the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) are both housed
at the ATCSCC and both have communication links with the military. In fact, the ATSC
is staffed by military reserve personnel. It would be foolish to think that no
communications took place with their military counterparts during the hijackings.
Additionally, traffic management specialists may have contacted military organizations
with whom he or she routinely worked. With the exception of being advised by a traffic
management specialist of the location of an aircraft carrier, I have no personal
recollection of ever having knowledge any of these communications. After the last
hijacking had been terminated, I recall numerous calls from NORAD, various air defense
sectors and other military entities concerning the access to and control of airspace.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, like most Americans, I experienced a full gamut
of emotions. I felt a deep sadness for those lost in the four aircraft and for those who lost
their lives at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
I was angry that terrorists had been able to use the air traffic control system to carry out
their attacks. I was anxious about the safety of my family and for the security of the
United States. Contrarily, I felt a tremendous pride, in particular, for the performance of
the people at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center and, in general, for the
entire air traffic control system.

During a time of crisis, the controllers made the difficult look easy and served America
well. Nothing in the intervening months and years of investigation has changed that
feeling of pride.