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Context of '(Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush Chats with the Greeting Party instead of Taking an Urgent Call'

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National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice learns from her executive assistant that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, but assumes the crash was an accident. (Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file) Rice is in her office at the White House (see 6:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, as she will later recall, “My day was shaping up as a fairly normal day.” She has been given her intelligence briefing and is standing at her desk, getting ready to go to her senior staff meeting. (Rice 8/6/2002) At “8:47 a.m. or so,” according to Rice’s later recollection, Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, comes into the office. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file) Crawford informs Rice of the crash in New York, saying, “Do you know a plane has hit the World Trade Center?” (Rice 9/11/2002) Rice will later recall, “I thought, ‘That’s odd, that’s a strange accident.’” She asks Crawford, “What kind of plane, Tony?” He replies, “Twin engine, they think.” (Rice 10/24/2001) According to journalist and author Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice “assumed that a small plane had veered out of control.” (Bumiller 2007, pp. xi) Rice will later comment, “It just didn’t come to mind immediately that it might be terrorism.” (Rice 8/6/2002) She tells Crawford, “I better call the president.” (Rice 10/24/2001) She will then call President Bush, who is in Florida for an education event (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file; Rice 8/2/2002) While Rice is talking over the phone with Bush, Crawford will inform her that the plane that hit the WTC was in fact a commercial aircraft, not a small twin-engine plane. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001)

Bush’s motorcade arrives at Booker Elementary School.Bush’s motorcade arrives at Booker Elementary School. [Source: Lions Gate Films]President Bush’s motorcade arrives at Booker Elementary School for a photo-op to promote his education policies. (Sack 9/16/2001; Plunket 11/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Bayles 9/10/2002; Krueger 9/10/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/7/2002) If he left the Colony Resort around 8:35 a.m. as reported, the timing of his arrival at 8:55 a.m. is consistent with the fact that the trip from the resort to the school is said to take 20 minutes. The Booker Elementary School is reportedly “well-equipped for the brief presidential visit. Police and Secret Service agents [are] on the roof, on horseback and in every hallway. The White House [has] installed 49 new phone lines for staffers and reporters.” (Sack 9/16/2001; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; Andersen 12/1/2002)

Adam Putnam.Adam Putnam. [Source: Congressional Pictorial Directory]President Bush continues chatting with members of the official party that has assembled to greet him at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, even though Andrew Card, his chief of staff, has told him he needs to go and take an important call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (Safdie 4/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; O'Connor 9/11/2011) Bush has just arrived at the school, where he is going to attend a reading demonstration (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41) The greeting party that is there to meet him includes teachers and administrators. It also includes Frank Brogan, lieutenant governor of Florida, and two members of Congress: Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Dan Miller (R-FL). (Sammon 2002, pp. 43; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002)
Greeting Party Members Were Told Bush Would Not Talk to Them - While the members of the greeting party were waiting for the president’s motorcade to arrive, a White House staffer informed them that Bush would not stop and talk to them as he made his way into the school, because he has to take an important call from Rice. They were told, “When he arrives, and he’ll be here in a minute, he’s going to walk past you,” Putnam will later recall. “He’s not being rude, he’s just got to take this phone call,” the staffer added.
Bush Stops and Talks to the Greeting Party - However, the president seems to be in no hurry to take the call. After getting out of his limousine, he stops to talk to the members of the greeting party. He goes “down the receiving line, shaking hands and exchanging a few words with everyone,” according to Brogan. He “comes up [to the greeting party] and does not go past us,” Putnam will recall. “He stops and talks with us, having a good chat with the teacher of the year.” (Safdie 4/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; Frost 9/18/2003; Leary 9/6/2011) (This is Edwina Oliver, who is in the greeting party. (Sammon 2002, pp. 43) )
Bush Continues Chatting When Told He Has a Call to Take - While Bush is chatting with Oliver, Card tells him, “You have a phone call from National Security Adviser Rice you need to take.” Bush says, “I’ll be right there,” but continues talking with the teacher. Card then comes over to him, grabs him by the arm, and says, “Mr. President, you need to take this call right now.” (Safdie 4/8/2002; O'Connor 9/11/2011) Bush tells the members of the greeting party, “I need to go take an important telephone call.” He then goes to a classroom, where he will talk on the phone with Rice (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 42; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush already knows a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center when he meets the greeting party. He was told about the incident by Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, after he got out of his limousine (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lance 8/17/2003; Priess 2016, pp. 240) He is also told about the crash by Karl Rove, his senior adviser, while he is shaking hands with the members of the greeting party (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Graff 9/9/2016)

