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Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001: Top Officials at CIA Headquarters Learn of the First Crash at the WTC

Senior officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, are alerted to the first crash at the World Trade Center, but they are initially uncertain as to whether it was a terrorist attack or an accident. [Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016; WKRG, 9/12/2016] Most days, at 8:30 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet holds a meeting in his conference room at CIA headquarters where 15 of the agency’s top officials report the news from their particular area. Those at the meeting this morning include Deputy Director John McLaughlin, Executive Director A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, Deputy Executive Director John Brennan, and Director of Public Affairs William Harlow. Because Tenet is away in Washington, DC, having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Krongard is chairing the meeting this morning, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. However, according to Brennan, McLaughlin is chairing it.
Officer Interrupts the Meeting to Report the Crash - A few minutes before 9:00 a.m., the senior duty officer of the CIA’s Operations Center enters the conference room and interrupts the meeting. He tells the officials that a plane has just crashed into the WTC. He presumably learned this from seeing the coverage of the crash on television. The Operations Center, on the building’s seventh floor, has three large televisions that are usually tuned to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.
Officials Think the Crash Is Probably an Attack - “We all were stunned and wondered aloud about the cause” of the crash, Brennan will later recall. [Kessler, 2003, pp. 196-197, 202; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11/2014] The officials “fleetingly” think it is possible the crash was an accident, rather than a terrorist attack, according to McLaughlin. “We were of two minds,” he will say. The crash “could be an accident, but we’d been expecting an attack.” According to McLaughlin, “the balance” among the officials “was toward, ‘This is probably an attack.’” [Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016] The meeting is soon adjourned. Officials who attended it, such as Krongard and Brennan, return to their offices, where televisions are showing the coverage of the crash. [Kessler, 2003, pp. 202; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11/2014]
Officials Will Suspect Al-Qaeda When They See the Second Crash - When the second hijacked plane crashes into the WTC, “it was apparent” that it was an attack, McLaughlin will say. [Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016] At that point, “we all knew that we were under attack… and few among us doubted that it was al-Qaeda,” Brennan will comment. [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11/2014] “We all knew here that it was al-Qaeda because we had seen this growing threat reporting that they were planning to do something,” he will say. [WKRG, 9/12/2016] “All summer long, we had been monitoring an upsurge in threat reporting, anticipating an attack and seeking to thwart it,” McLaughlin will comment. Consequently, he will say, “while we were surprised by specific events of the day, we were not surprised that an attack had finally occurred.” [OZY, 9/11/2016]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bill Harlow, John E. McLaughlin, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, John O. Brennan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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