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Context of '(12:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: AWACS Plane Takes Off from a Base in Oklahoma and Then Escorts Air Force One'

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Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, passes on to Bush all the information the CIA currently has relating to today’s terrorist attacks, which includes a warning the agency received about the possibility that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists is in the United States, preparing for a second wave of attacks. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) While he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet said the CIA had information linking al-Qaeda to today’s attacks. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Priess 2016, pp. 243) Before the meeting ended, Morell slipped out to phone Ted Gistaro, Tenet’s executive assistant, at the CIA’s operations center and asked to have the information Tenet provided to Bush sent to Air Force One. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57)
Fax Includes All of the CIA's Information on the Attacks - A few minutes after Air Force One took off from Offutt, heading for Washington, DC (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Morell received a six-page fax that included all the intelligence the CIA had relating to the attacks. It included the talking points Tenet used to brief Bush during the teleconference, along with a lot of information Tenet was unable to cover in the meeting. Morell read through the material several times and highlighted several passages.
Briefer Goes Over the CIA's Information with Bush - Now, about 30 minutes later, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, comes to the staff cabin and tells Morell that Bush will see him to go through the information. Morell therefore accompanies Card to the conference room on the plane and the two men meet with Bush there. Morell goes over the material he has been sent with the president, allowing Bush to read as much of it as he wants. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57; Graff 9/9/2016)
Briefer Reports the Possibility of a Second Wave of Attacks - The material includes information provided by French intelligence, explaining that it has detected signs that al-Qaeda has “sleeper cells” in the US that are planning a second wave of attacks. Bush is concerned when he learns this. He will later describe receiving the information as “one of the darkest moments of the day.” “I believed America could overcome the September 11 attacks without further panic,” he will write. “But,” he will add, “a follow-on strike would be very difficult to bear.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) After Morell has finished briefing the president, Bush thanks him and he returns to his seat in the staff cabin. This meeting apparently takes place at around 5:20 p.m., since Morell will comment that Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses while he is briefing the president and this incident occurs at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. 15)

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). However, the plane was repeatedly denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and only landed at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). 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. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Giesemann 2008, pp. 22-32; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-436; McCullough 9/2011 pdf file)
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)

An unidentified fast-moving aircraft is noticed flying toward Air Force One as it is bringing President Bush back to Washington, DC, but the aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet, reportedly “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush announced he would be returning to Washington while he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and his plane left the base and headed for the capital shortly after 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 123; Bush 2010, pp. 135) As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) and the 119th Fighter Wing are flying combat air patrols over the capital. They have been joined by a number of other fighters from across the northeast US.
Pilots Told They Will Be Escorting Air Force One - Among the pilots flying over Washington are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney of the DCANG, who are flying their second mission of the day. Sasseville and Penney are instructed to contact an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in their area and “expect special tasking.” When they make contact with the AWACS plane, its controller directs them to fly about 160 miles to the west and says they are going to “escort Air Force One.” Two of the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets offer to accompany Sasseville and Penney, and Sasseville accepts.
Unidentified Aircraft Seen Flying toward Air Force One - A short time later, an AWACS controller reports that a fast-moving unidentified aircraft is flying toward Air Force One. The aircraft is currently about 70 miles southwest of the president’s plane, but is on a “cutoff vector” to Air Force One. The controller reports that the suspicious plane is flying above 40,000 feet, whereas Air Force One is “in the 20,000 feet range.” All the same, Sasseville directs the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets to intercept the aircraft and they quickly do so.
Aircraft Is Not a Threat - The suspicious aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet “that hadn’t yet landed after aircraft nationwide had been ordered out of the air,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 88) However, the FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport many hours earlier, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) The plane is simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to author Leslie Filson. (Filson 2003, pp. 88) “There was a Learjet vectored on Air Force One,” Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission, “but it was nothing.” (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) The two DCANG fighters and the two 119th Fighter Wing jets will subsequently accompany Air Force One as it flies into Andrews Air Force Base. (Scott 9/9/2002)

