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(Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Ignores His Aides’ Attempts to Get Him to Respond to the Attacks

Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to the secretary of defense, try to persuade Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the terrorist attacks, but Rumsfeld refuses to do so and continues with a routine intelligence briefing. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld is in his office at the Pentagon with Denny Watson, a CIA analyst, who is giving him his daily intelligence briefing. He is aware of the two crashes at the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 334-335]
Aides Go to Talk with Rumsfeld about His Response to the Crisis - Clarke and Di Rita, meanwhile, learned of the attacks on the WTC from seeing the coverage of them on television. After the second crash, Clarke headed to Di Rita’s office, which is down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office. There, she and Di Rita discussed “what had to be done right away in terms of the secretary [of defense],” Clarke will later recall. The two aides then headed together to see Rumsfeld, to talk with him about “the kinds of things he needed to do in response to this [crisis].”
Aides Tell Rumsfeld What They Know about the Attacks - After they enter Rumsfeld’s office, Clarke and Di Rita tell the secretary of defense what is happening and what they know about the attacks. They say the Executive Support Center (ESC) “is going to start getting spun up.” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 6/27/2002 pdf file; Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/2/2002 pdf file; Clarke, 2006, pp. 216-219] The ESC is a secure communications hub with a video teleconference facility, located on the third floor of the Pentagon. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 6/27/2002 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 440] It is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies,” according to Clarke.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Change His Schedule - Clarke and Di Rita also advise Rumsfeld to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day. “Sir, I think your entire schedule is going to be different today,” Di Rita says. But Rumsfeld refuses to do so. “No! If I cancel my day, the terrorists have won,” he says. Undeterred, the two aides pull out a copy of Rumsfeld’s agenda for the day and go through it point by point, explaining to the secretary of defense why each item could be canceled. However, Rumsfeld’s response is to look at the television on the desk and watch the coverage of the attacks on the WTC. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 219; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld “wanted to make a few phone calls” at this time, Clarke will tell one interviewer. [WBZ Radio 1030 (Boston), 9/15/2001]
Aides Go to the Support Center to Respond to the Attacks - Rumsfeld tells the two aides to go to the ESC and wait for him there. Clarke and Di Rita therefore leave the office and head to the ESC (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). They will be in the ESC at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/2/2002 pdf file; Clarke, 2006, pp. 219-220] Rumsfeld, meanwhile, continues skimming through the copy of the President’s Daily Brief that Watson brought him. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244] He will still be in his office receiving his intelligence briefing when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Larry Di Rita, Denny Watson, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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