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Context of '(9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Clarke Learns of Aircraft Approaching White House'

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It is reported that the US Secret Service is using an “air surveillance system” called Tigerwall. This serves to “ensure enhanced physical security at a high-value asset location by providing early warning of airborne threats.” Tigerwall “provides the Secret Service with a geographic display of aircraft activity and provides security personnel long-range camera systems to classify and identify aircraft. Sensor data from several sources are fused to provide a unified sensor display.” [US Department of Defense, 2000; US Department of the Navy, 9/2000, pp. 28 pdf file] Among its responsibilities, the Secret Service protects America’s highest elected officials, including the president and vice president, and also provides security for the White House complex. [US Congress, 5/1/2003] Its largest field office with over 200 employees is in New York, in Building 7 of the World Trade Center. [Tech TV, 7/23/2002] Whether the Secret Service, in New York or Washington, will make use of Tigerwall on 9/11 is unknown. Furthermore, in New York the Secret Service has a Stinger missile secretly stored in the WTC, to be used to protect the president if the city were attacked when he visited. Presumably it keeps this is in Building 7, where its field office is. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 379] As well as Tigerwall, the Secret Service appears to have other air surveillance capabilities. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will describe that on 9/11, the Secret Service had “a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] Barbara Riggs, a future deputy director of the Secret Service who is in its Washington, DC headquarters on 9/11, will describe the Secret Service “monitoring radar” during the attacks. [PCCW Newsletter, 3/2006; Star-Gazette (Elmira), 6/5/2006] Furthermore, since 1974 the Secret Service operations center has possessed a special communications line from the control tower of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This hotline allows air traffic controllers monitoring local radar to inform agents at the White House of any planes that are off course or appear to be on a “threatening vector.” [Time, 9/26/1994]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Larry Cockell.Larry Cockell. [Source: Saint Louis University]Brian Stafford, the director of the Secret Service, activates the Director’s Crisis Center (DCC) at Secret Service headquarters in order to manage the Secret Service’s response to the terrorist attacks. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001; United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] The DCC is located on the ninth floor of the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is used to direct operations in emergencies. [Kessler, 2009, pp. 23-24] It is unclear exactly when it is activated. Larry Cockell, the deputy director of the Secret Service, will later say that the crisis center is activated after he receives “a call from the duty desk” informing him “that we were getting intelligence that there was a potential hijacking.” [Peter Schnall, 10/24/2004] According to a Secret Service timeline provided to the 9/11 Commission, it is activated at 9:00 a.m. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001] But Danny Spriggs, the assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Protective Operations, will say that Stafford makes the decision to activate the DCC “after the two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers,” meaning some time after 9:03 a.m. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Stafford apparently thought the first crash at the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) was accidental, and only realized a terrorist attack was under way when the second plane hit the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “I thought and hoped that it was an accident,” he will recall. “But when the second one hit, we knew that it wasn’t.” [Peter Schnall, 10/24/2004] Spriggs will say that when he arrives at the DCC, at around 9:35 a.m., Stafford and Cockell are already there (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] However, although the DCC is activated now, the Secret Service will not implement an “emergency call-up” of all its personnel until after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Carlton Danny Spriggs, Larry Cockell, Brian L. Stafford, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A meeting is held in the office of Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division (PPD), during which Truscott and three other senior Secret Service agents discuss security enhancements at the White House. Truscott, who is responsible for the overall security of the White House, will later say that he contacted the three other agents after watching “the CNN broadcast of the aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center,” and asked them to come to his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House (see (After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The names of these agents are unstated, but they are a deputy special agent in charge of the PPD, an assistant to the special agent in charge of the PPD, and an assistant division chief of the Secret Service’s technical security division. Their meeting begins at “approximately 9:18 a.m.,” according to Truscott. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001]
Agents Discuss Measures to Increase Security - Truscott and the other agents briefly discuss the Secret Service assets that have so far been deployed in response to the crisis. [United States Secret Service, 9/12/2001] Issues that are addressed during the meeting, according to Truscott, include placing counter-sniper support on the White House; placing counter-surveillance units near the White House; opening the Emergency Operations Center; increasing the number of emergency response teams; increasing technical security division support; providing counter-assault team support to First Lady Laura Bush’s Secret Service detail at the US Capitol building; providing protection for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; and alerting the Army Corps of Engineers structural collapse team.
