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Context of '(8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Secret Service Agent outside Vice President Cheney’s Office Learns Plane that Hit WTC Is Passenger Jet'

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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 (Shortly After 8:55 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

James Scott, a Secret Service special agent assigned to the vice presidential protective division, sees the television coverage of the plane crash at the World Trade Center and alerts other Secret Service agents protecting Vice President Dick Cheney to the incident. Scott is the “on-duty shift whip” for Cheney’s Secret Service detail. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] His current location is unstated, but he is presumably at the Joint Operations Center (JOC) at the White House. The JOC monitors the White House complex and constantly tracks the location of every “protected person,” including the president and the vice president. [New York Daily News, 12/22/1997; National Geographic, 9/27/2004] After he sees “the aircraft crash on television network news,” Scott will later recall, he “alerted the working shift.” Presumably he does this in a phone call or over his radio. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] The “working shift” includes the “body men” around a Secret Service protectee, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. “The normal working shift,” Kessler will write, “consists of a shift leader or whip”—in this case, Scott—“and four shift agents.” [Kessler, 2009, pp. 80-81] However, although he contacts the members of the working shift at this time, Scott will only head to the West Wing of the White House and discuss the crisis with them in person at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And he will not evacuate Cheney from his office in the West Wing until around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts, after he learns of an unidentified aircraft flying toward the White House (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman, 2008, pp. 115] Around the time that Scott alerts the members of the working shift to the crash in New York, a Secret Service agent posted at the door of Cheney’s office (who is presumably a member of the working shift) also receives a phone call from the Secret Service’s intelligence division, informing him that the aircraft that hit the WTC was a passenger jet, according to Cheney’s chief speechwriter, John McConnell, who is with the agent (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hayes, 2007, pp. 329-330]

Entity Tags: James Scott, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John McConnell.John McConnell. [Source: University of Tennessee]While he is waiting outside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office for a scheduled meeting, Cheney’s chief speechwriter John McConnell has been chatting with Cheney’s secretary Debbie Heiden and the Secret Service agent posted at the door. They all see the news about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on the television above Heiden’s desk. McConnell will later recall: “There wasn’t any kind of alarm. It was just kind of, ‘Oh man, look at that.’” The Secret Service agent then receives an urgent call from the agency’s intelligence division. According to McConnell: “He put the phone down and told me: passenger jet. And that’s when you go, Geez. And then you start getting a sick feeling. Because a passenger aircraft is not going to crash into the World Trade Center.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 329-330] But, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, it is not until they learn of the second crash at 9:03 that nearly everyone in the White House realizes this is not an accident (see (Between 8:46 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, John McConnell, Debbie Heiden

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 is told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center for the first time by Karl Rove, his senior adviser, according to some accounts, although other accounts will state that he is first alerted to the crash by another member of his staff. Bush has just arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where he is going to attend a children’s reading event (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 41-42; Bush, 2010, pp. 126; Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess, 2016, pp. 240; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Rove Tells Bush about the Crash - During the drive to the school, several members of his staff were informed about the crash at the WTC (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/12/2002; Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003] Rove received a call alerting him to what had happened as he was arriving at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall that he then walks over to Bush, who is “with Secretary of Education Rod Paige, shaking hands with staff and teachers outside the school,” and tells him about the crash. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who arrived at the school around the time the president did, will give a similar account, writing that while Bush is shaking “hands with the teachers and staff who had lined up to greet him,” Rove “stepped beside the president and told him about the plane” hitting the WTC. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138-139]
Bush Thinks the Crash Was 'a Terrible Accident' - Rove tells Bush the crash appears to have been an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Bush nods his head, gives “a quizzical look,” and says, “Get more details,” Rove will describe. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The president’s initial thoughts in response to the news are: “How could the [pilot] have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 42; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] He says: “This is pilot error. It’s unbelievable that somebody would do this.” He confers with Andrew Card, his chief of staff, and says the plane’s pilot “must have had a heart attack.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Someone Else First Gives Bush the News, Other Accounts Will State - Rove will claim that he “was the first to tell [Bush] the news” about the crash. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] However, according to other accounts, Bush is first told about the crash by some other member of the White House staff. For example, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, will say she was the first person to inform Bush about it, running up to his limousine and giving him the news as soon as he arrived at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 11/26/2001; Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003; Priess, 2016, pp. 240] And in 2002, Bush will tell journalist and author Bill Sammon that he was first told about the crash by Card. He will say that as he was heading into the school, while Blake Gottesman, his personal aide, was giving him some final instructions in preparation for the reading event, Card said to him, “By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 41-42; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] But on other occasions, Bush will state that he was first told about the crash by Rove. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 126] Bush is also told about the crash, after he arrives at the school, by Dan Bartlett, his communications director, according to some accounts. In response to the news, Bartlett will say, Bush asks, “Was it bad weather [that caused the crash]?” [White House, 8/12/2002; Draper, 2007, pp. 135] After learning about the crash, Bush will go to a classroom from where he will talk on the phone with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House, and discuss what has happened with her (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 126-127]

