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Context of '11:08 p.m. September 11, 2001: False Alarm Over Unidentified Plane Leads to Temporary Evacuation of President Bush to White House Bunker'

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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. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 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. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally arrives at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon after returning to the US when his flight to Europe was aborted.
Vice Chairman Updates Shelton - After Shelton enters the NMCC, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs him. Myers says that Air National Guard and regular Air Force combat air patrols are flying above major US cities under AWACS control, the entire US military is on Threatcon level Delta, and the Joint Forces Command is sending headquarters units to New York and Washington, DC.
Intelligence Director Says Only One 'Hint' Indicated Possible Attack - Shelton then turns to Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Rear Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, and asks them, “Have we had any intel ‘squeaks’ on an attack like this—anything at all?” Wilson replies: “The only possible hint of this coming was several months ago when we got a single intercept requesting jumbo jet training. Since then, there’s been nothing.” Myers will later comment that Wilson is “referring to the vast electronic signals data-mining operations of our intelligence community that targeted known terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda and their allies.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Shelton Flying to Europe at Time of Attacks - Shelton was flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary for a NATO conference when he learned of the terrorist attacks in the US, and had ordered that his plane return to Washington (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying over the site of the collapsed Twin Towers in New York, Shelton’s plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington. The time it landed at is unstated. From there, three patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops escorted the chairman and his accompanying staff members as they were driven to the Pentagon. Once at the Pentagon, Shelton initially went to his office and then visited the site of the attack, to see the wreckage there. After returning to the building, he headed to the NMCC. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-32; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-436]
Chairman in Office for Much of Evening - Shelton will spend much of the evening in his office with staff, preparing for meetings of the National Security Council later this evening and the following day (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). At 6:42 p.m., he will join Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) to give a news briefing (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001), and at around 9:00 p.m. he will head to the White House for the National Security Council meeting there. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Priest, 2003, pp. 37; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]

Entity Tags: Lowell E. Jacoby, National Military Command Center, Henry Hugh Shelton, Tom Wilson, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives back in Washington, DC. He had been away in Peru at the time of the attacks, and his flight back to the US had only taken off at around 12:30 p.m. EDT. The exact time he arrives in the capital is unclear, though a State Department spokesman said at 7:40 p.m. that he was due to return “within the hour.” Powell will be at the White House in time for a 9:30 p.m. meeting between the president and his key advisers (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By then, Bush will already have delivered his speech to the nation declaring, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them” (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). As journalist Bob Woodward will comment, “The president, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice, [White House counselor Karen] Hughes and the speechwriters had made one of the most significant foreign policy decisions in years, and the secretary of state had not been involved.” [US Department of State, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31-32; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The Daily Telegraph later comments, “In the weeks before September 11 Washington was full of rumors that Powell was out of favor and had been quietly relegated to the sidelines.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush (below television screen) meeting with the National Security Council in a bunker below the White House. In the far row from left to right, are Attorney General Ashcroft, President Bush, Chief of Staff Card, CIA Director Tenet, and counterterrorism “tsar” Ckarke. In the near row, Secretary of State Powell can be seen waving his hand, and National Security Advisor Rice sits to his right.President Bush (below television screen) meeting with the National Security Council in a bunker below the White House. In the far row from left to right, are Attorney General Ashcroft, President Bush, Chief of Staff Card, CIA Director Tenet, and counterterrorism “tsar” Ckarke. In the near row, Secretary of State Powell can be seen waving his hand, and National Security Advisor Rice sits to his right. [Source: Eric Draper/ White House]President Bush meets with his full National Security Council. According to journalist Bob Woodward, this meeting turns out to be “unwieldy.” So at 9:30 p.m., Bush follows it with a meeting with a smaller group of his most senior principal national security advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) beneath the White House. Bush and his advisers have already decided bin Laden is behind the attacks. As the president later recalls, in these meetings, “That’s when we first got the indication… we’ve identified, we think it’s al-Qaeda.” He says the FBI now thinks that “it’s al-Qaeda, and we start to develop our plans to get them. I mean, there wasn’t any hesitation. We’re starting the process of coalition-building and how to get ‘em.” (According to other accounts, though, the CIA had informed Bush hours earlier that it was virtually certain al-Qaeda was to blame for the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001).) CIA Director George Tenet says that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan are essentially one and the same. Tenet says, “Tell the Taliban we’re finished with them.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31-33; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The president says, “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” When, later in the discussion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out that international law only allows force to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush yells, “No. I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] Bush will subsequently announce a new US doctrine of preemptive attack the following June (see June 1, 2002). [Time, 6/23/2002] During the meeting, the president refers to the present political situation as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By the time the meeting ends, it is after 10 p.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush is meeting with his key advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Referring to the attacks and the present political situation, Bush tells the meeting, “This is a great opportunity. We have to think of this as an opportunity.” According to journalist Bob Woodward, he means this is a chance to improve relations, especially with major powers such as Russia and China. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 31-32; Washington Post, 1/27/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After a meeting with the full National Security Council from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with a smaller group of advisers. During this meeting, Bush says the US will punish not just the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, but also those who harbored them (this closely echoes the rhetoric he used in a speech that evening (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001)). Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US needs to build a coalition of other nations. But according to the 9/11 Commission, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urges Bush to “think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. He wonder[s] aloud how much evidence the United States would need in order to deal with these countries, pointing out that major strikes could take up to 60 days to assemble.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 330] According to journalist Bob Woodward, at this meeting, “Rumsfeld actually puts Iraq on the table and says, ‘Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Earlier in the day, notes by a Rumsfeld aide indicate Rumsfeld was aware that evidence was already suggesting al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, but he wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq as well (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Bob Woodward, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

