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Context of 'Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: CIA Counterterrorist Center Learns of at Least One More Plane Unaccounted for'

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According to CIA Director George Tenet, “Only minutes” after the South Tower is hit, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) receives a report that at least one other commercial passenger jet plane is unaccounted for. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 163] The CTC is based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, and is run by the agency’s operations division. It gathers intelligence and runs covert operations abroad. It employs hundreds of analysts, and includes experts assigned from Defense Department intelligence agencies, the Pentagon’s Central Command, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government agencies. According to the Los Angeles Times, “It serves as the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” [St. Petersburg Times, 10/2/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001] Further details of the unaccounted-for plane, and where the CTC learns of it from, are unclear. The plane is presumably Flight 77, which veered off course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and was evidently lost by 8:56 (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The FAA will later claim it had established several phone bridges at around 8:50 a.m., which included various government agencies, on which it shared “real-time information… about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] So the CTC may have learned of the errant plane by this means. Yet the 9/11 Commission will claim the FAA’s phone bridges were not established until about 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] And NORAD is supposedly only alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24, according to some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or 9:34, according to others (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorist Center logo.Counterterrorist Center logo. [Source: CIA]At around 10 a.m., following reports that several aircraft were not responding to communications and could be heading toward Washington, CIA Director George Tenet orders the evacuation of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, Cofer Black, the director of the Counterterrorist Center (CTC), is unhappy about this and tells Tenet, “Sir, we’re going to have to exempt CTC from this because we need to have our people working the computers.” The CTC, according to the Los Angeles Times, is “the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” About 200 employees are currently working in it. Eight of them are in the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the building, monitoring the latest intelligence on terrorism throughout the world. The rest are in a windowless facility low down in the building. When Tenet points out that the Global Response Center staff will be at risk, Black responds, “They have the key function to play in a crisis like this. This is exactly why we have the Global Response Center.” When Tenet points out, “They could die,” Black replies, “Well, sir, then they’re just going to have to die.” After pausing, Tenet agrees, “You’re absolutely right.” Tenet later says, “Now that we were under attack, the Counterterrorist Center, with its vast data banks and sophisticated communications systems, was more vital than ever. Even as we were discussing going or staying, CTC was sending out a global alert to our stations around the world, ordering them to go to their liaison services and agents to collect every shred of information they could lay their hands on.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet, 2007, pp. 164-165]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At some unspecified time after when Flight 93 crashed, CIA Director George Tenet receives the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, after having evacuated the agency’s headquarters building (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). An analyst from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) has raced across to the plant with the list, and says, “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks.” He specifically points at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers). According to Tenet, this is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot.” Tenet will later say that after the CTC had first “requested passenger lists from the planes that had been turned into weapons that morning… the initial response from some parts of the bureaucracy (which parts since mercifully forgotten) was that the manifests could not be shared with CIA. There were privacy issues involved.” They were only obtained after some “gentle reasoning, and a few four-letter words.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 167] The agency that provided these lists to the CTC may have been the Customs Office of Intelligence. According to Robert Bonner, the commissioner-designate of US Customs, “through an evaluation of data related to the passengers manifest for the four terrorist hijacked aircraft, Customs Office of Intelligence was able to identify the likely terrorist hijackers. Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim he was told as early as 9:59 a.m. that the FBI had received the passenger manifests from the airlines (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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