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Context of '(Between 8:46 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush’s Motorcade Quickly Hears of Flight 11 Crash, but Bush Reportedly Still Unaware'

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Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked.Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]When Flight 11 hits the WTC at 8:46 a.m., President Bush’s motorcade is crossing the John Ringling Causeway on the way to Booker Elementary School from the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. [Washington Times, 10/8/2002] White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is riding in a motorcade van, along with adviser Karl Rove and Mike Morell, the CIA’s White House briefer. Shortly after the attack, Fleischer is talking on his cell phone, when he blurts out: “Oh, my God, I don’t believe it. A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” (The person with whom he is speaking remains unknown.) Fleischer is told he will be needed on arrival at the school to discuss reports of the crash. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/17/2001; Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165-166] This call takes place “just minutes” after the first news reports of the attack according to one account, or “just before 9:00 a.m.” according to another. [New York Times, 12/1/2002; Kessler, 2004, pp. 138] Fleischer asks Morell if he knows anything about a small plane hitting the World Trade Center. Morell doesn’t, and immediately calls the CIA Operations Center. He is informed that the plane that hit the WTC wasn’t small. [Kessler, 2003, pp. 193; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165-166] Congressman Dan Miller also says he is told about the crash just before meeting Bush at Booker Elementary School at 8:55 a.m. [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Some reporters waiting for Bush to arrive also learn of the crash just minutes after it happens. [CBS News, 9/11/2002] It would make sense that the president would be told about the crash immediately, at the same time that others hear about it. His limousine has “Five small black antennae sprouted from the lid of the trunk in order to give Bush the best mobile communications money could buy.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 38] Sarasota Magazine in fact claims that Bush is on Highway 301, just north of Main Street, on his way to the school, when he receives a phone call informing him a plane has crashed in New York City. [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Yet the official story remains that he is not told about the crash until he arrives at the school (see (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Author James Bamford comments, “Despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him in the presidential limousine and an entire national security staff at the White House, it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, George W. Bush, James Bamford, Michael J. Morell, Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Dan Miller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of key White House officials will later claim that, when they learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center, they initially think it is just an accident:
bullet President Bush says that, when he learns of the crash while in Sarasota, Florida: “my first reaction was—as an old pilot—how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is” (see (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 42]
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with the president, says: “It was first reported to me… that it looked like it was a, a twin-engine pro—prop plane, and so the natural reaction was: ‘What a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack.’” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet Adviser Karl Rove, who is also with the president in Florida, is later questioned about his feelings after the first crash. When it is suggested, “I guess at that point, everyone is still thinking it is an accident,” Rove concurs, “Yes, absolutely.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also traveling with the president on this day, says, “[W]hen only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident.” [CNN, 9/11/2006]
bullet National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in her White House office, is informed of the crash by her executive assistant (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). She later recalls, “I thought, what a strange accident.” [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet White House counselor Karen Hughes receives a phone call informing her of the first crash as she is about to leave her Washington, DC, home. She later recalls, “they thought it was a small plane at the time… so, of course, my immediate thought was what a terrible accident.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; CNN, 4/6/2004] She adds, “We all assumed it was some kind of weird accident; at that point terrorism didn’t occur to us.” [Hughes, 2004, pp. 234]
The 9/11 Commission will later describe, “In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an accident, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their regular schedules.” It will only be when they learn of the second tower being hit at 9:03 that “nearly everyone in the White House… immediately knew it was not an accident.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] However, when couterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is called some time after the first crash but before the second by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is at the White House (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—she tells him, “Until we know what this is, Dick, we should assume the worst.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1] And when CIA Director George Tenet learns of the first crash, reportedly he is told specifically, “The World Trade tower has been attacked,” and his initial reaction is, “This has bin Laden all over it” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 4]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Karen Hughes, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Boren.David Boren. [Source: University of Oklahoma]CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” [USA Today, 9/24/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 5/29/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. [Time, 9/14/2001] Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” [Kessler, 2003, pp. 196] In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161] Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: David Boren, Osama bin Laden, Zacarias Moussaoui, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Karl Rove, Andrew Card, and Dan Bartlett.
Karl Rove, Andrew Card, and Dan Bartlett. [Source: White House, US Office Pristina, Kosovo, White House]President Bush’s motorcade has arrived at Booker Elementary School and Bush enters the school with his entourage. The beepers of politicians’ aides are going off with news of the first WTC crash as Bush arrives. According to one account, Bush learns of the crash when adviser Karl Rove takes Bush aside in a school corridor and tells him about the calamity. According to this account, Rove says the cause of the crash was unclear. Bush replies, “What a horrible accident!” Bush also suggests the pilot may have had a heart attack. This account is recalled by photographer Eric Draper, who was standing nearby at the time. [Daily Mail, 9/8/2002] Dan Bartlett, White House Communications Director, also says he is there when Bush is told: “[Bush] being a former pilot, had kind of the same reaction, going, was it bad weather? And I said no, apparently not.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] One account states that Rove tells Bush the WTC has been hit by a large commercial airliner. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] However, Bush later remembers Rove saying it appeared to be an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] In a third version of the story, Bush later recalls that he first learns of the crash from chief of Staff Andrew Card, who says, “‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing; you’re going to meet so-and-so, such-and-such.’ And Andy Card says, ‘By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.’” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002] “From the demeanor of the president, grinning at the children, it appeared that the enormity of what he had been told was taking a while to sink in,” according to a reporter standing nearby at the time. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Daily Mail, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Eric Draper

