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Context of '(3:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: White House Personnel and Reporters Removed from Air Force One Flown Back to Washington'

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

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

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

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

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, 147th Fighter Wing, Randy Roberts, Mark Tillman, Shane Brotherton, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Barksdale Air Force Base—the home of the B-52 bomber—near Shreveport, Louisiana. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; BBC, 9/1/2002] The president’s plane was escorted by fighter jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard as it came in to land (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bush, 2010, pp. 132] Two of those fighters now land at Barksdale with Air Force One while the other two remain airborne, flying a combat air patrol over Shreveport and Bossier City. Aircraft and personnel at Barksdale were participating in the major training exercise Global Guardian this morning, before the terrorist attacks began (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), and after touching down, Air Force One taxies past 40 fully loaded B-52s. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Draper, 2007, pp. 141] Air Force personnel dressed in full combat gear and brandishing M-16s then set up a perimeter around the plane. [Time, 9/14/2001] Bush initially remains on board, gathering more intelligence. There is no mobile gangway on the tarmac and so he is unable to get off through his usual door in the top half of Air Force One. Instead, the flight crew opens a hatch near the belly of the plane and lowers a set of retractable stairs while Bush continues working the phones. The president finally gets off the plane just before noon and is then escorted away from it amid tight security (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 111-112] The Daily Telegraph will later comment, “The official reason for landing at Barksdale was that Mr. Bush felt it necessary to make a further statement (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that—as there was no agreement as to what the president’s movements should be—it was felt he might as well be on the ground as in the air.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Bush will remain at Barksdale Air Force Base for almost two hours before taking off again on Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 147th Fighter Wing, George W. Bush, Barksdale Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush spends time arguing with his colleagues about where he should go next while he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and is advised to stay away from Washington, DC. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, about 25 minutes later, Bush was taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at the base (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] The media are now asking about his whereabouts and why he has not returned to Washington. Bush is in fact keen to return to the capital. “I was worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged,” he will later write. “The American people needed to see their president in Washington,” he will comment.
Bush Is Advised to Stay Away from Washington - While he is at the base, Bush debates whether he should return to Washington with the Secret Service and Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 133] These people advise him against going back. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] “The Secret Service agents felt it was still too uncertain,” he will recall, adding: “Dick [Cheney] and [National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House] agreed. They recommended that I go to the Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. It had secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Meanwhile, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, spends time on the phone, seeking opinions from a number of trusted individuals. On the basis of these calls, he advises Bush that it would be reckless to return to Washington. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]
Secret Service Decides Where the President Goes - Despite Bush’s desire to return to the capital, the Secret Service has the power to determine where the president should go in a crisis, according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. “By federal law, the Secret Service has to protect the president,” he will say, adding: “The wishes of that person that day are secondary to what the law expects of us. Theoretically it’s not his call, it’s our call.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Bush therefore acquiesces and a few minutes before 1:00 p.m., according to the London Daily Telegraph, agrees to fly to Offutt Air Force Base rather than going back to Washington. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] “I resigned myself to delaying my return once again,” he will comment. [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Bush “fought with us tooth and nail all day to go back to Washington,” Wilkinson will say, but the Secret Service “basically refused to take him back.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Is Frustrated at Being Unable to Return to the White House - After returning to Air Force One, but before the plane takes off, Bush gets on the phone to Cheney again and expresses his increasing frustration at being unable to return to the capital. He tells the vice president: “I can assure you I’d like to come home now. Tonight would be great.” Then, at 1:25 p.m., he turns to Card and Edward Marinzel, the head of his Secret Service detail, and says: “I want to go back home ASAP. I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside of Washington.” But Marinzel tells him, “Our people say it’s too unsteady still.” Bush replies, “Cheney says it’s not safe yet, as well.” Card then advises, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 118-119] Air Force One will take off from Barksdale Air Force Base and head to Offutt Air Force Base at 1:37 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Dave Wilkinson, Edward Marinzel, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of President Bush’s staff decide to remove any nonessential passengers traveling with the president on Air Force One when it leaves Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and determine that they will leave behind some congressmen, numerous White House staffers, and most of the journalists that have been accompanying them. [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 118; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145; Rove, 2010, pp. 259]
Reporters Traveling with President Reduced to Five - While the president’s staffers are preparing to leave Barksdale, Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card pulls White House press secretary Ari Fleischer aside and tells him they need to reduce the number of people flying on the president’s plane. Usually, when the president flies, numerous personnel get to his destination ahead of him to prepare for his arrival, but at the present time, Bush’s support team is limited to those already on Air Force One. “Given the heightened sense of security,” Fleischer will later recall, “the Secret Service didn’t want the president to wait for the normal entourage to board the makeshift motorcade that would be assembled upon landing.” Card says the traveling White House staff is going to be reduced and the members of Congress on board will also be left behind at Barksdale, and he tells Fleischer to decrease the number of reporters flying with the president. Card wants the pool of reporters reduced from the current 13 to three, but agrees to Fleischer’s request to make it five. Fleischer decides the reporters that remain with them will be Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and soundman. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] White House assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe passes on the bad news to the reporters. While they are waiting on a bus to be driven back to Air Force One, he comes on board and tells them there will only be five seats on the president’s plane for the media. [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Reporters Angry at Being Left Behind - The reporters and nonessential personnel remaining at Barksdale Air Force Base will be standing on the tarmac and watching as Air Force One takes off from there, heading for its next destination (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 5/3/2011] Some of the reporters will be angry at being left behind. As the president and his entourage are approaching the plane, Reuters correspondent Steve Holland will shout out to Fleischer, “Ari, what about us?” Another angry reporter will call out, “Who’s in charge here, the military or the civilians?” [White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 146]
'Skeleton Crew' Remaining on Air Force One - As well as the eight reporters, others removed from the plane include Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Dan Miller (R-FL), Bush’s senior education adviser Sandy Kress, Bush’s personal aide Blake Gottesman, and several Secret Service agents. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001] Fleischer will recall that after the nonessential passengers have been left behind, those who continue on Air Force One are just “a skeleton crew.” [White House, 8/8/2002] Those remaining at Barksdale will be escorted to a building and stay there until another plane flies them from the base back to Washington, DC, later in the afternoon (see (3:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Adam Putnam, Andrew Card, Ann Compton, Steve Holland, US Secret Service, Gordon Johndroe, Sonya Ross, Blake Gottesman, Doug Mills, Barnett A. (“Sandy”) Kress, Dan Miller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 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. [American History, 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. [American History, 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). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 159th Fighter Wing, Randy Riccardi, Jeff Woelbling, Southeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 55-56; Politico Magazine, 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]

