International Forecaster Weekly

When Drills Go Live

If officials on the base had not come out immediately to talk about the drill, how would we in the general public know that one was taking place?

James Corbett | July 2, 2016

Pop quiz: What do 9/11, 7/7, the Norway attacks, and last November's Paris attacks have in common? If you read the title of the IF you've probably already guessed that they all took place at the same time as eerily similar drills and exercises. But why is this? Is it important?




Imagine, if you will, this scenario: You're enjoying your morning toast and coffee when a breaking news headline flashes across the TV screen, capturing your attention. There's a lockdown at a sensitive military base! There's an active shooter event taking place! Stay tuned for details!

As I explained in yesterday's video, this is the exact scenario that actually unfolded on Thursday morning, as Joint Base Andrews (aka the home of Air Force One) went into lockdown. All the major news networks scrambled to start covering the event, complete with dramatic "News Alert" music and graphics and live shots of the base from news choppers. But as the lockdown dragged on, it became apparent there was more confusion than panic happening on the base. "Was there a drill going on at the time?"

No, not quite. After an hour of misleading, uninformed, baseless speculation and banter, it turned out the whole thing was a mistake. Someone had seen some personnel performing a routine inspection, freaked out and reported that there were gun-wielding shooters rampaging across the base. And all of this just happened to unfold just before a "no notice" active shooter drill was scheduled to take place on the other side of the base. What are the odds of that?

Now there's no reason at this point to suggest that this particular incident was other than what we've been told. I certainly don't rule out any nefarious plots, but it's at least plausible that someone saw the people preparing for the drill and mistook it for an actual active shooter situation. But here's the real point to ponder: If officials on the base had not come out immediately to talk about the drill, how would we in the general public know that one was taking place? And if the media had not immediately retracted the story before memory holing it, how far could it have gone?

As suggested by the examples at the start of this column, this is not a purely rhetorical question. The "coincidence" of drills happening at the same time and place as the real world events they simulate is not only exceptionally unlikely, but has occurred with an exceptionally unlikely frequency in recent decades.

On the morning of 9/11 NORAD was conducting a large-scale week-long exercise that included a simulated suicide hijacking in New York. Meanwhile, the CIA was actually running a drill of a hijacked jet slamming into a building.

On 7/7 Peter Power admitted that his company, Visor Consultants, had been conducting an exercise that envisioned the attacks on the London Underground "almost precisely," including some of the same stations being bombed at the precise same time as the real world bombs went off. This followed the largest transatlantic counter-terrorism drill since 9/11, an exercise known as "Atlantic Blue" which took place in April 2005 and envisioned bombs going off on buses and the London Underground. This in turn followed a BBC Panorama show from May 2004 that had simulated a bombing on the Underground. Peter Power had participated in both the BBC program and, according to VoltaireNet, in Atlantic Blue.

For four days prior to the Norway Attacks of 2011 the Oslo police had been simulating an almost exactly identical scenario. As reported in the wake of the incident, all of the officers responding to the car bomb in Oslo and the massacre on Utøya island had just that morning trained for a remarkably similar event.

In the wake of the November Paris attacks, Patrick Pelloux, an emergency physician and former Charlie Hebdo columnist who was also mobilized in response to the Hebdo shootings in January, admitted that Parisian “police forces, firemen, EMTs, and others”  had been engaged in a “multi-site attack exercise” in Paris that very morning.

One could go on and on and on with such a list of "remarkable coincidences," but after a while one has to either decide to become a coincidence theorist or face the fact that there is some correlation between these drills and the events they are simulating. But what can it be?

An insight into what may be going on can be gleaned from a look back at history. In November 1983, after a series of events that had once again ratcheted up tensions in the Cold War, NATO began a command post exercise known as "Able Archer 83." The exercise envisioned a conflict escalation between NATO and the USSR that culminated with a simulated DEFCON 1 coordinated nuclear attack.

But here's the thing about preparing for a command post exercise that simulates a nuclear war and preparing for a nuclear war: they're almost the same. You can't pretend to test all of your systems and processes for launching a nuclear strike without going into a state that, from the outside, is indistinguishable from actual preparations for such a strike. So the Russians responded in the only sensible way: they readied their nuclear forces and put their East German and Polish air units on high alert.

The Cold War almost culminated in an actual nuclear war because of a nuclear exercise. But why? What were the Russians so afraid of. The answer is not difficult to grasp. They thought that NATO might use the exercise as a way of launching an actual first-strike sneak attack on the Soviet Union.

This is one of the ways that "drills" and "exercises" can be useful. They can actually create the conditions for the very event that they are simulating, thus allowing groups to hide behind security classifications and plan an event in intricate detail with plausible denial if they are caught during the preparations.

Other reasons one might stage drills at the same time as the real world events they are simulating are not hard to understand:

  • The drills can be used to distract security services and hinder responses so that an attack can succeed (think NORAD unable to scramble fighter jets on 9/11).

  • They can be used to recruit patsies who believe they are taking part in a drill until it goes live and they become (unwitting) suicide bombers.

  • They can be used as a cover in case the operation is exposed before it happens ("It was just a drill!")

  • They can be used to condition the public to believe that an event is likely (the ever-present terror drills making terror attacks seem normal, even inevitable)

And so we are left with the Joint Base Andrews conundrum. What if some element within the military command structure (or with elements within the military command structure) thought they could benefit by framing this or that group for an "active shooter" scenario in a sensitive military facility? Could they "plan" for such an event and then (who woulda thunk it?) find that very event playing out at the same time as the drill? And if they did coordinate such an event, who would come out to tell of this coincidence afterward? And, perhaps even more importantly, who would put these pieces of the puzzle together?

Now let me be clear: I am not suggesting that's what happened this week at Joint Base Andrews. But it does give us a window into how these events could play out. I am also not suggesting that every training exercise that happens is an imminent sign of potential danger. Quite the contrary. As I've pointed out before there are thousands of drills, exercises, simulations, practice events and training programs taking place across the country (let alone around the world) every single day, and more than 99.9999% of them do not become real world scenarios. If the idea is that one can somehow predict what events are going to happen because of the drills that are taking place...well, I have yet to see an instance of an accurate prediction based on drills so far.

But still, the phenomenon is an important one to understand, as it gives us insight into how false flag scenarios can be perpetrated, and, by extension, who is perpetrating them.