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Context of '(9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001: Some Members of Congress Establish ‘Central Command Center’ at Capitol Police Headquarters, Others Go Home'

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Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

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

Dennis Hastert.Dennis Hastert. [Source: Congressional Pictorial Directory]Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who is third in line for the presidency, is in his office suite on the second floor of the US Capitol building when he sees the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television. [Hastert, 2004, pp. 5] He is told that Vice President Dick Cheney will soon be calling him on the secure telephone in his office. [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002] However, Cheney is currently having problems using secure phones, and Hastert is too. Hastert later recalls, “To use the secure phone, you have to push a button and turn a key. On that dreadful day I couldn’t make the thing work. No matter what I did, I couldn’t connect with the vice president. As the minutes passed, my frustrations grew.” [Hastert, 2004, pp. 6; Hayes, 2007, pp. 336] Several attempts to reach the vice president are unsuccessful. Hastert’s later explanation is that “Anyone who has used a secure phone can tell you they do not work very well.” However, numerous other people in the Washington area, including senior government officials, are also experiencing serious communications problems throughout the day (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Around the time the Pentagon is hit, the light on Hastert’s regular phone starts flashing, but instead of being Cheney it is apparently a nuisance caller, who complains, “I can’t get a hold of Jeb Bush, I can’t get a hold of the president, I can’t get a hold of Colin Powell. All this stuff is happening. What are you guys doing?” When Hastert asks the caller who they are, their reply is, “I’m just a citizen. Who is this?” [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/25/2001; Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002; Associated Press, 6/16/2007] Shortly afterwards, the Capitol is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Hastert’s Secret Service agents hurry him out of the building. It is not until around 11 a.m. that Cheney finally speaks to him. [Hastert, 2004, pp. 8-9; Hayes, 2007, pp. 337 and 340-341]

Entity Tags: Dennis Hastert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brian Wilson.Brian Wilson. [Source: Publicity photo]There is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building in Washington, DC, even though First Lady Laura Bush has arrived at the nearby Russell Senate Office Building and more than 10 minutes have passed since a second plane hit the World Trade Center. [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8; Bush, 2010, pp. 198] At 9:16 a.m., Bush arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, where she was scheduled to testify before a Senate committee at 10:00 a.m. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 198]
Reporter Sees No Signs of Increased Security - The first lady is considered one of the nation’s “most visible targets,” and, as one of the Secret Service’s “permanent protectees,” like the president, she has a detail of special agents assigned to her. [US Department of the Treasury, 5/8/2001; Office of Management and Budget, 7/2001, pp. 82 pdf file; United States Secret Service, 2002] And yet, even though Bush has arrived on Capitol Hill, and over 10 minutes have passed since the second aircraft hit the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), there is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building. Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson will later recall that when reporting from the Capitol building around this time, he is “talking about the first lady being in the Capitol and saying that I had not seen any signs of tighter security in the building.”
Reporter Surprised at Plan to Hold a Photo Op - Wilson is also surprised that, although the Senate hearing Bush was scheduled to attend has been canceled, the first lady is still going to make a public appearance. He will comment that “they were (incredibly) trying to set up a brief photo opportunity.” [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] (Wilson is presumably referring to Laura Bush’s appearance before reporters and cameras alongside Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), which takes place at 9:41 a.m. (see 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 199] )
Capitol Evacuated Later On - The Capitol building will only be evacuated at 9:48 a.m., apparently in response to reports of a plane heading toward it (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; CNN, 9/11/2006] The first lady will only be taken away from the Russell Office Building to a “secure location” by members of the Secret Service at 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Brian Wilson, Laura Bush, US Capitol building

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

The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
bullet At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 9/11/2003] )
bullet At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from an airfield outside of Washington (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN, 9/12/2007] In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, at 9:43 a.m. (see 9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372]