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. (Rice 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). (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 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; Rice 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. (Rice 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.” (Rice 10/24/2001) Bush has already been informed of this by members of his entourage (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 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.” (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001; Thomas 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 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Rice goes to her senior staff meeting (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Rice 8/6/2002; Sammon 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.” (Martin 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)

Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell.Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell. [Source: Rod Millington / Sarasota Herald-Tribune]President Bush informs the principal of the Florida school he is visiting about the plane crash at the World Trade Center, but says he is still going ahead with his planned event, listening to a children’s reading drill at the school. (Associated Press 8/25/2002; Bayles 9/10/2002) Bush recently arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has just talked over the phone with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about the crash, but he thinks it was an accident (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file; Bush 2010, pp. 126-127) The school’s principal, Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell, is now summoned to the room where Bush received the call, to talk to the president. Tosé-Rigell will later recall that Bush “said a commercial plane has hit the World Trade Center, and we’re going to go ahead and go on, we’re going on to do the reading thing anyway.” She will comment, “At that point my summation was they wanted him to know about this because it was important, but it couldn’t be anything huge.” Bush then heads into the classroom of Sandra Kay Daniels, to listen to the reading drill (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 8/25/2002; Bayles 9/10/2002)

President Bush enters Sandra Kay Daniels’ classroom.President Bush enters Sandra Kay Daniels’ classroom. [Source: Lions Gate Films]President Bush enters the second-grade classroom of teacher Sandra Kay Daniels at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where he is going to listen to the children reading. (Sammon 2002, pp. 43; Associated Press 8/25/2002) Bush is scheduled to observe a series of reading drills in the class and the demonstration is set to end at 9:15 a.m. (US President 9/2001) He arrived at the school shortly before 9:00 a.m. (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41) Since then, he has been told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and that the plane involved was a commercial airliner (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lance 8/17/2003; Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Bohn 2015, pp. 214)
Bush Enters the Classroom Two Minutes Late - After taking a call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush enters Daniels’ classroom for the reading demonstration two minutes later than planned, at 9:02 a.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 42-43; Sammon 10/7/2002) About 60 people are in the room, including 16 second graders and Daniels, their teacher. (Plunket 11/2001; Stein 9/11/2011) Reporters who are traveling with the president and members of the local media are assembled at the back of the room. (Associated Press 8/25/2002) Secret Service agents are lying in the trusses above the room. (Bayles 9/10/2002)
Bush Is Introduced to the Class - Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell, the school principal, accompanies Bush into the room. She says hello to the children and then tells them, “Would you please stand and recognize the president of the United States—President Bush.” After saying, “Good morning,” Bush introduces the children to Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Florida Lieutenant Governor Frank Brogan, who come in behind him and then take their positions at the side of the room. Bush tells the children, “Good to meet you all.” Tosé-Rigell then introduces the president to Daniels. He goes over to the teacher and shakes her hand. After instructing the children to sit down, he tells the class: “It’s really exciting for me to be here. I want to thank Ms. Daniels for being a teacher. I want to thank Gwen for being a principal. And I want to thank you all for practicing reading so much. It’s really important.” Finally, a minute after he entered the classroom, Daniels and the children begin their reading demonstration.
Bush Still Thinks the Crash at the WTC Was an Accident - As he watches the children reading, Bush will start thinking about the statement he will need to make about the crash at the WTC, although he is not particularly troubled about the incident at the moment. “I was concentrating on the [reading] program at this point, thinking about what I was going to say,” he will later recall. He will add: “Obviously, I felt [the crash] was an accident. I was concerned about it, but there were no alarm bells.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 43-49; Sammon 10/7/2002) A few minutes after the reading demonstration begins, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, will enter the room, and whisper to the president that a second plane has crashed into the WTC and America is under attack (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but despite hearing this devastating news, Bush will stay in the room and listen to the rest of the demonstration (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 83-91; Sammon 10/7/2002; Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39)

