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Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Senior Officials Reject the Possibility of Evacuating the Pentagon

Senior officials in the Executive Support Center (ESC) at the Pentagon decide against evacuating the Pentagon, despite being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/2/2002 pdf file; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 22] The ESC, on the third floor of the Pentagon, is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies,” according to Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 219] Those currently in it include Clarke; Larry Di Rita, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s special assistant; Stephen Cambone, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; and William Haynes, the general counsel of the Department of Defense.
Officials Discuss How to Respond to the Attacks - These officials know about the two crashes in New York and realize America is under attack. They are “talking about setting up a crisis action team and how we needed to respond to this apparent terrorist attack in New York City,” Haynes will later recall. They discuss things like, “Should we think about the force conditions [and] threat conditions?” according to Di Rita. [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; Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/8/2002 pdf file; Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 4/8/2003 pdf file] However, they reportedly dismiss the possibility of evacuating their building. “The idea of evacuating the Pentagon was batted about, then rejected,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will write. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 22]
Two of the Officials Thought the Pentagon Might Be a Target - This is despite the fact that at least two of them have considered the possibility of the Pentagon being attacked. Haynes has spoken to David O. “Doc” Cooke, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management, and, he will recall, told him “that we ought to be thinking about the possibility of attacks here [at the Pentagon].” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 4/8/2003 pdf file] And Cambone has talked to Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, about the possibility of the Pentagon being a target and what they would do if it was attacked (see Between 9:03 a.m. and 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/8/2002 pdf file; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] Clarke and Di Rita, however, will subsequently be unclear about whether they thought the Pentagon might be attacked. When asked, “Was there any anticipation at that time that the Pentagon also might be at risk?” Clarke will only say, “There was anticipation that lots of things might be at risk.” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/2/2002 pdf file] And when he is asked, “At that point was there a reason to expect a larger threat specific to the Pentagon?” Di Rita will reply, “I don’t know that I thought about that.” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 6/27/2002 pdf file]
Official Will Order an Evacuation after the Pentagon Is Hit - No steps are taken to evacuate the Pentagon before it is attacked (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsday, 9/23/2001; Vogel, 2007, pp. 429] Cambone will finally give the order for the building to be evacuated shortly after 9:37 a.m., when the attack occurs (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Those in the ESC will feel and hear the impact (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Someone will then come in and report to them that the building has been hit by an airplane. “At that moment, I asked for the building to be evacuated and also locked down,” Cambone will recall. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/8/2002 pdf file; Clarke, 2006, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Larry Di Rita, Stephen A. Cambone, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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