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Context of '(8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Situation Room Director Informs President Bush of WTC Crash'

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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. [BBC Radio 4, 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. [White House, 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. [White House, 10/24/2001; BBC Radio 4, 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?” [MSNBC, 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.” [White House, 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.” [White House, 8/6/2002] She tells Crawford, “I better call the president.” [White House, 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). [BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 pdf file; White House, 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. [White House, 10/24/2001; White House, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Tony Crawford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Captain Deborah Loewer.
Captain Deborah Loewer. [Source: Military Sealift Command]Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, is traveling in President Bush’s motorcade toward Booker Elementary School, when she learns of the first WTC crash from her deputy in the Situation Room at the White House. According to some reports, as soon as the motorcade reaches the school, Loewer runs from her car to Bush’s car, and informs Bush. [Associated Press, 11/26/2001; Catholic Telegraph, 12/7/2001] Note that Bush maintains that he learns of the crash at a later time.

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Deborah Loewer

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

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; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 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). [BBC Radio 4, 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 (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/25/2002; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell

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

Members of President Bush’s staff who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, are informed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center but then have to find a television in order to see the coverage of it. [White House, 8/12/2002; Rove, 2010, pp. 250; KFDI, 12/11/2012] While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), several members of his traveling staff stay in the “staff hold.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, according to deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, is “a private room set up as a quiet work space with secure and non-secure phones for us to use during a presidential visit.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101] If you pick up one of the secure phones, Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, will later write, “someone with a quiet military voice answers, you make a request, and a moment or two later, you’re talking to anybody you want, anywhere in the world.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, on this occasion, is next to the classroom where Bush is participating in the reading demonstration. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101]
Staffers Think First Crash Was an Accident - Members of Bush’s staff who stay in the staff hold while Bush joins the reading demonstration include White House chief of staff Andrew Card, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, White House staff secretary Harriet Miers, and Rove. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] Also in the room, according to Rove, are Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides, and “the military doctor, the surgeon, and the surgical nurse with a full operating kit” who “stand ready to go to the aid of the president if he falls ill or is shot or somehow injured.” [KFDI, 12/11/2012] These individuals are aware of the first crash at the WTC. “All of us are still trying to find out information about that, to confirm what our instincts were,” Bartlett will recall, “and our instincts were that this was a tragic accident.”
Staffers Learn about Second Crash - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the staffers quickly learn about the incident in calls to their cell phones or pager messages. “[Y]ou could see it, the rippling effect of people being informed about what was happening,” Bartlett will recall. However, he will say, “most of the tone was disbelief and not knowing what was going on.” Bartlett learns about the crash in a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, Dan, but the other tower was hit.” Bartlett asks his assistant what she means and she says, “Another plane, another plane hit the other tower, World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] And Card learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida. After she informed Bush of the first crash (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Loewer went to a room next to the school and followed events on a television there. When she sees the second crash, she immediately assumes it is an act of terrorism and goes to inform Card. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003] She tells him: “A second plane has impacted the towers. The nation is under attack.” [Dayton Daily News, 3/16/2003]
Chief of Staff Suspects Al-Qaeda Responsibility for Crash - Card immediately thinks al-Qaeda is responsible for the attack. “My mind focused on the al-Qaeda network, because I knew that they had attacked the World Trade Center before,” he will recall. “I don’t know why I thought that, but I did, and I just presumed that it was an Osama bin Laden or an al-Qaeda attack.” [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011] Loewer also tells Card to interrupt the reading demonstration and pass on the news to the president. [Springfield News-Sun, 9/9/2011] He therefore enters the classroom and tells Bush what has happened (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011]
No Television Has Been Set Up in the Staff Hold - Unusually, a television has not been set up in the staff hold, so the staffers there are initially unable to see the coverage of the second attack. “Normally there’s a television in the staff hold,” Rove will comment. “But for some strange reason, this morning at Booker Elementary there was no television in there.” Rove therefore has to go out of the room, and run “up and down the hallways of the elementary school trying to find a television.” He eventually finds one in a classroom and then hurriedly rolls it into the staff hold. But he then has trouble connecting it to cable. The first socket he plugs it into doesn’t work. But after he plugs it into another socket, he gets a signal and the TV starts showing footage of the second crash. [KFDI, 12/11/2012; LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] Around the same time, those in the staff hold make contact with their colleagues at the White House and work with them on coordinating a response to the attacks. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Deborah Loewer, Dan Bartlett, Susan Ralston, Andrew Card, Paul Montanus, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Andrew Card speaks to President Bush and tells him of the second World Trade Center crash.Andrew Card speaks to President Bush and tells him of the second World Trade Center crash. [Source: Agence France-Presse]President Bush is in a Booker Elementary School second-grader classroom. His chief of staff, Andrew Card, enters the room and whispers into his ear, “A second plane hit the other tower, and America’s under attack.” [Education Channel, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] Intelligence expert James Bamford describes Bush’s reaction: “Immediately [after Card speaks to Bush] an expression of befuddlement passe[s] across the president’s face. Then, having just been told that the country was under attack, the commander in chief appear[s] uninterested in further details. He never ask[s] if there had been any additional threats, where the attacks were coming from, how to best protect the country from further attacks.… Instead, in the middle of a modern-day Pearl Harbor, he simply turn[s] back to the matter at hand: the day’s photo-op.” [Bamford, 2002, pp. 633] Bush begins listening to a story about a goat. But despite the pause and change in children’s exercises, as one newspaper put it, “For some reason, Secret Service agents [do] not bustle him away.” [Globe and Mail, 9/12/2001] Bush later says of the experience: “I am very aware of the cameras. I’m trying to absorb that knowledge. I have nobody to talk to. I’m sitting in the midst of a classroom with little kids, listening to a children’s story and I realize I’m the commander in chief and the country has just come under attack.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Bush continues to listen to the goat story for several more minutes. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39] According to author Christopher Andersen, the reason he does this is, “Without all the facts at hand, George Bush ha[s] no intention of upsetting the schoolchildren who had come to read for him.” [CBS News, 11/1/2002] Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is only three and a half miles away. In fact, the elementary school was chosen for the photo-op partly because of its closeness to the airport. [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/12/2002] Why the Secret Service does not move Bush away from his publicized location (see September 7, 2001) that morning remains unclear.

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, George W. Bush, James Bamford, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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