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Context of '(3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush Is Taken to the Underground Command Center at Offutt Air Force Base'

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An E-4B Airborne Command Post.An E-4B Airborne Command Post. [Source: US Air Force] (click image to enlarge)During the 1980s, top-secret exercises are regularly held, testing a program called Continuity of Government (COG) that would keep the federal government functioning during and after a nuclear war (see 1981-1992). The program includes a special plane called the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP). This is a modified Boeing 747, based at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC that has its own conference room and special communications gear. Nicknamed the “Doomsday” plane, it could act as an airborne command post from where a president could run the country during a nuclear war. One of the COG exercises run by the Reagan administration involves a team of officials actually staying aloft in the NEACP for three days straight. The team cruises across the US, and up and down the coasts, periodically being refueled in mid-air. (Schwartz 1998; Mann 2004, pp. 144) Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld participate in the COG exercises, though whether they are aboard the NEACP in this particular one is unknown. (Mann 3/2004) The plan that is being rehearsed for in the exercises will be activated in response to the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Also on 9/11, three Doomsday planes (then known as “National Airborne Operations Center” planes) will be in the air, due to an exercise taking place that morning called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Schwartz 1998; Dejka 2/27/2002)

Many aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is just a few miles outside Washington, DC, are taking part in training exercises. James Ampey, an FAA air traffic controller who is currently on duty in the control tower at the base, will later recall that there are “an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews [this] morning, because previously scheduled military exercises [are] underway.” (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) It is unclear what specific exercises these aircraft are participating in, and the exact time period Ampey is referring to.
Militarized 747 Involved in 'Global Guardian' Exercise - According to journalist and author Dan Verton, around the time of the Pentagon attack, “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise” (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Verton 2003, pp. 143-144) This airfield is Andrews Air Force Base and the exercise being referred to is the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) Whether other aircraft that are taking off or landing at Andrews are participating in Global Guardian is unknown.
NORAD Exercise, 'Vigilant Guardian' - Another major exercise taking place this morning is called Vigilant Guardian. All of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is participating in it (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Seely 1/25/2002; Scott 6/3/2002) However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. (McKenna 12/1999) And the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, is not part of the NORAD air defense force. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 76) Furthermore, members of the 113th Wing have just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001), and so, with only a few pilots and planes available, today is a “light flying day” for their unit. (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) Presumably the 113th Wing is therefore not currently participating in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises.
Numerous Units at Andrews - There are, however, many units at Andrews that may be participating in exercises. Among more than 60 separate organizations located at the base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. (DC Military (.com) 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) These units include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. (DC Military (.com) 2/9/2001; DC Military (.com) 6/2001)
Andrews Units Respond to Attacks - DC Air National Guard fighters will later take off from Andrews to protect Washington in response to the morning’s attacks (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002) And a member of VMFA-321 calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at around 9:50 a.m. to offer his unit’s assistance in response to the attacks (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)

Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998.Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998. [Source: Jeffery S. Viano]As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” (Arkin 2005, pp. 59)
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. (Arkin 11/1/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. (US Congress n.d.; Wasiak 12/1999 pdf file; Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” (Kelly 12/27/2011)
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. (Kristensen 10/1998) In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. (Arkin 2005, pp. 379) And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. (Space Observer 3/23/2001, pp. 2 pdf file) If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. (Parker 6/1998 pdf file) It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.

