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Context of '(12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Secretary of State Powell Unable to Communicate with Colleagues in Washington'

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Brehon B. Somervell.Brehon B. Somervell. [Source: Public domain]Construction begins on the Pentagon. The structure was conceived at the request of Brigadier General Brehon B. Somervell in 1941, in order to provide a temporary solution to the growing US War Department’s critical shortage of space. The groundbreaking ceremony takes place on September 11, 1941. (Fine 1972, pp. 265-266, 348-351, 431-432, 434; Harte and Pruitt 1/16/2018) Exactly 60 years later, Flight 77 will crash into the Pentagon as part of the 9/11 attacks (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001).

In the fall of 1960, 1961, and 1962, the United States conducts three large-scale air defense exercises called Sky Shield that require a complete ban on commercial and private aviation for about 12 hours. During a period of extreme tensions with the Soviet Union and widespread fear of a nuclear attack by bombers or intercontinental missiles, the Sky Shield exercises test the reliability of North America’s elaborate network of radar stations in Alaska, Northern Canada, and Greenland, as well as along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Each exercise involves an attack by a fleet of “Soviet” bombers (actually US, Canadian, and British planes) from the North Pole or from the coasts, followed by the mobilization of hundreds of fighter jets trying to intercept and shoot down the intruders. Sky Shield will be recalled after 9/11 in part because it will be the first time in 40 years that the skies are completely cleared. The third Sky Shield, in 1962, involves the systematic grounding of hundreds of civilian jets as rapidly as possible to test the FAA’s ability to clear the skies in case of attack. This procedure, called SCATANA, will be implemented again on 9/11 on NORAD’s order (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Time 10/20/1961; Mola 3/1/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 2-3; Mola 11/1/2006)

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; Mann 3/2004; Kurtz 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). (Gellman and Schmidt 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.” (Mann 3/2004)

President Bush, after having trouble making a telephone call, instructs Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, to fix the problem and ensure that he is able to make calls at any time, but the issue will not have resolved by September 11, when Bush experiences significant communication problems. While he is being driven through Washington, DC, in his limousine, Bush tries to make a phone call but is unable to get a signal and hears only static. When he arrives at the White House, he calls Hagin over to discuss the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Hagin is a little known but influential member of the White House staff who, according to Politico, “manages everything around the president and the presidency except politics and policy.” (Allen 7/3/2008; Abramowitz 7/4/2008) Bush tells him the president should be able to call anyone at any time. “He essentially said to me, ‘We need to fix this and fix it quickly,’” Hagin will later recall. Bush adds, “What would we do if something really serious happened and this didn’t work?” (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Presumably as part of Hagin’s effort to resolve the problem, in the spring of 2001, the White House commissions the Department of Defense to study a communications upgrade. (Yellin 12/20/2006) However, Hagin’s task will not have been completed by September 11. On that day, Bush and other senior government officials will experience serious communication problems (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001; (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001; and (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Ambinder 4/11/2011) But the 9/11 attacks, according to the Associated Press, “spurred on the effort to modernize White House communications.” Hagin subsequently “took the White House’s cell phone technology digital, upgraded the systems in the president’s cars, and moved staffers to the BlackBerry wireless communicator, while not freeing them from carrying pagers as well.” (Associated Press 8/22/2003) According to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he fix to the presidential communications was one of the first things that was done after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Paul Kurtz.Paul Kurtz. [Source: Publicity photo]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Paul Kurtz, a member of the White House counterterrorism team, visit New York, where they tour the facilities of the stock exchange and telecommunications company Verizon, and inquire about security precautions there. Clarke will later describe that, about a month before 9/11, he and Kurtz spend “two days literally crawling around Wall Street.” They visit the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and also go through the tunnels that carry the fiber optic cable to the Verizon and AT&T switches. (Verizon has a switching center for Wall Street located next to the World Trade Center.) Clarke and Kurtz ask about the security precautions that are in place to protect such a large concentration of critical communications equipment. According to Clarke, “What they told us was that after the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center they had diversified some of their routing capability.” Clarke will recall that he and Kurtz identify “several buildings that, were they taken out, would disconnect Wall Street from the world.” The two men also talk to stock market officials about the need for alternative sites and backup facilities. (Verton 2003, pp. 157; Clarke 2004, pp. 19-20)
Infrastructure Examined by Clarke Damaged on 9/11 - On September 11, damage to some of the telecommunications infrastructure Clarke and Kurtz inspect will severely hamper communications in the area surrounding the WTC, including the financial district (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The New York Times will describe: “The collapse of the World Trade Center crippled many of the connections that downtown Manhattan depended on, threatening crucial links for the police and emergency crews. Cellular sites were knocked out.… Fiber-optic transport equipment was crushed. Power failures cut off high-speed Internet service for many companies across the city.” Verizon’s switching center at 140 West Street will be badly damaged by falling debris and burst water pipes. AT&T officials will say “they are certain that they lost several pieces of sophisticated equipment in the basement of the World Trade Center that were used to transport data over fiber-optic cables.” (Guernsey 9/20/2001; General Accounting Office 2/2003, pp. 91-92 pdf file; Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow 9/2003, pp. 33 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/25/2004 pdf file) As journalist and author Dan Verton will note, “For Richard Clarke, the digital destruction that severed Wall Street from the world [on September 11] was a nightmare come true.” (Verton 2003, pp. 157)

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; Weil 8/8/2001; Kessler 2003, pp. 222-223)

Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. [Source: Training and Simulation Journal]The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) goes to California for a week of training and is therefore stranded away from Washington, DC, when it is required to help in the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Nichols 9/11/2001; Darling 2010, pp. 75) The CIRG is “the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks,” according to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office. Its members arrive in San Francisco this evening to participate in a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training. (Darling 2010, pp. 74-75) While the 9/11 attacks are underway, NBC News will report that the FBI is in a state of “chaos,” partly because of the CIRG being stranded in California (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2001) On the afternoon of September 11, the White House will arrange for the CIRG to return to Washington as a matter of priority (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and the unit’s members will be flown back later that day (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Darling 2010, pp. 73-76)
Unit Created to Respond to Terrorist Incidents - The CIRG would be a valuable resource for responding to the 9/11 attacks. The unit was established in 1994 “to give the FBI the ability to respond with the tactical and investigative expertise needed in a major terrorist incident,” according to the Congressional Research Service. It has crisis managers, hostage negotiators, behavioral scientists, surveillance assets, and agents that it can utilize. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 pdf file; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 9-10 pdf file) The CIRG also has a “seven-step approach” it follows, which uses “active listening” to defuse a crisis. According to the Indian Express, “by showing support and empathy, [CIRG] negotiators often can talk a hijacker into surrendering largely by listening.” (Noesner and Webster 8/1997; Bagla 12/29/1999)
Hostage Rescue Team Serves as Domestic Counterterrorism Unit - The tactical centerpiece of the CIRG is the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a full-time team headquartered in Quantico, Virginia, that is able to deploy to any location within four hours of notification. Its skills include hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, and tactical site surveys. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 pdf file; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 10 pdf file) The HRT was created to give civilian law enforcement agencies a counterterrorist community comparable to that which exists in the military. Many of its members have a military background. (Cavallaro 2/2009) According to Darling, the HRT is ”the domestic counterterrorism unit, offering a tactical resolution option in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations.” (Darling 2010, pp. 7)

The specially modified C-135 nicknamed ‘Speckled Trout.’The specially modified C-135 nicknamed ‘Speckled Trout.’ [Source: United States Air Force]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes off to fly to Europe for a NATO conference, and will therefore be away from the US when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 20, 22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-433) Shelton is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Military Committee—NATO’s highest military authority—in Budapest, Hungary, on September 12, to discuss the situation in the Balkans, the European Security and Defense Identity, and NATO’s new force structure. On his return journey, he is set to stop in London, Britain, to be knighted by the Queen. (North Atlantic Treaty Organization 9/10/2001; North Atlantic Treaty Organization 9/11/2001; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430) Shelton takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, on a specially modified C-135 (the military version of a Boeing 707) nicknamed “Speckled Trout.” Normally he flies on a VIP Boeing 757 often used by the vice president, but that aircraft is presently unavailable, so he is flying instead on the C-135, which is usually reserved for the Air Force chief of staff. Those accompanying Shelton on the flight include his wife, Carolyn; his executive assistant, Colonel Doug Lute; his aides, Master Sergeant Mark Jones and Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann; and his personal security agent, Chief Warrant Officer Marshall McCants. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 20-22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431, 434) When Shelton is out of the country, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is designated by law as acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his place. Shelton will later recall, “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be [Myers’s] to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” (Myers 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432) After learning of the attacks in New York, Shelton will give the order for his plane to return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giesemann 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431) However, the plane will repeatedly be denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will only land back in the US at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). Shelton will only arrive at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers 2009, pp. 159; McCullough 9/2011 pdf file)

Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks.Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Just prior to learning about the 9/11 attacks, top US leaders are scattered across the country and overseas:
bullet President Bush is in Sarasota, Florida. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is flying across the Atlantic on the way to Europe. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Giesemann 2008, pp. 19-40)
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft is flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh is at a conference in Montana. (ABC News 9/14/2002) Others are in Washington:
bullet Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are at their offices in the White House. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is at his office in the Pentagon, meeting with a delegation from Capitol Hill. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet CIA Director George Tenet is at breakfast with his old friend and mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks from the White House. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet FBI Director Robert Mueller is in his office at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
bullet Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is at his office at the Department of Transportation. (US Congress 9/20/2001)
bullet Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Building, three blocks from the White House. (Clarke 2004, pp. 1)

CIA Director George Tenet is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks north of the White House. According to journalist Bob Woodward, Boren asks Tenet, “What are you worried about these days?” Tenet replies, “Bin Laden,” and says he is convinced the al-Qaeda leader is going to do something big. Boren asks him how could one person without the resources of a foreign government be such a threat? Tenet responds, “You don’t understand the capabilities and the reach of what they’re putting together.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 1 and 3; Neal 12/6/2002) When, shortly afterwards, Tenet learns of the first attack on the World Trade Center, he will immediately say he thinks bin Laden is responsible (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Fort AP Hill.Fort AP Hill. [Source: United States Army]At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, members of the Army’s aviation support unit for the Washington, DC, area are away for weapons training, and do not set out to return to their base until after the time the Pentagon is hit. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file; Lilly 11/16/2001; Hipps 1/18/2002) The 12th Aviation Battalion is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, and includes three helicopter companies. It operates UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The battalion is stationed at Davison Army Airfield, which is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. (Military District of Washington 8/2000) Davison Airfield’s missions include maintaining “a readiness posture in support of contingency plans,” exercising “operational control” of the Washington area airspace, and providing “aviation support for the White House, US government officials, Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and other government agencies.” (Fahrig 5/7/1999) A chief warrant officer with the 12th Aviation Battalion will later recall that members of the battalion are away this morning, at the shooting range at another Virginia Army base, Fort AP Hill, for their annual weapons training. They had set off early and driven there—a journey of one and a half to two hours. They are at the range when the attacks on the WTC take place, and only learn of them when the sister of one of their captains calls her brother with news of the attacks, presumably after seeing the coverage on television. The chief warrant officer will recall that, after hearing of the second attack on the WTC, “[W]e were all pretty much thinking we probably need to go—you know, probably need to come to work.” The range officer calls Davison Airfield and is told that the members of the battalion should “pack it in and come on back” to base. He is also told during the call that an aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), meaning this call does not occur until after 9:37 a.m. According to the chief warrant officer, the Pentagon “is basically one of our missions. So we just pretty much packed up and came back up here and came into work.” Exactly how many of the 12th Aviation Battalion’s members are away from base for the weapons training is unstated, as is the exact time they arrive back at Davison Airfield. But considering it is one and a half to two hours drive between there and the range, they presumably do not get there until some time after about 11:15 a.m. When they do eventually get back to base, the battalion members will prepare to launch helicopters in response to the Pentagon attack (see (After 11:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file; Hipps 1/18/2002)

A number of key White House officials will later claim that, when they learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center, they initially think it is just an accident:
bullet President Bush says that, when he learns of the crash while in Sarasota, Florida: “my first reaction was—as an old pilot—how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 42)
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with the president, says: “It was first reported to me… that it looked like it was a, a twin-engine pro—prop plane, and so the natural reaction was: ‘What a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack.’” (Card 9/11/2002)
bullet Adviser Karl Rove, who is also with the president in Florida, is later questioned about his feelings after the first crash. When it is suggested, “I guess at that point, everyone is still thinking it is an accident,” Rove concurs, “Yes, absolutely.” (Rove 9/11/2002)
bullet White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also traveling with the president on this day, says, “[W]hen only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident.” (CNN 9/11/2006)
bullet National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in her White House office, is informed of the crash by her executive assistant (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). She later recalls, “I thought, what a strange accident.” (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 9/11/2002)
bullet White House counselor Karen Hughes receives a phone call informing her of the first crash as she is about to leave her Washington, DC, home. She later recalls, “they thought it was a small plane at the time… so, of course, my immediate thought was what a terrible accident.” (Hughes 9/11/2002; CNN 4/6/2004) She adds, “We all assumed it was some kind of weird accident; at that point terrorism didn’t occur to us.” (Hughes 2004, pp. 234)
The 9/11 Commission will later describe, “In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an accident, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their regular schedules.” It will only be when they learn of the second tower being hit at 9:03 that “nearly everyone in the White House… immediately knew it was not an accident.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35) However, when couterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is called some time after the first crash but before the second by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is at the White House (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—she tells him, “Until we know what this is, Dick, we should assume the worst.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 1) And when CIA Director George Tenet learns of the first crash, reportedly he is told specifically, “The World Trade tower has been attacked,” and his initial reaction is, “This has bin Laden all over it” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 4)

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, establishes a teleconference with FAA facilities in the New York area. These facilities are the New York Center, the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, and the Eastern Regional Office. The participants in the teleconference jointly decide to divert all air traffic that would otherwise enter the New York area, either to land or to overfly. Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later describe, “They [New York area air traffic control personnel] would continue to work what they’d been working, but we wouldn’t give them any more.” The teleconference participants’ decision does not affect takeoffs from the New York area. After the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m., the Command Center will expand this teleconference to include FAA headquarters and other agencies (see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). (Bond 12/17/2001)