After meeting with a small group of his key advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush is heading for the elevator to go back upstairs, when he is stopped by a Secret Service agent. The agent tells him, “You’ll be sleeping down here tonight.” Bush says no. When the agent tries to argue about it, Bush repeats, “No, I’m not going to.” He later says his reasons for refusing the Secret Service agent’s instruction are, firstly, “the bed [in the PEOC] looked unappetizing. Secondly, it was a little stale in there. And I needed sleep.” The agent acquiesces, but warns, “If we have any threats, we will come and get you.” Bush then heads up to his bedroom. [Newsweek, 12/3/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 133-134] But, shortly after going to bed, the president and first lady will be rushed down to the PEOC due to a false alarm over an approaching plane (see 11:08 p.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Attorney General John Ashcroft briefs about 250 members of Congress on the latest developments regarding the day’s terrorist attacks. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] Since he arrived there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has spent most of the day at the Strategic Information and Operations Center at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). He and other senior Justice Department officials have repeatedly heard from members of Congress who want more information about the attacks. Ashcroft will later recall, “We tried our best to provide it, but we were still in the heat of battle.” However, “No matter; Congress wanted answers.” Therefore, after attending a meeting at the White House—presumably President Bush’s meeting with his National Security Council and/or his subsequent meeting with his most senior principal national security advisers (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—Ashcroft heads to the police station north of the Hart Senate Office Building, to brief the House and Senate members who are gathered there. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] About 250 members of Congress are at the briefing. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] Ashcroft will recall, “The place was jammed with members of Congress, all shouting questions, some complaining about apparent inconsistencies, many expressing dissatisfaction that we didn’t know everything, and all wanting answers that I didn’t know or couldn’t say.” [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] He reportedly tells those at the briefing that “the US government now believes teams of three to five individuals carrying knives commandeered those four airliners earlier today, destroying them and themselves in the process.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] Ashcroft stays at the police station until well after midnight, holding what he will describe as “an intense discussion” with the members of Congress. He has to say “I don’t know” over and over again, he will recall. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After refusing the Secret Service’s instruction to sleep in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, and going instead to his bedroom (see (Shortly After 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush is awoken by someone telling him, “Mr. President, Mr. President! Incoming plane! We could be under attack! Come on! Right now!” Bush and the first lady get out of bed, and join everybody else heading to the PEOC. On the way down, they run into Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, and also Neil Bush—one of the president’s younger brothers—who apparently is staying at the White House at this time. About a minute after arriving at the PEOC, though, someone comes in and says, “Mr. President, good news! It’s one of our own!” Bush later says the incoming plane was just an F-16 fighter jet. The Secret Service still wants him to spend the night in the PEOC, but Bush refuses and goes back to the residence for the rest of the night. [Newsweek, 12/3/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 134-135; Woodward, 2002, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: Neil Bush, Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bradford Berenson.Bradford Berenson. [Source: PBS]In the weeks following 9/11, government lawyers begin to formulate a legal response to the newly perceived threat of terrorism. Four related issues are at hand: forceful prevention, detention, prosecution, and interrogation. What degree of force can the government employ to prevent acts of terrorism or apprehend suspected terrorists? How and where can it best detain terrorists if captured? How can it best bring them to trial? And how can it best obtain information from them on terrorist organizations and plots? These questions are handled in a new atmosphere that is more tolerant towards flexible interpretations of the law. Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel at this time, later recalls: “Legally, the watchword became ‘forward-leaning’ by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.’” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] This attitude is seemingly in line with the president’s thinking. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall President Bush saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass” (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] At the center of legal reconstruction work are Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, his deputy Timothy E. Flanigan, and David S. Addington, legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 12/19/2004] They will find a helpful hand in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), most notably its head, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee [Los Angeles Times, 6/10/2004] and his deputies John C. Yoo [New York Times, 8/15/2004] and Patrick F. Philbin. Most of the top government lawyers dwell in fairly conservative circles, with many being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal fraternity. Some have clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose ruling effectively lead to the presidency being awarded to George W. Bush after the 2000 presidential election. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] Others worked for Judge Lawrence H. Silberman, who set up secret contacts with the Iranian government under President Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra scandal, and who advised on pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton. [Inter Press Service, 2/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Richard A. Clarke, John C. Yoo, Joan Claybrook, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bradford Berenson, Jay S. Bybee, Alan M. Dershowitz, Rena Steinzor

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In a speech, President Bush announces a “new” US policy of preemptive attacks: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002] This preemptive strategy is included in a defensive strategic paper the next month (see July 13, 2002), and formally announced in September 2002 (see September 20, 2002). Despite the obvious parallels, the mainstream media generally fails to report that this “new” antiterrorism strategy was first proposed by Bush’s key administration officials in 1992 (see March 8, 1992) and has been continually advocated by the same people ever since. [New York Times, 9/20/2002; Washington Post, 9/21/2002; Guardian, 9/21/2002] Furthermore, State Department Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass originally drafted this new national security strategy. However, Condoleezza Rice had ordered that it be completely rewritten, reportedly wanting “something bolder.” The man responsible for this task was Philip Zelikow, who in 2003 will be appointed executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). [Mann, 2004, pp. 316-317]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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