The US Strategic Command command center.The US Strategic Command command center. [Source: US Strategic Command]At the time the attacks in New York occur, a small group of business leaders are having breakfast at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) is headquartered. With them is Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. They are in town for an annual charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. Along with other visitors who have come for the fundraiser, they are scheduled to tour the Stratcom underground command center, located 60 feet below Offutt, and receive an unclassified mission briefing. According to the Omaha World-Herald, staff members have left the command center in advance of their visit. It is only after the second attack occurs, at 9:03, that Admiral Mies excuses himself from the breakfast and the battle staff reconvenes in the center. (Leuty 2/1/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) It is unclear what effect the absence of Mies and the members of the battle staff have upon the military’s ability to respond effectively to the first attacks. However, the command center does have significant capabilities that would, presumably, be of much use under such a crisis. Stratcom is the military command responsible for the readiness of America’s nuclear forces. (Arkin 2005, pp. 59) The Lincoln Journal Star describes its underground command center as “a military nerve center that collects and assesses information from high-tech ‘eyes and ears’ across—and above—the globe.” (Walton 10/25/2000) The cavernous room has eight giant video screens and complex communications systems. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) Stratcom itself states that the senior controller in the command center “has a direct line to the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC, and to the other major command headquarters.” This system, called the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, allows the commander in chief of Stratcom to make “prompt contact with the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other unified commanders.” Furthermore, “Through satellites and radio networks (VLF, LF, UHF and HF), the command center can communicate with aircraft in flight over any part of the world. A principal purpose of these networks is to pass National Command Authority [i.e. the president and secretary of defense] orders to the alert forces.” While only the president can order nuclear strikes, the commander in chief of Stratcom “can launch aircraft for survival.” (United States Strategic Command 6/22/2001) With the command center’s sophisticated capabilities, after Mies returns to it from his breakfast, the eight video screens there are “loaded up with data,” providing him with “the latest information on the unfolding drama.” (Dejka 2/27/2002) And at the time President Bush arrives at Offutt, later in the day (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the battle staff in the center will reportedly be “watching the skies over the United States” and “tracking a commercial airliner on its way from Spain to the United States.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002)

Personnel and aircraft at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana are participating in the annual US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) when the first crash at the World Trade Center is reported on television. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; Villafuerte 9/8/2002)
Nuclear Weapons Are Being Loaded onto Bombers - Global Guardian is based around the scenario of a rogue nation attacking the United States with nuclear weapons. At Barksdale, according to journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, air crews taking part in the exercise have been “pulling nuclear bombs and missiles out of their heavily guarded storage sites and loading them aboard B-52s” this morning. Real, live nuclear weapons are being used, but “their triggers [are] not armed.” (Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 22) “We were in the midst of this big annual exercise called Global Guardian. They loaded all the bombers, put the submarines out to sea, put the [intercontinental ballistic missiles] at nearly 100 percent,” Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, will later recall. “It was routine, you did it every year,” he will add. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Officers Realize America's Security Is at Risk - Colonel Mike Reese, director of staff for the 8th Air Force, is monitoring several television screens at the base as part of the exercise when he sees CNN cut into coverage of the first crash at the WTC, two minutes after it happens (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will see the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will recall that at this point: “[W]e knew it wasn’t a mistake. Something grave was happening that put the nation’s security at risk.”
Exercise Participants Switch to Defending the Base - The New Orleans Times-Picayune will describe how awareness of the real attacks impacts those participating in the exercise, stating: “Immediately their focus turned to defense, securing Barksdale, Minot [North Dakota], and Whiteman [Missouri] air force bases, where dozens of aircraft and hundreds of personnel were involved in the readiness exercise ‘Global Guardian.’ The exercise abruptly ended as the United States appeared to be at war within its own borders.” (Villafuerte 9/8/2002)
Air Force Becomes Concerned about a Plane Being Crashed into the B-52s - The Air Force will be particularly concerned that terrorists might try to crash a hijacked plane into the B-52s with nuclear weapons on board that are on the tarmac at Barksdale. Although an attack of this kind would not set off a nuclear blast, it could cause a large explosion. “You would destroy half of Bossier City, Louisiana, with the explosions,” Al Buckles, Stratcom’s deputy director for operations, will comment. He will add: “That would have been a way to really cripple us. All these nuclear weapons were exposed.” (Liewer 9/9/2016) Four A-10s, aircraft not designed for air-to-air combat, from Barksdale’s 47th Fighter Squadron, will be placed on “cockpit alert,” the highest state of readiness for fighter pilots. “Within five minutes,” according to the Times-Picayune, “the A-10s, equipped only with high-intensity cannons, could have been launched to destroy unfriendly aircraft, even if it was a civilian passenger airliner.” Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Walker, commander of the 47th Fighter Squadron, and a novice pilot still in training will be sitting in their jets, ready to take off, when they are ordered back to the squadron office. They will be told they are no longer practicing. Walker will recall: “We had to defend the base against any aircraft, airliner, or civilian. We had no idea. Would it fly to the base and crash into the B-52s or A-10s on the flight line?” (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) When Air Force One with President Bush on board takes off from Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), it will initially have no fixed destination. But after a short time, it will begin heading toward Barksdale Air Force Base and land there at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325)