Senior officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, are alerted to the first crash at the World Trade Center, but they are initially uncertain as to whether it was a terrorist attack or an accident. (McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016; Pann 9/12/2016) Most days, at 8:30 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet holds a meeting in his conference room at CIA headquarters where 15 of the agency’s top officials report the news from their particular area. Those at the meeting this morning include Deputy Director John McLaughlin, Executive Director A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, Deputy Executive Director John Brennan, and Director of Public Affairs William Harlow. Because Tenet is away in Washington, DC, having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Krongard is chairing the meeting this morning, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. However, according to Brennan, McLaughlin is chairing it.
Officer Interrupts the Meeting to Report the Crash - A few minutes before 9:00 a.m., the senior duty officer of the CIA’s Operations Center enters the conference room and interrupts the meeting. He tells the officials that a plane has just crashed into the WTC. He presumably learned this from seeing the coverage of the crash on television. The Operations Center, on the building’s seventh floor, has three large televisions that are usually tuned to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.
Officials Think the Crash Is Probably an Attack - “We all were stunned and wondered aloud about the cause” of the crash, Brennan will later recall. (Kessler 2003, pp. 196-197, 202; Brennan 9/11/2014) The officials “fleetingly” think it is possible the crash was an accident, rather than a terrorist attack, according to McLaughlin. “We were of two minds,” he will say. The crash “could be an accident, but we’d been expecting an attack.” According to McLaughlin, “the balance” among the officials “was toward, ‘This is probably an attack.’” (McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016) The meeting is soon adjourned. Officials who attended it, such as Krongard and Brennan, return to their offices, where televisions are showing the coverage of the crash. (Kessler 2003, pp. 202; Brennan 9/11/2014)
Officials Will Suspect Al-Qaeda When They See the Second Crash - When the second hijacked plane crashes into the WTC, “it was apparent” that it was an attack, McLaughlin will say. (McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016) At that point, “we all knew that we were under attack… and few among us doubted that it was al-Qaeda,” Brennan will comment. (Brennan 9/11/2014) “We all knew here that it was al-Qaeda because we had seen this growing threat reporting that they were planning to do something,” he will say. (Pann 9/12/2016) “All summer long, we had been monitoring an upsurge in threat reporting, anticipating an attack and seeking to thwart it,” McLaughlin will comment. Consequently, he will say, “while we were surprised by specific events of the day, we were not surprised that an attack had finally occurred.” (McLaughlin 9/11/2016)

David Boren.David Boren. [Source: University of Oklahoma]CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” (Slavin and Page 9/24/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) (Getler 5/29/2002; Laabs 8/13/2003) According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. (Gibbs 9/14/2001) Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” (Kessler 2003, pp. 196) In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. (Tenet 2007, pp. 161) Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

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)

In the Washington, DC, area, members of the public, emergency responders, and government officials experience serious communications problems. Telephone and cell phone services around the capital remain unavailable to members of the public for most of the day. (Verton 2003, pp. 149)
bullet Particular problems are experienced around the Pentagon. Reportedly, cellular and landline telephone communications there are “virtually unreliable or inaccessible during the first few hours of the response,” after it is hit at 9:37 (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C36 pdf file)
Some senior government officials also experience communications difficulties:
bullet CIA Director George Tenet has problems using his secure phone while heading from a Washington hotel back to CIA headquarters, located about eight miles outside Washington (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Buncombe 11/6/2002; Tenet 2007, pp. 161-162)
bullet Secretary of State Colin Powell has to take a seven-hour flight from Peru, to get back to the capital. He later complains that, during this flight, “because of the communications problems that existed during that day, I couldn’t talk to anybody in Washington” (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/11/2002)
bullet Between the time of the second WTC attack and about 9:45 a.m., Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House, has problems reaching Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert at the US Capitol by secure telephone (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 9/11/2002; Hayes 2007, pp. 336-337)
bullet Even President Bush experiences difficulties communicating with Washington after leaving a school in Florida, and subsequently while flying on Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
A classified after-action report will later be produced, based on observations from a National Airborne Operations Center plane launched near Washington shortly before the time of the Pentagon attack (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to one government official, the report indicates that the nation was “deaf, dumb, and blind” for much of the day. (Verton 2003, pp. 150-151) Members of the public in New York City also experience communications problems throughout the day, particularly with cell phones (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center contacts the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas, and informs it that contact has been lost with Flight 77. The controller is a sector radar associate, whose job is to help with hand-offs and to coordinate with other sectors and facilities. He speaks to American Airlines dispatcher Jim McDonnell. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30; Spencer 2008, pp. 63) The controller begins, “This is Indianapolis Center trying to get a hold of American 77.” McDonnell asks for clarification, “Who you trying to get a hold of?” and the controller replies: “American 77.… On frequency 120.27.… We were talking to him and all of a sudden it just, uh…” McDonnell interjects: “Okay, all right. We’ll get a hold of him for you.” The call comes to an abrupt end and the controller then continues trying to contact Flight 77. (New York Times 10/16/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 63-64) Soon after this call, American Airlines’ executive vice president of operations, Gerard Arpey, will give an order to stop all American flight takeoffs in the Northeast US (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). By 8:59 a.m., American Airlines begins attempts to contact Flight 77 using ACARS (a digital communications system used primarily for aircraft-to-airline messages). Within minutes, some time between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m., American will get word that United Airlines also has lost contact with a missing airliner (presumably Flight 175). When reports of the second WTC crash come through after 9:03 a.m., one manager will mistakenly shout, “How did 77 get to New York and we didn’t know it?” (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 454; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31) The sector radar associate at the Indianapolis Center will call American Airlines again about Flight 77 at 9:02, and again speak with McDonnell (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). (New York Times 10/16/2001)

Air Force General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and acting chairman on 9/11.
Air Force General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and acting chairman on 9/11. [Source: NORAD]According to his own account, Air Force General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sees reports of the first WTC crash on television. Myers is acting chairman of the US military during the 9/11 crisis because Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Henry Shelton is flying across the Atlantic for a NATO meeting in Europe. (ABC News 9/11/2002; Garamone 9/8/2006) Myers has a 9 o’clock appointment with Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) in one of the Senate office buildings. He is heading into this meeting and sees a television in Cleland’s outer office showing the burning North Tower, with the commentator suggesting it has been hit by an airplane. (Myers 9/11/2002) Myers later recalls, “They thought it was a small plane or something like that.” (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service 10/17/2001; Rhem 10/23/2001) He says, “And we’re standing around saying, ‘What in the world happened?’ I remember the day being beautiful. I said, ‘How could a pilot be that stupid, to hit a tower? I mean, what’—but then you think, ‘Well, whatever.’” So he goes ahead and walks into the meeting, and is with Cleland at the time the second tower is hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Myers 6/29/2006) On several occasions, Cleland will confirm that Myers had this meeting with him. (US Congress 9/13/2001; CNN 11/20/2001; Baxter and Galloway 6/16/2003) But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke seems to contradict this account. He claims that, when he joins a video teleconference shortly after arriving at the White House, he sees Myers on screen, indicating that Myers is at the Pentagon rather than with Cleland (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 1-3)

American Airlines orders all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground, and then, minutes later, extends this order nationwide. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31) At the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, managers have learned that communications have been lost with a second one of their aircraft, Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Therefore, at around 9:00, Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, orders a “ground stop” of all American Airlines and American Eagle flights in the Northeast US. This means aircraft that have not yet taken off must remain on the ground. Minutes later, American learns that United Airlines has lost contact with one of its flights. So, some time between 9:05 and 9:10, it extends its ground stop order to apply to all American Airlines and American Eagle aircraft across the entire US. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9-10) United Airlines will also prevent any further takeoffs of its flights at 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001) And the FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001) At around 9:15, American Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center contacts the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas, and informs dispatcher Jim McDonnell that the center is unable to make contact with Flight 77 and does not know the location of this aircraft. The same controller called American Airlines and spoke with McDonnell four minutes earlier, reporting that radio contact had been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). McDonnell now says he has tried contacting Flight 77 but did not get a reply back. The controller then tells him: “We, uh, we lost track control of the guy. He’s in coast track but we haven’t, we don’t [know] where his target is and we can’t get a hold of him. Um, you guys tried him and no response?” McDonnell confirms, “No response.” The controller continues: “Yeah, we have no radar contact and, uh, no communications with him. So if you guys could try again.” McDonnell replies, “We’re doing it.” (New York Times 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) Flight 77 made its last radio communication with controllers at 8:51 (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001), and deviated from its assigned course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9)

In the CIA’s Near East Division (NE) front office suite on the sixth floor of the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, everyone thinks Osama bin Laden is to blame as soon as they see the second aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. Gary Schroen, a former CIA station chief in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in the NE office suite, where several people have been staring at the television showing the burning North Tower. As Schroen later recalls, “We were getting calls from CTC [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center], friends of the CTC in and around the building, that the World Trade Center, one of the towers had been struck.” According to Schroen, there are “like, 30 of us standing around,” and “as soon as the second aircraft smashed into the second tower, everyone said, ‘Bin Laden. It was bin Laden.… This is the attack that bin Laden’s been promising.’” (Schroen 2005, pp. 12-14; NPR 5/2/2005; Schroen 1/20/2006) When CIA Director George Tenet learned of the first WTC attack, he reportedly said immediately that he thought bin Laden was responsible (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 4)

Dennis Hastert.Dennis Hastert. [Source: Congressional Pictorial Directory]Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who is third in line for the presidency, is in his office suite on the second floor of the US Capitol building when he sees the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television. (Hastert 2004, pp. 5) He is told that Vice President Dick Cheney will soon be calling him on the secure telephone in his office. (Hastert 9/11/2002) However, Cheney is currently having problems using secure phones, and Hastert is too. Hastert later recalls, “To use the secure phone, you have to push a button and turn a key. On that dreadful day I couldn’t make the thing work. No matter what I did, I couldn’t connect with the vice president. As the minutes passed, my frustrations grew.” (Hastert 2004, pp. 6; Hayes 2007, pp. 336) Several attempts to reach the vice president are unsuccessful. Hastert’s later explanation is that “Anyone who has used a secure phone can tell you they do not work very well.” However, numerous other people in the Washington area, including senior government officials, are also experiencing serious communications problems throughout the day (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Around the time the Pentagon is hit, the light on Hastert’s regular phone starts flashing, but instead of being Cheney it is apparently a nuisance caller, who complains, “I can’t get a hold of Jeb Bush, I can’t get a hold of the president, I can’t get a hold of Colin Powell. All this stuff is happening. What are you guys doing?” When Hastert asks the caller who they are, their reply is, “I’m just a citizen. Who is this?” (Skertic 9/25/2001; Hastert 9/11/2002; Espo 6/16/2007) Shortly afterwards, the Capitol is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Hastert’s Secret Service agents hurry him out of the building. It is not until around 11 a.m. that Cheney finally speaks to him. (Hastert 2004, pp. 8-9; Hayes 2007, pp. 337 and 340-341)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. (Thomas 12/30/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002) Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. (US President 2/13/2001; Felix 2002, pp. 226) However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 9/11/2002) Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. (US Department of the Treasury 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury 1/23/2002) And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. (CNN 10/1/2001) Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. (Rice 7/12/2002; Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1) She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 161-162) ) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii)

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, national operations manager Ben Sliney responds to the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and orders a “first-tier ground stop” to prevent aircraft from departing, arriving at, or flying through the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center. Like many others at the Command Center, Sliney has just seen Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on CNN. A manager at the center then reports to him the news just received over the Command Center’s teleconference, about the sinister radio transmissions that have been deciphered by the Boston Center, stating “We have some planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, “The words take on a sickening significance” to Sliney “after what he has just observed.”
Sliney Orders 'First-Tier Ground Stop' - Sliney orders across the room, “Give me a first-tier ground stop!” According to Spencer, “The order stops all aircraft departing, arriving, or flying through New York Center’s airspace, effectively closing down the nation’s busiest skies.” At 9:06 a.m., an advisory is sent out to every air traffic control facility in the nation, and the skies above New York are now officially closed. Numerous flights that are in the air or preparing to take off are given “holding instructions.” Meanwhile, the large screen at the front of the room in the Command Center displays the footage of Flight 175 hitting the WTC as it is shown repeatedly on CNN. According to Spencer: “[I]t becomes sickeningly obvious to all watching that the plane was a large commercial airliner. And it was no accident.” (Marsh 11/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 80-81) Around this same time, the FAA’s New York Center takes action similar to that of the Command Center, declaring “air traffic control zero,” which prevents all air traffic from departing, arriving at, or traveling through its airspace (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) And at around 9:25 a.m., the Command Center will order a “nationwide ground stop,” which prevents any aircraft from taking off in the entire United States (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33)
Sliney Expands Teleconference - Also in response to the second WTC crash, Sliney decides that he needs to expand the Command Center’s teleconference (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) so as to include the secretary of transportation. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) It is expanded to include the secretary of transportation’s office, FAA headquarters, and other agencies. (Bond 12/17/2001) It is unclear whether Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta participates himself, as he is told to go to the White House around this time, and subsequently heads there (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
Military Liaison Unable to Help - Sliney also seeks out the military liaison at the Command Center to get more information about what is going on. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) Presumably this officer is one of the three members of the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) there (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bond 12/17/2001; Scott 6/10/2002) But, according to Spencer, it is “clear that the lieutenant colonel’s job has nothing to do with NORAD or the air defense interceptors. He is military, but his job duties at the Command Center are focused on military airspace usage. He has no place in the military chain of command that is relevant this morning.” Sliney therefore “can only assume that people much higher up than both of them are dealing with the military response. The fighters must be on their way.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 81)

The air traffic control tower at Reagan National Airport.The air traffic control tower at Reagan National Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport are instructed to start securing the airspace around Washington, DC. In the tower at Reagan Airport, the controllers heard about the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. They then received the ground stop order for all flights going to or through New York. (Spencer 2008, pp. 145) (This order was issued at 9:06 a.m.—see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001. (Marsh 11/2001) ) Shortly afterwards, they receive the instruction to start securing the airspace around the capital. They are told to turn away all non-airliner aircraft, such as private planes, as these are considered high risk. Who it is that issues this instruction is unstated, but presumably, like the New York airspace ground stop, it comes from the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. (Spencer 2008, pp. 145)

By this time, officials at American Airlines’ System Operations Control in Fort Worth, Texas have mistakenly concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have been Flight 77. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) American Airlines learned that communications had been lost with Flight 77 just before 9 a.m. (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Indianapolis flight control reports the loss of contact with Flight 77 to the FAA’s Great Lakes Regional Operations Center. They describe it as a possible crash. The center waits 15 minutes before passing the information to FAA headquarters at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Phillips 11/3/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, American Airlines headquarters has been notified of the same information before 9:00 a.m. (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Around this time, according to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reaches the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. From there, he directs the response to the 9/11 attacks and stays in contact with other top officials through video links. Clarke claims that on video he can see Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (filling in for the traveling Attorney General John Ashcroft), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (filling in for the traveling Secretary of State Colin Powell), and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (filling in for the traveling Chairman Henry Shelton). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is with Clarke, but she lets him run the crisis response, deferring to his longer experience on terrorism matters. Clarke is also told by an aide, “We’re on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-4; Australian 3/27/2004) According to the 9/11 Commission, logs indicate that Clarke’s video teleconference only begins at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is later than Clarke suggests, and CIA and FAA representatives only join it at 9:40 a.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36 and 462) Other accounts claim that, rather than being involved in Clarke’s teleconference at this time, Donald Rumsfeld is still in his office waiting for his intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Myers is in a meeting on Capitol Hill (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service 10/17/2001; Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219) The 9/11 Commission claims that, “While important,” Clarke’s conference has “no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet, as the Washington Post puts it, “everyone seems to agree” Clarke is the chief crisis manager on 9/11. (Achenbach 3/28/2004) Even Clarke’s later opponent, National Security Adviser Rice, calls him 9/11’s “crisis management guy.” (Waterman 4/9/2004) The conference is where the government’s emergency defense efforts are concentrated.

