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Context of '(After 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Computers and Communications Systems Not Working Properly at Alternate Military Command Center'

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With the approval of President Harry S. Truman, the US government constructs a massive 200,000-square-foot underground facility along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, about seven miles north of Camp David and about 65 miles north of Washington, DC. Site-R at Raven Rock, officially known as the Alternate Joint Communications Center, is one of 96 bunkers being assembled around the nation’s capital in preparation for a potential nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union (see 1950-1962). Site-R is designed to serve as a complete backup to the Pentagon in times of war and is complete with state-of-the-art technology, alternate command posts, war rooms, and living spaces for top officials. The subterranean fortress resembles a small city, with all the basic necessities for sustaining a population in the thousands for months at a time. The site is equipped with its own self-generating power supply, offices, medical clinic, fire department, mail service center, dining halls, and dormitories. The facility is said to have its own a chapel, two fishing lakes, a barbershop, a drug store, and even a bowling alley. There are also rumors that an underground tunnel connects Site-R to Camp David less than 10 miles to the south. Decades later, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking officials will relocate to Site-R in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-2002). [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/7/1985; Washington Post, 5/31/1992; New York Times, 12/2/2000; Gannett News Service, 6/25/2002; Knight Ridder, 7/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, Site R, Camp David

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

At some point after the White House is ordered to evacuate and while Air Force One is preparing to take off in Florida, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activates the Continuity of Government (COG) plan. The coordinator for Continuity of Government has joined Clarke in the White House Situation Room. Clarke asks, “How do I activate COG?” Recalling this conversation, he will later comment, “In the exercises we had done, the person playing the president had always given that order.” But the coordinator replies, “You tell me to do it.” Soon after, Clarke instructs him, “Go.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]
First Time COG Plan Activated - The Continuity of Government plan, which dates back to the Reagan administration, had originally prepared to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. This is apparently the first time it has ever been put into effect. Clarke will recall, “Every federal agency was ordered… to activate an alternative command post, an alternative headquarters outside of Washington, DC, and to staff it as soon as possible.” Cabinet officers are dispatched around the country, and people in Congress are taken to alternative locations.
Clarke Regularly Particiated in COG Exercises - Since the 1980s, Clarke has in fact been a regular participant in secret COG exercises that rehearsed this plan (see (1984-2004)). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also participated (see 1981-1992). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] Kenneth Duberstein, formerly President Reagan’s White House chief of staff, who took part in the exercises as well, will recall: “I said to myself, as we proceeded through the day [of 9/11], ‘It’s working.’ All those days of patriotic duty were coming back and they were working.” According to ABC News, “If executive branch leaders and large numbers of congressmen had been killed in an attack on the United States, the plan could have gone further, officials suggest, perhaps even with non-elected leaders of the United States taking control and declaring martial law.” [ABC News, 4/25/2004] According to a White House timeline of the events of 9/11, it is in fact Cheney that “orders implementation of Continuity of Government and Continuity of Operations procedures,” at 9:55 a.m., although, according to the Washington Post, Cheney only “officially implemented the emergency Continuity of Government orders,” rather than activating the plan. [White House, 2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Continuity of Government, White House, Kenneth Duberstein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks over the phone with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is at the Pentagon, and is given information about the Pentagon attack and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks. Shelton took off at 7:15 a.m. to fly to Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learned of the attacks in New York while his plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, and has just been told of a “big explosion at the Pentagon” (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
First Report Is of a Hand Grenade Going Off at Pentagon - Shelton heads to the communications console just behind the plane’s cockpit. From there, he talks over a secure, encrypted phone line with Myers, who is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. Myers updates Shelton on what is known about the explosion at the Pentagon. He says the first report is that a hand grenade went off in the Pentagon parking lot.
Myers Updates Shelton on Military Response to Attacks - Myers then gives Shelton a complete status report. He says: “We’ve transitioned the SIEC [significant event conference] into an air threat conference call, which is in progress as we speak (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). FAA has requested that NORAD take over control of US airspace. Fighters have scrambled to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and we’re sending AWACS up to provide further monitoring (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). We’ve escalated to Threatcon Delta and are about to launch the NAOC [National Airborne Operations Center plane]. Bases around the world are locked tight, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz has been relocated to Site R (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), plus, [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley has requested we implement full ‘Continuity of Government measures’ (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and we are proceeding along those lines.”
Myers Says Plane Hit Pentagon - Myers is then interrupted by some commotion in the background. When he returns to the line, he tells Shelton, “Okay, we just got the word: the prior report was incorrect; it was not a hand grenade that exploded, it was another commercial airline that struck the Pentagon.” He then continues with his status report, saying, “[P]er the president, we’ve gone weapons free in the event of a hijacked aircraft or one that threatens the White House.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-24; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433]