Admiral Richard Mies.
Admiral Richard Mies. [Source: Public domain]Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. (Arkin 11/12/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; BBC 9/1/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file)
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file; BBC 9/1/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

Thomas Keck.Thomas Keck. [Source: US Air Force]When Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, is told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, he mistakenly thinks this is a simulated scenario as part of a training exercise. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002, pp. 40 pdf file; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Barksdale is one of a number of Air Force bases where aircraft and personnel are currently participating in the exercise Global Guardian (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) This annual exercise is run by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) and aims to test the command’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Arkin 11/1/1997; Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005)
Keck Thinks Crash Is a 'Scenario Injection' - Keck is sitting in a windowless command center at Barksdale, monitoring the base’s participation in Global Guardian. Ground crews are practicing getting a fleet of B-52 bombers fueled, armed, and ready to get airborne for bombing runs. Keck watches on a monitor as, at exactly 9:00 a.m., an alarm sounds across the base and the crews rush to their planes. Then a younger officer taps him on the shoulder and tells him, “Sir, we just had an aircraft hit the World Trade Center.” Keck mistakenly thinks the officer is describing a simulated crisis that is being included in the exercise. He says: “That’s not the way you interject a situation into a training exercise! When you have a scenario injection, you say, ‘Sir, this is an exercise input,’ and then you give me the information.” But the younger officer replies, “No, sir,” and points at a television showing CNN, which is broadcasting live coverage of the burning WTC in New York.
Keck Thinks First Crash Is an Accident - Keck’s initial thought upon seeing the TV coverage is reportedly, “How could such a terrible accident happen?” It is only when Keck sees the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that he will realize the US is under attack. He then yells to his staff, “Lock it down,” thereby signaling that the exercise is over. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) (However, according to an article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Stratcom will put Global Guardian on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but only terminate the exercise at 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file) ) After seeing the second crash, Keck will leave the command center from where he has been monitoring the exercise and go to the 8th Air Force battle staff, to be briefed on reports coming from Air Force headquarters about the ongoing terrorist attacks. He will later on accompany President Bush while he is at Barksdale, after landing there on Air Force One at about 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)

Mark McLaughlin.Mark McLaughlin. [Source: Kingsville Record]Crew members on an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, learn that the US is under attack, but some of them initially think what they are being told about is a simulated scenario in a training exercise they are participating in. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747 that is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment and can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. (Federation of American Scientists 4/23/2000; Gaffney 9/12/2001; Verton 2003, pp. 143) The E-4B on the ground at Andrews is currently involved in a major training exercise. “We were one of many commands practicing a global war-gaming and communication exercise called Global Guardian. My aircraft was one of three brought to full alert status for the exercise,” Mark McLaughlin will later recall. McLaughlin has, today, been assigned to Operations Team One as the Single Integrated Operational Plan adviser to the National Command Authority—the president and the secretary of defense. “My job was to be the expert on nuclear war plans and give all the VIP briefs,” he will say. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) “Global Guardian,” which he refers to, is an annual exercise that tests the ability of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Harris 9/2011)
Plane Is Tasked with Picking Up Former National Security Adviser - As well as its involvement in the exercise, the E-4B, according to McLaughlin, has a “secondary mission” today, which is to fly to Washington and pick up former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been “appointed by President Bush to analyze the nation’s nuclear arsenal and strategic plans.” While the plane was flying into Andrews Air Force Base, McLaughlin will recall, those on board “heard over one of the many communications nets that an airplane had crashed into a tower at the World Trade Center.” However, he will comment, “It never dawned on us at that moment that a terrorist attack was under way.”
Briefing Is Disrupted as Crew Members Learn about Attacks - McLaughlin learns that the nation is indeed under attack after his plane has landed at the base, and Scowcroft and his traveling party have boarded. While he is briefing the former national security adviser about nuclear weapons and the nation’s nuclear war-fighting plans, McLaughlin notices a commotion in the battle staff space, a compartment behind the briefing area that houses the operations team. The agitated behavior of the operations team members, according to McLaughlin, “is unheard of and not allowed when a VIP is on board, especially receiving a briefing.” McLaughlin’s assistant, who is working at the computer behind McLaughlin, then slips a note into McLaughlin’s hand. McLaughlin reads the note, which states simply: “Captain. Battle staff. Now.” He therefore tells Captain Joseph Gershon, the NAOC commanding officer, that his presence has been requested immediately in the battle staff area, and Gershon then heads there. Although McLaughlin realizes from the commotion going on that “something big [is] happening,” he continues the briefing.
Captain Interrupts Briefing and Says the Nation Is under Attack - During such high-level briefings, it is protocol that if you have to leave the room, you never return until the briefing is over. But Gershon returns and interrupts the briefing. He tells Scowcroft, “It appears that the country is under attack, sir.” According to McLaughlin, many of the people on the plane think at this time that what is being reported is a simulated scenario, as part of the exercise they are participating in. “Adding to the confusion was that we were in a global exercise and many of us thought it was part of the exercise injects,” he will comment. But he will say that “during the next few minutes, everyone began to fully comprehend that [the US was] under attack.” It also becomes “very apparent,” according to McLaughlin, “that our aircraft had to get airborne for safety reasons.” (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file)
Plane Heads to Base in Nebraska - The E-4B, which has the call sign “Word 31,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will also take off from Andrews this morning, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206) McLaughlin’s plane will land later on at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, so Scowcroft and his staff can get off. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) The original plan for today, according to the Omaha World-Herald, had been for the plane to take Scowcroft and his staff to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise. (Dejka 2/27/2002) But after reaching the base, McLaughlin’s team’s mission will be to remain in the air, and so the E-4B will subsequently take off from Offutt and resume its airborne operations. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file)

