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Context of '7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Shelton Takes Off for NATO Meeting in Hungary'

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

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Carolyn Shelton, Richard B. Myers, Suzanne Giesemann, Henry Hugh Shelton, Mark Jones, Marshall McCants

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas White.Thomas White. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hosts a breakfast meeting in his private dining room at the Pentagon. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Larry King Live, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The meeting, which is attended by several members of Congress, is intended to discuss the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. As well as the secretary of defense, others in attendance include Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, Navy Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr.; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Pete Geren, a special assistant to Rumsfeld; and Representatives John Mica (R-FL), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), John Hostettler (R-IN), Kay Granger (R-TX), John Shimkus (R-IL), Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), and Christopher Cox (R-CA). [Powell Moore, 9/10/2001 pdf file; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 9/14/2001; Powell Moore, 9/19/2001 pdf file; Federal Computer Week, 3/31/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; US Department of Defense, 9/10/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who is at the meeting, appears to say it is also attended by numerous key military figures, later telling PBS: “Don Rumsfeld had a breakfast, and virtually every one of the senior officials of the Department of Defense—service chiefs, secretary, deputy, everybody, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And as that breakfast was breaking up, the first plane had hit the World Trade tower.” [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004; PBS, 10/26/2004] By “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” White presumably means Richard Myers, who is the acting chairman on this day, in place of Henry Shelton who is out of the country (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] During the course of the meeting Rumsfeld predicts that some kind of “shocking” world event will occur in the near future (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Most accounts suggest the meeting is adjourned soon after the time the first World Trade Center tower is hit, presumably around 8:50 a.m., though one report says it ends at about 9:00 a.m. Just prior to the meeting ending, Rumsfeld is handed a note informing him of the crash (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Giambastiani also sees this note. Whether the other people in attendance are notified of the crash at this time is unknown. [Larry King Live, 12/5/2001; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002; PBS, 10/26/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] White will later recall, “We all went on with the day’s business,” after leaving the meeting. White heads off to give a speech at the nearby Army Navy Country Club. [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004] Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Giambastiani return to their offices. [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] The members of Congress leave the building. [Washington Post, 1/9/2002] If Myers is at the meeting, as White appears to say, he must head promptly to Capitol Hill, as he enters another meeting in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) before the time when the second WTC tower is hit (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; American Forces Press Service, 10/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Christopher Cox, Doug Bereuter, Kay Granger, Donald Rumsfeld, John Hostettler, Edmund Giambastiani, Mac Thornberry, Pete Geren, Paul Wolfowitz, Thomas E. White, Roger Wicker, Mark Steven Kirk, Robin Hayes, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, John Shimkus, John Mica

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Lute.Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431]
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 23] According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file] The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Carolyn Shelton, Kris Cicio, Suzanne Giesemann, Henry Hugh Shelton, Rob Pedersen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks over the phone with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is at the Pentagon, and is given information about the Pentagon attack and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks. Shelton took off at 7:15 a.m. to fly to Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learned of the attacks in New York while his plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, and has just been told of a “big explosion at the Pentagon” (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
First Report Is of a Hand Grenade Going Off at Pentagon - Shelton heads to the communications console just behind the plane’s cockpit. From there, he talks over a secure, encrypted phone line with Myers, who is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. Myers updates Shelton on what is known about the explosion at the Pentagon. He says the first report is that a hand grenade went off in the Pentagon parking lot.
Myers Updates Shelton on Military Response to Attacks - Myers then gives Shelton a complete status report. He says: “We’ve transitioned the SIEC [significant event conference] into an air threat conference call, which is in progress as we speak (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). FAA has requested that NORAD take over control of US airspace. Fighters have scrambled to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and we’re sending AWACS up to provide further monitoring (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). We’ve escalated to Threatcon Delta and are about to launch the NAOC [National Airborne Operations Center plane]. Bases around the world are locked tight, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz has been relocated to Site R (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), plus, [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley has requested we implement full ‘Continuity of Government measures’ (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and we are proceeding along those lines.”
Myers Says Plane Hit the Pentagon - Myers is then interrupted by some commotion in the background. When he returns to the line, he tells Shelton, “Okay, we just got the word: the prior report was incorrect; it was not a hand grenade that exploded, it was another commercial airline that struck the Pentagon.” He then continues with his status report, saying, “[P]er the president, we’ve gone weapons free in the event of a hijacked aircraft or one that threatens the White House.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-24; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433]
Shelton Wants to Return to Washington - Myers will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the NMCC—presumably referring to the time of this phone call—he “recommended General Shelton return to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file] But Shelton will recall that he tells Myers, “I need you to call Ed Eberhart [General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD] at NORAD and let him know that we’re coming back [to Washington] on Speckled Trout [the nickname of the plane he is on], and tell him that I would consider it a personal favor if he would see to it that the chairman and his crew are not shot down on their way back to Andrews.” Myers confirms, “Will do.” According to Shelton, his plane is called back 10 minutes later “with confirmation that we had been officially cleared to fly through the shutdown airspace.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will therefore only land at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159] The exact time of the call between Shelton and Myers is unclear, though it would be at some time after about 10:00 a.m., when Myers arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-431] However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. [Sanger Herald, 10/17/2013] After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file] “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally arrives at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon after returning to the US when his flight to Europe was aborted.
Vice Chairman Updates Shelton - After Shelton enters the NMCC, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs him. Myers says that Air National Guard and regular Air Force combat air patrols are flying above major US cities under AWACS control, the entire US military is on Threatcon level Delta, and the Joint Forces Command is sending headquarters units to New York and Washington, DC.
Intelligence Director Says Only One 'Hint' Indicated Possible Attack - Shelton then turns to Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Rear Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, and asks them, “Have we had any intel ‘squeaks’ on an attack like this—anything at all?” Wilson replies: “The only possible hint of this coming was several months ago when we got a single intercept requesting jumbo jet training. Since then, there’s been nothing.” Myers will later comment that Wilson is “referring to the vast electronic signals data-mining operations of our intelligence community that targeted known terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda and their allies.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Shelton Flying to Europe at Time of Attacks - Shelton was flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary for a NATO conference when he learned of the terrorist attacks in the US, and had ordered that his plane return to Washington (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the plane was repeatedly denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and only landed at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). From there, three patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops escorted the chairman and his accompanying staff members as they were driven to the Pentagon. Once at the Pentagon, Shelton initially went to his office and then visited the site of the attack, to see the wreckage there. After returning to the building, he headed to the NMCC. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-32; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-436; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file]
Chairman in Office for Much of Evening - Shelton will spend much of the evening in his office with staff, preparing for meetings of the National Security Council later this evening and the following day (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). At 6:42 p.m., he will join Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) to give a news briefing (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001), and at around 9:00 p.m. he will head to the White House for the National Security Council meeting there. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Priest, 2003, pp. 37; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Richard B. Myers, Tom Wilson, Henry Hugh Shelton, Lowell E. Jacoby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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