Shelton Returning to Washington - Myers will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the NMCC—presumably referring to the time of this phone call—he “recommended General Shelton return to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file] But Shelton will recall that he tells Myers, “I need you to call Ed Eberhart [General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD] at NORAD and let him know that we’re coming back [to Washington] on Speckled Trout [the nickname of the plane he is on], and tell him that I would consider it a personal favor if he would see to it that the chairman and his crew are not shot down on their way back to Andrews.” Myers confirms, “Will do.” According to Shelton, his plane is called back 10 minutes later “with confirmation that we had been officially cleared to fly through the shutdown airspace.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433] However, it is unclear when the plane lands at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, and the chairman will only arrive at the NMCC very late in the afternoon (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159] The exact time of the call between Shelton and Myers is unclear, though it would be at some time after about 10:00 a.m., when Myers arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refuses to leave the Pentagon, despite the smoke leaking into the National Military Command Center (NMCC) where he is currently working, the danger of a second attack on the Pentagon, and a White House request to begin implementing Continuity of Government (COG) measures. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] After being out of touch with his colleagues at the Pentagon since the time of the attack there (see (9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001), Rumsfeld finally entered the NMCC at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 2-6] It is now noticed that smoke is seeping into the center. With people beginning to cough, aides suggest Rumsfeld should leave the building, but he is uninterested in their advice. Even when they warn that the smoke might be toxic, he still ignores them. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, tells him he should leave the Pentagon. But Rumsfeld instead orders Wolfowitz to leave the NMCC and fly to Site R, the alternate command center outside Washington (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to journalist and author Steve Vogel, this is “contrary to the established Continuity of Government plan, which called for the secretary of defense to relocate to the alternate command center.… The secretary figured the 45 minutes to an hour it would take to evacuate to Site R would leave him out of touch for too long.” Rumsfeld will later explain: “That’s life. That’s what deputies are for.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 441]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz leaves the Pentagon and relocates to the alternate military command center outside Washington. Wolfowitz had evacuated from his office to an area in front of the Pentagon after the building was hit, but then went back inside and joined Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the National Military Command Center (NMCC). [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] With smoke seeping into the center, Wolfowitz advises Rumsfeld to leave the NMCC (see (10:40 a.m.-11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead Rumsfeld orders Wolfowitz to leave and fly to Site R, the alternate command center, which is located inside Raven Rock Mountain, about six miles north of Camp David, on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Vogel, 2007, pp. 441] Wolfowitz will later recall that he “was not happy about” receiving this order. [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Minutes later, a helicopter lands outside the Pentagon, and carries Wolfowitz and several others off to the alternate command center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] Site R was designed as a duplicate of the NMCC, and if the NMCC were ever destroyed in an attack or needs to be evacuated, it would serve as the Pentagon’s primary command center. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174] It has “more than 700,000 square feet of floor space, sophisticated computer and communications equipment, and room for more than 3,000 people.” [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] Others who will relocate to Site R on this day include Army Secretary Thomas White and personnel from the office of the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, though White will return to the Pentagon later on. [Washington Post, 1/9/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135] According to journalist and author James Mann, Rumsfeld’s decision to order Wolfowitz to leave Washington has its roots in a top secret program Rumsfeld was involved in during the 1980s, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Site R, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Raven Rock Mountain, the location of ‘Site R.’Raven Rock Mountain, the location of ‘Site R.’ [Source: Unknown]After arriving at the alternate military command center outside Washington, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz reports that the computer and communications systems there are hardly functioning. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Wolfowitz to leave the Pentagon and relocate to the alternate command center—“Site R”—earlier on, and Wolfowitz was transported there by helicopter (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132; Vogel, 2007, pp. 441] Site R is located inside Raven Rock Mountain, about six miles north of Camp David, on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] According to authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, it “was designed as a duplicate of the NMCC” (the National Military Command Center, inside the Pentagon). “If an attack took out the NMCC, or it needed to be evacuated for any reason, Site R would become the Pentagon’s primary command center.” Since joining the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1998 as its director of operations, Vice Admiral Scott Fry had “instituted regular drills and other measures to make sure Site R could rapidly get up to speed in an emergency, without glitches that might be fatal in a war setting.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174] Yet when he calls the Pentagon from this alternate command center, Wolfowitz reports that “the computer and communication systems there functioned poorly or not at all.” He is, however, able to participate in video teleconference calls. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] These problems are not reported as causing any significant hindrance in the emergency response to the attacks. But Creed and Newman will comment: “The authority to order major military action rested jointly with the senior civilian leaders at both the White House and the Defense Department. Only they, together, could order troops to move, or missiles to fly. If the NMCC went down before Site R was up and running, the communications link required to utilize the nation’s military might be severed, for the first time since the system was put in place in 1947.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Site R

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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