Entity Tags: Bob Kur, Kate Snow, John Farmer, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, John King, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after boarding Air Force One, President Bush speaks by phone with Vice President Dick Cheney for approximately 10 minutes. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 335-336] According to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney had reached the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House at 9:37 a.m. (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He and the Secret Service agents escorting him had paused in an area of the tunnel with a secure phone and a television. He’d then asked to speak to the president, but it had taken a while for his call to be connected. However, elsewhere in its final report, the Commission will indicate that Bush, not Cheney, makes this phone call, saying that after he’d boarded Air Force One, the president “called the vice president.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40] Cheney will later recall making “one phone call [to the president] from the tunnel. And basically I called to let him know that we [at the White House] were a target and I strongly urged him not to return to Washington right away, that he delay his return until we could find out what the hell was going on.” [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 464] He will recall, “What I was immediately thinking about was sort of continuity of government.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 335-336] According to notes made by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, at about 9:45 a.m. Bush tells Cheney: “Sounds like we have a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We’re at war… somebody’s going to pay.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39 and 463; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141] Bush instructs Cheney to call the congressional leadership and give them a briefing. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] (However, around this time, Capitol Hill is being evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001).) The 9/11 Commission will state that, according to “contemporaneous notes,” at 9:55 a.m. “the vice president [is] still on the phone with the president advising that three planes [are] missing and one had hit the Pentagon.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] In his book Against All Enemies, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will indicate that it is around the time this call occurs that he is informed that the president has authorized the military to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8] Yet various accounts of Bush and Cheney’s call will make no mention of the president and vice president discussing any orders or making any decisions. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 101; Woodward, 2002, pp. 16; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 335-336] Their call apparently ends around 9:56 a.m.-9:57 a.m., as, according to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney enters the PEOC “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] (However, some accounts will indicate that he enters the PEOC significantly earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After hanging up, Bush turns to the men who are with him at his desk: his chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, military aide Lieutenant Colonel Tom Gould, and Fleischer. He tells them: “That’s what we’re paid for, boys. We’re gonna take care of this. When we find out who did this, they’re not gonna like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 101; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17] According to some accounts, shortly after finishing this call, the president and vice president will be back on the phone with each other (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

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

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

Candy Crowley.Candy Crowley. [Source: CNN]After the Capitol building in Washington is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), those located around it—including members of Congress—experience serious problems communicating by phone and other means. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley will describe: “Nobody knew anything.… Nobody had any way to communicate.… The cell phones went down. Eventually… the personal BlackBerrys that bring your e-mail to you, they went down. And inside the Capitol, remember [there are] still switchboard operators there. Inside the Capitol, the phones worked only on and off.” According to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), there is “no communication whatsoever going on.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) will recall: “People were punching their cell phones to no avail. The lines were jammed.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 110] Consequently, for more than an hour Daschle’s own staff is unable to establish where he is. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was experiencing communications problems even before he was evacuated from the Capitol, while trying to contact Vice President Dick Cheney by phone (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 6; Hayes, 2007, pp. 336] Whether others at the Capitol also experienced similar difficulties prior to the evacuation is unclear. What causes these problems is uncertain. However, numerous other people in the Washington area, including senior government officials, also experience serious communications problems throughout the day (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Tom Daschle, Dennis Hastert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who is third in line for the presidency, is evacuated from the US Capitol building and flown to a secret underground bunker in Virginia, where he remains until late in the afternoon. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] Around 9:48, the Capitol building had begun evacuating (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). At that time, Hastert was on the House floor. Two members of his security detail now enter the chamber and tell him, “We’re going to evacuate the Capitol, and you’re going to a secure location.” They take him out of the building and drive him hurriedly to Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles southeast of Washington. After he arrives there, Hastert is finally able to communicate with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Hastert had been trying to contact Cheney earlier on, but without success (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001.) Cheney tells Hastert: “There’s a real danger. I want you to go to a secure location.” [Hastert, 2004, pp. 8-9] Hastert gets on a helicopter and is flown to the secret underground bunker at Mount Weather in Bluemont, Virginia, 48 miles outside Washington—about 20 minutes journey by air. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 81] In the following hours, other top members of the House and Senate leaderships will join him there (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/11/2001; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Hastert remains at the secure facility for several hours, and will return to Washington late in the afternoon (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002] Hastert’s evacuation to Mount Weather is the result of “Continuity of Government” (COG) orders, which provide for evacuating the third and fourth in the line of presidential succession during a national emergency, in order to protect the nation’s constitutional leadership. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Dennis Hastert, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

