Editor’s note: WND columnist Jerome R. Corsi conducted an exclusive in-depth interview with Col. Tom Muir, U.S. Army, deputy operations officer for Command Center Operations for NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and USNORTHCOM, the United States Northern Command.

Part I of the interview focuses on the rearrangement of command facilities in Cheyenne Mountain and at Peterson Air Force Base that have resulted from the creation of USNORTHCOM following the events of 9-11.

The 50-minute June 14 interview was transcribed as close as possible to word-for-word, without any attempt to polish the spoken word into more precise written prose. As a condition for the interview, WND agreed to publish the interview completely, without editing or editorial comment, to allow Col. Muir a full explanation of the command structure changes involved in recent NORAD-USNORTHCOM decisions.

Part 2 of the interview will be published tomorrow.

Col. Tom Muir

Jerome Corsi: The decision was announced by Admiral Timothy Keating that the Cheyenne Mountain control facility was going to be reconfigured and not used as the central command post for NORAD and USNORTHCOM. I go back to the 1950s thinking of the Cheyenne Mountain command post as the great bunkered facility in the mountain that you see in movies like “War Games.” Maybe you could start by explaining what Admiral Keating’s plan is.

Col. Tom Muir: In July 2006, Admiral Keating, the former commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, announced after collaboration with congressional leaders that we were transforming not Cheyenne Mountain, but the NORAD and USNORTHCOM command center. The new facility is here at Building 2 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The decisions are about how to best conduct homeland defense for the United States, which is the USNORTHCOM mission, and the bi-national mission conducted by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. That was the decision Admiral Keating announced. He believed, as does Air Force General Victor Renuart, the current commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, that we owe it to the nations, including Canada under the NORAD bi-national command, to run the best command center possible.

As you know, USNORTHCOM did not exist until after 9-11 when the decision was made by the president of the United States and announced by the secretary of defense to create a combatant command for the homeland of the United States.

Corsi: So, how does NORAD include Canada?

Muir: NORAD is part of the bi-national agreement between the U.S. and Canada established 49 years ago that was recently renewed in the NORAD agreement of 2006. The agreement establishes a bi-national command, NORAD, charged with aerospace defense and aerospace sovereignty over the United States and Canada. In the 2006 agreement, the two nations added a maritime warning mission as a core NORAD mission for the first time in history.

Corsi: NORTHCOM, then, is a U.S. homeland military command?

Muir: Absolutely. NORTHCOM has a homeland defense mission in all domains – air, land, maritime, space and missile, cyber and information domains. Homeland defense of the United States is one of the two NORTHCOM missions. The other mission is what we call a defense support mission of civil authorities, which involves, for instance, a Hurricane Katrina or a Hurricane Rita. NORTHCOM provides support to the citizens of the United States in times of need. Those are the two-part missions of USNORTHCOM, which were chartered after the events of 9-11.

Corsi: Does Canada play a role in NORTHCOM?

Muir: No, it does not. USNORTHCOM is a U.S.-only combatant command. Every year the president signs what he calls a unified command plan, which directs and establishes the authorities for operations of the combatant commands. USNORTHCOM is responsible for the homeland defense of the United States.

Canadian authorities several years ago made a decision to stand up CANADA COMMAND, which resides in Ottawa. CANADA COMMAND authority is to provide homeland defense for Canada. So, a chain of Canadian command reports to the chief of defense staff, the minister of national defense, and the prime minister of Canada, to defend Canada. This is just like USNORTHCOM reports up to the U.S. secretary of defense and the president, for the defense of the United States.

We talk on the phone and collaborate by e-mail with CANADA COMMAND, but the two commands are separate national structures for the defense of each country’s homeland.

We work with CANADA COMMAND just like any other partner we work with. Yesterday, for example, I was on the phone with U.S. European Command, another combatant command of the United States. These commands are adjacent to one another, with shared interests and shared responsibilities. CANADA COMMAND is a Canadian organization established by Canadian authorities to defend Canada.