NEADS commander Robert Marr.NEADS commander Robert Marr. [Source: Dick Blume]Numerous reports incorrectly claiming that aircraft have been hijacked are received while the terrorist attacks are taking place and into the afternoon. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Baker 3/31/2005; Graff 9/9/2016) There are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28) At around 9:09 a.m., the FAA Command Center reports that 11 aircraft are either not communicating with FAA facilities or flying unexpected routes. (Scott 6/3/2002) Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will later claim that during the “four-hour ordeal” of the attacks, a total of 21 planes are identified as possible hijackings. (Filson 2002; Code One Magazine 1/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 71) Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will say, “At one time I was told that across the nation there were some 29 different reports of hijackings.” (Baker 3/31/2005) Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson, who travels with President Bush on Air Force One after it leaves Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), will recall that by the time the plane reaches Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), “there were like 15 to 20 planes still unaccounted for” nationwide. “For everything we knew, they were all hijacked,” he will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Officials will claim that these false reports cause considerable confusion. Arnold will recall that particularly during the time between the Pentagon being hit at, 9:37 a.m., and Flight 93 going down, at around 10:03 a.m., “a number of aircraft are being called possibly hijacked.… There was a lot of confusion, as you can imagine.” (Filson 2003, pp. 71-73) He will say: “We were receiving many reports of hijacked aircraft. When we received those calls, we might not know from where the aircraft had departed. We also didn’t know the location of the airplane.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002) Marr will comment: “There were a number of false reports out there. What was valid? What was a guess? We just didn’t know.” (Filson 2003, pp. 73) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who is in the Pentagon during the attacks and for most of the rest of the day, will recall: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.” (CNN 6/17/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 215-231)

The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) orders that its Global Guardian exercise be put on pause at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file) Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by Stratcom, which has its headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The 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) Many aircraft and personnel at Barksdale, as well as other military bases, are involved in it (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) Global Guardian will be formally terminated at 10:44 a.m., according to The Bombardier (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other reports will say it is canceled earlier on, possibly after the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

