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

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

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