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Context of 'March 4, 2001: Television Show Eerily Envisions 9/11 Attacks'

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Debt of Honor, by Tom Clancy.Debt of Honor, by Tom Clancy. [Source: HarperCollins]A novel by the military thriller writer Tom Clancy, one of America’s top-selling authors, includes a plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a commercial jet plane into the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The story of Debt of Honor is based around a crisis between Japan and the United States. A short, armed conflict between the two nations arises and is won by the US. The book ends with a Japanese commercial airline pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the US Capitol building during a joint session of Congress. The president is killed, along with most of the Senate, House, Supreme Court, and others. [New York Times, 10/2/1994; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13/1996; Inter Press Service, 9/15/2001; Newsday, 5/20/2002] Clancy later describes to the BBC how he’d gone about writing this book: “I didn’t write Debt of Honor without first discussing it with an Air Force officer. And so I ran this idea past him and all of a sudden this guy’s eyeballing me rather closely and I said come on general, I know you must have looked at this before, you’ve got to have a plan for it. And the guy goes, ‘Mr. Clancy, to the best of my knowledge, if we had a plan to deal with this, it would be secret, I wouldn’t be able to talk to you about it, but to the best of my knowledge we’ve never looked at this possibility before.’” [BBC, 3/24/2002] Debt of Honor makes number one on the New York Times bestseller list. [Washington Post, 10/6/1994] Following the 9/11 attacks, there will be considerable interest in it, particularly because the Capitol building is considered to have been a likely intended target of Flight 93. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/17/2001; Book Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14]

Entity Tags: Tom Clancy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Senator Sam Nunn.Senator Sam Nunn. [Source: Carnegie Corporation of New York]Time magazine’s cover story reports on the potential for anti-American militants to kill thousands in highly destructive acts. It mentions that, three weeks earlier, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) had outlined a scenario in which terrorists attack the US Capitol building on the night of a State of the Union address, by crashing a radio-controlled airplane into it, “engulfing it with chemical weapons and causing tremendous death and destruction.” The scenario is “not far-fetched,” and the required technology is readily available, Nunn said. [Time, 4/3/1995] An almost identical scenario was included in the storyline of the Tom Clancy bestseller Debt of Honor, released the previous year, but this involved a plane guided by a suicide pilot, rather than radio control (see August 17, 1994). High-ranking al-Qaeda leaders will claim later that Flight 93’s target was the Capitol Building. [Guardian, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Sam Nunn, Time magazine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robert De La Cruz, a Justice Department lawyer, writes a detailed analysis that considers the legal issues that would be involved in shooting down an aircraft that was under the control of terrorists who intended to use it as a weapon. De La Cruz, a trial attorney with the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Terrorism and Violent Crime Section (TVCS), apparently writes the analysis on his own initiative. He sends it to Cathleen Corken, the TVCS’s deputy chief for domestic terrorism. The 34-page document is titled “Aerial Intercepts and Shoot-Downs: Ambiguities of Law and Practical Considerations.” In it, among other things, De La Cruz discusses Article 3 bis of the Chicago Convention, a set of rules created after a Soviet fighter jet shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, in 1983 (see September 1, 1983), which is “now considered to be international law.” He states that the “Federal Aviation Administration believes, or at least operates as if, Article 3 bis is binding upon the United States.”
Article States that Using Weapons against Civil Aircraft Should Be Avoided - De La Cruz notes that, according to the article, “The contracting states recognize that every state must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of the aircraft must not be endangered.” He also notes that “contracting states recognize that every state, in the exercise of its sovereignty, is entitled to require the landing at some designated airport of a civil aircraft flying above its territory without authority [or] if there are reasonable grounds to conclude that it is being used for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of this convention.” De La Cruz then describes what he considers three failures of Article 3 bis.
Action Is Only Permitted Once an Aircraft Has Entered a State's Airspace - The first problem is that the article “only permits a state to avail itself of the article’s provisions once the offending aircraft has entered the territorial airspace of the state.” If the aircraft was carrying a weapon of mass destruction, he explains, “awaiting territorial arrival of the aircraft may be too late.” In this scenario, if the aircraft was allowed to enter the “territorial airspace” of the state, “prevailing winds could theoretically spread an airborne-detonated biological weapon or chemical weapon onto the targeted state.”
Analysis Considers the Effects of a Plane Being Crashed into a Building - De La Cruz then states that this failure of the article could still apply if the offending aircraft was carrying no weapons. Significantly, in light of what will happen on September 11, 2001, he points out that this is because “the aircraft itself can be a potent weapon.” He considers the destruction that could result from a commercial airliner being crashed into a building, writing: “An airborne Boeing 747 can weigh in excess of 2 million pounds, retain structural integrity at flight speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, and can carry many thousands of gallons of kerosene-based jet fuel. If used as a weapon, such an aircraft must be considered capable of destroying virtually any building located anywhere in the world.”
Article Fails to Authorize 'Deadly Force' against a Hostile Aircraft - The second problem with Article 3 bis, according to De La Cruz, is that it fails to specify what actions are permitted when an aircraft refuses to comply with instructions. While the article “requires states to make noncompliance punishable by ‘severe penalties,’” he writes, “it does not explicitly authorize the use of deadly force.”
Article Is Not Designed to Deal with Planes under the Control of Terrorists - The third failure De La Cruz describes regards “what actions are permissible when dealing with a terrorist-controlled, hijacked, or surreptitiously armed plane that is carrying a weapon of mass destruction to an intended target.” He notes, “Notwithstanding various works of fiction (see August 17, 1994), to date there are no reported actual incidents of a hijacked civil aircraft being deliberately and successfully used as a flying bomb.” All the same, he continues, “Article 3 bis was designed to protect otherwise legitimate civil aircraft that have wandered off course; it is not designed to deal with the issue of… a passenger airliner that has been deliberately converted for use as a kamikaze.” He concludes that the US should be prepared to shoot down a hostile aircraft, irrespective of what the article states. “It is certainly neither the policy nor intention of the United States to shoot down civil aircraft,” he comments, “but if necessity demands it we shall do it regardless of our formal or informal ratification of Article 3 bis.”
Document Will Be Called a 'Prescient Pre-9/11 Analysis' - It is unclear whether any action will be taken in response to De La Cruz’s analysis after the lawyer sends it to Corken. But the 9/11 Commission Report will call the document a “prescient pre-9/11 analysis of an aircraft plot.” [US Department of Justice, 3/30/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 346, 561] On September 11, senior government officials including the president and vice president will discuss the possibility of shooting down a hijacked commercial aircraft (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41]