Agent Learns of Aircraft Approaching Washington - While the meeting is taking place, Truscott receives a call from Danny Spriggs, an agent at the Secret Service’s headquarters in Washington, DC, informing him that a suspicious aircraft is flying toward the capital (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And while he is on the phone with Spriggs, Truscott receives a call from a “White House security representative.” During that call, Truscott instructs the security representative to evacuate the White House. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] (The White House will begin evacuating at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/12/2001] )
Agent Suggests Going to White House Bunker - At some point, Truscott suggests that those at the meeting go to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House. Truscott will subsequently head to the PEOC. Apparently at least one other person at the meeting—the assistant division chief of the technical security division—will head there with him. [United States Secret Service, 9/12/2001] On his way to the PEOC, Truscott will meet Rice in the White House Situation Room and accompany her down to the PEOC (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Presumably as a result of the meeting in Truscott’s office, the Secret Service will implement “a number of security enhancements around the White House complex,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (After 9:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35-36]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Carlton Danny Spriggs, Carl Truscott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of the Secret Service’s uniformed division.Members of the Secret Service’s uniformed division. [Source: Joe Marquette / Associated Press]The Secret Service begins implementing a number of security enhancements around the White House complex. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35-36] The measures are apparently being implemented on the orders of a number of senior Secret Service agents who have been meeting in the office of Carl Truscott, the special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, who is responsible for the overall security of the White House (see (9:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During that meeting, according to Truscott, the agents have discussed “security enhancements at the White House,” such as “placing counter-sniper support on the White House” and “placing counter-surveillance units near the White House.” [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] The officials who ordered the security enhancements “did not know that there were additional hijacked aircraft or that one such aircraft was en route to Washington,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The measures are simply “precautionary steps taken because of the strikes in New York.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] However, once the Secret Service has established a perimeter around the White House, its uniformed division officers are ordered “to stow their submachine guns out of sight,” according to US News and World Report, because officials fear that they look too “militaristic.” The uniformed division officers are furious about this. “All we were left with were our pistols,” one of them will later complain. [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002] The security enhancements are initiated after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35-36] However, the meeting of senior Secret Service agents during which the measures were discussed began at around 9:18 a.m., according to Truscott, which would indicate that the measures are initiated some time after 9:18 a.m. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Furthermore, the Secret Service will only order that the White House be evacuated at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, requests a fighter escort for Air Force One and authorization for the Air Force to shoot down threatening aircraft. According to Clarke’s own account, when they see President Bush starting his short speech from the Booker Elementary School library on television (at about 9:30), he and others in the Situation Room briefly discuss getting the president away from the school to somewhere safer. Clarke then telephones the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, which contains Vice President Dick Cheney and others. He speaks with Army Major Mike Fenzel and instructs him: “Mike, somebody has to tell the president he can’t come right back here [to Washington]. Cheney, Condi, somebody. Secret Service concurs. We do not want them saying where they are going when they take off. Second, when they take off, they should have fighter escort. Three, we need to authorize the Air Force to shoot down any aircraft—including a hijacked passenger flight—that looks like it is threatening to attack and cause large-scale death on the ground. Got it?” Fenzel replies, “Roger that, Dick, get right back to you.” This conversation appears to take place shortly before the Pentagon attack occurs, so roughly around 9:35 or 9:36, as soon afterwards Secret Service Director Brian Stafford slips Clarke a note stating that radar shows an aircraft heading their way (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and then Ralph Seigler, the Situation Room deputy director, reports an explosion having occurred at the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 6-7] However, it is unclear how long it takes for Clarke’s requests to be implemented. According to some accounts, fighters do not arrive to accompany Air Force One until an hour or more after it takes off (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Reports are also contradictory as to when shootdown authorization is given for the Air Force. According to Clarke’s own recollections, it is given between around 9:38 and 9:56 (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Other accounts, including that of the 9/11 Commission, state that it is not given until after 9:56, possibly as late as 10:20 (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Mike Fenzel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport calls the Secret Service Joint Operations Center (JOC) and warns it about an unidentified aircraft that is heading toward the White House. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] Controllers at Reagan Airport have just been contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and notified of the unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33 pdf file]