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

After the US Capitol building in Washington is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), many members of Congress go to the nearby Capitol Police headquarters for safety, but others head elsewhere and some go home. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 111-112] Although the Capitol began evacuating around 9:48, no one has instructions on where to go. “Rank-and-file lawmakers didn’t have guidance from their leaders or from Capitol Police.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Many of them therefore remain in the vicinity of the Capitol building. [New York Times, 9/12/2001] Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) is quickly driven away by his security detail after being evacuated from the Capitol. However, according to Daschle, the contingency plan for emergencies “directed us to convene at the Hart Senate Building, right next to the Capitol. But that was considered unsafe in this situation.” Therefore, “Some members of Congress who lived in the area decided to simply go home.” Others convene at the 116 Club, a restaurant on Capitol Hill. “The remaining senators were finally directed to the Capitol Police headquarters a block and a half away, where it was decided members of Congress would be safest. That became Congress’s central command center for the rest of the day” (see (10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). However, while Daschle and some others are taken there early on (Daschle will recall being at the headquarters when the first World Trade Center tower collapses at 9:59), many others do not go there until later. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 111-112] Deputy Chief James Rohan of the Capitol Police keeps hearing complaints from his officers nearby the Capitol building, saying: “I’ve got all these congressmen wandering around here. What do you want me to do with them?” According to CNN, “the police assumed that those who weren’t in the [Congressional] leadership… would go home, but of course they didn’t.” Therefore, they are eventually brought to the Capitol Police headquarters as well. Several hundred members of Congress go to the headquarters during the day. [CNN, 9/11/2002] Around late morning or early afternoon, Congressional leaders leave there and are flown to a secure bunker outside Washington (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Many other members of Congress remain at the headquarters throughout the afternoon. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: US Capitol Police, Tom Daschle, James Rohan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of Congress who are assembled at the headquarters of the Capitol Police in Washington, DC receive regular briefings from police officers, but these reveal little more than what is being reported in the news. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] After being evacuated from the Capitol building, many members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, located a block and a half away (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 110-112] Throughout the day, several hundred of them go there, though some Congressional leaders are moved to a secure bunker outside Washington around late morning or early afternoon (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), the police headquarters becomes “Congress’s central command center for the rest of the day.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] But, CNN will report, “In a place where power means knowing things, nobody knew very much.” Deputy Chief James Rohan of the Capitol Police later describes, “There was somebody [at the headquarters] had brought out a little four inch black and white TV with just an antenna stick on it, plugged it in, and they were getting all their information from the networks from this tiny little TV.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] The Senate and House members at the headquarters receive hourly briefings from Capitol Police officers. But, according to the Washington Post, “lawmakers privately described the sessions as ‘rudimentary,’ offering few details beyond published reports.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] According to Daschle, who is among those moved to the secure bunker outside Washington, members of Congress who remain at the police headquarters spend the day “crammed into several conference rooms and offices, working the telephones and watching the TV monitors for developing news,” though he gives no specific details of what they do. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Late in the afternoon, about 50 of them speak by phone with the Congressional leaders at the secure bunker (see (5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and during the evening, many of them will join the leaders on the steps of the Capitol building for a press conference (see 7:24 p.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Capitol Police (Washington, DC), James Rohan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secret Service emergency response team officers patrolling the South Lawn of the White House.Secret Service emergency response team officers patrolling the South Lawn of the White House. [Source: Associated Press]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, by members of the Secret Service with their guns drawn, to be driven away to a secure location. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 200] People began evacuating from the Russell Senate Office Building and the nearby Capitol building at 9:48 a.m., apparently due to concerns that a plane was heading toward Capitol Hill (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; CNN, 9/11/2006] While Bush and her staff were waiting for the Secret Service emergency response team to arrive and take them away from the Russell Office Building, they stayed in the office of Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Emergency Response Team Arrives with Guns Drawn - Secret Service agents collect the first lady from Gregg’s office at “[s]ometime after 10:00 a.m.,” Bush will later recall. [Bush, 2010, pp. 200] Bush usually travels with four Secret Service agents. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Kessler, 2009, pp. 181] But her usual agents are now joined by “an additional Secret Service detail and an emergency response team, dressed in black tactical clothing like a SWAT force and moving with guns drawn.” As Bush is being hurried through the hallways, past panicked staffers leaving their offices, members of the emergency response team escorting her shout, “Get back!” and cover her every move with their guns. [Bush, 2010, pp. 200]
First Lady Escorted to Her Limousine - Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will recall that she and several other members of Bush’s staff reach Bush’s limousine before the first lady does. While they are waiting there, they chat excitedly, asking each other: “What could this be? Where are we going? What’s next?” But the driver instructs them to be quiet, saying, “Ladies, this is a time to pay attention.” “Just then,” Rodriguez will say, “what seemed like two dozen of these ninja guys surrounded the car—Secret Service agents all dressed in black. Mrs. Bush then got in the car.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush will describe, “We reached the underground entrance; the doors on the motorcade slammed shut, and we sped off.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 200]
Motorcade Delayed before Leaving Capitol Hill - However, Bush and those accompanying her reportedly face a delay as they are about to drive off. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will describe, “At one point, we were all going to leave, and then Mrs. Bush got out of the motorcade and they [presumably members of the Secret Service] told us to stay in the staff van.” At this point, Adams will say, “Everyone was distraught” and they “didn’t know what was going on.” She will add: “We knew something was going on in DC, because we could see people running around. A lot of us were under the impression that there were car bombs going off throughout the city.” Bush and those accompanying her leave Capitol Hill at 10:10 a.m., according to Rodriguez. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush’s Secret Service agents say they are going to take everyone to a secure location. This turns out to be the Secret Service headquarters in Washington (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: Laura Bush, Noelia Rodriguez, Ashleigh Adams, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mount Weather.Mount Weather. [Source: Department of Homeland Security]Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; ABC News, 9/15/2002] The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 114] The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. [Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter, 3/2002] Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 80-81] The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). [United Press International, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002; Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Harry Reid, David Bonior, Mount Weather, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Tom Daschle, Don Nickles, Trent Lott

