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Context of 'Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Government Departments in Washington Not Evacuated Prior to Pentagon Attack'

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The White House begins slowly evacuating around this time, according to some accounts. In a 9:52 a.m. report, CNN White House correspondent John King will state that “about 30 minutes ago,” the White House had begun “slowly evacuating.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier will write in his 2006 memoirs that the evacuation begins at “exactly 9:18.” At this time, Secret Service agents tell Mesnier to “go out, right now,” because, Mesnier is told, “a plane was targeting the White House and would be there soon.” [Mesnier and Malard, 2006, pp. 361] The evacuation proceeds in an orderly fashion. But later on, around 9:45 a.m., those evacuating will be ordered to run (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: John King, US Secret Service, Roland Mesnier

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by the FAA’s Boston Center. Colin Scoggins, Boston Center’s military liaison, tells it: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.… That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.… I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks: “He—American 11 is a hijack?… And he’s heading into Washington?” Scoggins answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston Center has been told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the 9/11 Commission will say it hasn’t been able to find where this mistaken information came from.
Scoggins Makes Error - Vanity Fair magazine will later add, “In Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.” Scoggins will explain why he believes he made this error: “With American Airlines, we could never confirm if [Flight 11] was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.” He says he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), “when the word came across—from whom or where isn’t clear—that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” However, Boston Center was never tracking Flight 11 on radar after losing sight of it near Manhattan: “The plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it headed on a straight course toward DC. This was all controllers were going on.” Scoggins says, “After talking to a supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Myers Refers to Mistaken Report - In the hours following the attacks, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers will apparently refer to this erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, telling the Associated Press that “prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.” Myers will say “he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Colin Scoggins

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. [Washington Post, 11/3/2001] In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 5/22/2003] Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Washington Dulles International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Government buildings in Washington, DC, are not evacuated prior to the attack on the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. As CNN will describe, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the FAA’s warning to the military of a hijacked aircraft apparently heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/16/2001] Although a slow evacuation of the White House begins around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), it is not until 9:45 that the Secret Service orders people to run from there (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002] Other government buildings, including the Capitol (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Supreme Court, will not be evacuated until between 9:45 and 10:45 a.m. [US News and World Report, 9/14/2001; US Department of State, 8/15/2002] Robert Bonner, who was recently nominated as Commissioner of Customs, will later estimate that he was evacuated from the Treasury Department at “about 9:35 a.m.” [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; US Department of Homeland Security, 9/20/2004] But other accounts say the Treasury Department is not evacuated until after the Pentagon attack. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Reuters, 9/11/2001; US Department of State, 9/11/2002] Furthermore, journalist and author Robert Draper will describe that, even after the State and Treasury departments have been evacuated: “no agents thought to take charge of the Commerce Department, which housed 5,000 employees. Eventually, Secretary [of Commerce] Don Evans got tired of waiting for orders and had someone drive him to his home in McLean, where he sat for hours until he finally made contact with the Secret Service.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] According to CNN, prior to the Pentagon attack, “neither the FAA, NORAD, nor any other federal government organ made any effort to evacuate the buildings in Washington. Officials at the Pentagon said that no mechanism existed within the US government to notify various departments and agencies under such circumstances [as occur on 9/11].” [CNN, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, US Supreme Court, Robert Bonner, US Department of Commerce, US Department of Justice, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of State, White House, US Capitol building, Donald L. Evans

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House.Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House. [Source: Associated Press]The White House is evacuated after the Secret Service receives what the Associated Press describes as a credible threat of a terrorist attack against it. [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] Minutes earlier, in the White House Situation Room, Secret Service Director Brian Stafford informed counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that an aircraft was heading in their direction, and said he was going to order the evacuation of the White House (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] The Secret Service learned of this aircraft by monitoring radar and over an open line with the FAA (the “hijack net”), which enable them to receive real time information about the hijacked aircraft. The Secret Service, which has been using an air surveillance system called Tigerwall for some time (see (September 2000 and after)), tracks both American 77 and United 93 as they approach Washington and assumes the White House is a target. Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs will later say, “The Secret Service prepared to defend the facility,” although the precise nature of the preparations is unclear. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; PCCW Newsletter, 3/2006] A slow and orderly evacuation of the White House had in fact begun earlier on (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But now the Secret Service orders people to run so as to evacuate faster. [CNN, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Barbara Riggs, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate.Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate. [Source: CBC]The Capitol building in Washington, DC is evacuated. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] It is the first time in US history this has ever happened. [Chicago Tribune, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001] Both the Senate and the House are in session at the time. [CNN, 8/17/2002] Capitol Police officers go through the building and order people to leave at once. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002]
Reports of Plane Approaching the Capitol - The evacuation appears to be in response to reports of a plane heading toward the Capitol. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 8/17/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 80-81] According to CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash, “the Capitol Police were hearing, in their radio, that there was a plane—another plane in the air, likely headed for the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2006] When a Capitol Police officer instructs Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to leave the building, he says: “We have word that an airplane is heading this way and could hit the building anytime. You need to evacuate.”
'Nothing Orderly' about Evacuation - However, there are problems with the evacuation. According to Daschle, “The fire alarm system, which was working in the nearby Senate office buildings, was never activated in the Capitol, so there were people who weren’t aware that an evacuation was taking place.” Also, some individuals are reluctant to leave. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 109-110] Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ) will recall: “They tried to throw me out three times, but they didn’t succeed. I figured I was safer in the building than out on the street.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001] Daschle will recall that there is “nothing orderly” about the evacuation. Outside the building “No one knew what to do or where to go. People congregated on the grass and in the parking lot. Senators and staff were mixed in with tourists, all staring up at the sky, wondering what might be headed our way.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 110] CNN will report, “[S]ome of the most high ranking officials in the United States government were just kind of scattered around this area without a gathering point.” [CNN, 9/11/2006]
Sergeant at Arms Concerned over Poor Security - Al Lenhardt, the Senate’s sergeant at arms, will later say how alarmed he was “to see members of Congress and their staffs mixed in with visitors and passersby wandering in the open around the Capitol grounds. One of the tactics that terrorists have been known to employ is to create a diversion to move their intended target to the area where the actual attack will take place. Al imagined a bomb or gunfire erupting right there on the lawn outside the Capitol.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 111] Eventually, many of the members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, which then serves as their command center for the day (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001 and (10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2002; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112]

Entity Tags: Al Lenhardt, Robert Lee Stump, US Capitol Police, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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