Brent Scowcroft.Brent Scowcroft. [Source: Publicity photo]An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC. The E-4B is a militarized version of a Boeing 747. Its purpose is to provide the president, vice president, and Joint Chiefs of Staff with an airborne command center that could be used to execute war plans and coordinate government operations during a national emergency. The E-4B taking off from Andrews, which has the call sign “Word 31,” is carrying civilian and military officials, and is launched in order to participate in a previously scheduled military exercise, according to journalist and author Dan Verton. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Verton 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; NET Nebraska 9/2/2011) This exercise would be Global Guardian, which is being conducted by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to test its ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Two other E-4Bs are also participating in Global Guardian today (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002)
Plane Ends Participation in Exercise after Taking Off - The E-4B taking off from Andrews Air Force Base is supposed to be using and testing its sophisticated technology and communications equipment for the exercise. It has “only just taken off” at the time the Pentagon is hit—9:37 a.m.—according to Verton. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) But the flight tracking strip from Andrews will record it as having taken off at 9:27 a.m., 10 minutes before the Pentagon is hit. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) The crew will later be informed that after the plane launches, it flies “right over the top of the aircraft that eventually impacted the Pentagon.” (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) After taking off, the E-4B is “immediately ordered to cease the military exercise it was conducting and prepare to become the actual National Airborne Operations Center,” Verton will write. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) (Global Guardian was reportedly put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it is not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file) ) The plane then converts “on the fly from exercise status to real-world crisis management.” (Verton 2003, pp. 150)
Plane Flies Former National Security Adviser to Base in Nebraska - Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and his staff are on the E-4B, which will fly them to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) The original plan had been for the aircraft to take them to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise today. (Dejka 2/27/2002) After reaching the base, the E-4B will take off again and resume its airborne operations. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) Minutes after the Pentagon is attacked, an unidentified four-engine jet plane will be seen circling above the White House (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CNN will suggest this is an E-4B, so it is possible it is “Word 31.” (CNN 9/12/2007) Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206)

According to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, around this time the acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers speaks to him via video link (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). During their conversation, Myers mentions, “We are in the middle of Vigilant Warrior, a NORAD exercise.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 5) However, no other references have been found to this exercise, “Vigilant Warrior.” Considering that exercise terms are “normally an unclassified nickname,” (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 4/23/1998 pdf file) this is perhaps a little odd. Could Richard Clarke have mistakenly been referring to the Vigilant Guardian exercise (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which is taking place on 9/11? According to a later news report though, NORAD confirms that “it was running two mock drills on Sept. 11 at various radar sites and Command Centers in the United States and Canada,” one of these being Vigilant Guardian. (Kelly 12/5/2003) If this is correct then there must be another NORAD exercise on 9/11. If not “Vigilant Warrior,” a possibility is that the exercise referred to by Richard Clarke is in fact “Amalgam Warrior,” which is a NORAD-sponsored, large-scale, live-fly air defense and air intercept field training exercise. Amalgam Warrior usually involves two or more NORAD regions and is held twice yearly, in the spring for the West Coast and in the autumn for the East Coast. (US Congress n.d.; McKenna 1/1996; Arkin 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Is it possible that in 2001 the East Coast Amalgam Warrior is being held earlier than usual (like Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001)) and is taking place on 9/11? In support of this possibility is a 1997 Defense Department report that describes the Stratcom exercise Global Guardian, saying it “links with other exercise activities sponsored by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Unified Commands.” The exercises it links with are Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and—significantly—the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Since in 2001, Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) is occurring the same time as Global Guardian, might Amalgam Warrior be as well? In his book Code Names, William Arkin says that Amalgam Warrior is “sometimes combined with Global Guardian.” (Arkin 2005, pp. 254) Amalgam Warrior tests such activities as tracking, surveillance, air interception, employing rules of engagement, attack assessment, electronic warfare, and counter-cruise-missile operations. A previous Amalgam Warrior in 1996 involved such situations as tracking unknown aircraft that had incorrectly filed their flight plans or wandered off course, in-flight emergencies, terrorist aircraft attacks, and large-scale bomber strike missions. Amalgam Warrior 98-1 was NORAD’s largest ever exercise and involved six B-1B bombers being deployed to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to act as an enemy threat by infiltrating the aerial borders of North America. (McKenna 1/1996; Arkin 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Another Amalgam Warrior in fall 2000 similarly involved four B-1 bombers acting as enemy forces trying to invade Alaska, with NORAD going from tracking the unknown aircraft to sending up “alert” F-15s in response. (Price 10/27/2000; Associated Press 10/29/2000) If either one (or both) of these exercises ending with the name “Warrior” is taking place on 9/11, this could be very significant, because the word “Warrior” indicates that the exercise is a Joint Chiefs of Staff-approved, Commander in Chief, NORAD-sponsored field training exercise. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 8/25/1989) Real planes would be pretending to be threats to the US and real fighters would be deployed to defend against them.

Minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center plane takes off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, bound for an undisclosed location. E-4Bs are highly modified Boeing 747s, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, that act as flying military command posts. Nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War, they serve the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They can also support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during major disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes. Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for these special planes. The US military possesses four of them in total, one of which is constantly kept on alert. (Federation of American Scientists 4/23/2000; Gaffney 9/12/2001) Three of the E-4Bs are airborne this morning, due to their role in a pre-scheduled military exercise called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001, (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002) The E-4B from Wright-Patterson will return to the base later in the day. (Gaffney 9/12/2001)

An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, with the call sign “Venus 77,” takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, in response to the attack on the Pentagon. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206) The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, which can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. The US military has four of these planes. (Federation of American Scientists 4/23/2000; Gaffney 9/12/2001; Verton 2003, pp. 143) Venus 77 takes off at 9:43 a.m., according to John Farmer, who will be senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. (Farmer 2009, pp. 206) But the flight tracking strip from Andrews Air Force Base will record it as having taken off at 9:45 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) The plane is initially directed toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. But shortly after taking off, its pilot tells air traffic control that he wants to fly to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. (Farmer 2009, pp. 206) Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for the E-4B. Another E-4B has actually been on the ground there and takes off around this time (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Gaffney 9/12/2001) The pilot of Venus 77 is cleared to head to Wright-Patterson and so he turns west. But he then says he wants to turn back east and hold south of Washington. He will be cleared to do so at 9:47 a.m. and his plane will eventually settle into a holding pattern over Richmond, Virginia. (Farmer 2009, pp. 206-207) Farmer will claim that Venus 77 is the “mystery plane”—an unidentified white aircraft—seen over Washington around this time (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Farmer 2009, pp. 372) However, that plane was reported to be “circling the White House” at 9:41 a.m., before Venus 77 takes off. (ABC News 9/11/2001) Another E-4B, with the call sign “Word 31,” took off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so that aircraft might be the “mystery plane” seen flying over Washington. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Verton 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004)

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)

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)

Will Chandler.Will Chandler. [Source: National Geographic]Vice President Dick Cheney phones President Bush and tells him the White House has received a credible threat against Air Force One. (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; Kohn 9/11/2002) The White House has just received an anonymous phone call in which the caller said the president’s plane would be the next terrorist target (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) The caller referred to the plane as “Angel,” which is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. (Fleischer 2005, pp. 141-142) Details of the call were passed on to government officials, including Cheney, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Cheney 11/19/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Cheney Tells Bush about a 'Credible' Threat - Cheney now tells Bush: “We’re getting reports of a threat against you. It appears credible,” Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is with Cheney in the PEOC, will later recall. Cheney says, “We’re scrambling fighter escorts and the Secret Service is taking internal precautions on board Air Force One.” (Darling 2010, pp. 61) Bush turns to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, his military aide, and passes on the news, saying, “A call came into the White House switchboard saying, ‘Angel is next.’” Bush then continues talking with Cheney and says, “We’re at war, Dick, and we’re going to find out who did this and we’re going to kick their ass.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 107; Fleischer 2005, pp. 141-142)
Pilot Is Told of the Threat and Asks for a Guard at the Cockpit Door - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is told about the threat. (Kohn 9/11/2002) Noting that “Angel” is “a classified call sign of Air Force One,” Tillman will comment that “the only people that knew that call sign was us, [the] Secret Service, and the staff.” Therefore, he will say, “for somebody [to] call into the White House and say that Angel was next, that was just incredible.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) “It was serious before that, but now… no longer is it a time to get the president home,” Tillman will comment. “We actually have to consider everything we say. Everything we do could be intercepted and we have to make sure that no one knows what our position is.” Tillman asks to have an armed guard at his cockpit door. Will Chandler, the chief of security, is therefore summoned to the front of the plane and stands watch at the base of the stairs leading to the cockpit. No one is then allowed up these stairs. Secret Service agents double-check the identity of everyone on the plane, while the crew reviews the emergency evacuation plan. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
Threat Influences the Decision to Fly to Nebraska - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is on Air Force One with Bush, will say the threat against the president’s plane is what leads to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and is also one of the reasons why Bush does not head back to Washington, DC, right away. (White House 9/12/2001) However, during the afternoon, the Secret Service will determine that the reported threat was unfounded. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) Shortly after Bush learns about the threat, Tillman will be informed that an aircraft that may have been hijacked is heading toward Air Force One (see (10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Knoller 1/17/2009) White House chief of staff Andrew Card will say he in fact learned a threat had been made against Air Force One almost an hour earlier, while he was being driven with Bush to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Card 8/12/2002; Card 8/16/2002; Card 8/16/2002)