Entity Tags: Deborah Loewer, Ari Fleischer, Blake Gottesman, Dan Bartlett, Andrew Card, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Rod Paige

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

James Scott, a Secret Service special agent assigned to the vice presidential protective division, learns of the second plane crash at the World Trade Center and realizes this is a terrorist attack, but reportedly makes no attempt to evacuate Vice President Dick Cheney from his White House office at this time. Scott is the “on-duty shift whip” for Cheney’s Secret Service detail. He has seen the TV coverage of the first crash in New York and contacted Secret Service agents who are members of the “working shift” protecting Cheney to alert them to the incident (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After Flight 175 crashes into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Scott confers with the on-duty supervisor who is with him. This is apparently Assistant Special Agent in Charge Scott Johnson. The two men are now “[c]ertain that the airplane crashes were terrorist activities,” they will later recall. They therefore discuss “emergency contingency plans and a heightened security alert.” [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] However, Scott will only head to the West Wing of the White House and join the shift agents there at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And, he will say, he only evacuates Cheney from his office in the West Wing some time after that, apparently around 9:36 a.m. (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: James Scott, Douglas Scott Johnson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Special Agent James Scott, a member of Vice President Dick Cheney’s Secret Service detail, heads to the West Wing of the White House and discusses the ongoing crisis with the members of Cheney’s detail posted there. Scott, the “on-duty shift whip” for Cheney’s Secret Service detail, has learned of the attacks in New York and has been discussing emergency plans with a supervisor (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Although his location is unstated, Scott is presumably at the Joint Operations Center at the White House, where the Secret Service constantly monitors the movements of every “protected person,” including the vice president. [New York Daily News, 12/22/1997; National Geographic, 9/27/2004] Scott will later recall that at “approximately 9:30 a.m.,” following his discussions with the supervisor, he heads down to the West Wing, where Cheney’s office is located. He will say that he discusses the “heightened alert” and reviews the “contingency plan” with the shift agents posted there. After he has finished briefing the agents, Scott stays near the door to Cheney’s office. He will recall that he subsequently evacuates Cheney from his office, apparently at around 9:36 a.m., after learning of an unidentified aircraft flying toward the White House (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, James Scott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dick Cheney heading to the the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.Dick Cheney heading to the the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney is taken by the Secret Service from his office to an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House around this time, according to some accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office about half an hour earlier. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 333, 335] Cheney, who is in his office in the West Wing of the White House, is aware of the two plane crashes in New York and realizes this is a terrorist attack. He is now “watching developments on the television,” he will later recall, and starting “to get organized to figure out what to do.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; Hayes, 2007, pp. 330-331] The Secret Service was informed that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House at around 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Concern about this aircraft prompted it to order the evacuation of Cheney “just before 9:36,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39]
Armed Agents Enter Cheney's Office - Four or five Secret Service agents carrying submachine guns therefore enter Cheney’s office, according to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. One of them, Special Agent James Scott, pushes through the group of government officials who are gathered around Cheney (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the vice president, “Sir, we need to move you—now.” Cheney nods, indicating that he will respond to the agent in a moment, and then turns to say something to another person. But Scott brings down the flat of his hand sharply on Cheney’s desk and commands, ”Now![Gellman, 2008, pp. 114-115]
Cheney Propelled out of His Office - Scott then puts his hand on Cheney’s shoulder, grabs the vice president by the back of his belt, and moves him out the door. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 333] Cheney will comment that Secret Service agents “practice this, I’m sure, because… whether you wanted to move or not, you’re going. They don’t exactly pick you up and carry you. It’s more like they propel you forward.” [White House, 11/19/2001] As the Secret Service agents take Cheney through his outer office, the vice president manages to grab the latest issue of The Economist off a table. “I’m always carrying something in case I get hung up someplace,” he will explain. “I’ve got to have something to read.” [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Hayes, 2007, pp. 333] Carrying the magazine but nothing more, Cheney is hurried down the hallway, past the Oval Office, and down into the basement of the White House. [White House, 11/19/2001]
Other Officials Left in Cheney's Office - The officials who were with Cheney are left in his office. Mary Matalin, one of Cheney’s senior advisers, will recall: “[S]peechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, ‘What are we, chopped liver?’ I think I actually said that.” [National Review, 9/8/2011] Cheney will arrive in the underground tunnel leading to the PEOC about a minute after he leaves his office (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There he will learn that the Pentagon has been hit and talk over the phone with the president (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) before heading into the PEOC (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 335-336] However, according to some accounts, Cheney was evacuated from his office a significant time earlier on, around 9:03 a.m., when the second plane crashed in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2]

Entity Tags: John McConnell, Mary Matalin, James Scott, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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