Edward Marinzel.Edward Marinzel. [Source: Command Group]Secret Service agents and other staffers with President Bush in Florida are worried about Bush’s safety while he is at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, and some of them are concerned that terrorists might try to attack the school. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush and his entourage arrived at the school, where the president is now attending a reading demonstration, shortly before 9:00 a.m. (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41; Sammon 10/7/2002) Members of the president’s staff who are in a holding room at the school while Bush listens to the reading demonstration are promptly informed about the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center after the attack occurs (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bartlett 8/12/2002; Bartlett 8/12/2002) Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, who is at the school, will later comment that while details of the terrorist attacks in New York are “hazy,” it is clear that “unknown assailants [are] executing a well-planned attack, of unknown dimensions, against America.” (Rove 2010, pp. 251) Secret Service agents responsible for protecting the president therefore have serious concerns that Bush could be in danger at the school.
Secret Service Worries that Bush Could Be a Target - Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will recall that he and other agents at the school are worried that Bush could be targeted by the terrorists. They ask each other, “Is there any direction of interest towards the president… or is this just an attack on New York?” The Secret Service determines that the attacks “might be an effort to decapitate the government,” according to Rove. (Graff 9/9/2016) The belief of Bush’s agents is, “[T]he president’s whereabouts are known; somebody is going to be flying an airplane into the school,” Rove will say. (Herman 5/18/2013)
Lead Agent Wants to Leave the School 'as Fast as Possible' - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, has “quite a worried look on his face,” Mike Morell, Bush’s CIA briefer, will recall. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file) Marinzel “wanted to get the hell out of [the school] as fast as possible,” Morell will say. Representative Adam Putnam (R-FL), who is at the school, overhears Secret Service agents telling members of Bush’s staff, “We need to get [Bush] secure.” But before the president and his entourage leave the school, there is “angst from the Secret Service that we don’t know what’s out there,” according to Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff.
CIA Officer Is Worried about a Plane Crashing into the School - Other members of Bush’s entourage are concerned about the president’s vulnerability while he is at the school. There is “the fear of the unknown” among the president’s staff, according to Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance. “We didn’t know if someone had put a biological agent or chemical agent at the school,” he will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Morell is particularly worried that Bush could be the target of an attack. He will recall that he grows “increasingly concerned about [Bush’s] safety as well as the safety of others at the school” while Bush is in the holding room, where he goes after listening to the reading demonstration (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 pdf file) “I was really worried that someone was going to fly a plane into that school,” Morell will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) He thinks about telling Marinzel of his concern, but decides not to, determining that Marinzel has probably already considered this scenario. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 49)
Bush's Visit Is Public Knowledge - Bush’s plan to visit Sarasota today was publicly announced four days ago, on September 7 (see September 7, 2001). (White House 9/7/2001) “The fact that the president would be at Booker Elementary at this hour, on this day, had been public knowledge for days,” Morell will point out. (Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 49) The planned visit has been “big news” in Sarasota, according to journalist and author Mark Bowden. (Bowden 2012, pp. 3) Therefore, Morell will say, “anyone could have known about it.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Would Be Safer in His Limousine - Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will note that at the current time, Bush would be “safer in that presidential limo, which is bombproof and blastproof and bulletproof.” (Martin 7/4/2004) And yet, apparently, no attempt is made to evacuate him from the school and move him to somewhere more secure for more than 30 minutes after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, and it became obvious that America was under attack. Instead, Bush will only leave the school at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

