NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND
Public Affairs, Headquarters, North American Aerospace Command,
November 1, 2000
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Newspaper Article Contains Inaccuracies
A news article headlined "Shootdown: U.S. erred, official says" appearing in the October 27, 2000 edition of the Miami Herald contains a misrepresentation of facts concerning the alert posture of North American Aerospace Defense Commands (NORAD) fighter aircraft during the February 24, 1996 shootdown of two Brothers To The Rescue aircraft by Cuban jet fighters.
The article incorrectly implies that NORAD withheld information regarding a communication mix-up that caused NORAD alert aircraft to be taken "off alert."
NORAD did not withhold the information as implied. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the alert posture of the aircraft at Homestead Air Force Base have been a matter of public record since 1996, and were extensively reported on by various news agencies at the time.
The Insert for the Record, U.S. House International Relations Committee, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, dated 18 September 1996 (attached), clearly articulates the nature of the communications mix-up which led to the NORAD alert aircraft standing normal air sovereignty alert during the shootdown. Both of the authors of the article cited this document as the basis of their inquiry to the NORAD Public Affairs Office, and subsequently faxed a copy of the Insert for the Record to us. For some reason, the authors chose to selectively misrepresent the facts already evident in the report by alleging that "NORAD finally explained why" the fighters were on normal air sovereignty alert during the shootdown.
As explained in the aftermath of the incident, the mission of NORAD is to protect the sovereign airspace of North America. Throughout the entire sequence of events leading to the unexpected and tragic shootdown of the BTTR aircraft, the Cuban MIGs were never a threat to our sovereign airspace, and never crossed a threshold that would have warranted a scramble decision. In addition, Cuban MIGs had not demonstrated hostile intent towards previous BTTR flights. The missions of NORAD include aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. These do not include the escort of aircraft especially those entering a foreign countrys sovereign airspace.
33. On February 24th, what was the status of the F-15s at Homestead? Were they ready to launch? Were they told to stand down?
At no time based upon NORAD scramble criteria did the position of the Cuban MiGs dictate a scramble. The F-15s at Homestead remained in a position to launch within five minutes throughout the entire sequence of the BTTR shoot down. Owing to a communication mix up between Cheyenne Mountain and SEADS. Homestead was told to stand down from battle stations for 15 minutes between 1520 local and 1535 local - the period that included both shoot downs. CINCNORAD directed to Cheyenne Mountain that our alert aircraft should understand the Rules of Engagement and that we were not to be provocative. This direction occurred before the CINC was briefed that the MIGs were airborne. That direction was interpreted by a NORAD duty officer that the fighters at Homestead should come off battle stations, which was neither the direction or intent. By the time the SEADs commander clarified the situation and placed the fighters back on battle stations, the engagement had already been terminated. This command and control breakdown resulted in alert fighters on 5 minute airborne response time instead of 2-3 minute response time and did not impact the outcome of the days events.