The evacuation drill was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. By then, the first of four hijacked civilian jetliners had slammed into one of the World Trade Center towers and another jetline was streaking toward a second tower. By 9:45, the Pentagon -- just 24 miles from the NRO's Chantilly, Va., headquarters -- would be attacked.
"It was just a coincidence. It wasn't an anti-terrorism exercise. It was an emergency response exercise. It was just a strange coincidence," said Art Haubold, NRO spokesman.
The scenario, concocted to test how fast and how flexible evacuation routes out of the massive complex are, was dreamed up by NRO's internal war gaming division, according to Haubold.
The exercise was called off "as soon as real world events began to unfold," Haubold told United Press International on Thursday. All but the most essential employees were sent home.
News of the planned exercise was contained in an online brochure for a Sept. 6 homeland defense conference in Chicago sponsored by the National Law Enforcement and Security Institute. One of the featured speakers is John Fulton, a CIA officer who heads the NRO's strategic war gaming office.
"On the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001, Mr. Fulton and his team at the CIA were running a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building. Little did they know that the scenario would come true in a dramatic way that day," states the brochure.