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Context of '(Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Congressional Leaders Return to Washington from Secure Bunker'

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Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

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

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

Entity Tags: Dennis Hastert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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

Entity Tags: Al Lenhardt, Robert Lee Stump, US Capitol Police, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who is third in line for the presidency, is evacuated from the US Capitol building and flown to a secret underground bunker in Virginia, where he remains until late in the afternoon. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] Around 9:48, the Capitol building had begun evacuating (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). At that time, Hastert was on the House floor. Two members of his security detail now enter the chamber and tell him, “We’re going to evacuate the Capitol, and you’re going to a secure location.” They take him out of the building and drive him hurriedly to Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles southeast of Washington. After he arrives there, Hastert is finally able to communicate with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Hastert had been trying to contact Cheney earlier on, but without success (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001.) Cheney tells Hastert: “There’s a real danger. I want you to go to a secure location.” [Hastert, 2004, pp. 8-9] Hastert gets on a helicopter and is flown to the secret underground bunker at Mount Weather in Bluemont, Virginia, 48 miles outside Washington—about 20 minutes journey by air. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 81] In the following hours, other top members of the House and Senate leaderships will join him there (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/11/2001; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Hastert remains at the secure facility for several hours, and will return to Washington late in the afternoon (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002] Hastert’s evacuation to Mount Weather is the result of “Continuity of Government” (COG) orders, which provide for evacuating the third and fourth in the line of presidential succession during a national emergency, in order to protect the nation’s constitutional leadership. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Dennis Hastert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

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

After the US Capitol building in Washington is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), many members of Congress go to the nearby Capitol Police headquarters for safety, but others head elsewhere and some go home. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 111-112] Although the Capitol began evacuating around 9:48, no one has instructions on where to go. “Rank-and-file lawmakers didn’t have guidance from their leaders or from Capitol Police.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Many of them therefore remain in the vicinity of the Capitol building. [New York Times, 9/12/2001] Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) is quickly driven away by his security detail after being evacuated from the Capitol. However, according to Daschle, the contingency plan for emergencies “directed us to convene at the Hart Senate Building, right next to the Capitol. But that was considered unsafe in this situation.” Therefore, “Some members of Congress who lived in the area decided to simply go home.” Others convene at the 116 Club, a restaurant on Capitol Hill. “The remaining senators were finally directed to the Capitol Police headquarters a block and a half away, where it was decided members of Congress would be safest. That became Congress’s central command center for the rest of the day” (see (10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). However, while Daschle and some others are taken there early on (Daschle will recall being at the headquarters when the first World Trade Center tower collapses at 9:59), many others do not go there until later. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 111-112] Deputy Chief James Rohan of the Capitol Police keeps hearing complaints from his officers nearby the Capitol building, saying: “I’ve got all these congressmen wandering around here. What do you want me to do with them?” According to CNN, “the police assumed that those who weren’t in the [Congressional] leadership… would go home, but of course they didn’t.” Therefore, they are eventually brought to the Capitol Police headquarters as well. Several hundred members of Congress go to the headquarters during the day. [CNN, 9/11/2002] Around late morning or early afternoon, Congressional leaders leave there and are flown to a secure bunker outside Washington (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Many other members of Congress remain at the headquarters throughout the afternoon. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: US Capitol Police, Tom Daschle, James Rohan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of Congress who are assembled at the headquarters of the Capitol Police in Washington, DC receive regular briefings from police officers, but these reveal little more than what is being reported in the news. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] After being evacuated from the Capitol building, many members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, located a block and a half away (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 110-112] Throughout the day, several hundred of them go there, though some Congressional leaders are moved to a secure bunker outside Washington around late morning or early afternoon (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), the police headquarters becomes “Congress’s central command center for the rest of the day.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] But, CNN will report, “In a place where power means knowing things, nobody knew very much.” Deputy Chief James Rohan of the Capitol Police later describes, “There was somebody [at the headquarters] had brought out a little four inch black and white TV with just an antenna stick on it, plugged it in, and they were getting all their information from the networks from this tiny little TV.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] The Senate and House members at the headquarters receive hourly briefings from Capitol Police officers. But, according to the Washington Post, “lawmakers privately described the sessions as ‘rudimentary,’ offering few details beyond published reports.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] According to Daschle, who is among those moved to the secure bunker outside Washington, members of Congress who remain at the police headquarters spend the day “crammed into several conference rooms and offices, working the telephones and watching the TV monitors for developing news,” though he gives no specific details of what they do. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Late in the afternoon, about 50 of them speak by phone with the Congressional leaders at the secure bunker (see (5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and during the evening, many of them will join the leaders on the steps of the Capitol building for a press conference (see 7:24 p.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Capitol Police (Washington, DC), James Rohan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mount Weather.Mount Weather. [Source: Department of Homeland Security]Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; ABC News, 9/15/2002] The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 114] The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. [Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter, 3/2002] Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 80-81] The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). [United Press International, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002; Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Harry Reid, David Bonior, Mount Weather, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Tom Daschle, Don Nickles, Trent Lott

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

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

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Philip Perry, US Secret Service, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Don Nickles.Don Nickles. [Source: Publicity photo]Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002]
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115-116]
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Trent Lott, Don Nickles

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

Trent Lott.Trent Lott. [Source: Publicity photo]Despite having been instructed by Vice President Dick Cheney to remain where they are, Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker outside Washington decide to return to the capital and are then flown back there. [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 222] A number of members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who is among this group: “We all felt anxious and frustrated, feeling responsible as Congressional leaders to both communicate and take action, but unable to do either. We talked among ourselves of our concern for our loved ones back in Washington and our need to be with them as soon as possible.” In particular, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) begins “pressing the people around him—his own security detail and the facility’s personnel—about his strong desire to get back to Washington.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115] However, during a teleconference, Vice President Cheney told the leaders they could not leave Mount Weather (see (Between 2:50 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Lott will recall that, in spite of this, he makes the decision to go back to Washington and arranges for this to happen: “I’d finally had enough. I told my ground security to leave for the Capitol, and now—‘because I’m not spending the night here.’ I had this decision radioed back to the vice president’s people, and the others pulling the strings. They finally relented and arranged to have us ferried back to the Capitol by helicopter.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 222] But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will say he in fact is responsible for making this decision, and that he then tells his colleagues: “Hey, it’s up to us. We need to stand together, go back to Washington and show people that we are standing together.” The leaders are flown back to Washington at around 6:00 p.m. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Mount Weather

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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