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 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)

Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 pdf file; BBC 9/1/2002)
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Fleischer 2005, pp. 145-146) Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Ross 9/12/2001)
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. (Sammon 2002, pp. 117-118) After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19) Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133) The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 119; Woodward 2002, pp. 19, 26) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004)

An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing.An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press 12/30/2007) The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006)
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. (Filson 2003, pp. 87) When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. (Cousins 7/9/2005; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, who is responsible for today’s attacks on the US and Morell says he is sure al-Qaeda is to blame. About 15 minutes after Air Force One left Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), White House chief of staff Andrew Card enters the staff section of the plane, where Morell is seated, and tells Morell that the president wants to see him. Morell goes to Bush’s office, where he then sits alone with the president and Card.
CIA Briefer Says He'd Bet Al-Qaeda Was behind the Attacks - Bush wants to know who Morell thinks is responsible for today’s attacks. “Michael, who did this?” he asks. Morell explains that he doesn’t have any intelligence indicating who is to blame, so he will simply provide his personal opinion. “I said that there were two countries capable of carrying out an attack like this, Iran and Iraq, but I believed both would have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the attack,” he will later recall. The culprit was almost certainly a non-state actor, he says, adding that he has no doubt that the trail of evidence will lead to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “I’d bet my children’s future on that,” he says.
Briefer Is Unsure How Long It Will Take to Determine Who Is Responsible - “When will we know?” Bush asks. Morell replies, “I can’t say for sure,” and then goes over some recent terrorist attacks and says how long it took the CIA to determine, with any certainty, who was responsible. He says that in the case of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it took a couple of days; with the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 (see October 12, 2000), it took a couple of months; but with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), it had taken over a year. He says the CIA may know soon who is to blame for today’s attacks, but then again it might take some time. Bush says nothing in response once Morell has finished giving his views on who is responsible for today’s attacks and the men sit in silence for a while. Finally, Morell asks, “Is there anything else, Mr. President?” and Bush replies, “No, Michael, thank you.” Morell then returns to his seat in the staff section of the plane. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 55-56; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush will learn that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to today’s attacks later this afternoon, after Air Force One lands at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). During a video teleconference, CIA Director George Tenet will tell him that early signs indicate the terrorist group is behind the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Bowden 2012, pp. 17-18)

The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker.The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker. [Source: CBC]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) Offutt is the home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Hansen 9/6/2011) The large base is one of the most heavily defended in the US. (Langley 12/16/2001) Personnel there were told earlier in the day that the president might come to Offutt during the crisis but they only received confirmation that he would be landing at the base about 20 to 30 minutes ago. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Liewer 9/9/2016) They have, however, taken the initiative to start preparing for his arrival. “There were pretty wide-scale preparations going on anticipating that the president might come, without knowing for sure, even before we got notice that he was coming,” Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, will later recall. “We’d started to evacuate the main quarters that could be used for VIPs and install some of the protection there that’d be needed in case [Bush] needed to spend the night,” Mies will say. (Kelly 12/27/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) Journalists on Air Force One were not told they would be landing at Offutt. However, they learned what was happening when they saw a local television channel showing the plane arriving at the base (see (2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 198; Sammon 2002, pp. 120-121; Sylvester and Huffman 2002, pp. 138) Bush will get off the plane about 10 minutes after it lands and then be taken to an underground command center (see (3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89) He will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference while he is at the base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) Personnel at Offutt were the middle of a major training exercise called Global Guardian when America came under attack this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), although the exercise has now been canceled (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 9/8/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 22)