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England will later claim that President Bush makes an unpublicized visit to the Pentagon at this time. In 2007, England will recall in a speech, “Then that night, on 9/11, we had a meeting in the Pentagon—and I remember this well, because the president came to the Pentagon that evening, at 6:15 in the evening… And the president came and met in the conference room right next to Secretary Rumsfeld’s office. And he came and he said, ‘Get ready.’ He said,‘Get ready.’ He said, ‘This is going to be a long war.’” (England 1/22/2007) If this account is true, then Air Force One must have flown very quickly from Nebraska (if reports are true Bush left at 4:33 (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), the plane would have travelled at about 700 mph, faster than its official top speed of 600 mph), and Bush must have stayed at the Pentagon briefly before arriving live on camera at the White House around 6:45 (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). If Bush did go to the Pentagon, is it not exactly clear why or why no account would mention it until 2007.

Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Bush 2010, pp. 203-204) Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 17; Kessler 2006, pp. 136)
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. (CNN 9/11/2001; Burleigh 10/15/2001; Kessler 2006, pp. 136; Bush 2010, pp. 203) It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. (Bamford 8/23/2009) Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” (Bush 2010, pp. 203-204) President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205) Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002)

President Bush arrives at the White House, after exiting Air Force One at 6:42 p.m. and flying across Washington in a helicopter. (Tapper 9/12/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002)

President Bush and Laura Bush talking with Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.President Bush and Laura Bush talking with Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]President Bush is reunited with his wife, Laura Bush, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, shortly after arriving back at the White House. (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205) Bush arrived at the White House at 6:54 p.m. (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) He headed to the Oval Office, where he read through a draft of the speech he is going to deliver to the nation later in the evening and modified a few lines. He then headed down to the PEOC, where the first lady was waiting for him. (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138) The first lady was taken to the PEOC after she was driven to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters, at around 6:30 p.m. (see 6:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush walks into the PEOC at 7:10 p.m. and hugs his wife. (Bush 2010, pp. 203-205) The first lady will later recall, “We were really glad to see each other, but also the enormity of what had happened in our country had really sunk in by then, and so we just comforted each other.” (Burleigh 10/15/2001) The president will describe: “We didn’t have a lot of time to talk, but we didn’t need to. Her hug was more powerful than any words.” Other senior government officials are in the PEOC, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who is there with his wife, Lynne Cheney. After their reunion, the president and the first lady “talked with the Cheneys a bit,” Laura Bush will recall. The president will subsequently head upstairs, practice his speech, and then go to the Oval Office to deliver it (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). The first lady will go to the White House residence (the first family’s living quarters). (Bush 2010, pp. 138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205)

On the evening after the 9/11 attacks, some White House personnel, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, are given the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, and told to take it regularly. (Sobieraj 10/24/2001) An unnamed “high government official” also advises some reporters to take Cipro shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Judicial Watch will later sue the Bush administration to release documents showing who knew what and when, and why presidential staff were protected while senators, congresspeople, and others were not. (Associated Press 6/8/2002)

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; Balz and Woodward 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). (Elliott 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)

A section from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone.A section from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone. [Source: Defense Department] (click image to enlarge)Stephen Cambone, the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, makes the following note for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at an emergency policy meeting, “AA 77—3 indiv have been followed since Millennium + Cole. 1 guy is assoc of Cole bomber. 2 entered US in early July (2 of 3 pulled aside and interrogated?).” Although four of the subsequently alleged Flight 77 hijackers were known to the authorities in connection with terrorism before 9/11, it appears that the three referred to here as being followed are Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi, due to their ties to an al-Qaeda Malaysia summit around the Millennium (see January 5-8, 2000) and ties to the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar initially arrived in the US shortly before or after the Millennium plot was due to come to fruition (see November 1999 and January 15, 2000), even entering at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), a target of the plot. If the note is literally correct that some US authorities were following these three since the Millennium, this would contradict the 9/11 Commission’s position that the trail of the three was lost shortly after the Millennium. The comment that one of the hijackers is an associate of a Cole bomber could refer to photos the CIA had before 9/11 identifying Almihdhar standing next to Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000) or photos of him standing next to Cole bomber Khallad bin Attash (see January 4, 2001). The note’s mention that two of them entered the US in July is also accurate, as Salem Alhazmi entered the US on June 29 (see April 23-June 29, 2001) and Khalid re-entered on July 4 (see July 4, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file; US Department of Defense 2/6/2006 pdf file) Earlier in the day, Cambone took notes for Rumsfeld that indicate Rumsfeld is keen to move against Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, even though he was aware there may be no connection between Iraq and 9/11 (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file; Borger 2/24/2006)

