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Context of '(Shortly After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001: CIA Director Tenet Tells Vice President Cheney Attackers Are ‘Done for the Day’'

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CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. [Source: GlobeXplorer]A fire lasting several hours leads to the forced evacuation of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. [Reuters, 8/8/2001] The fire is discovered on August 7 at around 5:45 p.m., in the northeast section of the agency’s older headquarters building, and more than 60 firefighters are involved in putting it out. It was reportedly caused by a workman at the top of an elevator shaft dropping a welder, which ignited wood at the bottom of the shaft. Both the older headquarters building and the agency’s new headquarters building nearby are evacuated. Following this fire, A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard—the executive director of the CIA since March this year—is dismayed to find that plans for an evacuation of the headquarters are patchy, and that some of the fire alarms do not work. In the ensuing month he therefore initiates regular fire drills and equips key agency officials with tiny walkie-talkies, meaning communication will still be possible should cell phones ever go out. Krongard declares that evacuating safely is to be more important than storing classified material, and has the agency’s computer network reprogrammed so an evacuation warning could be flashed on all computer screens. Journalist and author Ronald Kessler will describe the August 7 fire as being “fortuitous,” as little over a month later, on the morning of September 11, CIA Director George Tenet will order the evacuation of the headquarters building due to fears that it might be targeted (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). On that day, Tenet and other top officials will reconvene at an alternate location on the CIA campus, “[f]ollowing procedures laid out by Krongard after the fire.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/16/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2001; Washington Post, 8/8/2001; Kessler, 2003, pp. 222-223]

Entity Tags: A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet has just learned of the first attack on the WTC while having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. He later says, “It was obvious to us both that I had to leave immediately.” Along with Tim Ward, the head of his security detail, he gets into his car and, with lights flashing, hurries back to the CIA headquarters in Langley. Tenet later recalls that in these first minutes after the attack, “All the random dots we had been looking at started to fit into a pattern.… [M]y head was exploding with connections. I immediately 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, which was broken up in 1994.” During his journey, he calls John Moseman, his chief of staff, and instructs him to assemble the senior CIA staff and key people from the Counterterrorist Center in the conference room next to his office. However, Tenet claims, it is difficult for him to get calls through on the secure phone, meaning he is “Essentially… in a communications blackout between the St. Regis and Langley, the longest twelve minutes of my life.” He only learns that a second plane hit the World Trade Center when he arrives at CIA headquarters. Tenet enters the conference room at around 9:15 a.m. By that time, he says, “I don’t think there was a person in the room who had the least doubt that we were in the middle of a full-scale assault orchestrated by al-Qaeda.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-163]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Hohlfelder, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Employees at CIA headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is unaccounted for, and assume their building is its intended target. This is according to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is currently doing some work for the agency and is at its Langley headquarters at the time of the attacks. In a 2004 book, Waugh will describe: “We had witnessed the hits on the World Trade Center and knew the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 remained unaccounted for. It was a widespread assumption within the building that this flight was headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 293-294] At around 10:00 a.m., much of CIA headquarters is evacuated, following reports of unresponsive aircraft possibly heading toward Washington (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164] Waugh recalls, “There was no panic, just an understanding that those in my division needed to walk to the west parking lot, away from the buildings, and await the inevitable impact.” He adds that, “Upon hearing that Flight 93 had gone down in a Pennsylvania field, a couple of us returned to the HQ building to pick up any necessary gear.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 294] The 9/11 Commission will state that Flight 93’s intended target is either the Capitol building or the White House, not CIA headquarters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] However, in 2006 MSNBC will note, “to this day, the ultimate target of the terrorists on this aircraft has never been confirmed.” [MSNBC, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Billy Waugh, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorist Center logo.Counterterrorist Center logo. [Source: CIA]At around 10 a.m., following reports that several aircraft were not responding to communications and could be heading toward Washington, CIA Director George Tenet orders the evacuation of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, Cofer Black, the director of the Counterterrorist Center (CTC), is unhappy about this and tells Tenet, “Sir, we’re going to have to exempt CTC from this because we need to have our people working the computers.” The CTC, according to the Los Angeles Times, is “the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” About 200 employees are currently working in it. Eight of them are in the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the building, monitoring the latest intelligence on terrorism throughout the world. The rest are in a windowless facility low down in the building. When Tenet points out that the Global Response Center staff will be at risk, Black responds, “They have the key function to play in a crisis like this. This is exactly why we have the Global Response Center.” When Tenet points out, “They could die,” Black replies, “Well, sir, then they’re just going to have to die.” After pausing, Tenet agrees, “You’re absolutely right.” Tenet later says, “Now that we were under attack, the Counterterrorist Center, with its vast data banks and sophisticated communications systems, was more vital than ever. Even as we were discussing going or staying, CTC was sending out a global alert to our stations around the world, ordering them to go to their liaison services and agents to collect every shred of information they could lay their hands on.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet, 2007, pp. 164-165]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At some unspecified time, apparently relatively soon after Flight 93 crashed, Vice President Dick Cheney calls CIA Director George Tenet and asks him if he is anticipating any further attacks. Tenet replies, “No. My judgment is that they’re done for the day.” Tenet will later explain his reasoning behind this judgment: “There was a lull in the action, and to me that was telling.… I had no data to go on. But the pattern of spectacular multiple attacks within a very tight attack window was consistent with what we knew of al-Qaeda’s modus operandi based on the East African embassy attacks and others. Events happened within a strict timeline, and then they were done.” Yet at 10 a.m., Tenet had wanted the CIA headquarters evacuated, following reports that several airplanes were not responding to communications and were perhaps heading toward Washington. A large number of the CIA’s workforce had therefore been sent home (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164 and 167] And according to recordings of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) later obtained by Vanity Fair magazine, “inside NEADS there was no sense that the attack was over with the crash of United 93; instead, the alarms go on and on. False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon” (see 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Tenet and his staff will return to the CIA headquarters building at around 1 p.m. after having earlier evacuated to the CIA’s printing plant nearby. By that time, Tenet will say, “The danger was over for the day, in our estimation.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 168]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Less than 30 seconds after hearing that Flight 93 has crashed, NEADS receives a call informing it of yet another suspected hijacking in its area. Although the skies will be clear of all commercial and private aircraft soon after midday, false reports of hijackings will continue well into the afternoon. For hours, fighters above New York and Washington DC (and later Chicago and Boston) will race around intercepting suspicious aircraft. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Studies in Intelligence, 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]

Entity Tags: Michael J. Morell, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file] But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Karl C. Rove, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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