An air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport struggles with an Arab-sounding private pilot who keeps veering into Washington airspace. (Spencer 2008, pp. 144-145) Reagan National Airport is less than one mile from the Pentagon, and just a few miles from the White House and the Capitol building. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001) The airspace around it and much of Washington is designated class B airspace, which means no one is supposed to fly there without a working transponder and permission from an air traffic controller. (Kessler and Phillips 9/12/2001) Eric Cole, a controller in Reagan Airport’s air traffic control tower, is continually being bothered by the pilot, who has an Arab accent and is flying a banner tow airplane. Cole repeatedly directs the pilot, “Go further south!” The pilot replies, “Okay, I’m going further south,” but does not do so. He keeps infringing the Washington airspace and asking to get closer to the city. Banner tow airplanes are almost unheard of in this area, and Cole cannot understand why the pilot is being so persistent, almost argumentative. Finally, Cole yells at him: “No, you’re not going further south! I can see that you’re not going further south!” Shortly after 9:06 a.m., the control tower receives the instruction to secure the airspace around Washington and turn away all non-airliner aircraft (see Shortly After 9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). The controllers are then able to order the annoying banner tow pilot out of their airspace for good. (Spencer 2008, pp. 144-145)

American Airlines orders all of its airborne flights to land at the nearest airport. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31) Managers at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas have learned of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Initially, they mistakenly believed this second plane was American Airlines Flight 77 (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, conferred with other operational managers, and they all agreed that the airline needed to land its aircraft immediately. American Airlines’ president Don Carty then arrives at the SOC and also agrees, telling Arpey, “Do it.” So, at about 9:15, the airline orders all its planes to land at the nearest suitable airport. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) This is the first time an airline has ever ordered all its planes to land. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) The FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities about 30 minutes later (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) Around that time, United Airlines will also order its aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) American Airlines ordered a ground stop earlier on that prevented any new takeoffs of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31) Most of its domestic flights will have landed by about 11:50 a.m., though it will take longer to ground its international and trans-Pacific flights. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004)

Brian Wilson.Brian Wilson. [Source: Publicity photo]There is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building in Washington, DC, even though First Lady Laura Bush has arrived at the nearby Russell Senate Office Building and more than 10 minutes have passed since a second plane hit the World Trade Center. (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8; Bush 2010, pp. 198) At 9:16 a.m., Bush arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, where she was scheduled to testify before a Senate committee at 10:00 a.m. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 198)
Reporter Sees No Signs of Increased Security - The first lady is considered one of the nation’s “most visible targets,” and, as one of the Secret Service’s “permanent protectees,” like the president, she has a detail of special agents assigned to her. (US Department of the Treasury 5/8/2001; Office of Management and Budget 7/2001, pp. 82 pdf file; United States Secret Service 2002) And yet, even though Bush has arrived on Capitol Hill, and over 10 minutes have passed since the second aircraft hit the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), there is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building. Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson will later recall that when reporting from the Capitol building around this time, he is “talking about the first lady being in the Capitol and saying that I had not seen any signs of tighter security in the building.”
Reporter Surprised at Plan to Hold a Photo Op - Wilson is also surprised that, although the Senate hearing Bush was scheduled to attend has been canceled, the first lady is still going to make a public appearance. He will comment that “they were (incredibly) trying to set up a brief photo opportunity.” (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) (Wilson is presumably referring to Laura Bush’s appearance before reporters and cameras alongside Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), which takes place at 9:41 a.m. (see 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199) )
Capitol Evacuated Later On - The Capitol building will only be evacuated at 9:48 a.m., apparently in response to reports of a plane heading toward it (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; CNN 9/11/2006) The first lady will only be taken away from the Russell Office Building to a “secure location” by members of the Secret Service at 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200)

United Airlines orders its aircraft that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground. However, the exact time and details of this order are unclear. According to the 9/11 Commission, United orders the “ground stop” at an unstated time after about 9:10, when American Airlines had ordered a nationwide ground stop of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10) The Wall Street Journal reports that Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, gives the order for United aircraft to remain “frozen on the ground” at 9:20. However, it only describes this order applying to “all international flights,” so whether it also applies to United’s domestic flights is unclear. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001) The FAA will issue an order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001) At around 9:45, United Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004)

Managers from American Airlines and United Airlines are added by the FAA to a teleconference, but they receive no guidance from top government officials on what to do. According to author Lynn Spencer, at some point after the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the executives from the two airlines are “quickly on the phone to FAA headquarters and the FAA Command Center.” They are brought into “a conference call that has now been set up with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. The airline executives inform the secretary that they are each dealing with additional aircraft that they are unable to contact. They seek guidance, but there is none.… The nation is under attack, but there is no plan in place, and no guidance is forthcoming from the top as the crisis escalates.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 109) The time when the airline executives join the teleconference is unclear. In Spencer’s account, she places it after United Airlines dispatchers have warned their aircraft to secure their cockpits (see (Shortly After 9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean some time after 9:21. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 37; Spencer 2008, pp. 109) But Spencer also says that, when the executives join the conference, the “president is still reading to children in a Florida school room” (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would be roughly between 9:05 and 9:15. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39; Spencer 2008, pp. 109) If Norman Mineta is already participating in the teleconference when the airline executives join it, the time would have to be after around 9:20, which is when Mineta later says he arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) And Cheney, who Spencer also says is participating in the teleconference when the executives join it, arrives at the PEOC as late as 9:58, according to the 9/11 Commission, although other accounts indicate he arrives there much earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) According to the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines president Don Carty and United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin are talking on the phone with Mineta (presumably over the conference call) about five minutes before the FAA shuts down all US airspace (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they are participating in the teleconference by around 9:40 a.m. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001)

According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center advises FAA headquarters that American 77 is lost in Indianapolis flight control’s airspace, that Indianapolis has no primary radar track, and is looking for the aircraft. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) When exactly the Command Center first learned that Flight 77 was lost is unclear. The earliest time reported by the 9/11 Commission is when an American Airlines employee mentioned it when calling the center at 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m.-9:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24) American Airlines headquarters was notified of the loss of contact with Flight 77 before 9:00 a.m. (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001), but had mistakenly thought this was the aircraft that hit the second WTC tower minutes later (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001).


FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. [Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.” (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation 9/20/2001) According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’” (Bond 12/17/2001) About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Scott 6/3/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002)

Gordon England.Gordon England. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of the Navy Gordon England is unable to communicate with colleagues on the ground while he is being flown from Texas to Washington, DC. England, the Navy’s top civilian official, traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, the previous evening to give a speech to the Navy League. When the terrorist attacks began this morning, he was getting ready to fly back to Washington. Initially, however, the Navy plane he was going to travel on was grounded. (CNN 10/16/2001; Miles 9/7/2006) (The FAA ordered a ground stop to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US at around 9:26 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) ) But after a “short period,” England will later recall, the Navy secretary and his companions “got clearance to come back to Washington.” While they are flying to the capital, however, they are unable to communicate with their colleagues on the ground. When he is asked about the flight, England will recall, “Well, of course, we didn’t have any communications.” England and his companions consequently have little knowledge of what the attacks involved. “We didn’t know what was happening,” England will say. “Literally just knew some of the things that happened, knew that something had been hit in Washington, but didn’t know until we were airborne that it had been the Pentagon.” England only learns more about what has happened when his plane lands. “I really didn’t hear much until we got on the ground,” he will say. Why England and those with him have these communication problems is unknown. After arriving in Washington, England joins colleagues of his at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters, where the Navy has set up a temporary headquarters (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 10/16/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 133) Other senior US government officials also have trouble making and receiving communications while the attacks are taking place this morning, and in the following hours (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These officials include President Bush (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Secretary of State Colin Powell (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), CIA Director George Tenet (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Barrett 2002 pdf file; Hastert 2004, pp. 6; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 162)

A small jet plane—ExecuJet 956—tracks Flight 93 for what is described as “a substantial period of time” before it crashes, and picks up some of the radio transmissions from it, as both planes are operating on the same frequency. (Government's motion for protective order regarding cockpit voice recorder pursuant to 49 USC 1154. United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui 8/8/2002 pdf file; Jackman 8/9/2002) The exact period over which ExecuJet 956 follows Flight 93 is unclear. But as early as 9:31 it calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and, referring to Flight 93, reports: “[W]e’re just answering your call. We did hear that, uh, yelling too.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 461) At 9:40, after being asked, “did you understand that transmission [from Flight 93]?” ExecuJet 956 tells Cleveland Center: “Affirmative. He said that there was a bomb on board.” (Associated Press 4/12/2006) Cleveland Center then asks the ExecuJet pilot if he can change course and try to spot Flight 93. He sees it, loses it, and then sees it again. He then has to make an evasive turn, as Flight 93 is heading directly for him. (Longman 2002, pp. 104) ExecuJet 956 is one of a fleet of small jets available for hire from a company based in Woodbridge, New Jersey called NetJets, which sells shares in private business aircraft. (Margasak 8/8/2002; Jackman 8/9/2002) NetJets’ owner is the multi-billionaire Warren Buffet. (Cooper 11/6/2001; Arlidge 1/12/2003) Another small business jet is reportedly within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashes, but this is apparently a different one, belonging to a North Carolina clothing firm (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001)

Chris Stephenson, head flight controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport tower, says that he is called by the Secret Service around this time. He is told an unidentified aircraft is speeding toward Washington. Stephenson looks at the radarscope and sees Flight 77 about five miles to the west. He looks out the tower window and sees the plane turning to the right and descending. He follows it until it disappears behind a building in nearby Crystal City, Virginia. (Levin 8/11/2002) However, according to another account, just before 9:30 a.m., a controller in the same tower has an unidentified plane on radar, “heading toward Washington and without a transponder signal to identify it. It’s flying fast, she says: almost 500 mph. And it’s heading straight for the heart of the city. Could it be American Flight 77? The FAA warns the Secret Service.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) In short, it is unclear whether the Secret Service warns the FAA, or vice versa.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru for a meeting of the Organization of American States. He is having breakfast with the president of Peru and his cabinet. As Powell later recalls, “[S]uddenly a note was handed to me saying that something had happened in New York City, some planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.… And then a few moments later, more information came in, and it was… obviously a terrorist attack. So we concluded the breakfast.… I told my staff, ‘Get the plane ready. We got to get home.’ Because clearly this was—this was [a] catastrophe and I had to get back to the United States.” It will take an hour to get his plane ready, so Powell stops off at the Organization of American States conference where he gives a brief statement, and other foreign ministers give speeches of support. Powell then leaves immediately for Lima’s military airport to fly back to Washington. (Campbell 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 9-10; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Powell 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004 pdf file) However, his plane reportedly does not take off until about 12:30 p.m. EDT. (US Department of State 9/11/2001) His flight will take seven hours, during which time he has significant problems communicating with colleagues in Washington (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/11/2002; Powell 9/11/2002)

A group from FAA headquarters, who are apparently oblivious to the morning’s crisis, request and are given a tour of the air traffic control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, until they are forced to leave there just before the time of the Pentagon attack. (Spencer 2008, pp. 157-158) Reagan Airport is located less than a mile from the Pentagon. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001)
Tour Group Wants to See Tower - At 9:32, the tower supervisor, Chris Stephenson, receives a phone call from one of the airport’s maintenance workers. The maintenance worker says he has a group there from the FAA’s Washington headquarters that is visiting the airport to go over some maintenance issues, but they are also curious to see what goes on in the control tower. It appears the FAA personnel are unaware of the attacks in New York, and Stephenson is asked if it is okay to bring them up. Though he is busy dealing with the chaos resulting from the ground stop recently ordered by the FAA’s Command Center (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Stephenson reluctantly agrees. The group arrives moments later, but Stephenson tries to ignore them. According to author Lynn Spencer, Stephenson is as yet unaware that an errant aircraft has been spotted heading toward Washington (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 157) But according to USA Today, the Secret Service warned him about this aircraft at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002)
Group Ordered to Leave - Shortly after the group arrives, Stephenson is called by a controller at the TRACON and notified of the unidentified aircraft (presumably Flight 77), which is five miles west of the tower (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). When he looks out the window, he sees it, now less than a mile away and approaching fast. Stephenson yells at the tour group: “Out! Get out!” The FAA group heads off down the stairs, but the last in the line looks out the window at the descending aircraft and asks, “What’s that guy doing?” ”Get out!” Stephenson repeats, and pushes the man into the stairwell. Soon afterwards, the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 158)

Reagan National Airport.Reagan National Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport are contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and informed of a fast-moving unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, which is approaching the restricted airspace around the White House. (Phillips 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/4/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) Reagan Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon and only a few miles from the White House. (Adair, Huettel, and Heller 9/19/2001) During a shift, it has 10 or 11 controllers working in its Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and seven or eight controllers working in its air traffic control tower. (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) Controllers at the Dulles TRACON have recently noticed the unidentified aircraft on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9)
TRACON Told of Aircraft - A Dulles Airport controller now calls the TRACON at Reagan Airport, and says: “Hey! Untracked target 15 [miles] west of you. Primary target eastbound! Heading toward P-56!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 145-146) (P-56, or Prohibited Area 56, is the restricted airspace above and near the White House. (Department of Transportation 8/4/2005) ) Reagan Airport controller Dan Creedon checks his radar screen and sees the aircraft’s target about 10 miles west of the White House. The radar track is untagged, so he attaches a data box to it with the word “LOOK” in it. This will allow other controllers to quickly spot the aircraft. It also causes its ground speed to appear on the screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, the aircraft is shown to be flying at 290 miles per hour. (Spencer 2008, pp. 146) But other accounts will claim it is flying at between 400 and 500 mph as it approaches Washington. (CBS News 9/21/2001; News 10/24/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) Creedon then calls out to Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor in the TRACON, and tells him about the aircraft heading their way. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 146)
Controllers Notify Others - After the Reagan Airport controllers learn of the approaching aircraft, they promptly contact other agencies about it. Padgett calls the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) And another controller will issue traffic advisories on the aircraft to a C-130 military cargo plane that is flying in the area, and then instruct the C-130 to identify and follow the aircraft (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer 2008, pp. 146-147) A controller in the TRACON will also call the Reagan Airport control tower, and alert it to the approaching aircraft (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 158)

