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Context of '(Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FBI Activates Its Operations Center to Respond to the Attacks'

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Robert Mueller assumes the job of FBI Director. He had been nominated for the job in July 2001 after Louis Freeh’s unexpected and sudden resignation (see May 1, 2001). Thomas Pickard was interim director for three months. Mueller held a variety of jobs in the Justice Department for over a decade prior to his nomination. Most notably, he led Justice Department investigations into the 1991 collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) (see July 5, 1991) and the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. [BBC, 7/5/2001; CNN, 9/5/2001] Mueller was heavily criticized for his role in the BCCI investigation (see February 1988-December 1992). For instance, a bipartisan Congressional BCCI investigation led by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Hank Brown (R-CO) stated, “Unfortunately, as time has passed it has become increasingly clear that the Justice Department did indeed make critical errors in its handling of BCCI… and moreover masked inactivity in prosecuting and investigating the bank by advising critics that matters pertaining to BCCI were ‘under investigation,’ when in fact they were not” and also “[hindered] other legitimate investigative efforts, and [failed] to admit that it had made any of these mistakes.” [US Congress, 12/1992] Mueller himself noted in 1991 that there was an “appearance of, one, foot-dragging; two, perhaps a cover-up,” but denied the cover-up claims. A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that “Even George W. Bush bumped up against the outer fringes of the BCCI crowd during his tenure with Harken Energy and in his friendship with Texas entrepreneur James Bath,” and opines, “On general principles, our view is that it would be a mistake to appoint as FBI head anyone who had any role in the failed BCCI probe. Too many important questions remain unanswered…” [Wall Street Journal, 6/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael Rolince.Michael Rolince. [Source: US Army]FBI Director Robert Mueller is alerted to the crash at the World Trade Center during his daily briefing with his senior staff, but he does not initially realize the incident is a terrorist attack. Every morning since Mueller took over as FBI director, just one week ago (see September 4, 2001), the bureau’s leaders have gathered to bring him up to date on their most important investigations. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Graff, 2011, pp. 314-315] The briefing today is taking place in the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] All of the bureau’s assistant directors are in attendance. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001] This morning, the counterterrorism team, headed by Michael Rolince, is giving a presentation on the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [Graff, 2011, pp. 314-315] Meanwhile, FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard, who is in his office at the headquarters, is alerted to what happened in New York by his secretary, who comes in and tells him a plane has just hit the WTC. He turns on the television and sees the coverage of the incident. He then calls Mueller’s secretary and instructs them to get the director out of the SIOC so Mueller can join him in his office. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] Someone, presumably the secretary, therefore interrupts the briefing in the SIOC and tells its participants about the crash in New York. Mueller apparently does not initially realize a terrorist attack has occurred. “How could a plane not see the tower? It’s so clear out today,” he says. [Graff, 2011, pp. 315] He heads to Pickard’s office and enters it at around 9:00 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] Some of the other officials at the briefing will subsequently also head to Pickard’s office and they will see the second crash on television there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Graff, 2011, pp. 315]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Robert S. Mueller III, Michael Rolince, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; New York Times, 5/26/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; USA Today, 9/2/2002] According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 38] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 39] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107] According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file] This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41] In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 41] According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, activates the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, from where the bureau will coordinate its response to the terrorist attacks. Watson learned about the first hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center during a briefing in the SIOC attended by the FBI’s assistant directors and Robert Mueller, the bureau’s director (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mueller and some of the other officials at the briefing, presumably including Watson, subsequently headed to the office of FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard. There, Mueller, Pickard, and the other officials saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). It then became clear to them that this was a terrorist attack.
Deputy Director Says the FBI Needs to Open Its Operations Center - Mueller asks Pickard what they should do in response to the incident and Pickard says they need to open the SIOC. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] According to the US government’s Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan, “Upon determination of a credible threat,” FBI headquarters is required to activate the SIOC, “to coordinate and manage the national level support to a terrorism incident.” [US Government, 1/2001] Following this protocol, Watson goes to his office and activates the SIOC for crisis mode. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001]
Director Goes to the Operations Center to Manage the Crisis - Mueller and Pickard go to the SIOC to manage the FBI’s response to the attacks. Pickard isolates Mueller in a conference room, restricting access to him so he is better able to stay focused on the decisions ahead. Mueller only took over as FBI director a week ago (see September 4, 2001) and Pickard will later comment, “I was worried that there was going to be this string of people running into the room with news or questions and [Mueller] would be standing there asking them who they were.” [Kessler, 2002, pp. 420; Graff, 2011, pp. 314-316] Meanwhile, a live communications link is established that allows them to listen in as Pentagon and FAA air traffic controllers track suspicious aircraft. [Wall Street Journal, 10/5/2001]
Many Other Officials Go to the Operations Center - Other senior officials and FBI agents also begin pouring into the center, along with representatives from numerous other government agencies, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FAA, the NSA, and the Secret Service. Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff will head to the center, as will Attorney General John Ashcroft, who arrives there early in the afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The SIOC will become “the place to be to get information and so everyone wanted to be there,” Ashcroft will comment. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 5, 421; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file]
