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(Between February 2001 and August 2001): White House Prohibits Staff from Using BlackBerrys, Thereby Hindering Communications on 9/11

The BlackBerry 850.The BlackBerry 850. [Source: Research In Motion]White House staffers are prohibited from using BlackBerry e-mail pagers, but this rule will hinder them on September 11, when phone systems suffer serious problems but BlackBerrys work normally. At some point after George W. Bush takes over as president (see January 20, 2001) but before September 11, the new administration makes “a judgment call… that people in the White House could not use a BlackBerry,” according to Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations. The BlackBerry is a handheld device used mainly for sending and receiving short e-mail messages. [New York Times, 9/20/2001; PC World, 12/9/2008] The decision against using BlackBerrys is reportedly made for security reasons. “The security agencies had decided they were too vulnerable,” Hagin will later say. [IT Business Edge, 2/12/2009]
White House Staffers Have Trouble Communicating on 9/11 - However, on September 11, while BlackBerrys continue to work normally, many people will have difficulty making phone calls. [New York Times, 9/20/2001] White House staffers will be badly affected by the communication problems. Hagin will describe: “On September 11, 2001, when we had so much trouble in the executive branch communicating during the emergency, when commercial phones and cell phones went down to a large extent because the system overloaded, there was a lot of difficulty at the White House because the president was in Florida, I was in New York City, and everyone else was in Washington. With everyone spread so thinly, we had trouble figuring out who was okay, the status of things, and so on.” [Computerworld, 2/3/2009]
Rove Is the Only White House Staff Member with a BlackBerry - Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, will be the only member of the White House staff with a BlackBerry on September 11. Rove will write that, while he is traveling with the president on Air Force One that day, because all the phones are tied up, several other White House staff members “took turns using my BlackBerry to queue up e-mails to their families that would be sent when we passed over a cell network.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 257-258; Hill, 3/17/2010]
BlackBerrys Permitted after 9/11 - The White House will reverse its decision to prohibit BlackBerrys after September 11. According to Hagin, “In the weeks that followed [9/11], when talking to some of our friends on [Capitol Hill], we found that they had stayed in pretty good touch through BlackBerry technology.” Therefore, Hagin will say: “I made the decision that we couldn’t operate without [BlackBerrys]. We bought 200, then 400, and finally about 600.” [PC World, 12/9/2008; Computerworld, 2/3/2009]
BlackBerry Works Well on 9/11 due to Simplicity of Its Network - The reason why, unlike phones, BlackBerrys work as usual on September 11, according to the New York Times, is that instead of relying on “cellular telephone systems or the local telephone network, which were damaged and inundated with traffic, the BlackBerry functions on a data system that held up remarkably well. The network not only escaped damage but also avoided bottlenecks because of its relative simplicity.” The BlackBerry network “in a way resembles the on-ramp of a freeway. It transmits data in small packets of information that can simply wait for a small amount of space on the system to be freed up to be sent or received.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001]

Entity Tags: White House, Karl C. Rove, Joseph W. Hagin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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