President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport.President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush has difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) While he is in his limousine, he tries calling colleagues at the White House over a secure telephone line, but all the secure lines are down. He ends up trying to call Washington using a borrowed cell phone. Even this doesn’t work, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, he talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time, which means he is able to make at least one call (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will later comment on the difficulties Bush and his entourage have communicating with Washington today, saying, “Every kind of communication… was challenged” and the “communications network did not hold up.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will claim that Bush had difficulty communicating with Washington while he was being driven to the airport because members of his entourage all tried calling the capital at the same time after leaving the school, thereby causing a “communication jam.” However, the communication problems will continue after Bush takes off from Sarasota on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) The president’s difficulty reaching his colleagues in Washington during the drive to the airport is particularly notable since, just a few months ago, Bush instructed Joseph Hagin, his deputy chief of staff for operations, to promptly ensure that he is always able to make phone calls, after he had trouble making a call from his limousine (see Spring 2001). Hagin has apparently not yet fixed the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011)

The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia.The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. [Source: Marriott International]An American Airlines plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, flying toward the Pentagon, just before the Pentagon attack occurs, according to a witness who says he sees the plane out the window of his hotel room.
Plane Takes Off toward Pentagon - Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, is staying on the 17th floor of the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. When later interviewed by Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks, Parsons will recall: “I was looking out my window. I have a perfect view of Reagan National Airport. An American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean, not 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” Parsons will add that the American Airlines plane is “taking off to the north, to the, different than the normal way. In other words, they were taking off toward the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258) Reagan National Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001) Parsons will continue, “Well, this American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean it couldn’t have been a minute, 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001) Flight 77 hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, like the plane Parsons sees, is an American Airlines aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10)
American Airlines and Reagan Airport Planes Supposedly Grounded - And yet Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan National Airport control tower, reportedly stopped takeoffs from Reagan Airport in the minutes after 9:03 a.m., when Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002) And at 9:00 a.m., American Airlines ordered all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that had not yet taken off to remain on the ground (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) Furthermore, the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) Parsons will ask Sherwood if anyone has interviewed the pilot of the American Airlines plane he saw taking off, since that pilot must have witnessed the attack on the Pentagon. Sherwood will answer no, but add, “[T]hat’s another good lead for either myself or one of the other people to follow up on.” Whether the pilot is ever identified or interviewed is unknown. (Parsons 12/13/2001)

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) (CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Vogel 11/21/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; MSNBC 9/3/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; CBS 9/11/2002) Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. (Vogel 2007, pp. 431 and 449) Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” (US Department of Defense 9/15/2001) “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. (Schrader 9/16/2001) Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 450)

Firefighters and other rescuers at the Pentagon crash site.Firefighters and other rescuers at the Pentagon crash site. [Source: US Department of Defense]Emergency responders and others at the Pentagon experience serious problems with communications following the attack there. These difficulties last for several hours. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. 12-13 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 114) According to a federally funded report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack, communications systems had been busy “even before American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.” But when the crash occurs, “all area communications [seem] simultaneously overwhelmed.” (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A34 pdf file) The Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack later describes, “Almost immediately radio traffic gridlocked, land lines were unavailable, and cellular telephone networks became so overloaded that for a time Pentagon officials and employees as well as some emergency responders could not call outside.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 114) This leads to significant problems: “Firefighters calling the [Arlington County Emergency Communications Center] couldn’t get through. Relatives of Pentagon workers found cellular and land lines jammed.” (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A34 pdf file) The DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic at the Pentagon and the Rader Clinic at nearby Fort Myer are unable to establish reliable communications. Reportedly, “Hospitals and clinics could not be informed about the flow of casualties, and perhaps more damaging, communication between the fire and rescue and the emergency medical elements on-site was severely impaired.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 114) Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police heads to the crash site with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld immediately after the Pentagon is hit. He receives frantic pleas over his radio, regarding Rumsfeld’s whereabouts. But, as Davis later recalls, “the system was overloaded, everyone on the frequency was talking, everything jumbled, so I couldn’t get through and they went on asking” (see (9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cockburn 2007, pp. 1-2) Cellular and landline telephone communications remain “virtually unreliable or inaccessible during the first few hours of the response.” But later on, in the afternoon, Verizon technicians and Secret Service technical staff install portable cellular towers at the Pentagon, and this significantly increases cell phone access. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C36 pdf file) Communications problems are experienced not just around the Pentagon but also in the broader Washington area, with some senior government officials being affected (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Verton 2003, pp. 149)

The NORAD representative on the air threat conference call reports that NORAD has yet to give an assessment for the crisis that is taking place and adds that General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, has not yet declared the situation an air defense emergency. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon has just started an air threat conference call in response to the terrorist attacks (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) A NORAD representative, in their first communication over the conference call, states: “No assessment has been given for this event at this point. No assessment for the overall air situation has been given at this point.” The representative adds that “CINC NORAD”—meaning Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD—“is not declaring [an] air defense emergency at this point.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) An “air defense emergency” is defined by the US government as an “emergency condition which exists when attack upon the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, or US installations in Greenland by hostile aircraft or missiles is considered probable, is imminent, or is taking place.” (US Government 7/1/2003) British online publication The Register will later comment that this definition “sums up the tragic events of [September 11] fairly well.” The declaration of an air defense emergency, according to The Register, “invokes a regulatory scheme known as Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids (SCATANA).” (Greene 9/17/2001) SCATANA is a procedure, developed in the 1960s, that was originally intended to clear the airspace above the US in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. (Schwartz 1998; Schwartz 11/2001) Eberhart will order a limited version of it later in the day, apparently around 11:00 a.m. (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, when the attacks began, but at some point headed out to the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 pdf file; Zubeck 6/16/2006; Finley 7/28/2006)

Marc Sasseville.Marc Sasseville. [Source: CBC]Four pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally receive authorization to get airborne in their fighter jets, and are given instructions on their mission. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia, Captain Brandon Rasmussen, and Major Daniel Caine.
Pilot Waiting 'for Somebody to Task Me with Something' - Rasmussen will later recall that, although he and his colleagues at the unit had been aware of the attacks in New York, it is only after the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) that “we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy.” And until the pilots are authorized to take off, he is “just kind of standing back, waiting for somebody to task me with something.” He will recall, “I was just waiting at the ops desk for someone to say, ‘Okay, we’ve been cleared to take off and go.’”
Sasseville Briefs Other Pilots - Rasmussen says that, after Sasseville and Caine receive authorization from their wing commander to get airborne and to use missiles, Sasseville, who is the acting operations group commander, looks at Penney Garcia and says, “You’re flying with me, and [Caine] you’re flying with [Rasmussen], do suit up and get out there as quick as possible.” According to another account, Sasseville gives his three fellow pilots a short briefing, telling them: “I have no idea what’s going on, but we’re flying. Here’s our frequency. We’ll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We’ll talk about the rest in the air.” (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82-84; Rasmussen 9/18/2003) Sasseville will recall, “There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to talk about, because we didn’t know what was going on.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
Pilots Prepare to Fly - According to Rasmussen: “We were relieved to actually be given permission to go up and do something instead of feeling totally helpless. I mean we are fighter pilots, just like guard dogs chomping at the bit ready to go.” The four pilots run down the hallway and throw on their gear, grabbing their helmets, g-suits, and parachute harnesses, before heading to the operations desk to get their aircraft assignments. (Scott 9/9/2002; Rasmussen 9/18/2003)
Commander Gives Instructions - According to author Leslie Filson, before Sasseville and Penney Garcia head to their jets, Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, gives them instructions, regarding their mission. As Wherley will later recall, “My translation of the rules [of engagement] to [Sasseville] was, ‘You have weapons free flight-lead control.’” (Filson 2003, pp. 82) “Weapons free” means the decision whether to shoot at a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44) Wherley says, “Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?” and both pilots respond, “Yes.” Wherley then tells them to be careful. “It was important for them to understand that this was weapons free,” he will recall. (Filson 2003, pp. 82) However, Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not remember receiving the rules of engagement he is supposed to follow until later on, after he has taken off. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Jets Don't Launch until 10:42 and After - The exact times when the four pilots are authorized to get airborne and receive their mission instructions are unclear. But Sasseville and Penney Garcia will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m., with their planes armed only with guns, and no missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rasmussen and Caine take off at 11:11 a.m., by which time their jets have been armed with missiles (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82-84; 9/11 Commission 2004)

The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
bullet At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” (ABC News 9/11/2001)
bullet At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” (CNN 9/11/2001) Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” (CNN 9/11/2001) (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Fox News 9/11/2003) )
bullet At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” (NBC 4 9/11/2001)
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. (Verton 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN 9/12/2007) In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Farmer 2009, pp. 206-207, 372)

Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other.Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other. [Source: Agence France-Presse]President Bush and his entourage arrive at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, and Bush hurriedly gets onto his plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004)
Limousine Stops Right by Air Force One - His limousine now speeds past the airport’s main entrance, goes north, and veers down a tiny road leading to the airport, ignoring a sign that states, “No Airport Access.” It then passes through a small, unmarked gate in a chain-link fence and races across the tarmac toward Air Force One. It swings around the plane’s tail and stops behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99) The motorcade arrives at the airport between 9:42 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Bush’s limousine reaches the airport at 9:43 a.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Sammon 10/8/2002)
Plane's Engines Are Already Running - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, started two of the plane’s four engines while Bush was on his way to the airport. White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment that he is “struck that the engines on Air Force One [are] running” when the motorcade reaches the airport, since this is “normally a protocol no-no.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) “Usually you don’t start the engine until the president is already on the plane,” he will say. (BBC 9/9/2011)
President Usually Takes His Time Saying Goodbye - Normally, when his motorcade arrives at Air Force One, the president “emerges from the limo, waves to the crowd behind barricades, thanks hosts who have accompanied him, and shakes hands with the airport personnel and guests who’ve come to see him off,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will write. The president then “walks alone up the steps to Air Force One at a leisurely pace, stopping to wave again to the people on the tarmac.” The other people in the motorcade usually only start to get on board once he is on the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Bush Hurries up the Stairs onto Air Force One - Today, though, the Secret Service wants to get the president onto Air Force One as quickly as possible. (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore walks briskly up the long mobile staircase behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Walsh 2003, pp. 207) He is “just trucking up the stairs” without his usual “Texas swagger,” Tillman will describe. (Graff 9/9/2016) He does find time, however, to pause at the doorway to wave to photographers before entering the plane. (Martin 7/4/2004) Once he is on board, he goes to his private cabin near the front of the aircraft. A Secret Service agent tells him, “Mr. President, we need you to get seated as soon as possible.” Bush then straps himself in, ready for takeoff. (Woodward 2002, pp. 16)
Chief of Staff Is Frustrated by the Passengers Delaying Takeoff - Meanwhile, everyone who is traveling on Air Force One apart from Bush and his senior staff boards the plane through its back stairs. But before doing so they are subjected to a strict security check (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Graff 9/9/2016) Card becomes frustrated that takeoff is being delayed due to the time it takes to get so many passengers onto the plane. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) Air Force One will take off unusually quickly once all the passengers are on board. (Keil 9/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) It usually takes another 15 minutes after everyone has boarded for the passengers to get seated, the doors to be closed, and the engines to power up, according to Rove. (Rove 2010, pp. 252) But today Air Force One will take off about 10 minutes after Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

The White House mess.The White House mess. [Source: Unknown]People at the White House are ordered to go to the “mess,” the senior staff dining room. David Kuo, a special assistant to the president, and John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will later recall being ordered to go downstairs to the mess by armed Secret Service agents. Meanwhile, Anita McBride, the acting director of White House personnel, is instructed by members of the Secret Service to “go through West Wing offices and tell everyone to ‘get out’ and stay put” in the mess. (Kuo 2006, pp. 185; McBride 9/9/2011; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 3) Mary Matalin, a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, will recall, “Everyone still remaining in the West Wing was shepherded to the White House mess, where we were to await further instructions.” (Carville and Matalin 2014, pp. 138)
Mess Is a 'Tiny, Unsecure' Facility - The White House mess is an exclusive dining facility run by the US Navy, located in the basement of the West Wing, just under the Oval Office. (Ingle 12/1/2001; Geraghty 10/8/2013) Bridgeland will recall thinking “how odd it was” for White House staffers to all be evacuated to this “tiny, unsecure” facility. (Bridgeland 2012, pp. 4) People in the mess are watching television or just waiting. (Estes 8/29/2002) Kuo will describe: “All the tables had been tossed onto their sides to make room for as many people as possible. Fifty people stood there, shocked, quiet, confused.” (Kuo 2006, pp. 185)
People Ordered to the Mess after the Pentagon Attack - The exact time at which staffers are ordered to go to the mess is unclear. Matalin will recall being told to go there “moments” after she sees Cheney being evacuated from his office, which would be some time shortly after 9:36 a.m. (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Review 9/8/2011; Carville and Matalin 2014, pp. 137-138) Bridgeland and Kuo will recall being ordered to go there shortly after they learn the Pentagon has been hit, which would be some time after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon attack occurred (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Kuo 2006, pp. 184-185; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 3)
People in the Mess Ordered to Leave the Building - People will only spend a short time in the mess before they are told to get out of the building. The Secret Service will reportedly order them to evacuate the White House at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Bridgeland will describe: “[A]n alarmed police officer came into the White House mess and instructed us to leave. Another officer outside was receiving the latest communications by wire (apparently alerted that United Airlines Flight 93 was headed toward the White House or US Capitol building) and commanded us, ‘Take off your shoes and run as fast as you can.’” (Bridgeland 2012, pp. 4) Matalin will recall that the order she hears, which is delivered “in a weirdly calm manner,” is: “Run for your lives. A plane is going to hit the White House.” (Carville and Matalin 2014, pp. 138)

FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney.FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. [Source: Publicity photo]Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. (CNN 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; Washington Post 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; LeBlanc 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002) Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. (Levin 8/12/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” (Green 4/2/2002)