Liz Cheney.Liz Cheney. [Source: US Department of State]After attending President Bush’s meeting with his principal advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center beneath the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney heads back upstairs, accompanied by his wife Lynne Cheney and his two top aides, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and David Addington. They all head out onto the White House’s South Lawn and get onto Marine Two, the vice president’s helicopter, being joined on it by a military aide, a communications expert, three Secret Service agents, and Cheney’s doctor. They take off, in violation of long-standing protocol, according to which only the president takes off from the South Lawn. Only a few of the most senior White House officials are informed of their destination. About 30 minutes later they arrive at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, about 70 miles from the White House. Again going against tradition, Cheney and his family settle into the cabin usually reserved for the president, Aspen Lodge. Liz Cheney, the vice president’s eldest daughter, and her young family, joins them there. This is the first of many nights that Cheney spends in “secure, undisclosed locations” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001-2002). (Federation of American Scientists 10/2/2000; Hayes 2007, pp. 345-346) He will return to Washington the following morning for an 8 a.m. meeting at the White House (see September 12, 2001). (Woodward and Balz 1/28/2002)

President Bush speaking with Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer on Air Force One on September 11.President Bush speaking with Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer on Air Force One on September 11. [Source: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum]Bush administration officials give differing accounts about whether a threat was made against Air Force One, the president’s plane, on September 11. (Allen 9/27/2001; Noah 9/28/2001; Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file) The White House reportedly received an anonymous phone call at around 10:30 a.m. on September 11 in which the caller said Air Force One would be the next terrorist target and used code words indicating they had inside information about government procedures (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney promptly phoned President Bush on Air Force One and told him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Press Secretary Reveals Threat during News Briefing - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals the existence of the threat on September 12, after conferring with Cheney and White House counselor Karen Hughes about whether the administration should respond to criticisms of Bush’s failure to return to Washington, DC, immediately after the previous day’s attacks. Hughes advises Fleischer to mention the threat during his press briefing on this day. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Fleischer 2005, pp. 157) Fleischer therefore says in the briefing, “[W]e have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets of these attacks.” He says the threat against the president’s plane led to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and was one of the reasons why Bush did not head back to Washington right away in response to the attacks. (White House 9/12/2001)
Cheney Recalls 'Credible Threat' - On September 16, Cheney similarly tells NBC’s Meet the Press, “We received a threat to Air Force One,” and adds, “I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me.” (Cheney 9/16/2001) And later in the month, White House adviser Karl Rove, who was with Bush on Air Force One on September 11, recalls that those on the president’s plane were informed of “a specific threat made to Air Force One,” which was a “declaration that Air Force One was a target.” (Lemann 9/25/2001)
Unnamed Officials Doubt whether Threat Was Made - Other officials, however, contradict these accounts. Near the end of September, CBS News reports that the phone call in which the threat was reportedly made “simply never happened.” It says that, according to unnamed sources, “White House staffers apparently misunderstood comments made by their security detail.” (Noah 9/28/2001) And some unnamed Bush administration officials tell the Associated Press that “they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening Air Force One.” The officials say they “have been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat [on] September 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it.” (Fournier 9/26/2001) Fleischer will later recall that he learns, weeks after publicly revealing the existence of the supposed threat against Air Force One, “that the threat was unfounded.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) “I learned it was a mistake from the press,” he will say, “who had been tipped by someone who knew.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 158)
Threat Was 'Almost Surely Bogus' - At the start of November, when asked about the alleged call in which Air Force One was threatened, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says: “I don’t know if it was a crank call or a real threat. I don’t think we’re going to ever know.” (Rice 11/1/2001) And at the end of 2001, Newsweek reports that the reported threat to Air Force One has been determined to be “almost surely bogus,” although it adds, “White House officials say they do not know where it came from.” (Thomas 12/30/2001) White House spokesman Dan Bartlett says in 2004 that “there hadn’t been any actual threat” against Air Force One on September 11. Word of a threat, he says, “resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously.” Around the same time, however, Cheney’s office says it still cannot rule out that a threat to Air Force One was made. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file)

