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(Shortly After 9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: White House Lawyer Is Told What the Justice Department Knows about the Attacks

Timothy Flanigan.Timothy Flanigan. [Source: C-SPAN]Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, talks on the phone with Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and is told what the Justice Department currently knows about the crashes at the World Trade Center, but he is surprised to hear that the FBI is treating them as crimes, rather than acts of war. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has just come into the White House Situation Room (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Wanting to learn more about the crashes in New York, he instructs Flanigan to contact the Justice Department and find out what it knows. “We need everything they’ve got,” he says. Flanigan picks up a phone and calls the Justice Department’s command center. His call is answered by a retired FBI agent who helps run the center. Flanigan introduces himself and says, “I need to speak to the deputy attorney general right away.” (Attorney General John Ashcroft is currently away from Washington, DC (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and so Thompson, his deputy, is filling in for him.) Flanigan’s call is forwarded to the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters. [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 23-25] Thompson was in the Justice Department’s command center earlier on, but left there in response to the attacks on the WTC. [Washingtonian, 6/8/2011] He has just entered the SIOC and is told that someone in the Situation Room wants to talk to him. He picks up a phone and hears Flanigan’s voice. “Larry, it’s Tim,” Flanigan says, adding: “I need information. People are starving for it here. Tell me whatever you have.” Thompson tells Flanigan to hold on while he finds out. He turns to FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has been monitoring the information about the attacks that is being gathered by FBI agents in New York, and says, “The White House wants an update on what we’ve got.” Mueller tells him everything is in motion and criminal investigators are already at the attack site. Thompson then gets back on the phone with Flanigan and says, “The FBI is on the scene and they’re treating it as a crime scene.” As he glances at the coverage from New York on television, however, Flanigan is surprised that the FBI is treating the crashes as crimes, rather than acts of war. “We have no information about possible perpetrators and no info about casualties at this point,” Thompson adds. Flanigan thanks him for the information and ends the call. He then turns to Hadley. He is about to tell the deputy national security adviser that the FBI is treating the WTC as a crime scene but then stops himself. “That was my moment of realization that this was not a crime scene,” he will later recall. He therefore simply tells Hadley, “The FBI’s there and we’ll be getting reports from the scene.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/2009; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 24-25]

Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Robert S. Mueller III, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Timothy E. Flanigan, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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