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Context of '(2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft Spends Most of Day at FBI Crisis Management Center'

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Susan Dryden.Susan Dryden. [Source: Davar Ardalan / NPR News]Attorney General John Ashcroft learns of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee, and immediately instructs his pilot to turn the plane around and return to Washington, DC. [Daily Record (Glasgow), 9/29/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-116; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Ashcroft Scheduled for Reading Event - Ashcroft is heading from Washington to Milwaukee in one of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes, to read with some schoolchildren as part of the president’s child literacy program. With him are David Israelite, his deputy chief of staff; Susan Dryden, the deputy communications director for the Justice Department; Ralph Boyd, the assistant attorney general for civil rights; and a detail officer from the FBI.
Command Center Tells Ashcroft of Attacks - As the plane is nearing Lake Michigan, its pilot calls out to Ashcroft, “Sir, you are to call back to the Justice Department command center in Washington immediately.” Ashcroft makes the call and is informed that two commercial airliners have struck the World Trade Center towers. He then turns toward the cockpit and tells the pilot, David Clemmer: “Turn this plane around. We’re flying back to Washington.” Clemmer replies that they don’t have enough fuel to make it back to Washington and will need to land in Milwaukee to refuel. Ashcroft says, “All right, get us down for fuel and back in the air as fast as you can.”
Plane Lands at Milwaukee Airport - Ashcroft then turns toward the other passengers and describes to them what he has learned from the command center. A few minutes later, his plane will land in Milwaukee to refuel. Ashcroft and his fellow passengers will go inside the terminal and get their first glimpses of the television coverage of the attacks in New York. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-117] Despite an FAA ground stop, which is supposed to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft will insist on flying from Milwaukee back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]

Entity Tags: David Israelite, Ralph Boyd, David Clemmer, John Ashcroft, Susan Dryden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Israelite.David Israelite. [Source: Publicity photo]The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft finally arrives in Washington, DC, landing at Reagan National Airport. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file] 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). [Newsweek, 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. [USA Today, 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. [Washington Post, 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 pdf file] According to USA Today, it does not arrive in Washington “until afternoon.” [USA Today, 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. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, David Israelite, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Attorney General John Ashcroft arrives at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), located on the fifth floor of its Washington, DC, headquarters. [CNN, 11/20/1998; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] Ashcroft has returned to Washington after his scheduled engagement in Milwaukee had to be aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003]
Ashcroft Heads to SIOC instead of Remote, Classified Site - After his plane landed at Reagan National Airport (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft was advised by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel had gone. But because the roads were clogged with traffic, at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, turned around and headed instead toward the SIOC. While on his way to the SIOC, Ashcroft ordered that senior Justice Department officials like Thompson, who was at the remote, classified site, meet him at the center. Ashcroft will later estimate that he arrives at the SIOC sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118-120]
Sophisticated Command Center Can Manage Multiple Crises - The FBI’s new, upgraded SIOC officially opened in November 1998. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The windowless, high-tech command center is 30,000 square feet in size. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] It can seat 380 people, includes 20 rooms to support its operations, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. It functions as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. It is capable of handling up to five crises at once. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The SIOC was operational “[w]ithin minutes” of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to the FBI, and provides “analytical, logistical, and administrative support” for the FBI’s teams on the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003] Ashcroft will remain at the SIOC throughout the day, along with most of the FBI and Justice Department’s top officials (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]

Entity Tags: Strategic Information Operations Center, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center.The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center. [Source: FBI]Attorney General John Ashcroft spends most of the rest of the day at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), after arriving there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] The SIOC, which is located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC, functions as a 24-hour watch post and crisis management center. The huge, windowless center can seat 380 people, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004]
FBI Director Briefs Ashcroft - Ashcroft will later recall that when he arrives at the SIOC, the place is “teeming with people, abuzz with activity, voices and papers everywhere, with dozens of people coming in and out with bits and pieces of new information moment by moment.” Numerous rows of computer screens are “filled with data, and eight large video display screens were being monitored constantly.” Ashcroft is met by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who briefs him on what is so far known regarding the terrorist attacks.
Priority Is to Clear the Skies - During his initial period at the SIOC, Ashcroft will recall, the “overriding priority” is to make sure all commercial aircraft are on the ground. There are also concerns about some planes that have landed and individuals on them who might have been hijackers, and concerns about securing airports so that flights can get up and running again as soon as possible. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120-121]
SIOC Is 'the Place to Be to Get Information' - Most of the leading Justice Department and FBI officials remain at the SIOC throughout the day. Other officials in the center along with Ashcroft and Mueller include Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; US Department of Justice, 9/12/2001] According to Ashcroft, the SIOC is “the place to be to get information, and so everyone wanted to be there.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file] Ashcroft will later recall, “I spent the hours, days, and most of the first weeks, months, after the attack on the United States in the [SIOC].” He will add, “That day, in those early hours, the prevention of terrorist attacks became the central goal of the law enforcement and national security mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” [CNN, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, James W. Ziglar, US Department of Justice, Larry D. Thompson, Robert S. Mueller III, Strategic Information Operations Center, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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