Entity Tags: Michael J. Morell, George W. Bush, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 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. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Boeing 757 takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to fly a group of reporters, congressmen, White House staffers, and Secret Service agents to Washington, DC. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 259; National Journal, 5/3/2011] The group consists of individuals considered nonessential passengers that had been traveling on Air Force One, whom members of President Bush’s staff decided to leave behind when the president’s plane departed from Barksdale (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It includes eight reporters, two congressmen, numerous White House staffers, and several Secret Service agents. After Air Force One took off from the base earlier in the afternoon to fly the president to his next destination (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), these individuals were escorted to a building, where they remained until the plane arrived for them. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145] Blake Gottesman, Bush’s personal assistant, who was among those left behind at Barksdale, was given the task of getting the group back to Washington. He has been able to commandeer a Boeing 757 from the Air Force’s Special Missions Fleet. [Rove, 2010, pp. 259] This plane was sent from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, to Barksdale. [Rochester Review, 9/2004] It is painted with the “United States of America” label, and has an office, a private cabin, and all-first class seats. It has in fact been used previously as Air Force One. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] About two hours after the president and his entourage left Barksdale, the plane takes off from the base with the group of former Air Force One passengers on board. [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165] It lands at Andrews Air Force Base around 5:00 p.m. [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; National Journal, 5/3/2011] Reuters correspondent Arshad Mohammed, who is on the plane, will later comment, “It’s sort of amazing that they got us back to DC that same day when planes were locked down all over the country.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Arshad Mohammed, Blake Gottesman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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