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Context of '(10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Palestinian Group Denies Responsibility for the Terrorist Attacks'

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Logo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.Logo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. [Source: Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a radical Palestinian group, reportedly claims responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center. Abu Dhabi television says it has received a call from the group, claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the Twin Towers. The details of the claim are then picked up by the Reuters news agency. It is unknown who is responsible for saying the DFLP is behind the attacks. The claim is reportedly made in an anonymous telephone call to the Arab television station. (BBC 9/12/2001; Wilkinson and Curtius 9/12/2001; Baboun and Hale 9/11/2011) It is soon retracted, though. At around 10:00 a.m., a spokesman for the DFLP will deny the group’s responsibility for the attacks (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Liverpool Daily Post 9/12/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) All the same, the allegation about the group’s involvement will reach a large audience. (Baboun and Hale 9/11/2011) The DFLP is a Marxist-Leninist organization that was founded in 1969. It operates mainly in Syria, Lebanon, and the Israeli-occupied territories, and is believed to have about 500 members. It began a relatively small-scale campaign of assaults and bombings in Israel and the occupied territories during the 1970s. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/11/2001; BBC 2/4/2002) However, it was removed from the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in October 1999 because of “the absence of terrorist activity” by the group in the previous two years. (Associated Press 10/8/1999; US Department of State 10/8/1999)

By 9:50 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet is in his office on the seventh floor of the agency’s Langley headquarters. He later describes: “[E]veryone was wondering, what next? Reports came in of several airplanes that were not responding to communications from the ground and perhaps heading toward Washington. Several [Counterterrorist Center] officers reminded us that al-Qaeda members had once discussed flying an airplane into CIA headquarters, the top floor of which we were presently occupying.” Tenet himself later recalls that, in the minutes after he’d learned of the first attack, he’d “thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters” (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 7-8; Tenet 2007, pp. 162 and 164) According to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, people at the headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is currently unaccounted for, and it is “a widespread assumption within the building that this flight [is] headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters” (see (Before 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Waugh and Keown 2004, pp. 293-294) Tenet asks Mike Hohlfelder, the chief of his security detail, for his recommendation, and is advised, “Let’s evacuate.” Though he later claims he was “reluctant” about this, Tenet tells his senior leadership: “We have to save our people. We have to evacuate the building.” Therefore, at about 10 a.m., the word goes out for a large number of the CIA’s thousands of employees to go home. Initially, the senior leadership team moves from Tenet’s seventh-floor conference room to another room on the first floor, but it then exits the headquarters building and heads across the campus to the CIA’s printing plant, where a crude operational capability has been set up. However, due to the objections of CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, those in the Counterterrorist Center and the Global Response Center are allowed to stay in place in the headquarters (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Tenet and his staff will leave the printing plant and return to the headquarters at around 1 p.m., by which time they will consider the danger to be over. (Woodward 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet 2007, pp. 164-165 and 168) The CIA headquarters evacuation is aided by the fact that a fire had occurred there just over a month earlier. Consequently, new evacuation procedures had been laid out, which Tenet follows on this day (see August 7-September 10, 2001). (Kessler 2003, pp. 222-223)

Abu Laila.Abu Laila. [Source: Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a radical Palestinian group, denies responsibility for the terrorist attacks in the US after an Arab television station said it admitted responsibility for them. (Wilkinson and Curtius 9/12/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) At around 9:43 a.m., Abu Dhabi television reported that it had received a call from the DFLP, claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/12/2001) Now, however, a spokesman for the DFLP denies that the group was behind the attacks. (Geisler 9/2/2002) The spokesman who issues the denial at this time is apparently Qais Abdel Rahim, the leader of the DFLP. Speaking from the West Bank, Rahim says his group condemns the attacks. “We are not responsible for this type of terror attack. We are against it,” he says. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Liverpool Daily Post 9/12/2001)
Group's Leaders Are Unaware of the Attacks - DFLP officials will subsequently review the group’s worldwide operations to see if the group has any links to the attacks. “I called all the DFLP offices outside Palestine; I made sure they had no connection to the attacks—or even to the media reports,” Abu Laila, a senior figure in the DFLP, will later recall. The group’s leaders will tell him that “they were not even aware of the attacks.”
Official Statement Will Deny Responsibility for the Attacks - The DFLP will issue an official statement later today, denying responsibility for the attacks in the US. (Baboun and Hale 9/11/2011) “The Democratic Front rejects any kind of operation outside of the land of occupied Palestine, away from the immediate battlefield confronting the occupation forces and the armed settlers,” the statement will say. The DFLP will blame the false attribution of responsibility on “the Israeli security intelligence agencies,” which, it will state, “are trying to frame us.” These agencies, according to the statement, “orchestrated the set-up to criminalize our struggle because of our fidelity to this struggle, and our sophisticated way of organizing under the leadership of the working class and the progressive people of Palestine.” (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine 9/11/2001)
Experts Believe that Palestinian Groups Are Not to Blame - Most experts in the US will agree that “no Palestinian faction has the wherewithal to carry out such a coordinated and well-executed series of attacks” as have occurred today, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Wilkinson and Curtius 9/12/2001) One expert, Eli Carmon of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s counterterrorism department, will say it is unlikely that any Palestinian groups are involved. “They have a lot to lose because America would react very harshly against the Palestinians,” he will say. (Irish Examiner 9/11/2001) “The DFLP does not even confront Israel; how would it confront the US?” Laila will comment. (Baboun and Hale 9/11/2011)

President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, about a claim that has supposedly been made by a radical Palestinian group, of responsibility for the attacks on the US and is told the group lacks the capability to have carried out the attacks. (Tenet 2007, pp. 166; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 52) Abu Dhabi television reported, at around 9:43 a.m., that it had received a call from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but at around 10:00 a.m., the group denied that it was behind the attacks (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/12/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) Now, on Air Force One, Bush calls Morell to his office. He asks Morell what he thinks about the DFLP’s supposed claim of responsibility for the attacks. Morell tells Bush he doubts the validity of the assertion. “Mr. President,” he says, “DFLP is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.” Before Morell leaves the office, Bush asks him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to make sure that he, the president, is informed right away as soon as the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. “Michael, I want to be the first to know. Got that?” he says. Morell replies, “Yes, sir” and says he will call Tenet right away (see (Shortly After 10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush apparently talks to Morell around the time the White House informs personnel on Air Force One that it has received a threat against the president’s plane (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, tells Morell about the threat as he is leaving the president’s office. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 52-53)

Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, speaks to Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, who can provide him with little more information about the attacks on the US than is generally known. Morell, who is with the president on Air Force One, has just spoken to Bush, who asked him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to inform the president immediately when the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of today’s attacks (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Morell now sits down in the staff section of the plane, picks up the phone by his seat, and calls Tenet’s office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. However, the headquarters is currently being evacuated (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so Tenet and his staff are in the process of relocating to a secure site. The secretary who answers Morell’s call says Tenet is unavailable and Morell instead has to talk to Black, the nearest senior official, after the secretary passes the phone to him. During their conversation, Black tells Morell what the CIA currently knows about the attacks on the US, which, Morell will later comment, “was little beyond what the rest of the world knew.” Morell then passes on the president’s request to be informed right away as soon as the CIA has information about who is responsible for the attacks and asks Black to share the request with Tenet. As he hangs up the phone, however, Morell is doubtful that his message will be passed on. “I was not confident [Tenet] would get the word, given the evacuation and given everything that would be asked of Black over the next few hours,” he will recall. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 52-53) Tenet will inform Bush, for the first time, that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to the attacks during a video teleconference at around 3:15 p.m. this afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326)

President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left. [Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)

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