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001; Associated Press 8/7/2008) Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). (Rose 10/14/2001; BBC 10/16/2001) However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” (Washington Post 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times 11/10/2001)

The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Stanley 9/5/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” (Farhi 6/19/2003) Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” (Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” (Breitweiser 9/8/2003)

Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton.Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton. [Source: CBC]Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, gives a wide-ranging interview to the CBC about Without Precedent, a book he recently co-authored about his time on the 9/11 Commission (see August 15, 2006). In the interview he discusses the various “conspiracy theories” surrounding the events of 9/11. The interviewer, Evan Solomon, mentions to him a recent Zogby poll (see May 17, 2006) that found that 42% of Americans agreed that “the US government, and its 9/11 Commission, concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts the official explanation of September 11th.” Hamilton calls this lack of trust in the Commission’s report “dispiriting,” but attacks the “conspiracy theory people,” saying, “when they make an assertion they do it often on very flimsy evidence.” He addresses some of the various “conspiracy theories” that have been put forward about 9/11:
bullet In order to contradict the allegation that the Twin Towers were brought down deliberately with pre-planted explosives, Hamilton says the WTC collapsed (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001) because “the super-heated jet fuel melted the steel super-structure of these buildings and caused their collapse.” He adds, “There’s a powerful lot of evidence to sustain that point of view, including the pictures of the airplanes flying into the building.”
bullet With regard to the collapse of WTC Building 7 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), which some people claim was also caused by explosives, he argues, “[W]e believe that it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case, we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container, which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory on Building 7.” However, the interviewer points out that the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not actually mention the collapse of Building 7, and Hamilton says he does not recall whether the Commission made a specific decision to leave it out.
bullet In reply to a question about why the debris of Building 7 were moved quickly from the scene without a thorough investigation, even though nobody died in Building 7 and there was no need for rescue operations there, Hamilton responds, “You can’t answer every question when you conduct an investigation.”
bullet When asked whether Saeed Sheikh sent Mohamed Atta $100,000 for the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before), Hamilton replies, “I don’t know anything about it.” When the interviewer presses him about whether the Commission investigated a possible Pakistani Secret Service (ISI) connection to the attacks, Hamilton replies, “They may have; I do not recall us writing anything about it in the report. We may have but I don’t recall it.”
bullet Asked about Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s claim that Vice President Dick Cheney was in the presidential bunker beneath the White House at 9:20 a.m. on 9/11 (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), almost 40 minutes earlier than the Commission claimed he had arrived there, Hamilton replies, “I do not recall.” When pressed, he expands, “Well, we think that Vice President Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock. And there is a gap of several minutes there, where we do not really know what the Vice President really did. There is the famous phone call between the President and the Vice President. We could find no documentary evidence of that phone call.”
bullet When the interviewer points out that Richard Clarke’s account conflicts with the Commission’s over what time authorization was received from Dick Cheney to shoot down Flight 93 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Hamilton retorts, “Look, you’ve obviously gone through the report with a fine-toothed comb, you’re raising a lot of questions—I can do the same thing.”
The interviewer also asks Hamilton whether he has any unanswered questions of his own about 9/11. Hamilton’s response is: “I could never figure out why these 19 fellas did what they did. We looked into their backgrounds. In one or two cases, they were apparently happy, well-adjusted, not particularly religious - in one case quite well-to-do, had a girlfriend. We just couldn’t figure out why he did it. I still don’t know.” (Hamilton 8/21/2006)

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