The plane that has been flying General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the Atlantic Ocean has to spend two hours in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and then more time in a holding pattern over Canada before it is cleared to fly back into the United States. (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) Shelton was flying toward Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), but, after he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, ordered that his plane turn around and return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, air traffic controllers have denied the request to do so because US airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-432)
Plane Has to Fly in a Holding Pattern near Greenland - Therefore, although Shelton’s plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” does turn around, it doesn’t initially fly back to the United States. For a couple of hours, since its crew doesn’t have clearance to return to the US and it doesn’t have a destination, the plane goes into a “holding pattern” near Greenland. Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator, comes up with a list of alternative landing sites, which include Thule Air Base in Greenland and Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland. Although the crew decides to head back to the US, Pedersen will later recall, it is still difficult to get a security clearance, even for such a high-profile passenger as Shelton.
Plane Goes into Another Holding Pattern over Canada - Speckled Trout eventually reaches Canada, but the plane is still refused entry into US airspace and so it goes into a holding pattern again. “In the beginning we had a few problems convincing [the air traffic controller] to allow us back into the country, [even though] we were ordered at a significantly high level to come back,” Pedersen will recall. “You can’t say over the radio who you are carrying because they don’t have secure communications at the FAA.… We had to tell them over an open line that we had a DV Code 2, which is a ranking that a lot of DVs [distinguished visitors] fall under.” Eventually, the crew receives permission to fly into the US, although the time when this occurs is unstated. “It took a little bit of time, and I’m sure there were a lot of phone calls made, before they let us back in,” Pedersen will say. (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) Shelton, however, will contradict this account and claim his plane is cleared to enter US airspace significantly earlier. He will recall that those on the plane are told they have permission to enter US airspace 10 minutes after he talks on the phone with General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they receive clearance possibly as early as around 10:15 a.m. (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432-433)
Myers Takes Shelton's Place as Chairman While Shelton Is outside the US - After flying over New York, Speckled Trout will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; UNC-TV 1/27/2013) While the plane is being denied permission to enter US airspace, Myers remains as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Shelton’s place. This is “how the law reads whenever the chairman is out of the country,” Shelton will write. “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be Dick’s to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432)

Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate.Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate. [Source: CBC]The Capitol building in Washington, DC is evacuated. (Associated Press 8/21/2002) It is the first time in US history this has ever happened. (Zuckman 9/12/2001; Mitchell and Seelye 9/12/2001) Both the Senate and the House are in session at the time. (CNN 8/17/2002) Capitol Police officers go through the building and order people to leave at once. (Lancaster and Dewar 9/12/2001; CNN 9/11/2002)
Reports of Plane Approaching the Capitol - The evacuation appears to be in response to reports of a plane heading toward the Capitol. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 8/17/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 80-81) According to CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash, “the Capitol Police were hearing, in their radio, that there was a plane—another plane in the air, likely headed for the Capitol.” (CNN 9/11/2006) When a Capitol Police officer instructs Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to leave the building, he says: “We have word that an airplane is heading this way and could hit the building anytime. You need to evacuate.”
'Nothing Orderly' about Evacuation - However, there are problems with the evacuation. According to Daschle, “The fire alarm system, which was working in the nearby Senate office buildings, was never activated in the Capitol, so there were people who weren’t aware that an evacuation was taking place.” Also, some individuals are reluctant to leave. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 109-110) Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ) will recall: “They tried to throw me out three times, but they didn’t succeed. I figured I was safer in the building than out on the street.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001) Daschle will recall that there is “nothing orderly” about the evacuation. Outside the building “No one knew what to do or where to go. People congregated on the grass and in the parking lot. Senators and staff were mixed in with tourists, all staring up at the sky, wondering what might be headed our way.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 110) CNN will report, “[S]ome of the most high ranking officials in the United States government were just kind of scattered around this area without a gathering point.” (CNN 9/11/2006)
Sergeant at Arms Concerned over Poor Security - Al Lenhardt, the Senate’s sergeant at arms, will later say how alarmed he was “to see members of Congress and their staffs mixed in with visitors and passersby wandering in the open around the Capitol grounds. One of the tactics that terrorists have been known to employ is to create a diversion to move their intended target to the area where the actual attack will take place. Al imagined a bomb or gunfire erupting right there on the lawn outside the Capitol.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 111) Eventually, many of the members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, which then serves as their command center for the day (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001 and (10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 112)

Candy Crowley.Candy Crowley. [Source: CNN]After the Capitol building in Washington is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), those located around it—including members of Congress—experience serious problems communicating by phone and other means. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley will describe: “Nobody knew anything.… Nobody had any way to communicate.… The cell phones went down. Eventually… the personal BlackBerrys that bring your e-mail to you, they went down. And inside the Capitol, remember [there are] still switchboard operators there. Inside the Capitol, the phones worked only on and off.” According to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), there is “no communication whatsoever going on.” (CNN 9/11/2002) Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) will recall: “People were punching their cell phones to no avail. The lines were jammed.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 110) Consequently, for more than an hour Daschle’s own staff is unable to establish where he is. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was experiencing communications problems even before he was evacuated from the Capitol, while trying to contact Vice President Dick Cheney by phone (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 2004, pp. 6; Hayes 2007, pp. 336) Whether others at the Capitol also experienced similar difficulties prior to the evacuation is unclear. What causes these problems is uncertain. However, numerous other people in the Washington area, including senior government officials, also experience serious communications problems throughout the day (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

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)

Mark Tillman.Mark Tillman. [Source: US Air Force]Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is warned about an unidentified man, possibly carrying a gun, who is standing at the end of the runway at the airport in Sarasota, Florida, as he is preparing to take off with President Bush on the plane. (Shawn 9/6/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Bush arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport after being driven away from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School and is now on Air Force One (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99; Martin 7/4/2004) While the plane’s crew members were waiting for him to arrive, they were told there was “great potential that we are going to be under attack sitting on the ramp” and they received “reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” according to Tillman (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011)
Secret Service Alerts Pilot to Man Carrying a 'Long Gun' - Now, as Air Force One is taxiing out for takeoff, Tillman receives a warning from the Secret Service about an unidentified man who is standing by the fence at the end of the runway and carrying some type of device. The Secret Service “didn’t know what the gentleman had, but he had something in his hand; they thought it might have been a long gun,” Tillman will later recall. (Shawn 9/6/2011) “It is almost impossible to defend against a long gun if he’s going to shoot me on the ground,” Tillman will note. He is told that “shooters have [the unidentified man] in sight” and “will take him down if he moves.” He is instructed, “[P]lease, do not taxi by him and take off,” even though the direction of the prevailing wind would normally lead to the plane going by the man while taking off. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Tillman therefore has to launch in the opposite direction, with a tail wind, in order to stay away from the man. (McMillin 11/13/2012)
Plane Takes Off 'Like a Rocket' - Air Force One will take off at about 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Tillman will climb the plane steeply. This, he will say, is “what we needed to do to make sure that [the man] didn’t have a correct line of sight to fire at the aircraft.” (Peter Schnall 1/25/2009) “I start hauling down the runway,” he will describe. “Pull back, went up at about 8,000 feet per minute, and just put the plane on its tail, rolled it off towards the Gulf of Mexico, because I didn’t want the shooter to get us.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who is on Air Force One, will note that the plane takes off “like a rocket.” He will recall that “for a good 10 minutes, the plane was going almost straight up.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002) White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, will comment that he has not previously “been in a jet at such a steep incline.” He will also say the Secret Service is “concerned about the possibility of terrorists with shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles” and it therefore wants the plane “out of range quickly.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252-253)
Suspicious Man Found to Be Not a Threat - The fear over the unidentified man at the end of the runway will turn out to be unfounded. The man, according to Tillman, is just someone who has come to the airport with his children to see Air Force One leaving Sarasota, and the device he is carrying is just a video camera. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file; McMillin 11/13/2012)

President Bush on the phone during the flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base.President Bush on the phone during the flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: White House]President Bush and his staff have difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are traveling on Air Force One, after the plane takes off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush had problems calling his colleagues at the White House while he was being driven to the airport, after leaving the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
Air Force One Should Have 'Outstanding Communications' - He ought to have more success after he boards Air Force One, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since the plane has state-of-the-art communications systems. (Inside the White House 9/1998; Hardesty 2003, pp. 167) Its capabilities are “just as good as the communications from the Oval Office in terms of [the president] being able to call, in a secure way, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the generals that might have to fight a war, or the vice president or… the national security adviser,” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment. The plane has the “capacity to have… outstanding communications,” he will say. (Card 8/12/2002)
Communications Systems Are 'All Jammed' - However, Bush and his staff have great difficulty sending and receiving information about the day’s events while they are on Air Force One. (Donnelly 9/22/2002) The “multiple [communications] systems—commercial and terrestrial systems” on the plane are “all jammed,” according to Master Sergeant Dana Lark, superintendent of communications. Lark actually wonders, “Did someone sabotage our comms?” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Has Problems Communicating with Vice President Cheney - Bush finds that his calls are successful only intermittently. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Attempts are made to establish an open line with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are at the White House, but the line keeps dropping. (Bush 2010, pp. 131) “It was absolutely stunning, standing next to the president as he was talking to the vice president, then holding the phone off his ear because it cut off,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will comment. (Graff 9/9/2016) At one point, Bush pounds his desk in frustration and shouts: “This is inexcusable. Get me the vice president.” (Kohn 9/11/2002) He also has difficulty reaching his wife, Laura, since the line keeps dropping when he tries to call her. He eventually talks to her shortly before 11:45 a.m., when Air Force One is approaching Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 132)
Officials in Washington Are Unable to Call the Plane - Some key individuals in Washington are unsuccessful when they try calling Air Force One. Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the White House Situation Room, is unable to contact the plane while it is flying from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base, even when he tries calling its satellite phone (see 9:54 a.m.-11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/16/2004) And White House counselor Karen Hughes is unable to reach the president when she tries calling him while he is airborne (see (Between 10:31 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; NBC 4/4/2004)
Bush Has His First Teleconference Hours after Leaving Sarasota - As a result of his problems communicating from the plane, Bush will hold his first teleconference with his principal advisers at around 3:15 p.m. (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—more than five hours after he takes off from Sarasota—after he arrives at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where there is sophisticated communications equipment (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Weisul 11/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) By that time, the communication problems will apparently have started to ease. Lark will recall that as Air Force One is flying to Offutt, “some of the commercial systems finally began to become available” and she actually receives a call from her chief. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Good Communications Are 'Critical' for the President - Bush’s communication problems may have a significant impact on the government’s ability to respond to the terrorist attacks. Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will explain why the president’s ability to communicate during a crisis is so important, saying, “In the case of any kind of attack in the United States, what you’re supposed to do is get the president off the ground and Air Force One then becomes the command center.” Once he is airborne, the president is “commanding the forces of the United States from the air,” Kean will say. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) “The president literally can’t function in his constitutional role unless he can communicate, so [good communications are] absolutely critical,” Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will similarly comment. (Bates 10/2002) The president “is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given,” Kean will note. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will claim that the communication problems have only a limited impact. “[F]or the most part I believe the president had the ability to do what was necessary to be in control and have command of his forces, and talk with his national security structure,” he will say. (White House 8/29/2002)
Communications Systems Are Supposedly 'Saturated' - Lark will learn at a later date that the communication problems occur because, she will say, “the commercial systems were all just saturated.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Rosenker will similarly suggest that the problems may be partly due to the fact that communications from Air Force One “have to get through a regular telephone network,” and when there is a crisis, the increased volume of communications “jam and overuse the structure.” (White House 8/29/2002) On top of their problems making and receiving calls, Bush and his staffers have difficulty monitoring the television coverage of the attacks while they are airborne, because the reception on the plane is poor and intermittent (see (9:54 a.m.-6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Donnelly 9/22/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)

FAA radar displays begin showing that a growing number of international flights approaching America are transmitting warning codes from their transponders. (Spencer 2008, pp. 196-197)
Airspace Shut Down - At around 9:45 a.m., the FAA shut down US airspace and ordered all aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly afterwards, Canada took similar action. However, international flights that are over the oceans and approaching America are getting low on fuel. As their crews establish radio contact with air traffic controllers, they are told that American airspace is closed. Many of the worried pilots dial emergency codes into their transponders. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Spencer 2008, pp. 196)
Radar Screens Highlight Numerous Flights - A plane’s transponder is a device that sends that aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to radar screens. (Maraniss 9/16/2001) There are three specific codes that pilots can dial into their transponder to signal an emergency: “7500” signifies a hijacking, “7600” signifies a loss of radio, and “7700” signifies other emergencies. (Spencer 2008, pp. 25-26) Amid the current crisis, FAA radar screens begin highlighting a growing number of flights over the oceans that are transmitting warning codes. According to author Lynn Spencer, “One foreign crew dials in the four-digit code for ‘hijack,’ just to let the authorities know they are aware of what is taking place.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 196-197) In response to a request from the FAA, Canada will agree to open its airspace to all international flights that are diverted away from the United States, allowing those flights to land at Canadian airports (see 10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001; Donnelly 9/14/2001; NAV Canada 7/22/2005)

A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon. [Source: Mark D. Faram / US Navy]A US Park Police helicopter that recently arrived over the Pentagon is contacted by an air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given responsibility for controlling the airspace over Washington, DC, since the control tower at Reagan Airport is being evacuated. (Galey 11/20/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file) The Park Police Aviation Unit’s two helicopters arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Forror 11/2001) While one of the helicopters landed to conduct medical evacuations, the other, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” circled overhead. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file)
Airport Tower Being Evacuated - Eagle I has made three or four orbits around the Pentagon when a controller in the Reagan Airport tower radios its pilot, Sergeant Ronald Galey. The controller says the tower is currently evacuating. (Galey 11/20/2001; Galey 1/17/2002) According to some accounts, the tower is being evacuated due to reports of more hijacked aircraft heading in its direction (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 215-216) But according to other accounts, the controller tells Galey the tower is evacuating because it is being affected by smoke that is drifting across from the burning Pentagon. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 162) Galey will recall the controller saying: “Eagle I, we can’t see anything outside the tower. [The smoke is] getting in our ventilation system. We’re abandoning the tower.” Therefore, the controller gives Galey control of the airspace for the entire Washington area, telling him, “You’ve got the airspace.” (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file)
Pilot Alarmed at Being Given Control of Airspace - The control tower at Reagan Airport is “normally the ‘nerve center’ for directing any response to this type of incident,” according to a National Park Service news article. (Line 9/21/2002) Galey is initially alarmed. He will recall thinking, “Exactly what I need right now is I’ve got control of the airspace.” (Galey 11/20/2001) However, he is unaware that the FAA has ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which will make his task easier. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29)
NORAD Advises Pilot on Controlling Airspace - The controller gives Galey the radio frequency for NORAD, and tells him to contact NORAD. (Galey 1/17/2002; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file) The person Galey then talks to at NORAD informs him: “Look, you have no [air] traffic in DC, except for the traffic that you’re calling. The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in. Other than that, there should be no one besides the military, and we’ll call you out the military traffic.” Galey will later reflect: “So that helped tremendously. That function alone was not very taxing.” (Galey 11/20/2001) The person at NORAD also tells Galey there is “an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately 20 minutes into DC.” Galey will recall that he and the rest of his crew discuss what they should do, and decide that “we’d take our chances and stay there [at the Pentagon], and do what we came there to do.” (Galey 1/17/2002)
Airspace Control Passed on to Metropolitan Police Helicopter - Eagle I becomes “the air traffic control function for the area, flying a slow racetrack pattern over the site and clearing aircraft in and out,” according to Lieutenant Philip Cholak, the Park Police Aviation Unit commander. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001) But after a time Galey asks his paramedic to request that a Metropolitan Police helicopter be launched to take over the command and control of the Washington airspace. He tells the paramedic: “You know we’re going to have to do a medevac mission here. We’re going to have to relinquish the command/control function to somebody else.” A Metropolitan Police helicopter subsequently arrives and relieves Eagle I of its command and control function. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 22 pdf file)

Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing.Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing. [Source: Gonda Moncada / Texas Military Forces]Four armed F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Texas Air National Guard are directed toward Air Force One in order to escort the president’s plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40)
SEADS Sends Fighters toward Air Force One - Air Force One has taken off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the White House has requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Martin 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) orders jets that belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard toward the president’s plane. (Hehs 4/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall: “We were not told where Air Force One was going. We were told just to follow the president.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002)
Ellington Field an 'Alert' Site - The 147th Fighter Wing is based at Ellington Field, a joint civil and military use airport about 15 miles south of Houston. (Rendon 12/9/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org) 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) Ellington Field is one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of armed fighters ready to take off immediately if called upon. (McKenna 12/1999; Hebert 2/2002)
Pilots Not Told What Their Target Is - Two of the F-16s sent toward Air Force One are on the ground at Ellington Field and have been placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots sitting in the cockpits, when the scramble order is received. (Hehs 4/2002) The other two have been flying a training mission (see After 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are pulled off it to escort Air Force One. (Arnold 12/2001 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) Among the four pilots are Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts. Their new mission is so secret that their commander does not tell them where they are going. When they ask what their target is, the commander says, “You’ll know when you see it.” Brotherton will later recall, “I didn’t have any idea what we were going up [for] until that point.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255)
Jets First to Reach Air Force One - At least two of the 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will be seen from Air Force One at around 11:30 a.m., although an official will tell reporters on board that fighters are escorting the plane about 15 minutes before that time (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are the first fighters to reach Air Force One after it left Sarasota, according to most accounts. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Kohn 9/11/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Martin 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) However, a few accounts will indicate the first jets to reach it belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) The 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will accompany Air Force One all the way to Washington, DC. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88; Cousins 7/9/2005)

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.” (Shuster 9/12/2006)

A Maryland State Police helicopter.A Maryland State Police helicopter. [Source: Maryland State Police]Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of a US Park Police helicopter responding to the attack on the Pentagon, asks the Maryland State Police to send medical evacuation (medevac) helicopters to help out at the crash scene, but is told, “No, we can’t respond,” apparently because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) Galey is flying one of the two Park Police Aviation Unit helicopters that arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His helicopter has been circling overhead while the other Park Police helicopter landed to conduct medical evacuations. They are currently the only helicopters to have arrived on the scene.
Pilot Wants More Helicopters to Assist at the Pentagon - Realizing that his helicopter cannot provide its current command and control function and conduct medical evacuations at the same time, Galey requests assistance from other departments that have helicopters equipped to transport injured patients. The first department he calls is the Maryland State Police. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-22 pdf file) The Maryland State Police Aviation Command owns 12 helicopters and most of its work involves medical transport, with its helicopters carrying injured patients to hospital. (Maryland State Police 2/16/2003; Desmon 3/7/2006) According to Galey, the unit has “the most resources for aircraft, medevac aircraft, that we knew were manned and ready to go.” However, Galey will later recall, in response to his request, “they came back and said, ‘No, we can’t respond.’”
Maryland Police Think They Cannot Launch Helicopters - When Galey is told that the unit cannot respond, he and the rest of his crew are “very shocked,” and, Galey will say, “[T]hat’s when we were starting to suspect there was something more to it.” According to later accounts, the unit cannot respond because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) (The FAA has issued a nationwide “ground stop” that prevents any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has also ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (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, 29) Galey is currently unaware that the airspace has been shut down. However, the Maryland State Police helicopters should be able to respond all the same, because NORAD has told him, “The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in” (see (Shortly After 9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Galey, the Maryland State Police “just didn’t know [that] if we requested them they could come.”
Other Departments Send Helicopters - Galey then contacts MedStar at the Washington Hospital Center and AirCare at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Each of them dispatches helicopters to the Pentagon. Galey will recall that these two departments “hadn’t gotten the word that the airspace was shut down, and since I’m the one who requested the aircraft and informed NORAD, NORAD allowed them to come in.” (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) It is unclear exactly when Galey contacts the different departments. But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, the helicopter that MedStar launches arrives at the Pentagon at around 10:18 a.m. Inova Fairfax Hospital launches one helicopter at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” and then sends a second helicopter to the Pentagon at around 10:40 a.m. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-45 pdf file)

Throughout the day of 9/11 and after, members of the public in New York City experience significant communications problems, particularly with cell phones. “In the aftermath [of the attacks], and for several days afterwards, cellular phone services were either not working or were severely overloaded.” (SatNews 10/19/2001) As Time magazine reports, “Lines formed, at least 20 people long, at all pay phones, because cell phones were not working.” (Gibbs 9/14/2001) (Reportedly, though, the 911 system is not disrupted.) Later accounts will suggest that an increased volume of phone calls being made in response to the attacks may have overloaded networks. Within minutes of the first attack, according to the New York Times, there were “tens of millions of [phone] calls—many from worried relatives and friends—that threatened to clog the system.” (Guernsey 9/20/2001) The call volume of Verizon Communications, which has its main regional switching station across the street from the World Trade Center, reaches twice its normal daily rate of 115 million calls in New York City. “And although it remained operational, the wireless network experienced massive congestion that prevented most calls from getting through. During the peak of the chaos, Verizon experienced nearly 100 percent more traffic than normal on its nationwide wireless network.” (Verton 2003, pp. 148) Some of the communications problems in the New York area are later attributed to physical damage to the infrastructure. A report by the Mineta Transportation Institute will summarize, “The collapse of the World Trade Center towers knocked out Verizon’s switching center in Lower Manhattan and severely damaged the infrastructure for cellular telephones. Telephone communications for NYPD Command and Control was also destroyed in the attack. As a consequence, cell phone service was subsequently overloaded. NYC Transit lost a key portion of its fiber-optic network in one tunnel.” (Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow 9/2003, pp. 33 pdf file) Similar communication problems are also experienced around Washington, DC, and some top government officials are affected (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to one government official, the nation was “deaf, dumb, and blind” for much of the day. (Verton 2003, pp. 151)

The FBI is reportedly in “chaos,” in particular because its Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) is stranded away from Washington, DC, being instead in California for a major training exercise. The CIRG would normally coordinate the FBI’s rapid response to a crisis incident, such as a terrorist attack. (NBC 4 9/11/2001; Darling 2010, pp. 73-75) But NBC News reports that the FBI has been “operating a massive exercise from their hostage rescue unit. All of their top teams, about 50 personnel, helicopters, equipment, [have been] in Monterey, California, for the last two days, scheduled to fly back today commercially. So all of those people are out of place.” (NBC 4 9/11/2001) USA Today will add that the day’s attacks are “so unexpected that a joint FBI/CIA anti-terrorist task force that specifically prepared for this type of disaster was on a training exercise in Monterey.” (Nichols 9/11/2001) NBC News concludes: “It’s fair to say, according to sources that we’ve talked to here at NBC, that the FBI rescue operations and other FBI operations are really in chaos right now, because they can’t reach their officials in New York, all of their phone lines are down. And now you’ve got all of their special experts on this stuck in Monterey, California.… So they are seriously out of pocket, and there is a real breakdown of the FBI anti-terror coordination team, which is of course the principal team that would lead any effort.” (NBC 4 9/11/2001) The US politics website evote.com will similarly conclude, “[J]ust as the worst terrorist act was being committed on American lives and property, the chief federal agency responsible for preventing such crimes was being AWOL.” (Evote [.com] 9/11/2001) The CIRG arrived in California the previous day for a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training (see September 10, 2001). Its members will be flown back to Washington around late afternoon on a specially arranged flight (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Darling 2010, pp. 75-76)

Robert White, the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters, refuses to provide the CIA with passenger lists for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, wants copies of the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He, along with Alec Station’s analysts at the CTC, are now certain al-Qaeda was behind the attacks on the United States, but they need proof of this before they can pass on their assessment to the White House. White has the capability to access airline passenger manifests, and so Blee asks him to access the FAA’s computers and share the manifests for the hijacked planes with him. White, however, refuses. He maintains that “[t]hese were American airliners filled with American citizens and under the law the CIA could not access private information about US persons.” Blee is frantic when he is told this. He therefore asks FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they can get the information he requires through their channels. (9/11 Commission 10/8/2003 pdf file; Coll 2018, pp. 33) The FBI agents will subsequently obtain the passenger manifests and pass them on to the CIA (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Summers and Swan 8/12/2011; McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016; Coll 2018, pp. 35)

Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” (Kashurba 2002, pp. 158-159) Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” (Michaud 9/12/2001; Lane and Pan 9/12/2001) And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.” (Bunch 11/18/2001) Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest (see September 14, 2001). (Gazarik and Acton 9/14/2001; Longman 2002, pp. 264) However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it.Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it. [Source: FBI]A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least ten witnesses flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of United Flight 93 crashing. (Carlin 8/13/2002)
bullet Lee Purbaugh: “I didn’t get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
bullet Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. (Pillets 9/14/2001) She later adds, “There’s no way I imagined this plane—it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven’t found one like it on the Internet. It definitely wasn’t one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around.… But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story—nobody here did.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
bullet John Fleegle and two work colleagues arrive at the crash site “before any fireman or paramedics or anybody.” According to Fleegle, “When we got there, there was a plane flying up above and he was smart, he flew straight for the sun so you couldn’t look at it and see exactly what type of plane, if it was a fighter or what it was.” However, Fleegle claims the plane “was decent sized. It wasn’t just a little private jet or something like that, from what we could see.” (Lappe and Marshall 2004, pp. 35-36)
bullet Dennis Decker and/or Rick Chaney, say: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” (Pillets 9/14/2001)
bullet Kathy Blades, who is staying about quarter of a mile from the impact site, runs outside after the crash and sees a jet, “with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit,” race overhead. (Bunch 11/18/2001)
bullet Anna Ruth Fisher says, “After the crash, another jet went near over to look.” Her mother, Anna B. Fisher, adds, “We were looking at the smoke cloud when we saw the jets circling up there.” (Kashurba 2002, pp. 27)
bullet Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/12/2001)
bullet Bob Page sees a large plane circling the crash site for about two or three minutes, before climbing almost vertically into the sky. He cannot see what kind of plane it is or if there are any markings on it, but says, “It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper.” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 9/12/2001)
bullet Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
The FBI later claims this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), but that plane wasn’t armed and had no role in the crash. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Falcon 20 business jet.Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” (MSNBC 9/9/2006) The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” (Chertoff et al. 3/2005) This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. (Pillets 9/14/2001; Wallace 9/12/2002)

Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130.Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130. [Source: CBC]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 pilot to look at Flight 93’s last position and see if he can find anything. Remarkably, this C-130 pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, is the same pilot who was asked by air traffic control to observe Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon earlier on (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). O’Brien tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. (Ellison 10/17/2001; MSNBC 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) An article in the London Independent will later suggest that Flight 93 might have been brought down by the US military using “electronic warfare applications” that can disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane (See August 13, 2002); it will refer to this C-130, since “in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” (Carlin 8/13/2002)

Andi Ball.Andi Ball. [Source: White House]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage are driven from Capitol Hill to the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, for their own security, but their journey is slowed by the heavy traffic. (Woodward 2002, pp. 17; National Journal 8/31/2002; Kessler 2006, pp. 136; Bush 2010, pp. 200-201) Bush has been at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, where she was originally scheduled to testify before a Senate committee. (McCaleb 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 16-17) Her Secret Service agents have said they are going to take the first lady and her staff to a secure location. (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) After the Secret Service emergency response team arrived for her, Bush was escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building and to her limousine (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush and those accompanying her leave Capitol Hill at 10:10 a.m., according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary.
Agents with Guns Drawn Protect Motorcade - Secret Service agents protect Bush’s motorcade with their guns as it heads to the secure location. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will later recall, “It felt like we were in a war, because the Secret Service was driving next to the motorcade and they were hanging out of the windows with their machine guns out.” She will add that she has “been around the agents” before, but has “never seen them with their guns.”
Motorcade Delayed by Traffic - However, the motorcade is slowed by the heavy traffic. Bush will describe, “Outside our convoy windows, the city streets were clogged with people evacuating their workplaces and trying to reach their own homes.” Rodriguez will say, “In the car, we seemed to be going in slow motion.” (National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200) “The traffic was so bad that everything was stopped,” Andi Ball, Bush’s chief of staff, will recall. One of the Secret Service agents escorting Bush and her staff will later say a car sideswiped them during the journey.
Secure Location Is Secret Service Headquarters - The “secure location” that Bush and her staff are being taken to turns out to be the Secret Service headquarters. (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) The Secret Service headquarters, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler, is “an anonymous nine-story tan brick building on H Street at Ninth Street NW in Washington.” (Kessler 2009, pp. 23) It is located a few blocks from the White House. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) it was reinforced to survive a large-scale blast. Bush and her entourage arrive there through an underground entrance. (Bamford 8/23/2009; Bush 2010, pp. 200-201)
Journey Reportedly Takes 45 Minutes - The exact time they arrive at is unclear. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “In the traffic jam from the Capitol, it took 45 minutes to get [Bush] to Secret Service headquarters.” This would mean the first lady arrives there at around 10:55 a.m. (Woodward 2002, pp. 17) However, Bush will write that she watches the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing “live in front of my eyes,” on a screen at the headquarters. (Bush 2010, pp. 201) If this is correct, she must arrive at the headquarters sometime before 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower comes down (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 311) White House spokespeople will refuse to disclose where the first lady has been taken to, only saying she is at a “secure location.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001; CNN 9/11/2002)

Michael Irwin.Michael Irwin. [Source: Publicity photo]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, makes a call requesting a fighter escort and other assets to support Air Force One as it flies away from Sarasota. Gould, who has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, was with Bush on Air Force One when the plane took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). He has talked with Colonel Mark Tillman, Air Force One’s pilot, about the plane’s ability to evade other aircraft. “At this point we don’t know the scope of this attack and what’s in front of us,” Gould will later recall. Gould will say that because he “thought there was a threat,” he makes a phone call and asks for three things: fighter jets to escort Air Force One, a refueling plane, and an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) to provide the ability to “see” around the president’s plane.
Request Relayed over Conference Call - Gould will say, in 2011, that he calls the Pentagon to make this request. (Scully 9/11/2011; Wallace 9/11/2011) However, other evidence indicates that he contacts the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House with the request, and the request is then passed on to the Pentagon over the air threat conference call. A transcript of the air threat conference call shows that at 10:14 a.m., Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, who is in the PEOC, says he has “just talked to [the] mil aide” on Air Force One, and then adds: “We’d like AWACS over Louisiana. We’d like fighter escort.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file)
Fighters and AWACS Later Accompany Air Force One - An AWACS on a training mission off the coast of Florida is directed toward Air Force One and will accompany it all the way to Washington, DC (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Code One Magazine 1/2002) Fighters will also arrive to escort the president’s plane. However, it will be over an hour before they reach it (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) It is unclear if and when a refueling plane reaches Air Force One.

Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing.Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing. [Source: US Air Force]The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it is unable to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane, Air Force One, because a lieutenant general at the Air Combat Command (ACC) has instructed the wing to stand by. (Spencer 2008, pp. 239-240) The White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and officers at the headquarters of the Continental US NORAD Region in Florida have been calling around to find any available jets that might be able to provide that escort, irrespective of what branch of the military they belong to. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer 2008, pp. 239)
Wing Told to Stand By - As a result, a colonel from the 1st Fighter Wing now calls NEADS. He says that although his unit would love to help, the lieutenant general at ACC has told it to stand by, as, technically, the wing belongs to ACC, not NORAD. Author Lynn Spencer will comment, “In times of war, commanders can waive a significant amount of the military bureaucracy and make such decisions.” However, “they are assuming an enormous personal responsibility if they do so and something terribly wrong happens.” Personnel at NEADS are thus “reminded of the military bureaucracy governing orders and authorizations.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 239-240)
Wing's F-15s Take Off Following Attacks - F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing will take off later on—“within two hours” of the terrorist attacks, according to one account—to provide “protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership,” and to patrol the skies of the East Coast. (Air Force Association 10/2/2002; Langley Air Force Base 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association 3/14/2006) Eventually, fighters from Ellington Field in Texas and elsewhere will escort Air Force One (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87)
ACC Is Air Force's Combat Arm - The ACC, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, is the main combat arm of the US Air Force, and is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world. (Virginian-Pilot 9/20/2001; US Air Force 2/26/2010) The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley, and, as such, operates and maintains one of the largest fighter bases in the ACC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. (Virginian-Pilot 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base 11/2003; Air Force Print News 11/9/2006)

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center.Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. S-19; Newsnet5 8/12/2002; Kropko 8/15/2002) The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. (Kropko 6/15/2002) The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Newsnet5 8/12/2002; Payerchin 9/10/2011)
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001, pp. 9 pdf file; Kropko 8/15/2002; Sangiacomo 7/3/2011) The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file) Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001, pp. 70 pdf file; Sangiacomo 7/3/2011) But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” (Keaton 9/11/2011)
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19) Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file) Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. (Sangiacomo 7/3/2011)
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. (Newsnet5 8/12/2002)

President Bush’s travels on 9/11.President Bush’s travels on 9/11. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion / MagicGrapix.com]Air Force One begins heading for Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana after the base is identified as a suitable interim destination for the president’s plane. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) Washington, DC, was the plane’s original destination. (White House 8/29/2002; Scully 9/11/2011) But after taking off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida without a fixed destination (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One changed course at around 10:10 a.m. and headed west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This was because it had been determined that Washington was too unsafe for President Bush to return there (see (9:55 a.m.-10:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325) At that time, the plane’s new destination was undecided.
Military Base Sought for President to Make a Statement - Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, who is with the president on Air Force One, will later recall, “And so we started looking at potential Air Force bases or Navy bases where we could land the plane.” (Card 8/16/2002) Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will recall that Card comes up to him in the communications area of the plane and says, “We need to find a facility, a base that we can get to in a relatively short period of time so that the president can make a statement.” (White House 8/29/2002)
Secret Service Told of Bush's Desire to Land - Card will recall: “I had a goal of landing the plane within an hour and a half. It was somewhat arbitrary, but I wanted to get the president down.” (Card 8/16/2002) Card similarly tells Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, that Bush wants to land so he can make a statement to the press. It is also noted “that the stop would provide an opportunity for the airplane to be refueled and those on board to effect necessary communication,” Marinzel will say. (United States Secret Service 2001)
Offutt Air Base Rejected as Destination - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, Bush’s military aide, quickly researches the possibilities. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The first plan that is considered, according to Rosenker, is to fly all the way out to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, but this idea is dismissed because it would take too long to get there, and it is “very important to the president to address the nation and make sure that the people could see that he was safe and in total control of the situation.” (White House 8/29/2002) (Air Force One will in fact head to Offutt later in the day, landing there at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001).)
Barksdale Makes 'the Greatest Sense' - Instead, at around 10:20 a.m., Gould identifies Barksdale Air Force Base as “an appropriate interim destination,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325-326) Rosenker will recall: “Barksdale made the greatest sense to us. It was a highly secure Air Force base, had B-52s there; they had the capability to do what was necessary to secure Air Force One and to make sure that the president was safe, and make sure that we could provide the appropriate communications facility so the president could make his statement.” (White House 8/29/2002)
Bush Agrees with Decision to Head to Barksdale - The final decision to head to Barksdale Air Base is made by Card, “after talking to the military and the Secret Service,” according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. (Fleischer 2005, pp. 142) Bush agrees with the decision and Barksdale becomes his plane’s new destination. (Bush 2010, pp. 130; Rove 2010, pp. 255) Air Force One will land at Barksdale Air Force Base at around 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)

Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. (Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau 2002 pdf file) He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. (Kashurba 2002, pp. 63) Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, learn that Air Force One is airborne, around half an hour after it took off from Florida, and are told the plane is heading toward Washington, DC. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)
NEADS Learns President's Plane Is Airborne - Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NEADS, is briefed by a colleague that “Air Force One is airborne out of Florida, heading to Washington.” This is apparently the first time NEADS knows that the president’s plane is in the air. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) But Air Force One took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida about half an hour ago (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) And while some later accounts will state that the plane is indeed heading north, toward Washington, at this time (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), according to other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, it has turned west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and is now flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)
Commander Told Fighters Will Escort Air Force One - Nasypany’s colleague continues: “We’ve got those four F-15s coming out of Langley. They’re done rolling.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) He is presumably referring to F-15 fighter jets belonging to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. (Langley Air Force Base 11/2003; Airman 9/2005) He says, “Two of [the F-15s] will be diverted to escort [Air Force One] at the appropriate time.” Nasypany says, “We need a plane out of the Air Force One.” He then asks his colleague, “Is he airborne now?” The colleague says yes.
Commander Told SEADS Is Providing Fighter Escort - Nasypany then says, “We’ve identified [Air Force One] as a special one.” His colleague replies: “We haven’t got him. Southeast does,” meaning NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Referring to SEADS, Nasypany asks, “So they’ll have fighters on him?” His colleague says yes. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) However, fighters will only be noticed escorting Air Force One by those on the plane more than an hour later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Commander Passes on News about Air Force One - Nasypany then passes on the information about Air Force One to another colleague. He tells them: “Air Force One is airborne out of Florida, going to Washington. There should be F-15s on them by the time they hit our AOR [area of responsibility].” Nasypany restates that the president’s plane is “going to Washington. This is what I was just passed.” He says, “SEADS should be putting fighters on it,” but adds that “we’ll have to take over [in providing a fighter escort for Air Force One] once they hit our AOR.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)

Brigadier General Montague Winfield finally returns to his post as the deputy director for operations (DDO) in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, after leaving a colleague, who only recently qualified to take over the position, to stand in for him throughout the terrorist attacks. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) At 8:30 a.m. Winfield left his post to attend a pre-scheduled meeting that was unrelated to the morning’s attacks and had been convened by the Air Force. Since that time, Captain Charles Leidig has replaced him as the DDO (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Leidig, the deputy for Command Center operations, only qualified to stand in as the DDO in the NMCC about a month ago. Even though officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack when the second plane hit the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., Winfield did not return to his post at that time (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file)
Winfield Returns to His Post, but Timing Unclear - Now Winfield finally relieves Leidig and resumes his duties as DDO. This happens after Flight 93 has crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although the exact time is unclear. In a private interview with the 9/11 Commission, Leidig will say he is “certain that Winfield returned [from the meeting] after the Pentagon was hit” at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), but he “is not certain of Winfield’s arrival in relationship with the vice chairman” of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) (According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Myers arrived at the NMCC shortly before 10:00 a.m. (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) ) Winfield then takes over as DDO “at some point in relation to the report of the Pennsylvania crash,” according to Leidig. As the 9/11 Commission will point out, since the crash of Flight 93 happened around 10:03 a.m., “any reporting would be after that time.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) During a public hearing of the 9/11 Commission, Leidig will similarly say that Winfield takes over from him “[r]ight after we resolved what was going on with United 93.” He will also say that a report over the NMCC’s air threat conference at 10:37 a.m., about an anonymous threat against Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), occurs “right after I was relieved on the watch by General Winfield.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) This would indicate that Winfield takes over from Leidig at around 10:30 a.m.
Unclear If Winfield Returns to Post Immediately after Meeting - It is also unclear whether Winfield returns to his position as DDO immediately after leaving the Air Force-convened meeting, or he allowed Leidig to continue in his place even while he was available to resume his duties. A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state, “Winfield transitioned into the position [of DDO] upon his return to the NMCC,” following the meeting. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will recall that he “looked up at one point and General Winfield was standing next to him.” He will also recall that Myers “looked at him at one time and realized the coordinator [i.e. the DDO] was not a general as the position called for, and asked who the general or admiral was that had duty that day.” The guidance that was subsequently given was “to get General Winfield briefed up and in the chair.”
Leidig Listens to Conference before Returning to Post - After Winfield returns to his position as DDO, Leidig initially “stands next to him and listens to the [NMCC’s air threat] conference.” Leidig will then transition into his regular job, which involves making sure the NMCC operates properly, and start dealing with the smoke coming into the center and other issues effecting operations there. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file)

The FAA allows “military and law enforcement flights to resume (and some flights that the FAA can’t reveal that were already airborne).” All civilian, military, and law enforcement flights were ordered at 9:26 a.m. to land as soon as reasonably possible. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Civilian flights remain banned until September 13. Note that the C-130 cargo plane that witnessed the Flight 77 crash (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001) and which came upon the Flight 93 crash site (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001) right after it had crashed was apparently not subject to the grounding order issued about an hour earlier.

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

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

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft is ordered to land by the FAA’s Cleveland Center, but Ashcroft is intent on reaching Washington, DC, and instructs his pilot to ignore the order. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Ashcroft learned of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee in a small government jet, and immediately wanted to return to Washington, but his plane needed to land first in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Even though the FAA had issued a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft then insisted that his plane leave Milwaukee to fly back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FAA Manager Furious, Wants Plane to Land - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, hears about Ashcroft’s plane defying the ground stop order, he is livid. He immediately calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and tells it to order the plane to land. An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center then issues this order to Ashcroft’s plane. (Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258) David Clemmer, the plane’s pilot, tells Ashcroft, “They’re instructing me to land outside of Detroit,” but Ashcroft tells him, “No, keep going.” (Eggen 9/28/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117)
Controller Reports that Plane Is Not Complying - According to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft then requests that his plane be allowed to immediately return to Washington, and he receives permission to do so. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002) But author Lynn Spencer will give a different account, saying that Clemmer “chooses to ignore the controller and continues toward Washington.” The Cleveland Center controller then informs the FAA Command Center that the pilot of Ashcroft’s plane is not responding and not complying. (Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Ashcroft’s plane will subsequently be redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, and is threatened with being shot down if it does not land (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Lines 9/29/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118)

The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) formally terminates its Global Guardian exercise at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Global Guardian was put on pause just over 90 minutes earlier, according to the same article (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file) However, other reports will suggest that Global Guardian was canceled significantly earlier than 10:44 a.m. One article in the Omaha World-Herald will state, “When the second World Trade Center tower was hit,” at 9:03 a.m., “the exercise was canceled, and the battle staff [at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska] moved to the real-world crisis.” (Dejka 9/8/2002) But an earlier article in the World-Herald will say that military authorities canceled Global Guardian “after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon,” suggesting some time after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit. (Dejka 2/27/2002) An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft that was involved in Global Guardian was reportedly only told to pull out of the exercise just after the Pentagon was hit (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Verton 2003, pp. 143-144) Even after Global Guardian is canceled, this plane and two other E-4Bs that are involved in the exercise will remain airborne. (Dejka 2/27/2002) The annual Global Guardian exercise tests Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005)

James K. Will.James K. Will. [Source: WTAE-TV]After hearing a plane has crashed in his area, a farmer flies over the Flight 93 crash site to take photos of the wreckage. James K. Will, who is an aerial photographer as well as a farmer, had just landed his Cessna on a private airstrip at his farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, after visiting nearby Altoona. His mother rushed out and told him there were reports of a plane having crashed near Shanksville. He’d grabbed his camera and set off in his plane for the site, to take photos of the wreckage. He later recalls that he circles the Flight 93 crash scene around 45 minutes after the crash occurred. He says, “I thought it was just an accident.” He is then intercepted by a state police helicopter, which escorts him to the Johnstown airport. He will be questioned and briefly detained there before being released. His plane will be searched and then released. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Erdley 9/15/2001) At around 9:45 a.m., all FAA facilities had been ordered to instruct every aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). About 20 minutes earlier, the FAA had initiated a nationwide ground stop, which prohibited takeoffs and required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25 and 29)

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. (Scott 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. (Schwartz 1998)
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. (Scott 6/3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 73) Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. (Schwartz 11/2001; Scott 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. (Spencer 2008, pp. 269)
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. (Schwartz 11/2001)

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, sends out an advisory that suspends operations in the national airspace system, requiring all aircraft to land and prohibiting aircraft from taking off from all airports. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002) At 9:26 a.m., the FAA ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it instructed all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) According to a 2002 FAA report, “With this advisory, the shutdown of the air traffic system en masse had officially begun.” The advisory states: “Due to extraordinary circumstances and for reasons of safety. Attention all aircraft operators. By order of the Federal Aviation Command Center all airports/airdromes are not authorized for landing and takeoff. All traffic including airborne aircraft are encouraged to land shortly, including all helicopter traffic. Aircraft involved in firefighting in the Northwest US are excluded. Please read this notice over the emergency frequencies, and VOR [VHF omnidirectional range] voice.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002)

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 258)
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” (Eggen 9/28/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002) As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Eggen 9/28/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 272)