You see many Canadian officers here at Peterson, but they are assigned to NORAD, a bi-national command established by the two nations.

Corsi: Mexico does not participate in either NORAD or NORTHCOM, correct?

Muir: That’s correct, and I have no knowledge if Mexico was ever invited to join either command.

Corsi: Within the Cheyenne Mountain command facility, NORAD was previously centered here.

Muir: Let me see if I can break it down for you. There are really three facilities in Cheyenne Mountain. There is Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, which just like any Air Force base or Army post or Naval installation is owned by the department. So the Department of the Air Force has an Air Force station called Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Their job is to be the installation to support the tenants, to host the tenant organizations that reside on their Air Force base, just like Peterson Air Force Base hosts us here in Colorado Springs at NORAD and NORTHCOM Headquarters.

The mountain itself is sometimes referred to as Cheyenne Mountain physically, but the Cheyenne Mountain complex is the series of tunnels and buildings inside the mountain that house many organizations from all over the Department of Defense. Inside Cheyenne Mountain there used to be a center called the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center – CMOC you will see it referred to as.

That is the center that is now renamed the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate that has a system of about five centers that maintain watch over the U.S. and Canada as part of NORAD. This directorate also serves USNORTHCOM and the U.S. strategic command USSTRATCOM. The Cheyenne Mountain Directorate still runs centers in Cheyenne Mountain.

Corsi: The GAO identified the five major centers of the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate as the following: Command Center, Air Warning, Missile Correlation, Operations Intelligence Watch and Space Command.

Muir: That is accurate. You have to remember there are 15 office buildings within Cheyenne Mountain. Much of Cheyenne Mountain is not just centers; it’s also office space. There are many tenants in that office space. As the GAO report properly points out, the many tenants include the Air Force space command, the U.S. strategic command, the 721st Mission Support Group, which is the installation host, plus many other organizations that occupy office space that are not part of the five centers you just listed.

Corsi: According to the GAO, the Air Force modernized the attack warning systems within Cheyenne Mountain at a cost of more than $700 million from fiscal years 2000 through 2006.

Muir: I don’t have the report in front of me, but the GAO findings came as no surprise to us. We worked very closely with GAO during their visits here and we worked closely with the team on the report itself. So, if you are reading from the report, I assume those figures are correct.

Corsi: I am reading from the report. It also says that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs is the headquarters of NORAD and USNORTHCOM. So the NORAD and USNORTHCOM headquarters are at Peterson Air Force Base even though the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate within Cheyenne Mountain includes these five command centers we just identified.

Muir: You are exactly right.

Corsi: So, how then does the change that was proposed by Admiral Keating affect this configuration? Do these command centers come out of Cheyenne Mountain into another physical location?

Muir: What was announced by Admiral Keating and is part of our concept is that we have found through real-world events and through exercises that we owe the nations of U.S. and Canada the best command and control structure possible.

The missions have evolved, such that NORAD now has a maritime mission, and the homeland defense missions of NORTHCOM have evolved, and certainly the events over the last several years – particularly for that defense support of civil authorities’ mission set and a lot of NORTHCOM’s concept plans and operation plans to defend the homeland have evolved over the last several years. What we have found, and what our analysis has shown us, and what has led to part of the decisions by the commander of NORAD and NORTHCOM, is that it is best, particularly for operational effectiveness and for efficiency purposes, to co-locate many of the functions that are currently split between the two centers.

So, there is a NORAD and NORTHCOM command center that exists here at Peterson Air Force Base. In fact, I run it.

Building 2

There is a Cheyenne Mountain Directorate that runs the combined command, as they call it. It is not the command center for NORAD; it is not the command center for NORTHCOM; it is not the command center for STRATCOM. It supports all three of those organizations in that structure, as well as it supports Building 2.

The decision-makers work in Building 2, much like the national military command center resides in the Pentagon, with the secretary of defense, the chiefs of staff for the various military services and the chairman of the joint chiefs working there.

