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Context of 'May 30, 1998: Exercise Is Held Based around Terrorists with Chemical Weapons Attacking the Pentagon'

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Military medical personnel tend to simulated victims during the exercise ‘Cloudy Office.’ Military medical personnel tend to simulated victims during the exercise ‘Cloudy Office.’ [Source: Renee Sitler / US Air Force]A training exercises is held in which hundreds of personnel from the military and other government agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack at the Pentagon involving chemical weapons. The exercise, which lasts about 10 hours, is called “Cloudy Office,” and is run by the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Over 500 people from federal, state, and local agencies take part. [BBC, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151]
Scenario Involves Terrorists Taking Pentagon Staffers Hostage - Cloudy Office is based around a scenario in which nine pro-Iraqi terrorists, armed with pistols and shotguns, split off from a group of tourists at the Pentagon, burst into Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s office, and take Cohen’s staff hostage. The mock terrorists have with them a gallon jug of liquid simulating sarin, a liter bottle of diluted sarin, and an explosive device. They threaten to release the sarin—a lethal nerve gas—if their demands are not met. Someone accidentally knocks over the jug in the confusion, thereby releasing lethal fumes throughout the Pentagon. Hazardous material teams from local fire departments arrive at the scene and set up decontamination facilities, and military medical personnel set up triage units to treat potential sarin victims. Meanwhile, members of the DPS go into the Pentagon to negotiate with the mock terrorists. Eventually the mock terrorists release the hostages and surrender. [Tulsa World, 5/31/1998; Washington Post, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998] Twenty-six people are killed and 100 contaminated by the sarin gas in the scenario, with the mock victims being played by military employees. [CNN, 5/30/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151]
Pentagon Is Seen as a Potential Terrorist Target - Cloudy Office has been four months in the planning and is by far the largest exercise of its kind to be held in metropolitan Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998] It was prompted partly by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters. [CNN, 5/30/1998; Washington Post, 5/31/1998; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 151] It is part of an effort to improve America’s ability to respond to incidents involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The Pentagon was selected as the location for the exercise because, as an international symbol of the United States military, it is considered a plausible terrorist target, according to John Jester, chief of the DPS. Agencies that participate include the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Army Pentagon Medical Facility; the Washington Metropolitan Strike Force; the FBI; Arlington County, Virginia, fire and rescue departments; hazardous material teams; and the Virginia Office of Public Health. [Tulsa World, 5/31/1998; American Forces Press Service, 6/9/1998]

Entity Tags: Defense Protective Service, Cloudy Office, Washington Metropolitan Strike Force, Virginia Office of Public Health, Arlington County Fire Department, US Department of the Army, John Jester, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s Washington Field Office.The FBI’s Washington Field Office. [Source: FBI]The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) holds a field training exercise in which various agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The exercise is led by Special Agent Christopher Combs on behalf of the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Combs is the assistant WMD coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO.
Exercise Is Based around a Chemical Weapons Attack - The exercise is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack, according to Combs. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later describe it as a “major chemical exercise,” presumably meaning it involves a hypothetical attack with a chemical weapon. It is held at an unspecified location in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia and is attended by “all the area fire departments, police departments, and the FBI,” Combs will say. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014] It is held on the Sunday before 9/11—September 9—according to Combs. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/17/2011] Other accounts, however, will state that it is held on September 8, the Saturday before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 pdf file; Arlington TV, 7/18/2011; Arlington TV, 10/8/2014]
Exercise Improves the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Many people who participate in the exercise will be involved in the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. [Kettl, 2008, pp. 203] Combs, for example, will arrive at the Pentagon just minutes after the attack there and initially serve as the on-scene FBI commander at the crash site. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 76] The exercise reportedly has a beneficial effect on the ability of its participants to respond to the Pentagon attack. It is “one more of those opportunities for us to not only get to know each other but [also to] figure out how we were going to interoperate with each other,” Schwartz will comment. Consequently, on September 11, there will already be “a great deal of understanding about how we were going to work together on this kind of an incident.” [Arlington TV, 7/18/2011] The FBI’s WFO and the Arlington County Fire Department, which participates in today’s exercise, regularly train together and often respond jointly to real-world incidents. [9/11 Commission, 8/5/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Chris Combs, FBI Washington Field Office, Arlington County Fire Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Schwartz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sergeant William Lagasse.Sergeant William Lagasse. [Source: Citizen Investigation Team]Several police officers and firefighters see the low-flying Flight 77 as it approaches the Pentagon and crashes. They quickly report this to their own agencies or to the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC), which is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for the county. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66]
bullet Arlington County Police Department Corporal Barry Foust is stopped at traffic lights less than two miles from the Pentagon, and spots the aircraft flying low, then sees a plume of smoke. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 13] He immediately calls the ECC and calmly reports: “I think we just had an airplane crash east of here. Must be in the District area.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; Associated Press, 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C6 pdf file]
bullet Police Motorcycle Officer Richard Cox is standing near a diner less than a mile from the Pentagon. Hearing a sudden roar, he turns and reportedly sees the plane “directly overhead… no more than a hundred feet off the ground.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 427] He calls the ECC and reports, “It’s an American Airlines plane headed eastbound over the [Columbia] Pike, possibly headed for the Pentagon.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; Associated Press, 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C6 pdf file]
bullet Fire Captain Steve McCoy and his crew are traveling north on Interstate 395 in ACFD Engine 101, for a training session in Crystal City. McCoy reportedly sees “a commercial airliner in steep descent, banking sharply to its right before disappearing beyond the horizon,” followed by “a tremendous explosion” and “a massive plume of smoke and fire.” He immediately radioes ECC and reports, “We got a plane down, it looks like in the Crystal City area by the 14th Street Bridge.” Being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center, he advises that the FBI should be notified, as this is a possible terrorist attack. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66]
bullet Officer Mark Bright of the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the Pentagon’s police force—is manning the security booth at the Pentagon’s Mall entrance, when he hears a loud noise. He will recall: “I saw the plane at the Navy Annex area [a few hundred yards from the Pentagon]. I knew it was going to strike the building because it was very, very low—at the height of the street lights.” As soon as he sees it hit the Pentagon he radioes in his report of the attack, and then speeds in his police cruiser to the crash site, becoming the first officer there. [American Forces Press Service, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 10/25/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 152]
bullet Sergeant William Lagasse, also a member of the DPS, is filling up his patrol car at a gas station near the Pentagon. He recalls that he sees an “American Airlines 757… approximately 100 feet above the ground level, maybe 60 feet in front of me.” He watches the plane crash into the Pentagon. His first reaction is to call the DPS Communications Center and state, “An aircraft has just flown into the side of the building.” He then grabs his medical bag and dashes to the crash scene. [Washington Post, 10/25/2001; Library of Congress, 12/4/2001]
bullet Alan Wallace and Mark Skipper of the Fort Myer Fire Department are manning the fire station by the Pentagon heliport, and are outside checking their truck. Wallace glances up and sees the plane coming at them, and the two men then dive for cover (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Wallace promptly radioes the fire department headquarters at Fort Myer, and reports that an airliner has hit the west side of the Pentagon. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 65]
Partly due to these calls, many emergency responders quickly learn of the crash and are able to arrive at the Pentagon within minutes of it (see 9:40 a.m.-9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 66] Some fire and rescue units from Arlington County and elsewhere also respond—self-dispatching from stations or diverting from other destinations—after hearing Captain McCoy’s radio message to the ECC. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A4 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Barry Foust, Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, William Lagasse, Alan Wallace, Richard Cox, Steve McCoy, Mark Bright, Mark Skipper

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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