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Context of '(8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: CIA Director Tenet in Communications Blackout as He Returns to CIA Headquarters; Recalls Bojinka Plot'

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David Boren.David Boren. [Source: University of Oklahoma]CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” [USA Today, 9/24/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 5/29/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. [Time, 9/14/2001] Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” [Kessler, 2003, pp. 196] In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161] Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: David Boren, Osama bin Laden, Zacarias Moussaoui, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet has just learned of the first attack on the WTC while having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. He later says, “It was obvious to us both that I had to leave immediately.” Along with Tim Ward, the head of his security detail, he gets into his car and, with lights flashing, hurries back to the CIA headquarters in Langley. Tenet later recalls that in these first minutes after the attack, “All the random dots we had been looking at started to fit into a pattern.… [M]y head was exploding with connections. I immediately thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters, which was broken up in 1994.” During his journey, he calls John Moseman, his chief of staff, and instructs him to assemble the senior CIA staff and key people from the Counterterrorist Center in the conference room next to his office. However, Tenet claims, it is difficult for him to get calls through on the secure phone, meaning he is “Essentially… in a communications blackout between the St. Regis and Langley, the longest twelve minutes of my life.” He only learns that a second plane hit the World Trade Center when he arrives at CIA headquarters. Tenet enters the conference room at around 9:15 a.m. By that time, he says, “I don’t think there was a person in the room who had the least doubt that we were in the middle of a full-scale assault orchestrated by al-Qaeda.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-163]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the Washington, DC, area, members of the public, emergency responders, and government officials experience serious communications problems. Telephone and cell phone services around the capital remain unavailable to members of the public for most of the day. [Verton, 2003, pp. 149]
bullet Particular problems are experienced around the Pentagon. Reportedly, cellular and landline telephone communications there are “virtually unreliable or inaccessible during the first few hours of the response,” after it is hit at 9:37 (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C36 pdf file]
Some senior government officials also experience communications difficulties:
bullet CIA Director George Tenet has problems using his secure phone while heading from a Washington hotel back to CIA headquarters, located about eight miles outside Washington (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Independent, 11/6/2002; Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-162]
bullet Secretary of State Colin Powell has to take a seven-hour flight from Peru, to get back to the capital. He later complains that, during this flight, “because of the communications problems that existed during that day, I couldn’t talk to anybody in Washington” (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
bullet Between the time of the second WTC attack and about 9:45 a.m., Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House, has problems reaching Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert at the US Capitol by secure telephone (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002; Hayes, 2007, pp. 336-337]
bullet Even President Bush experiences difficulties communicating with Washington after leaving a school in Florida, and subsequently while flying on Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006]
A classified after-action report will later be produced, based on observations from a National Airborne Operations Center plane launched near Washington shortly before the time of the Pentagon attack (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to one government official, the report indicates that the nation was “deaf, dumb, and blind” for much of the day. [Verton, 2003, pp. 150-151] Members of the public in New York City also experience communications problems throughout the day, particularly with cell phones (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dennis Hastert, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002] Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. [US President, 2/13/2001; Felix, 2002, pp. 226] However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. [US Department of the Treasury, 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury, 1/23/2002] And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. [CNN, 10/1/2001] Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. [PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1] She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-162] ) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Henry Hugh Shelton, Paul O’Neill, Colin Powell, National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Gordon England.Gordon England. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of the Navy Gordon England is unable to communicate with colleagues on the ground while he is being flown from Texas to Washington, DC. England, the Navy’s top civilian official, traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, the previous evening to give a speech to the Navy League. When the terrorist attacks began this morning, he was getting ready to fly back to Washington. Initially, however, the Navy plane he was going to travel on was grounded. [CNN, 10/16/2001; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006] (The FAA ordered a ground stop to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US at around 9:26 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] ) But after a “short period,” England will later recall, the Navy secretary and his companions “got clearance to come back to Washington.” While they are flying to the capital, however, they are unable to communicate with their colleagues on the ground. When he is asked about the flight, England will recall, “Well, of course, we didn’t have any communications.” England and his companions consequently have little knowledge of what the attacks involved. “We didn’t know what was happening,” England will say. “Literally just knew some of the things that happened, knew that something had been hit in Washington, but didn’t know until we were airborne that it had been the Pentagon.” England only learns more about what has happened when his plane lands. “I really didn’t hear much until we got on the ground,” he will say. Why England and those with him have these communication problems is unknown. After arriving in Washington, England joins colleagues of his at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters, where the Navy has set up a temporary headquarters (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 10/16/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 133] Other senior US government officials also have trouble making and receiving communications while the attacks are taking place this morning, and in the following hours (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These officials include President Bush (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Secretary of State Colin Powell (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), CIA Director George Tenet (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Telecom News, 2002 pdf file; Hastert, 2004, pp. 6; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 162]

Entity Tags: Gordon England

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

By 9:50 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet is in his office on the seventh floor of the agency’s Langley headquarters. He later describes: “[E]veryone was wondering, what next? Reports came in of several airplanes that were not responding to communications from the ground and perhaps heading toward Washington. Several [Counterterrorist Center] officers reminded us that al-Qaeda members had once discussed flying an airplane into CIA headquarters, the top floor of which we were presently occupying.” Tenet himself later recalls that, in the minutes after he’d learned of the first attack, he’d “thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters” (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 7-8; Tenet, 2007, pp. 162 and 164] According to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, people at the headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is currently unaccounted for, and it is “a widespread assumption within the building that this flight [is] headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters” (see (Before 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 293-294] Tenet asks Mike Hohlfelder, the chief of his security detail, for his recommendation, and is advised, “Let’s evacuate.” Though he later claims he was “reluctant” about this, Tenet tells his senior leadership: “We have to save our people. We have to evacuate the building.” Therefore, at about 10 a.m., the word goes out for a large number of the CIA’s thousands of employees to go home. Initially, the senior leadership team moves from Tenet’s seventh-floor conference room to another room on the first floor, but it then exits the headquarters building and heads across the campus to the CIA’s printing plant, where a crude operational capability has been set up. However, due to the objections of CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, those in the Counterterrorist Center and the Global Response Center are allowed to stay in place in the headquarters (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Tenet and his staff will leave the printing plant and return to the headquarters at around 1 p.m., by which time they will consider the danger to be over. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet, 2007, pp. 164-165 and 168] The CIA headquarters evacuation is aided by the fact that a fire had occurred there just over a month earlier. Consequently, new evacuation procedures had been laid out, which Tenet follows on this day (see August 7-September 10, 2001). [Kessler, 2003, pp. 222-223]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Hohlfelder, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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