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Context of 'Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Learns of First WTC Attack'

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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. (Burns 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 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; Mahlburg 9/14/2001; Hasson 3/31/2003; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003; Powell Moore 9/19/2003 pdf file; Rumsfeld 9/10/2004; Miles 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.” (White 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). (Garamone 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. (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; Rumsfeld 8/12/2002; PBS 10/26/2004; Miles 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. (White 10/26/2004) Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Giambastiani return to their offices. (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003; Miles 9/8/2006) The members of Congress leave the building. (Rumsfeld 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; Rhem 10/23/2001)

John Mica.John Mica. [Source: Publicity photo]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Representatives Christopher Cox (R-CA) and John Mica (R-FL), and numerous others are meeting in Rumsfeld’s private Pentagon dining room, discussing missile defense (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rumsfeld later recalls, “I had said at an eight o’clock breakfast that sometime in the next two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve months there would be an event that would occur in the world that would be sufficiently shocking that it would remind people again how important it is to have a strong healthy Defense Department that contributes to—that underpins peace and stability in our world.” (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001) Wolfowitz recalls, “And we commented to them that based on what Rumsfeld and I had both seen and worked on the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, that we were probably in for some nasty surprises over the next ten years.” (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) According to Mica, “the subject of the conversation Donald Rumsfeld was interested in was, the military had been downsized during the ‘90s since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And what we were going to do about [the] situation if we had another—the word [Rumsfeld] used was ‘incident.‘… And he was trying to make certain that we were prepared for something that we might not expect.” (US Congress. House. Oversight and Government Reform Committee 8/1/2007) There are confused accounts that Rumsfeld says, “I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event,” just before the Pentagon is hit by Flight 77 (see (Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but such comments may have been made around this time instead. Shortly afterwards, someone walks in with a note informing Rumsfeld that a plane has just hit the WTC (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) Mica later comments, “[L]ittle did we know that within a few minutes of the end of our conversation and actually at the end of our breakfast, that our world would change and that incident that we talked about would be happening.” (Rumsfeld 9/10/2004)

Larry Di Rita.Larry Di Rita. [Source: US Department of Defense]Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel 2007, pp. 428)

Paul Wolfowitz.Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: R. D. Ward / US Department of Defense]Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz sees the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center on television, but does nothing in response to it and instead continues with a routine meeting in his office at the Pentagon. (Wolfowitz 4/19/2002 pdf file; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) Wolfowitz was in a meeting at the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and several members of Congress at the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the WTC (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rumsfeld was given a note informing him of the crash soon after it occurred (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Whether Wolfowitz was alerted to what had happened at that time is unclear. (Wolfowitz 4/22/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 428) The meeting ended at around 9:00 a.m. (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 pdf file) Wolfowitz then returned to his office for another meeting. Once there, he saw the television coverage of the crash in New York. “Someone said a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” he will later recall. The television in the office was then turned on. (Wolfowitz 4/19/2002 pdf file; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) “We started seeing the scenes of what was taking place up in New York,” Wolfowitz will say. (Wolfowitz 4/22/2002) Wolfowitz and those with him see Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower live on television, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “We started seeing the shots of the second plane hitting,” Wolfowitz will describe. However, even though it is now clear that America is under attack, Wolfowitz feels it is unnecessary for him to do anything in response to the crisis. “I sat here thinking that something terrible was going on in New York, but it was up there, not here,” he will comment. The deputy secretary of defense and those with him therefore continue their meeting as if nothing unusual has happened. “There didn’t seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was,” Wolfowitz will say. Wolfowitz will still be in his office at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Wolfowitz 4/19/2002 pdf file; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003)

Denny Watson.Denny Watson. [Source: Risk Assessment Network + Exchange]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Burns 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) He assumed the crash was an accident. (Vogel 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335)
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 243) The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002)
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. (Priess 2016, pp. 244) The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 336)
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 pdf file; Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks (see a904rumsfeldrefuses). (Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439)

According to most accounts, at the time the Pentagon is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in his office on the third floor of the Pentagon’s outer E Ring, receiving his daily intelligence briefing. (van Natta and Alvarez 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 24; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439) As he later recalls, “the building shook and the tables jumped.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) Although he has been informed of the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he supposedly does not initially suspect a plane has hit the Pentagon, thinking instead that a bomb has gone off. (Rumsfeld 9/16/2001; Rumsfeld 9/30/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002) In his nearby office, Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. also hears the explosion, and walks through his doorway toward Rumsfeld’s office. As the two meet, Rumsfeld asks Giambastiani, “What the hell’s happening?” (Miles 9/8/2006; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) Rumsfeld then looks out his window but, he later recalls, sees “nothing here.” (Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002) He goes into the hallway and, accompanied by his security guards, hurries toward the crash site (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later contradict these accounts. Clarke indicates that Rumsfeld has been participating in the video teleconference conducted from the White House Situation Room since shortly after the second WTC crash (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He claims that Rumsfeld is still involved in this conference at the time the Pentagon is hit, and he tells his deputy, “I can still see Rumsfeld on the screen, so the whole building didn’t get hit.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-3 and 7-8) If Clarke’s account were correct, this would presumably mean Rumsfeld is in the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), which has secure video facilities, rather than in his office. (Scarborough 2/23/2004) But according to other accounts, Rumsfeld does not go to the ESC until around 10:15 a.m., after he returns from the crash site (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1-5)

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