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(Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Solicitor General Olson Is Called by His Wife on Flight 77

Barbara Olson.Barbara Olson. [Source: Richard Eillis / Getty Images]Barbara Olson, a passenger on Flight 77, talks over the phone with her husband, Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States, and gives details of the hijacking of her plane, but the call is cut off after about a minute. [9/11 Commission, 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] Flight 77 was hijacked between around 8:51 a.m. and 8:54 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Sometime later, Barbara Olson tries calling her husband from the plane. The call initially reaches Mercy Lorenzo, an operator for AT&T, and after a short conversation, Lorenzo connects her to Ted Olson’s office at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001]
Secretary Answers the Call - There, the call is answered by Lori Keyton, a secretary. Lorenzo says there is an emergency collect call from Barbara Olson for Ted Olson. Keyton says she will accept it. Barbara Olson is then put through. She starts asking, “Can you tell Ted…” but Keyton cuts her off and says, “I’ll put him on the line.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] Keyton then notifies Helen Voss, Ted Olson’s special assistant, about the call. She says Barbara Olson is on the line and in a panic. The call is then passed on to Ted Olson. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] Voss rushes up to him and says, “Barbara is on the phone.” Ted Olson has been watching the coverage of the crashes at the World Trade Center on television and was concerned that his wife might have been on one of the planes involved. He is therefore initially relieved at this news. However, when he gets on the phone with her, he learns about the crisis on Flight 77. [CNN, 9/14/2001; Newsweek, 9/28/2001; Hudson Union, 6/18/2014]
Barbara Olson Provides Details of the Hijacking - Barbara Olson tells her husband that her plane has been hijacked. She gives no information describing the hijackers. She says they were armed with knives and box cutters, but makes no mention of any of the crew members or passengers being stabbed or slashed by them. She says they moved all the passengers to the back of the plane and are unaware that she is making a phone call. After the couple have been talking for about a minute, the call is cut off. Ted Olson will then try to call Attorney General John Ashcroft on a direct line he has to Ashcroft but receive no answer. After that, he will call the Department of Justice command center and ask for someone there to come to his office (see (Between 9:17 a.m. and 9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Barbara Olson will reach her husband again and provide more details about the hijacking a short time later (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Newsweek, 9/28/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32]
Barbara Olson Is 'Incredibly Calm' - Accounts will later conflict over how composed Barbara Olson sounds during the call. She “did not seem panicked,” according to Ted Olson. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] “She sounded very, very calm… in retrospect, enormously, remarkably, incredibly calm,” he will say. [CNN, 9/14/2001] But Keyton will say that when she answered the call, Barbara Olson “sounded hysterical.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] Ted Olson will add that he did not hear any noises on the plane other than his wife’s voice. [CNN, 9/14/2001]
Accounts Will Conflict over What Kind of Phone Is Used - Accounts will also be contradictory over whether Barbara Olson’s call is made using a cell phone or an Airfone. Keyton will say there is no caller identification feature on her phone and so she was unable to determine what kind of phone Barbara Olson used. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] Ted Olson will tell the FBI that he “doesn’t know if the calls [from his wife] were made from her cell phone or [an Airfone].” He will mention, though, that she “always has her cell phone with her.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001] He will similarly tell Fox News that he is unsure whether his wife used her cell phone or an Airfone. He will say he initially assumed the call must have been made on an Airfone and she called collect because “she somehow didn’t have access to her credit cards.” [Fox News, 9/14/2001] But he will tell CNN that she “called him twice on a cell phone.” [CNN, 9/12/2001] And in a public appearance in 2014, he will imply that she called him on her cell phone, saying, “I don’t know how Barbara managed to make her cell phone work” while she was in the air. [Hudson Union, 6/18/2014] Furthermore, a spokesman for Ted Olson will say that during the call, Barbara Olson said she was locked in the toilet. If correct, this would mean she must be using her cell phone. [Daily Mail, 9/12/2001; Evening Standard, 9/12/2001] But in 2002, Ted Olson will tell the London Telegraph that his wife called him on an Airfone and add, “I guess she didn’t have her purse, because she was calling collect.” [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/2002] And based on a study of all Airfone records, an examination of the cell phone records of all of the passengers who owned cell phones, and interviews with the people who received calls from the plane, the Department of Justice will determine that all of the calls from Flight 77 were made using Airfones.
Call Will Be Listed as Being Made to an 'Unknown' Number - A list compiled by the Department of Justice supposedly showing all of the calls made today from Flight 77 will include four “connected calls to unknown numbers” (see 9:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission Report will determine that these include the two calls made by Barbara Olson to her husband. According to the information in the list, her first call must occur at 9:15 a.m., 9:20 a.m., or 9:25 a.m. However, the FBI and the Department of Justice will conclude that all four “connected calls to unknown numbers” were communications between Barbara Olson and her husband’s office. [9/11 Commission, 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455]
Barbara Olson Originally Planned to Fly Out a Day Earlier - Barbara Olson is a former federal prosecutor who is now a well-known political commentator on television. [Independent, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 9/13/2001] She was flying to Los Angeles to attend a major media business conference and to appear on Bill Maher’s television show, Politically Incorrect, this evening. [CNN, 9/14/2001; Hudson Union, 6/18/2014] She was originally scheduled to be on Flight 77 on September 10, but delayed her departure because today is Ted Olson’s birthday, and she wanted to be with him on the night before and have breakfast with him this morning. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Scotsman, 9/13/2001; Hudson Union, 6/18/2014] At around 9:00 a.m., Keyton received a series of about six to eight collect calls from an unknown caller that failed to go through (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presumably these were made by Barbara Olson. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 94] In an interview with the FBI on September 13, Ted Olson will mention some messages on his voicemail at his old law firm. Presumably, he will be suggesting that these were also from Barbara Olson (see (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Barbara Olson, Helen Voss, Mercy Lorenzo, Lori Lynn Keyton, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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