Center Is Designed for Dealing with Crises - The SIOC, which opened in 1998 and cost $20 million to build, covers 40,000 square feet on the fifth floor of the FBI headquarters building. [CNN, 11/20/1998] It is “a heavily fortified cluster of offices surrounded by video screens and banks of computer terminals,” according to the New York Times. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] It can function as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] It operates around the clock, with at least eight staffers on duty at any one time. It is capable of managing up to five crises at a time and is designed to accommodate up to 450 members of staff during major emergencies. [CNN, 11/20/1998; New Yorker, 9/24/2001]
Center Is Built to Survive Attacks - The center is fortified so those in it can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] It has no windows to the street outside and is shielded to prevent electronic signals from entering or leaving it. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Kessler, 2002, pp. 421] Its 225 computer terminals have access to three types of local area networks: the regular FBI network that can connect to the networks of outside agencies; a classified network that operates at the top-secret level; and an even more highly classified Special Compartmented Information network. [Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The many computers and video screens in the center can display broadcasts from US television channels and also TV channels from other countries. [CNN, 11/20/1998]
Center Will Become the 'Nerve Center' of the FBI's Investigation - By the end of the week, the SIOC will be “the headquarters of the government’s response” to today’s attacks, according to journalist and author Garrett Graff. As many as 500 people from 56 different agencies will be working in it. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421; Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, 7/1/2002; Graff, 2011, pp. 317] It will become “the nerve center” of the FBI’s investigation of the attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. [Wall Street Journal, 10/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service, Dale Watson, Strategic Information Operations Center, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Pickard, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The J. Edgar Hoover Building.The J. Edgar Hoover Building. [Source: FBI]Nonessential employees are evacuated from the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 421] The FBI headquarters is located in the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, six blocks away from the White House. The building is seven stories high along Pennsylvania Avenue and rises to 11 stories at the rear. [Kessler, 2007, pp. 15; US Government Accountability Office, 11/2011, pp. 6 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/10/2012; Capital News Service, 10/6/2016]
Headquarters Is Evacuated after the Pentagon Attack - The evacuation apparently takes place shortly after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Denise Smith, a forensic scientist, is at work in a laboratory in the Hoover Building when she and her colleagues learn of the attacks on the World Trade Center. “Then, all of a sudden, we could see flames and smoke coming from the Pentagon,” she will later recall. “Seconds later,” according to the Baraboo News Republic, “everyone in the building was told to evacuate.” [Baraboo News Republic, 9/10/2011] Author Cindi McMenamin will write that her brother Dan, who is working at FBI headquarters this morning, and his colleagues “immediately evacuated” after “getting word that the Pentagon had been hit.” [McMenamin, 2012, pp. 64] It apparently takes a considerable time to get everyone away from the building. “The backup to leave the FBI’s underground garage was half an hour,” according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421]
Headquarters Is Feared to Be a Terrorist Target - The headquarters is apparently evacuated due to fears that it may be the target of a terrorist attack. “Assuming that FBI headquarters would be the next target, nonessential employees were being evacuated from the J. Edgar Hoover Building,” Kessler will describe. [Kessler, 2007, pp. 15] McMenamin will write that her brother and his colleagues evacuate “as they guessed their building—and any other federal building—could be next.” [McMenamin, 2012, pp. 64] Attorney General John Ashcroft, who will arrive at FBI headquarters early this afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), will state that sometime before his arrival it had been thought “that one of the [hijacked] planes might be headed for the FBI headquarters building.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file] Many FBI agents and senior FBI officials who remain in the headquarters work from the Strategic Information and Operations Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 5] The center, on the building’s fifth floor, is fortified so its occupants can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. [New York Times, 11/2/2001] Other security measures are also taken around this time. Police block off Ninth and Tenth Streets alongside the Hoover Building. Bomb-sniffing dogs and FBI police officers armed with submachine guns then patrol the perimeter around the building. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 421]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Denise Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Attorney General John Ashcroft arrives at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s Washington, DC, headquarters. [CNN, 11/20/1998; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] Ashcroft has returned to Washington after his scheduled engagement in Milwaukee had to be aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003]
Ashcroft Heads to the SIOC instead of the Remote, Classified Site - After his plane landed at Reagan National Airport (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft was advised by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel had gone. But because the roads were clogged with traffic, at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, turned around and headed instead toward the SIOC. While on his way to the SIOC, Ashcroft ordered that senior Justice Department officials like Thompson, who was at the remote, classified site, meet him at the center. Ashcroft will later estimate that he arrives at the SIOC sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118-120]
Sophisticated Command Center Can Manage Multiple Crises - The FBI’s new, upgraded SIOC officially opened in November 1998. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The windowless, high-tech command center is 40,000 square feet in size. [Washington Post, 11/21/1998; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] It can seat 380 people, includes 20 rooms to support its operations, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. It functions as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. It is capable of handling up to five crises at once. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The SIOC was operational “[w]ithin minutes” of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to the FBI (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and provides “analytical, logistical, and administrative support” for the FBI’s teams on the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003] Ashcroft will remain at the SIOC throughout the day, along with most of the FBI and Justice Department’s top officials (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]

Entity Tags: Strategic Information Operations Center, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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