NORAD’s Continental United States Region (CONR) is told it will not need to provide fighter jets to escort Air Force One when the plane takes off from Sarasota, Florida. (Arnold 11/19/2001) While President Bush is visiting the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Air Force One is on the ground at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file; Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will later recall that around this time, CONR “knew that the president was down in Florida” but it “didn’t know what he was going to do.” “Eventually,” he will say, “we asked the question: If he takes off, do we need to escort?” Arnold will not state who CONR, which is based at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, asks this question to. But the person or agency says no. CONR will only be asked to provide fighters to escort Air Force One after 9:54 a.m., when the plane takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). “[T]he airplane took off and we got immediate word that the Secret Service had asked us to escort [it],” Arnold will recall. (Arnold 11/19/2001) He will say that CONR “received tasking from the Secret Service through the Joint [Chiefs of] Staff and NORAD to follow the president and protect him.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002) In Florida, NORAD has two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base and two fighters on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base. (McKenna 12/1999; Martin 7/4/2004) However, its Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) will scramble fighters from Ellington Field in Texas to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Schmidt 9/19/2001; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) Furthermore, these fighters will only reach Air Force One at around 11:29 a.m., more than 90 minutes after the plane takes off (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Martin 7/4/2004)

Richard Tubb.Richard Tubb. [Source: US Air Force]Dr. Richard Tubb, the White House physician, gives everyone on Air Force One a week’s worth of Cipro, a drug used to treat anthrax. (Graff 9/9/2016) Air Force One, with President Bush on board, took off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska at around 4:33 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001; Draper 2007, pp. 143)
Doctor Is Concerned about a Possible Biological Attack - Tubb will later recall that as the plane is then flying toward Washington, DC, “The thing at that moment I was most worried about was a biologic [attack].” In order to protect the White House staffers on the plane in the “unlikely but high-risk scenario” of such an attack occurring, he decides there is “little harm” in giving them antibiotics. He therefore gives everyone on the plane—presumably including the president—a week’s worth of Cipro. (Graff 9/9/2016) Cipro is an antibiotic that is commonly used to treat anthrax. (Herper 10/17/2001)
Passengers Are Given an Envelope Containing Cipro - Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, notices Tubb giving the drug to the passengers on Air Force One. He sees the doctor leaning over each person, whispering to them, patting them on the shoulder, and giving them a small envelope containing Cipro. When Tubb reaches Montgomery, he asks him, “How do you feel?” Montgomery says he feels fine. “You don’t feel disoriented?” Tubb asks and Montgomery says no. Tubb asks, “Have you ever heard of Cipro?” and comments, “We don’t know what might’ve been in that school”—referring to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, which Bush visited this morning (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—“so we’re just being careful.” Montgomery asks what the drug is used for and Tubb replies, “In case it’s anthrax.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Doctor Will Later Be Pleased at His Actions - Letters containing anthrax spores will be sent to media organizations and US government offices later this month and in October, leading to five people dying and a further 17 people becoming ill but surviving (see October 5-November 21, 2001). (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001; BBC 9/25/2006; CNN 2/19/2010; National Public Radio 2/15/2011) Commenting on this, Tubb will reflect, “It was scary later realizing later that fall [that] anthrax wasn’t as unimaginable as we’d thought.” “I was suddenly real pleased with how we’d reacted on the plane,” he will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Tubb is director of the White House Medical Unit and physician to the White House. He oversees all healthcare services within the White House and Camp David, and aboard executive aircraft. (US Air Force 7/2006) Later today, staffers accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney to Camp David (see Shortly After 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001) will also be given Cipro, supposedly as “a precaution” (see Evening, September 11, 2001). (Sobieraj 10/23/2001)


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