So the centers are designed to produce orders to direct subordinates to share situational awareness across what we call the many domains – air, land, missile, space, information, and maritime domains – those centers exist here at Building 2. The concept and the analysis that we have done, and the GAO report talks to it, is that for operational effectiveness purposes and what exercises and real-world events have shown us, is that it sure does work better, particularly in this, what we call more of a horizontal sharing of situational awareness amongst partners, if we are all located together.

It’s not a traditional military chain of command. I have been in the military for 35 years now, and I have served in many command centers across the globe, in both combat operations and peacetime operations. What makes the homeland different is that the relationships are not the straight vertical line relationships you expect in the military. It’s partnerships. It’s collaboration and communications. It’s sharing situational awareness as you determine what the event is, or as the event unfolds, so there is sharing among many partners.

Corsi: I envision Cheyenne Mountain going back to the Cold War – our major threat was that the Soviet Union might launch a nuclear missile attack on the continental United States. So, therefore, we built down 2,400 feet this mountain bunkered facility that would be the command center in that kind of a missile attack, such that the facility could survive nuclear strikes, short of maybe a direct hit.

Now, the idea that these command functions are going to come out into the open at Peterson Air Force Base at Building 2 at first look appears that the facilities are out in the open, possibly vulnerable to being destroyed in an attack. It’s hard to understand why we would come out of the security of that mountain bunker out into the open just to put these commands physically together.

Muir: Part of the challenge I think you categorize correctly. Cheyenne Mountain was built for a specific purpose. It was built for a very straightforward function, what we call integrated tactical warning and attack assessment. But even that has changed over the years, when you think about it. The threat from the former Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact at the time never envisioned the use of hijacked commercial airplanes to attack American citizens. So, the mission of integrated tactical warning and attack assessment has evolved over time to meet the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow.

Does that mean you discount probably the most catastrophic threats? The answer is, of course not. You should not, and our analysis shows us that we will not. What you have to do is to adapt your structures so that you are meeting the threats of today and tomorrow.

President Bush at NORAD/NORTHCOM Command

Let me give you an example. During the hurricane season of 2005, the tragic hurricanes of Rita and Katrina, the president came here to Peterson Air Force Base and spent two days at the NORAD and NORTHCOM command center, understanding our nation’s response to the hurricanes, understanding from the state to the federal level, to the inter-agency to the Department of Defense response. It was a holistic look at the threat, if you can define a hurricane as a threat – it certainly announces it is coming – and the nation’s response to that threat in order to protect the citizens of the United States. That was all run out of Peterson Air Force Base, out of the NORAD-NORTHCOM command center.

We talked earlier about the maritime mission as an evolving, new mission for NORAD, just after the 2006 NORAD agreement. That maritime mission for NORAD is performed out of the NORAD-NORTHCOM command center at Peterson Air Force Base.

So, in reference to Cheyenne Mountain, there are no decisions, no actions, that will jeopardize what you certainly categorized as probably our most dangerous, in terms of catastrophic threat, even if it is not necessarily the most likely threat. But we are going to continue to maintain the world-class facilities at Cheyenne Mountain.

So, you talk about functions leaving Cheyenne Mountain. I can tell you that some of the watch-standers that perform functions will be doing that down here at Peterson. Many of the systems and architectures that our nation relies upon will still be in Cheyenne Mountain. If the threat requires, in other words if there are strategic warnings and indications, or in fact we’re going to routinely exercise it as well, that causes us to decide it’s just not safe enough for us other here in Peterson, we’ll have the capability to relocate to Cheyenne Mountain. But this time we will have the capability to bring all the command structures of NORAD-NORTHCOM, not just the ones that are done there today.

So, when Admiral Keating announced the transformation, and when General Renuart has publicly spoken about our ability to do all missions to support the citizens of the United States and Canada, that is what this transformation is all about. It’s not about stuff moving down or moving out and then being vacant. It’s about operational effectiveness to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.

Previous column:

Feds prepping for ‘continuity’ hub?

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