President Bush gets off Air Force One and is taken to a command center several stories underground at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89) At 2:50 p.m., the president’s plane landed at Offutt, home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) About 10 minutes later, Bush emerges from the plane. (Tapper 9/12/2001) Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, along with a driver and a Secret Service agent, has come in a car to meet Air Force One on the runway. After getting off the plane, Bush gets into the back of the car with Mies. (Sammon 2002, pp. 121; Kelly 12/27/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) His staffers, meanwhile, get onto buses. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file) The vehicles are driven away from the plane and across the large base. (Sammon 2002, pp. 121)
Bush Goes to the Underground Command Center - Bush and his staffers are then taken to Stratcom’s underground command center. (Kohn 9/2/2003) They are taken by Mies through the center’s fire escape in order to reach it. (Kelly 12/27/2011; Liewer 9/9/2016) They are driven to a small, concrete building, resembling a hut, go through a door in it, and then head down a staircase. (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 147-148) “We went down and down and down, pretty far underground,” Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, will later recall. (Graff 9/9/2016) “It’s a long way down,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will describe, “and then you emerge and go through a series of hallways and special doors, blast doors… and then you enter into a conference center, which is… several stories underground.” (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Exercise Means Extra People Are in the Command Center - The command center, according to author James Bamford, is “a cavernous two-story war room with banks of dark wooden desks curved away from a giant projection screen on which [is] displayed the status of military forces around the world.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 89) Eight giant video screens are loaded with data and numerous military personnel are seated at computer terminals that are hooked into satellites monitoring activities around the world. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) Stratcom was in the middle of a major training exercise, called Global Guardian, when the attacks began this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and consequently many more people are in the command center than would normally be there.
Bush Is Briefed on the Attacks - When Bush enters, Rear Admiral Jay Donnelly, the operations officer in the center, announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president.” Everyone comes to attention. Bush then tells them to sit down. Mies gives Bush a briefing in the command center. “The president sat down and I briefed him on what each of [the] screens was displaying,” he will recall, adding, “Gave him, as best I could, an update from [Stratcom’s] perspective of what was happening based on what we knew.” (Dejka 9/8/2002; Kelly 12/27/2011) After being briefed, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, will be taken to a teleconference center. (Kohn 9/2/2003; Rove 2010, pp. 261) There, Bush will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Kelly 12/27/2011)

President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left. [Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Rice 10/24/2001) It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002 pdf file) NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002 pdf file)
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” (Libby 11/14/2001) However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88) Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” (Libby 11/14/2001) Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Baker 3/31/2005) The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. (Code One Magazine 1/2002)

Brian Stafford.Brian Stafford. [Source: Publicity photo]President Bush reportedly had begun his video conference call with the National Security Council (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001) by announcing, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 21) Toward the end of this meeting, around 4 p.m., Secret Service Director Brian Stafford tells Bush, “Our position is stay where you are. It’s not safe.” The Secret Service reportedly wants to keep the president where he is, at Offutt Air Force Base, overnight, and—according to some later accounts—indefinitely. To Stafford’s surprise, Bush ignores his advice and tells him, “I’m coming back.” Leaving the meeting, Bush tells his staff, “We’re going home.” (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 123; Woodward 2002, pp. 28) Bush adviser Karl Rove later claims that, around this time, there are concerns that several planes still remain unaccounted for (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Fighter pilots who have been escorting Air Force One as it transports President Bush across the US are not informed that the president’s plane is departing Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and have to try and catch up with it after they hear it taking off. The pilots belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. Four F-16s from the wing have been escorting Air Force One since before it landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Pilots Told They Would Be Called When Air Force One Is Leaving - After Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the F-16s landed there as well. The fighter pilots then met with Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One. Tillman asked them about the capabilities of the F-16. He also took down their cell phone numbers and said he would call them when Air Force One would be leaving the base. However, he was unable to tell them where Air Force One would be going next, so the fighter pilots could not file a flight plan. The fighter pilots then headed off to get a snack and a drink.
Air Force One Takes Off, Pilots Not Informed - However, they are not informed when Air Force One, with Bush on board, takes off from Offutt (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). One of the fighter pilots, Major Shane Brotherton, will later recall: “We were eating our snacks and heard jet noise. It was Air Force One and they’d never called us. We got to the jets and he’s taxiing fast and never stopped. Now we’re taxiing fast and we blast off.” By the time the fighters are airborne, Air Force One is 100 miles ahead of them. Some Iowa Air National Guard fighters from Sioux City are also now airborne to protect the president’s plane, but the 147th Fighter Wing jets continue to follow it. Brotherton will recall: “All across the country we were playing catch up, because [Air Force One] was moving. And we didn’t catch up until we were nearing Washington.” (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88)

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

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

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

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


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