Supervisor Calls Secret Service - Immediately after he learns of this aircraft, Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Reagan Airport, picks up a direct line to the White House and informs the Secret Service JOC there: “We have a target five [miles] west. He’s turning south but he’s still on our scope. We’re not talking to him. It’s definitely a suspicious aircraft.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 146] According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Padgett provides the Secret Service with continuous updates on the aircraft’s actions. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] After traveling almost 10 miles south of Reagan Airport, the aircraft turns back toward Washington and again appears to be heading for the White House. Padgett tells the Secret Service: “What I’m telling you, buddy, if you’ve got people, you’d better get them out of there! And I mean right g_ddamned now![Spencer, 2008, pp. 158] (People will begin rapidly evacuating from the White House at about 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Cheney Not Evacuated - According to the 9/11 Commission, when Padgett initially calls the JOC, “No move [is] made to evacuate the vice president” from his White House office. The officer who takes the call will explain, “[I was] about to push the alert button when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approaching Reagan National Airport.” According to the Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is not evacuated until “just before 9:36” (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] (However, other accounts indicate he was evacuated earlier on, shortly after 9:00 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] ) A supervisor at Dulles Airport also contacts the Secret Service around this time to notify it of the approaching aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Victor Padgett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Danny Spriggs.Danny Spriggs. [Source: National Geographic]Danny Spriggs, the assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Protective Operations, arrives at the Director’s Crisis Center (DCC) at Secret Service headquarters and joins colleagues there in responding to the terrorist attacks, but the agents’ ability to take action is affected by the poor quality of the information they receive. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003] The DCC is used to direct operations in emergencies. It is located on the ninth floor of the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and maintained within the Secret Service’s intelligence division. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; Kessler, 2009, pp. 23-24] Brian Stafford, the director of the Secret Service, activated it after the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, according to Spriggs (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Agent Joins Colleagues in Crisis Center - Spriggs will later recall that he arrives at the DCC at “approximately 9:35 a.m.,” and finds Stafford and Larry Cockell, the deputy director of the Secret Service, already there. At this time, Stafford is on the phone with the intelligence division. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] (However, White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that Stafford is with him in the White House Situation Room around this time (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 6-7] ) Shortly after entering the crisis center, Spriggs uses his “DCC designated telephone” to call Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division. During the call, Spriggs alerts Truscott to a suspicious aircraft that is flying toward the White House (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001]
Agents Receive 'Conflicting' and 'Unconfirmed' Information - Spriggs will say that his “area of concern” while he is at the DCC is “the location of our protective details and the safety of our protectees.” He will recall, however, that when he arrives at the DCC, “many of the telephones” there are “not operational.” [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Furthermore, the amount of information that comes into the crisis center throughout the day is “enormous.” Spriggs will recall that, while he is at the DCC, the agents there receive “conflicting” information from the intelligence division, “unconfirmed data,” and “raw information,” which hinders their ability to make proper decisions. He will say that one of his colleagues at the DCC (whose name is unstated) is making decisions based on “inaccurate data that could have been quickly verified,” such as the misinformation that an aircraft crashed near Camp David (see (10:37 a.m.-11:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Carl Truscott, Carlton Danny Spriggs, Brian L. Stafford, Larry Cockell, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to report a low-flying airliner he has spotted six miles southeast of the White House. He can offer no details regarding its identity. The plane is reportedly Flight 77, but as it has its transponder turned off, no one realizes this at the time. The news of the plane “sets off a frenzy.” Major Kevin Nasypany orders Major James Fox, head of the NEADS weapons team, “Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Staff Sergeant William Huckabone says, “Ma’am, we are going AFIO [emergency military control of the fighters] right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley Air Force Base fighters]” (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and adds, “They are going direct Washington.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The Langley fighters will arrive over Washington some time around 10 a.m. (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: William Huckabone, James Fox, Kevin Nasypany, Colin Scoggins, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Barbara Riggs.Barbara Riggs. [Source: Miles B. Norman / Elmira Star-Gazette]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke learns of an aircraft heading toward the White House. Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is passed a note by Secret Service Director Brian Stafford, which says, “Radar shows aircraft headed this way.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] Around this time, the FAA’s Boston Center is reporting a low-flying aircraft six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), so this is presumably the same airliner to which Stafford’s note refers. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Clarke later comments that the Secret Service is aware of the approaching plane because it has “a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs, who is in the agency’s Washington headquarters, will later corroborate this, recalling: “Through monitoring radar and activating an open line with the FAA, the Secret Service was able to receive real time information about… hijacked aircraft. We were tracking two hijacked aircraft as they approached Washington, DC, and our assumption was that the White House was a target.” [PCCW Newsletter, 3/2006] Stafford informs Clarke that he is going to evacuate the White House complex. (This evacuation appears to take place at around 9:45 (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Those in the Situation Room are then informed that there has been an explosion at the Pentagon, and soon after that a plane has hit it. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7]

Entity Tags: Barbara Riggs, US Secret Service, Brian L. Stafford, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to one account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is given the go-ahead to authorize Air Force jets to shoot down threatening aircraft around this time. In late 2003, Clarke will recall to ABC News that, minutes earlier, he’d picked up the phone in the White House Situation Room and called Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. He’d told him: “We have fighters aloft now. We need authority to shoot down hostile aircraft.” [ABC News, 11/29/2003] This call appears to be one Clarke also describes in his 2004 book Against all Enemies, though in that account he will describe having made his request to Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, rather than directly to Cheney. According to that account, the call occurred shortly before Clarke learns of the Pentagon attack, so roughly around 9:36 (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 6-7] Clarke describes to ABC News, “I thought that would take forever to get that [shootdown] authority.” But, “The vice president got on the phone to the president, got back to me, I would say within two minutes, and said, ‘Do it.’” [ABC News, 11/29/2003] If correct, this would mean the president authorizes military fighters to shoot down threatening aircraft at around 9:37-9:38. However, around this time, the president and vice president are reportedly having difficulty communicating with each other, while Bush heads from the Booker Elementary School to the Sarasota airport (see (9:34 a.m.-11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] Furthermore, this account contradicts several others. In his 2004 book, Clarke will describe being told to inform the Pentagon it has shootdown authorization slightly later, some time between 9:45 and 9:56 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8] According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives the shootdown authorization in a phone call with Cheney shortly after 9:56 (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17-18; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The 9/11 Commission will say he gives it in a call at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

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

A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown.A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The three F-16s scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, at 9:30 a.m. finally reach Washington and the burning Pentagon. The 129 mile distance could theoretically have been covered by the fighters in six minutes, but they’ve taken a wide detour over the ocean (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The exact time they arrive is unclear. An early timeline laid out to CNN by senior Defense Department officials will claim they arrive as early as 9:49 a.m., but the 9/11 Commission later claims they only establish “a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington” at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” [CBS News, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34 pdf file]
Conflicting Press Accounts - Press accounts of when the first fighters reach Washington are highly contradictory. Early news accounts describe fighters arriving from Andrews Air Force Base, not Langley, “within minutes,” “a few moments,” or “just moments” after the Pentagon crash. [Denver Post, 9/11/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002] Other newspaper accounts inaccurately deny that fighters from Andrews are deployed [USA Today, 9/16/2001] , and some deny Andrews even has fighters available. [USA Today, 9/16/2001] Defense officials will initially claim, “There were no military planes in the skies over Washington until 15 to 20 minutes after the Pentagon was hit”—in other words, 9:53 a.m. to 9:58 a.m. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/14/2001] But an ABC News report will suggest that by around 10:00 a.m., “Dozens of fighters are buzzing in the sky” over Washington. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Fighter Jets Don't Arrive until Later? - In contrast, the New York Times reports: “In the White House Situation Room and at the Pentagon, the response seemed agonizingly slow. One military official recalls hearing words to the effect of, ‘Where are the planes?’” The Pentagon will insist it had air cover over its own building by 10 a.m. However, numerous witnesses on the ground, including a reporter for the New York Times who is headed toward the building, will say they did not see any fighters until around 10:40 a.m., or “closer to 11” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] According to some accounts, the plane that flies over the Pentagon at that time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16, launched from Andrews Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235-236] NORAD will initially claim the Langley fighters were about 105 miles from the Pentagon when it was hit at 9:37, and the 9/11 Commission will later claim they were 150 miles away (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of Defense, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush talks on the phone to Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any plane that might be under the control of hijackers. “I said, ‘You bet,’” Bush later recalls. “We had a little discussion, but not much.” [USA Today, 9/16/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002] Bush recalls that this isn’t a difficult decision for him to make, “once I realized there was a protocol… because again, I now realized we’re under attack. This is a war.” According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, this call between Bush and Cheney takes place shortly after 9:56, when Air Force One took off from the Sarasota airport. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17-18; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Consistent with this, Bush and Cheney will tell the 9/11 Commission that Bush gives the shootdown authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the 9/11 Commission will say the authorization is given in a later call, at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41] Bush later indicates that he doesn’t make any major decisions about how to respond to the attacks until after boarding Air Force One, which fits with these accounts of him approving shootdown authorization after take off. [White House, 12/4/2001; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file] But according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the authorization is given earlier, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56 (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 11/29/2003; Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission: “An Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office [joins] the [NMCC’s air threat] conference and state[s] that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The White House request[s]: (1) the implementation of Continuity of Government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave the order to implement the Continuity of Government plan a few minutes earlier, from inside the White House Situation Room (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Before that, he had requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and combat air patrols over all major US cities (not just Washington), according to his own recollection (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard A. Clarke, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465] Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17-18; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 11/29/2003; Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The press incorrectly reports that an airliner has crashed on or near Camp David. [Daily Record (Baltimore), 9/12/2001; US Department of Transportation, 3/2002] Camp David is the presidential retreat, located about 70 miles north of Washington, DC, in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. [Federation of American Scientists, 10/2/2000; Associated Press, 7/30/2007] On Air Force One, at 10:37, White House chief of staff Andrew Card relays to the president the incorrect report of the crash. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 108] At around 11:09, CBS News reports that “a plane apparently has crashed at or near Camp David.” [Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002] An early article by Forbes states, “There are reports of a fourth airliner [having] been brought down near Camp David… by US military fighters.” [Forbes, 9/11/2001] And an early report by the Northwestern Chronicle similarly states, “Air Force officials say an airliner has been forced down by F-16 fighter jets near Camp David.” [Northwestern Chronicle, 9/11/2001] Theresa Hahn, the catering manager for a restaurant in the Camp David area, hears the erroneous report. She subsequently describes, “Lots of fire trucks were on the road and no one can get up there.” But J. Mel Poole, the Catoctin Mountain Park superintendent, states there has been “no crash at Camp David.” [Daily Record (Baltimore), 9/12/2001] At some point, the FAA calls the military to confirm the crash, and is reassured that no crash occurred at Camp David. [Freni, 2003, pp. 42] The actual Flight 93 crash site is about 85 miles northwest of Camp David. [PBS, 9/11/2001] The Secret Service reportedly tells the White House that Flight 93 may have been on a course for Camp David. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/11/2001] And, following a military briefing, Representative James Moran (D-VA) tells reporters that Flight 93 was apparently heading for Camp David. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2001] (However, the 9/11 Commission will later state that its intended target was either the White House or the Capitol building. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] ) The source of the incorrect report of the Camp David crash is unclear. However, when the FAA’s Washington Center first informed NEADS that Flight 93 had crashed, at 10:15, it simply reported that it had gone down “somewhere up northeast of Camp David” (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), so this may have created some of the confusion. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] There are also numerous false reports of terrorist attacks having taken place in Washington, DC around this time (see (Between 9:50-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Some commentators make the connection that the 9/11 attacks come 23 years after the signing of the Camp David accords—a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt—on September 17, 1978. [Forbes, 9/11/2001; Village Voice, 9/11/2001; Daily Record (Baltimore), 9/12/2001] WCBS reports, “[T]here is speculation that perhaps, perhaps, this may be in retaliation for those accords.” [Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, J. Mel Poole, Andrew Card, James Moran, Theresa Hahn, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush (center, bending) and others look out  the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives.President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 109; CBS News, 9/11/2002] The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Bush also notices the fighters. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 109] White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, 147th Fighter Wing, Randy Roberts, Mark Tillman, Shane Brotherton, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” [USA Today, 9/12/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 24-25]

Entity Tags: Frank Rich, Douglas Brinkley, Eric Alterman, Karl C. Rove, Robert Dallek, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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