Entity Tags: Cathleen Corken, Robert De La Cruz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An advertisement for ‘The Lone Gunmen.’An advertisement for ‘The Lone Gunmen.’ [Source: Fox]The pilot episode of a short-lived Fox television program involves a scenario chillingly similar to the 9/11 attacks that occur six months later. In the episode of The Lone Gunmen, which is a spin-off of the popular show The X-Files, a small, radical faction within the US government takes over a large passenger jet plane from the ground, using remote control, and then tries to crash it into the World Trade Center. Their intention is to blame the attack on foreign terrorists and therefore revive the arms race. Their plot is thwarted at the last moment, with the pilots regaining control of the plane and steering it upwards over the Twin Towers. [Knight Ridder, 9/14/2001; Jack Myers Report, 6/20/2002 pdf file] In the program, the plane is destined for Boston, where two of the hijacked aircraft will in fact take off from on September 11. [Fox Television, 3/4/2001; Boston Globe, 9/12/2001] One of its stars, Bruce Harwood, will later call the storyline a “strange awful coincidence,” and add, “[W]ho knows if it was the source of inspiration for September 11.” [Mirror, 11/26/2002] Ratings are good for the show, with 13 million people watching it. [TV Guide, 3/9/2001] Yet despite the similarity to the actual attacks on the WTC, there will be very little commentary about this after September 11. Media commentator Jack Myers will observe, “This seems to be collective amnesia of the highest order.” [Jack Myers Report, 6/20/2002 pdf file] A best selling 1994 novel by Tom Clancy had similarly included a large passenger jet used as a weapon, being deliberately crashed into the US Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). [Newsday, 5/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Jack Myers, World Trade Center, Bruce Harwood

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John Glenn.John Glenn. [Source: John Glenn Archives, Ohio State University]Despite being a potential target for terrorists, the US Capitol building in Washington is not evacuated when the second World Trade Center tower is hit and it is clear the US is under attack. [CNN, 9/11/2002] Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) is in the lobby of his office at the Capitol, and some of his staff members there are watching the television coverage of events in New York. Daschle has already been told about the first plane hitting the WTC, and then sees the second one hitting the South Tower live on television. As Daschle later recalls, he now realizes, “This is an attack.” Former Senator John Glenn (D-OH), who has stopped by to say hello to Daschle, now warns him: “I’m not sure you ought to be here. This would be a logical target.” Indeed, Daschle will later comment, “I’ve heard people observe since that day what a prime target the Capitol building makes for such an air attack—this brilliant white structure perched on its own terraced hill, its dome outlined against the sky, with the broad, sprawling expanse of the Mall leading up to it like a long open runway.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 105-107; Kent State University, 5/10/2004] A bestselling 1994 novel by Tom Clancy in fact included the plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). [New York Times, 10/2/1994; Newsday, 5/20/2002] Yet Daschle is able to continue with his scheduled weekly team meeting with his senior staff, where they discuss budget issues. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 106-107] Even by the time the Pentagon is hit, more than 25 minutes later, there will still have been no evacuation of the Capitol. [CNN, 9/11/2002] The building will eventually be evacuated around 9:48 a.m., reportedly due to fears of a plane approaching it (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 109; Hastert, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, John Glenn

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Clancy.Tom Clancy. [Source: UPI]CNN’s Judy Woodruff remarks, “People in our newsroom have been saying today that what is happening is like right out of a Tom Clancy novel.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] James Lindsay, a former member of the Clinton administration’s national security team, subsequently comments on the attacks, “People both inside and outside the government would think this is more the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel than reality.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] Clancy had in fact written a book called Debt of Honor, released in 1994, that included a plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the US Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). Presumably influenced by this book, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) had outlined a similar scenario the following year, which he’d said was “not far-fetched” (see April 3, 1995). Some commentators will later refer to Clancy’s book when criticizing official claims of surprise at the nature of the 9/11 attacks. Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who was in the Pentagon when it was struck, will write, “I thought most people in the military read Tom Clancy novels in the 1990s. And yet, military leaders and spokespersons consistently expressed shock and surprise at such a possibility.… Was Tom Clancy really more savvy than the entire Pentagon?” [Griffin and Scott, 2006, pp. 27] Newsday columnist James Pinkerton later comments, “insofar as Clancy is one of the best-selling authors in the country with a particularly large following among military types, it’s a depressing commentary on military intelligence that Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could say, a month [after 9/11], to the American Forces Radio and Television Service, ‘You hate to admit it, but we hadn’t thought about this.’” [Newsday, 5/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Judy Woodruff, James Lindsay, Tom Clancy, James Pinkerton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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