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Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001: Bush’s CIA Briefer Calls His Operations Center and Learns the WTC Was Hit by a Large Plane

Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, calls the CIA’s operations center to see if anyone there knows more about what has happened at the World Trade Center and is told that the WTC was hit by a large commercial airliner. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 48] Morell learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC as he was being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where Bush is going to attend a reading event. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was in the same vehicle as him, received a pager message stating what had happened and then exclaimed, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center” (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Fleischer asked Morell if he knew anything about the incident. “As the in-house intelligence officer, Morell was the man they looked to for the scoop when something startling happened,” journalist and author Mark Bowden will comment. [Bowden, 2012, pp. 3] The CIA officer knew nothing about the incident but said he would make some calls to inquire about it.
CIA Officer Thought the Crash Was an Accident - Morell initially assumed the crash was an accident. “The image in my mind,” he will later recall, “was of a small plane losing its way in a storm or fog and hitting the World Trade Center. I figured the death toll would include only two or three people on the plane and perhaps a few more in offices at the point of impact.” All the same, after entering the school, he calls the operations center at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to see if anyone there knows more about the crash. He assumes someone there likely will because, he will write, “I had come to rely on the group of hard-working officers in the center, both to set aside for me key pieces of overnight reporting and to answer my many questions.”
CIA Officer Is Told a Large Plane Hit the WTC - However, the duty officer Morell talks to is able to tell him little more than what he already knows. The one new detail the duty officer provides, Morell will recall, is that “the initial reports indicated that the plane [that hit the WTC] was a large commercial jet.” “My hope that this was not terrorism started to fade,” he will write. Morell then walks into the holding room next to the classroom where Bush is going to listen to some children reading and notices that the time is 9:00 a.m. Minutes later, he will learn about Flight 175 crashing into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and realize immediately that the incident is a “deliberate act of terrorism.” [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47-48]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael J. Morell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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