The Joint Chiefs of Staff are technically advisers to the executive and theater command, which under law “runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense; and from the Secretary of Defense to the commander of the combatant command.” As the theater of combat on Sept. 11 was domestic, the function of combatant command resided at the Pentagon in the NMCC.
The attacks made use of passenger transport, a realm supervised by the Federal Aviation Administration. Once it was clear that attacks were underway, the responsibility for aerial defense resided with the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) under Gen. Ralph Eberhart.
Authority should have therefore run from Commander-in-Chief Bush to Secretary Rumsfeld to the NMCC under Winfield and NORAD under Eberhart, with Gen. Myers as the chief adviser.
Montague Winfield was originally scheduled to be at his command post on morning of Sept. 11. But on Sept. 10, he arranged for his deputy to relieve him the next morning at exactly 8:30 a.m. This turned out to be just eight minutes before the military was alerted to the diversion of the first flight (at 8:38 a.m. according to the timeline in The 9/11 Commission Report).
The report mentions Winfield by name only once, as a source in a footnote, without clarification (Ch. 1 fn 190, p. 463). His absence from the NMCC after 8:30 a.m. was first revealed to the Commission in a June 17, 2004 statement by his deputy, Capt. Charles J. Leidig (who was recently promoted to admiral).
Winfield was scheduled to testify before the Kean Commission in public on the same day as Leidig. As on Sept. 11, he was a no-show. Leidig spoke for him, saying under oath that on Sept. 11, “Right after we resolved what was going on with United 93, around that time General Winfield took over” command of the NMCC.
(Transcript of June 17 hearings at www.9-11commission.gov/archive/hearing12/9-11Commission_Hearing_2004-06-17.pdf)
Thus Gen. Winfield apparently exercised no operational authority until after the attacks were over. In the further absence of Bush and Rumsfeld, the man in charge of the U.S. military during the attacks was apparently Capt. Leidig, a rookie in the job who, in his own words, first qualified in August 2001 “to stand watch as the Deputy Director for Operations in the NMCC.”
However, Winfield either forgot his own absence or attempted to gloss over it when he was filmed for a 2002 Discovery-Times documentary, “Attack on the Pentagon.” In that interview, he says that the “national leadership” was called to the NMCC “after the World Trade Center was struck.” He also describes on camera the process of “resolving” what happened to Flight 93, the final flight, as though he was present.
Was Winfield present at the NMCC at any time during the attacks? If not, why would he try to hide an absence for which no one would otherwise think to blame him, since it was arranged the night before? Where was he during the 90 minutes after 8:30 a.m.?