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(9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Security around Air Force One Is Increased amid Fears that the Plane May Be a Terrorist Target

Security is increased around Air Force One, the president’s plane, in response to the second attack on the World Trade Center and the pilot is informed that the aircraft may be targeted by terrorists while it is on the ground. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Only the standard level of security has been provided, with cones marking a security zone around the plane. Will Chandler, the chief of security, has been standing inside these cones and guarding the aircraft. According to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, prior to the attacks on the WTC, “there was no intel, there was nothing that said we’re about to be attacked.” But Tillman will later recall that after he learns of the second plane crash in New York and realizes it is a deliberate attack, he and the rest of the plane’s crew “start pulling out all the plans that we know we have to execute to keep the president safe and ensure the continuity of government.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file]
Personnel Protecting Air Force One Increase Security - The level of security around Air Force One is increased after the second attack on the WTC occurs. Staff Sergeant William Buzinski, whose job is to protect the plane, was told about the first crash at the WTC by a member of the Secret Service. After the second crash occurs, Buzinski sees the same agent running across the tarmac toward him. The agent tells him, “Another plane hit the towers.” Buzinski realizes right away that the incident must have been an act of terrorism. In response to the news, he will recall, “We started to increase security around the plane—made it a tighter bubble.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Pilot Says Air Force One Is 'Ready to Go' - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, calls Tillman and instructs him to get Air Force One and its crew ready to leave immediately (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, and Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, also call Tillman. Tillman will recall that they ask him: “What is our status? If [Bush and his entourage] can come to us within 10 minutes, can we get going?” Tillman replies: “Yes, absolutely. We are ready to go.”
Pilot Is Told the Plane Is a 'Sitting Duck' - Tillman is informed that “about nine planes” have been hijacked and that “one is in the Florida area.” Rosenker tells him: “Assume that [Air Force One is] a target on the ramp in Sarasota. It’s a large 747. [It is] sitting wide open. [A] sitting duck.” Tillman will say that his intention, therefore, is “to move that aircraft. Get it out of the way, and come back and grab the president when he’s ready to go.” He cannot do this, however, because Bush wants to “come rushing back to us and head to Washington, DC.” Secret Service agents with the president instruct Tillman: “We are coming at you as fast as we can come at you. Do not—repeat—do not move.”
People Are Moved Away from Air Force One - “We started getting reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” Tillman will recall, and there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president.” The crew of Air Force One has “no idea what was going on” and is receiving “a lot of misinformation” while waiting for the president to arrive at the airport. To increase security, people are pushed away from Air Force One. This, according to Tillman, is so that “whoever was near that aircraft had a good reason to be there.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file]
Military Presence Is Increased at the Airport - White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who has gone to the Booker Elementary School with Bush, notices the increased security around Air Force One when the president’s motorcade arrives at the Sarasota airport (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There is always “an incredible security presence” around the plane, he will comment. But now he sees “the redoubling of that.” There is “more of a military presence at the airport, as opposed to just a security [made up] of local police officers or anything like that.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Bartlett sees “a lot of military uniforms” and notices “the perimeters [around Air Force One] increasing.” Furthermore, he will recall, “[T]he scrutiny for entering the perimeter was much tougher than you could ever imagine.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Mike Morell, the president’s CIA briefer, will describe, “When we got back to the plane, it was ringed by security and Secret Service [agents] with automatic weapons.” “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he will comment. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Sheriff in a Helicopter Watches Over the Airport - Meanwhile, a helicopter arrives to keep watch over the airport. Sergeant Kevin Kenney of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office had been scheduled to fly the Sheriff’s Office helicopter to cover Bush’s motorcade as it traveled to the Booker Elementary School this morning, but was unable to do so because of heavy fog. However, after the second attack on the WTC, a member of Bush’s Secret Service detail instructs him to launch the helicopter and get to the Sarasota airport as soon as possible. He arrives there around the time Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport. The Secret Service then instructs Kenney to fly around the airport perimeter and be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles or groups of people. He notices “numerous civilian vehicles… already responding to the vicinity of the airport and gathering along the roadways in the proximity.” He relays information to Bush’s Secret Service detail and local agencies that are dispatching patrol units to the area. Kenney continues his surveillance of the airport for the 10 minutes or so it takes to get Bush and the other passengers onto Air Force One. [Sheriff, 9/2011; Longboat Observer, 9/8/2011] Additionally, reporters and other individuals who are traveling with the president are subjected to a strict security check while they are boarding the plane (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Edward Marinzel, Thomas Gould, Mark Tillman, Dan Bartlett, Kevin Kenney, Mark Rosenker, William Buzinski, Michael J. Morell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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