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice phones President Bush, who is away in Florida, to pass on to him the news that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, and she tells the president that the plane involved was a commercial jetliner, not a light aircraft. [White House, 11/1/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35; Bush, 2010, pp. 126] Rice, who is in her office at the White House, has just been informed of the crash by her executive assistant, but she mistakenly believes it was an accident involving a small plane (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [White House, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Bush has just arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota for an education event there (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 41-42; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 pdf file]
Bush Calls WTC Crash a 'Strange Accident' - Rice calls Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president, and Loewer fetches Bush. [White House, 10/24/2001] Bush goes to a classroom that has been converted into a communications center for the traveling White House staff and talks to Rice using a secure phone there. [Bush, 2010, pp. 126] Rice says, “Mr. President, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” [White House, 10/24/2001] Bush has already been informed of this by members of his entourage (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 11/26/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 42; Bush, 2010, pp. 126] He says, “That’s a really strange accident,” and Rice replies, “Yeah, it really is.” [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi-xii]
Bush Told that Crash Involved a Commercial Plane - Bush asks Rice, “What kind of plane?” and Rice says she has been told it was a twin-engine plane. She tells Bush she will let him know if she learns anything more about the crash. Around this time, Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, comes and tells Rice that it is now believed the plane that hit the WTC was a commercial plane. Rice passes on this information to Bush and then says, “That’s all we know right now, Mr. President.” [White House, 10/24/2001; White House, 11/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] Bush will later recall that at this moment, “I was stunned.” He thinks to himself: “That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he’d had a heart attack.” Bush mutters, “There’s one terrible pilot.” He tells Rice to stay on top of the situation and then asks his communications director, Dan Bartlett, to work on a statement promising the full support of federal emergency management services. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 42-43; Bush, 2010, pp. 126-127]
Bush and Rice Continue with Their Schedules - After the call ends, Bush heads on to watch a children’s reading drill at the school (see (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Rice goes to her senior staff meeting (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/2/2002; White House, 8/6/2002; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] Representative Dan Miller (R-FL), who is waiting in a receiving line to meet the president, has been told to hold on while Bush takes the call from Rice. When Bush comes over to Miller after the call, he appears unbothered. Miller will recall: “[I]t was nothing different from the normal, brief greeting with the president. I don’t think he was aware at the time, maybe, of the seriousness.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Author James Bamford will comment that at this time, “neither Rice nor Bush was aware that the United States had gone to ‘battle stations’ alert and had scrambled fighter jets into the air to intercept and possibly take hostile action against multiple hijacked airliners, something that was then known by hundreds of others within NORAD, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Pentagon.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Dan Bartlett, Dan Miller, Deborah Loewer, George W. Bush, Tony Crawford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference three blocks from the White House when a telephone call alerts him to the crisis. He runs to his car. He responds, “Activate the CSG on secure video. I’ll be there in less than five.” The CSG is the Counterterrorism Security Group, comprising the leaders of the government’s counterterrorism and security agencies. Clarke hurriedly drives to the White House. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush enters Sandra Kay Daniels’ classroom.President Bush enters Sandra Kay Daniels’ classroom. [Source: Lions Gate Films]President Bush enters Sandra Kay Daniels’ second-grade class for a photo-op to promote his education policies. [Daily Mail, 9/8/2002] Numerous reporters who travel with the president, as well as members of the local media, watch from the back of the room. [Associated Press, 8/25/2002] Secret Service agents protecting the president are lying in the trusses above the classroom. [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002] Altogether, there are about 150 people in the room, 16 of whom are children in the class. Bush is introduced to the children and poses for a number of pictures. The teacher then leads the students through some reading exercises (video footage shows this lasts about three minutes). [Salon, 9/12/2001] Bush later claims that during this lesson, he is thinking what he will say about the WTC crash. “I was concentrating on the program at this point, thinking about what I was going to say. Obviously, I felt it was an accident. I was concerned about it, but there were no alarm bells.” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002] The children are just getting their books from under their seats to read a story together when Chief of Staff Andrew Card comes in to tell Bush of the second WTC crash. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] According to the Washington Times, Card comes in at the conclusion of the first half of the planned lesson, and “[seizes] a pause in the reading drill to walk up to Mr. Bush’s seat.” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Sandra Kay Daniels, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is informed of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and immediately realizes it is a terrorist attack. Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, informed Rice of the first crash shortly before 9:00 a.m. while she was in her office at the White House, but, Rice will later say, she had thought it was a “strange accident” (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rice had gone down to the conference area of the White House Situation Room for her daily meeting with her top aides. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi-xii] According to her own later recollections, a few minutes into this meeting, Crawford comes in and hands her a note saying a second plane has hit the WTC. Rice will comment: “I thought, ‘My God, this is a terrorist attack.‘… I knew right away, right away, because that—that couldn’t be coincidence that two planes had hit the World Trade Center that morning.” She gets up and tells Anna Perez, her communications counselor who is with her in the meeting, “Find Dick Clarke,” referring to the White House counterterrorism chief. [White House, 10/24/2001; PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] According to Perez’s later recollection, Rice also tells the others in the room about the second plane hitting the WTC. [White House, 11/1/2001] After saying to her staff, “I have to go,” Rice abruptly heads out. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] However, Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, will contradict Rice’s account and say that he, not Crawford, alerts Rice to the second crash at the WTC. Bolten will recall that he learned of the crash while in the Situation Room and then, realizing it was not an accident, walks into the conference area where Rice is holding her meeting. He asks Rice to step outside the room for a minute and then tells her, “A second plane has hit; this is not an accident, it is an attack” (see (9:03 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolten, and Clarke will indicate that Rice initially goes from her staff meeting to Cheney’s office (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC, 9/16/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2; C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] But in her own recollections, Rice will make no mention of this, saying that she goes straight from the conference area to the Situation Room’s operations center, intending to assemble a crisis meeting of the national security team (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 pdf file; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii]

Entity Tags: Tony Crawford, Anna Perez, Joshua Bolten, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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