American Airlines issues a statement confirming that it has lost two of its aircraft in “tragic incidents this morning.” The statement identifies the aircraft as “Flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles,” and “Flight 77, a Boeing 757 operating from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles.” The statement adds, “Because of the heightened security due to the nature of today’s events, American said it is working closely with US government authorities and will not release more information at this time.” (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes.One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes. [Source: Unknown]Although it was recently redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, the plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft tries again to head to Washington, DC, and a military fighter jet arrives to escort it into the capital. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Ashcroft’s plane, a small government Cessna jet, has been trying to return to Washington after an engagement in Milwaukee was aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ashcroft has ignored requests to land, and so his plane has been threatened with being shot down by the military and diverted to Richmond (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Pilot Persuaded to Head toward Washington - However, Ashcroft still wants to reach Washington. He therefore calls the Justice Department command center for assistance. Then, according to author Lynn Spencer, “With some high-level coordination,” one of the protective agents on Ashcroft’s plane “convinced the pilot to try once again to enter the city.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 272) The pilot, David Clemmer, negotiates to have fighter jets escort the plane into Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Eggen 9/28/2001)
Controller Requests Fighter Escort - The FAA’s Washington Center consequently calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The Washington Center controller says: “Hey, we’ve got November 4 out here. He wants to land at [Reagan Airport]. There’s some concern and they want a fighter escort.” TRACON controller Dan Creedon recognizes the plane’s N-number (specifically, N4) as belonging to one of the FAA’s jet aircraft, and confirms, “Yeah, November 4 is based out of Washington.” He then calls District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) pilot Major Daniel Caine, who recently launched from Andrews Air Force Base to defend Washington (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and tells him of the plane requesting a fighter escort. When Caine asks who is on it, Creedon replies: “I don’t know. My assumption is FAA-1 or DOT-1,” meaning FAA Administrator Jane Garvey or Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
DCANG Pilot Gets Langley Jets to Provide Escort - Caine says the jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that are defending Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will handle this. He forwards Creedon’s request to Major Dean Eckmann, the lead pilot from Langley. Eckmann responds that the inbound plane “can have one” of his fighters. He then directs his wingman, Major Brad Derrig, to intercept it. (9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 272-273) While Ashcroft’s plane is waiting for Derrig’s fighter to arrive, it is put in a holding pattern outside of Washington. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file) Ashcroft’s plane will be escorted to Reagan Airport, but the time it lands at is unclear (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 453)

Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that unidentified fast-moving aircraft are heading toward his plane, and he becomes concerned that these may be armed fighter jets flown by foreign nationals. While Air Force One is heading out over the Gulf of Mexico, Tillman receives a call from an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Houston Center who tells him, “Air Force One, you have fast movers coming up at your 7 o’clock,” which means they are behind and to the left of his plane. Tillman thinks these aircraft could be fighters that are coming to escort Air Force One. He suggests this to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on the plane. But Gould says: “I haven’t’ asked for fighters yet. We haven’t had the chance to do it yet.” (Tillman 7/19/2012; McMillin 11/13/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) (However, a transcript of the Pentagon’s air threat conference call will show that Gould in fact requested fighters to escort Air Force One at around 10:13 a.m. (see (10:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file) )
Pilot Told about Foreigners Flying Training Missions in the Gulf - Tillman asks the Houston Center controller, “Who are they?” The controller replies: “We don’t know. They just popped up on radar.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) He says the suspicious aircraft have “come somewhere out of Texas, we think, or somewhere out of the Gulf.” Around this time, Gould tells Tillman that the Air Force has informed him there are “foreign nationals in the Gulf of Mexico” who are out training in American F-16 fighters that are “heavily armed.” Tillman asks the Houston Center controller how fast the suspicious aircraft are flying and is told, “They’re supersonic.”
Aircraft Are Fighters Sent to Escort Air Force One - But then Tillman is called over radio by the pilot of one of the unidentified aircraft, who says, “Air Force One, Cowry 4-5, flight of two, we are your cover.” (Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) The pilot says his estimated time of arrival with Air Force One is in three minutes. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) The aircraft are in fact two F-16s belonging to the Texas Air National Guard that launched from Ellington Field, an airport about 15 miles south of Houston, in order to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/1/2002; Cenciotti 9/9/2011) Tillman will later describe this communication as the “coolest radio call I’ve ever heard in my life.” The reason, he will say, is that even though he can tell the pilots are “Texans, and they had an accent, it was not a foreign accent. So I knew: good people.” (KFDI 12/11/2012) The F-16s “joined up on us, fighter on each wing, and they protected us for the rest of the day,” Tillman will recall. (Tillman 7/19/2012) Passengers on Air Force One will first notice fighters escorting their plane at around 11:29 a.m. (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Brook 9/7/2011)

President Bush (center, bending) and others look out  the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives.President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 109; Kohn 9/11/2002) The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer 2008, pp. 255)
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” (BBC 9/1/2002) Bush also notices the fighters. (Sammon 2002, pp. 109) White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” (Kohn 9/11/2002)
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Martin 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” (Plunket 11/2001) Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88; Cousins 7/9/2005)

Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and one of the fighter jets that is escorting Air Force One then goes and intercepts this suspicious aircraft. (Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One is flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and has now been joined by two F-16 fighters belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Cenciotti 9/9/2011)
Pilot Says Aircraft Will Be Shot Down if It Is Hostile - The pilot of one of the fighters calls Tillman and tells him, “There’s a guy coming off New Orleans, looks like New Orleans, and he’s coming off and he’s climbing right at us, he’s coming right up at us.” He says he has instructed the pilot of the other fighter to head out to locate and identify the aircraft, and, he says, if the aircraft is “not a friendly, he’s gonna go ahead and splash him.” Tillman asks the pilot, “Who has got shootdown authority here?” and is told, “You have shootdown authority.” He then phones the president’s office, downstairs on Air Force One, and says to the person who answers, “Let the president know: the fighters on the wing say that I have shootdown authority.” Tillman then hears “a little chuckle in the background,” which, he will later say, is the “president and everybody laughing ‘cause Tillman thinks he has shootdown authority.”
Aircraft Is Just a Learjet Flown by a Civilian - The suspicious aircraft is intercepted by the fighter that went to locate and identify it. It turns out to be a Learjet piloted by a civilian, according to Tillman, which has just taken off from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. “My angle coming in [toward Barksdale Air Force Base] was coming right over New Orleans and he’s taking off, coming right at me,” Tillman will say. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file; Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) If this is correct, it is unclear why the aircraft was permitted to take off, since the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) “It’s the only guy in the country that didn’t get the word we’re not flying today,” Tillman will comment. Finally, according to Tillman, the FAA’s Houston Center gets the Learjet back on the ground. (KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One then heads on to Barksdale Air Force Base, where it will land at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002)

While President Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, officials there receive reports of unidentified aircraft heading toward the base. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) The FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and by about 12:15 p.m., US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) But for the entire time Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, and White House aides traveling with the president are receiving reports of unidentified aircraft flying toward the base. According to American History magazine, “Under Threatcon Delta, and what Keck’s staff already knew of the day’s shocking events, there was a low threshold for declaring any incoming plane or object a threat.” Therefore, Keck “made sure his staff kept him closely apprised of each questionable target.… If necessary, the commander was ready to give the order to fire on any plane that threatened the base.” Whether the suspicious aircraft are identified, and the reasons they are flying toward Barksdale ever discovered, is unstated. Barksdale Air Force Base is “already a prime target because of its key fleet of B-52s,” according to American History magazine. “Attack on the base by a hijacked airliner was never among the anticipated scenarios, however, so the base’s air security was light.” (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Administration officials will later tell the New York Times that around this time, there are two reports of international flights that are unaccounted for, and two domestic flights are seen as possible threats. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001) Also while Bush is at Barksdale, a report is received that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but this turns out to be a false alarm (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 117; Draper 2007, pp. 142-143)

Mount Weather.Mount Weather. [Source: Department of Homeland Security]Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. (Chen and Schrader 9/12/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; ABC News 9/15/2002) The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 112) Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 114) The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. (Schwartz 11/2001; ABC News 9/15/2002) It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. (Yang 9/11/2001) The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. (Schwartz 11/2001) It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. (Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter 3/2002) Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). (Hastert 2004, pp. 10) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 80-81) The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 116; Hastert 2004, pp. 10) The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). (United Press International 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2002; 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)

David Israelite.David Israelite. [Source: Publicity photo]The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft finally arrives in Washington, DC, landing at Reagan National Airport. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002) Ashcroft has wanted his plane, a small government Cessna jet, to return to Washington since he learned of the attacks in New York while flying out to Milwaukee (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001 and After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Brill 3/10/2003; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 115-118) Despite his plane being instructed to land on more than one occasion (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has insisted on returning to the capital. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 258, 272)
Plane Lands, Passengers Met by Agents with Machine Guns - Ashcroft’s plane has finally been cleared to land in Washington, and an F-16 fighter jet escorts it in to Reagan Airport. (Eggen 9/28/2001; 9/11 Commission 12/1/2003) After touching down, the plane taxies to the tarmac near Signature Aviation, the private executive aircraft terminal. When Ashcroft and the other individuals with him get off, they are met by numerous agents, some with machine guns at the ready. Apparently concerned about possible snipers, the agents quickly cover Ashcroft with a bulletproof trench coat and pass out bulletproof vests to the others with him. All of them are hustled into a hangar, where several vans are waiting. Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, get into a heavily reinforced SUV, while their colleagues disperse to other vehicles.
Ashcroft Advised to Go to Classified Site - Ashcroft calls the White House Situation Room to ask where he should go to set up operations. He is connected to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who suggests that he head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel have gone, until it is known if any more attacks are forthcoming. Ashcroft’s vehicle heads toward the site, but due to the roads being clogged with traffic, it turns around and goes instead to the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center in Washington, where Ashcroft will spend much of the rest of the day. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118-120, 129)
Conflicting Accounts of Landing Time - The time when Ashcroft’s plane lands at Reagan Airport is unclear. According to a 2002 FAA report, it lands “just before noon.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002) According to USA Today, it does not arrive in Washington “until afternoon.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) And a federally funded report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack will claim that an unidentified aircraft—later determined to be Ashcroft’s plane—is approaching Washington and leads to an evacuation of the Pentagon site at around 2:00 p.m. (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 pdf file; Vogel 2007, pp. 453) Ashcroft’s plane is one of the last aircraft to land in the United States on this day, according to the Washington Post. (Eggen 9/28/2001)

Several of the hijackers have tickets to continue from the destinations of their 9/11 flights. However, they do not take the flights, as all air traffic has been grounded in the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and they are presumed to have died in the 9/11 attacks. Flight 77 hijackers Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi, and Flight 175 hijackers Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, and Hamza Alghamdi are to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is to continue from San Francisco to San Diego, whereas Ziad Jarrah is to continue to Las Vegas. Alghamdi also has tickets for flights later in September (see September 20-29, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 233, 238, 242 246, 288 pdf file)

US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; Levin 8/12/2002) The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 269) At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” (Freni 2003, pp. 69) At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. (CNN 9/12/2001)

Secretary of State Colin Powell learned of the attacks on the US while away in Peru, Lima (see (9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During his seven-hour flight back to Washington, he is frustrated at being unable to communicate with other senior government leaders. In a March 2002 speech at the State Department, Powell will recall, “I never felt more useless in my life than on the morning of the 11th of September. Phones [were] gone because of what happened here and what happened to the [communications] system here in Washington. They couldn’t get a phone line through. I was able to get some radio communications—two radio spots on the way back—but for most of that seven-hour period, I could not tell what was going on here in my capital, and I’m the secretary of state!” (Barrett 2002, pp. 4-5 pdf file; Verton 2003, pp. 149-150) Powell is able to talk by radio with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. But, according to journalist Bob Woodward, any “real talk” between them “was hopeless.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 10) Yet, in a 7:40 p.m. press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker will claim that Powell “has been kept in the loop and informed all day.” (US Department of State 9/11/2001)

Philip Perry.Philip Perry. [Source: Cornell Law School]Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, her husband, and their children arrive at a secure government facility at Mount Weather, Virginia, where they have been taken by the Secret Service. Earlier on, Secret Service Special Agent Michael Seremetis, a member of the vice presidential protective division, instructed some of his colleagues to locate Liz Cheney, and then evacuate her and her children to the facility. By 10:55 a.m., Cheney and her children had made it to their home, and 20 minutes later they were being taken to Mount Weather by the Secret Service. Cheney’s husband, Philip Perry, arrived at the White House at around 11:20 a.m. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 pdf file) Perry is the acting associate attorney general, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department. (US Department of Justice 8/17/2001; Woodward 8/23/2001; US Congress. Senate 5/19/2005) By 12:40 p.m., Secret Service agents were transporting him to Mount Weather. Cheney, her children, and the Secret Service agents with them arrive at Mount Weather at 12:45 p.m. Perry and the agents with him arrive there at 1.15 p.m. (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 pdf file) The facility at Mount Weather is “a massive underground complex originally built to house governmental officials in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange,” according to The Guardian. (Vanderbilt 8/28/2006) It is located in rural Virginia, 48 miles from Washington, DC. (Gup 12/9/1991) Cheney, Perry, and their children will remain there until 5:30 p.m., when they will be taken to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland (see 5:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 pdf file) Congressional leaders are also taken to the facility at Mount Weather throughout the day, after being evacuated from Washington (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 79-81)

CIA Director George Tenet is given copies of the passenger manifests for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. (Summers and Swan 8/12/2011) Tenet is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, where a makeshift operational facility has been set up, after evacuating from the agency’s headquarters building this morning (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 164, 167) Earlier today, Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, asked the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters to let him see the manifests for the hijacked planes, but the liaison refused. Blee therefore asked FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they could get the manifests through their channels (see After 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Has Sent the Passenger Lists to the CTC - The FBI has now sent copies of the manifests to these agents. (Coll 2018, pp. 33, 35) It apparently obtained them from the US Customs Service. Robert Bonner, commissioner-designate of US Customs, will later state, “Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004)
Analyst Passes the Lists to Tenet - An analyst from the CTC races across to the printing plant with the manifests. He hands them to Tenet and points out that the manifest for Flight 77 shows two known al-Qaeda members were on this plane. “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks,” he says, pointing at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Tenet looks at the manifest for Flight 77 and exclaims: “There it is. Confirmation. Oh, Jesus…” This is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot,” he will comment. (Tenet 2007, pp. 167; Summers and Swan 2011; Summers and Swan 8/12/2011)
Counterterrorism Chief Will Claim the Manifests Were Obtained Much Earlier - The exact time when Tenet receives the passenger manifests is unclear. The FBI agents at the CTC received them “by about 1:00 p.m.,” according to journalist and author Steve Coll. (Coll 2018, pp. 35) Authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan will write that Tenet is given them “[s]oon after 1:00 p.m.” (Summers and Swan 2011; Summers and Swan 8/12/2011) CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin will recall that an analyst bursts into the temporary office at the printing plant with a copy of the manifest for Flight 77 “[w]ithin about two and a half to three hours after the last plane hit.” (McLaughlin 9/11/2016; McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016) But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that he was told the FBI had received the manifests from the airlines significantly earlier, at around 9:59 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 13-14)

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