The commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, testified on Capitol Hill Thursday before a commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks.
General Ralph “Ed” Eberhart says Colorado Springs-based NORAD has implemented numerous changes since the attacks to improve its ability to respond and defend U.S. airspace. The investigative panel says NORAD might have been able to intercept at least one of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11.
But the panel's report says missteps by aviation and military officials squandered precious time between when officials became aware of the first hijacking and the crash of the last hijacked plane in Pennsylvania more than an hour later.
Excerpts from Gen. Eberhart’s testimony:
“Given the notification we had that day, we still had a time distance problem where we would have not have been able to respond to these threats.”
"But I also feel compelled to mention that NORAD's not the right way to work this problem. It is the force of last resort. If you use us, if we have to be used, if we have to take action, it takes a bad situation from getting worse because everybody on that airplane will die.”
"So this is a stopgap final measure. We have to take it. We have to be prepared. But where we really need to focus is destroying these terrorist networks; not allowing them into our country, don't allow them into our airports, don't allow them on our aircraft and if they get on our aircraft, don't let them take control of the airplane. That's where we must focus.”