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

Philip Perry.Philip Perry. [Source: Cornell Law School]Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, her husband, and their children arrive at a secure government facility at Mount Weather, Virginia, where they have been taken by the Secret Service. Earlier on, Secret Service Special Agent Michael Seremetis, a member of the vice presidential protective division, instructed some of his colleagues to locate Liz Cheney, and then evacuate her and her children to the facility. By 10:55 a.m., Cheney and her children had made it to their home, and 20 minutes later they were being taken to Mount Weather by the Secret Service. Cheney’s husband, Philip Perry, arrived at the White House at around 11:20 a.m. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file] Perry is the acting associate attorney general, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department. [US Department of Justice, 8/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/23/2001; US Congress. Senate, 5/19/2005] By 12:40 p.m., Secret Service agents were transporting him to Mount Weather. Cheney, her children, and the Secret Service agents with them arrive at Mount Weather at 12:45 p.m. Perry and the agents with him arrive there at 1.15 p.m. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file] The facility at Mount Weather is “a massive underground complex originally built to house governmental officials in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange,” according to The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/28/2006] It is located in rural Virginia, 48 miles from Washington, DC. [Time, 12/9/1991] Cheney, Perry, and their children will remain there until 5:30 p.m., when they will be taken to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland (see 5:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 pdf file] Congressional leaders are also taken to the facility at Mount Weather throughout the day, after being evacuated from Washington (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 79-81]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Philip Perry, US Secret Service, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Don Nickles.Don Nickles. [Source: Publicity photo]Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002]
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115-116]
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Trent Lott, Don Nickles

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker in Virginia speak with other members of Congress back in Washington, and decide Congress will reconvene the following morning. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002] Other senators and representatives have spent the day at the Capitol Police headquarters back in Washington. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001] About 50 of them are now assembled in a first-floor conference room and speak by telephone with the leaders at Mount Weather. They all discuss when Congress should reconvene, with some wanting to do so this evening. It is decided that Congress will not reconvene until the following morning, but the leaders will return to Washington this evening, and then leaders and members will appear together to announce to the press that they will be back in session the next day. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Lott, 2005, pp. 221] The Congressional leaders will return to Washington around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001) and their press conference is held around 7:25 (see 7:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol.Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol. [Source: US House of Representatives]Congressional leaders and about 150 other members of the House and Senate appear together on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington for a press conference, and announce that Congress will reconvene the following morning. [USA Today, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says: “Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight this evil that has perpetrated on this nation. We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought forth this evil deed will pay the price.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) calls the day’s attacks “an assault on our people and on our freedom,” and says, “We, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, stand strongly united behind the president and we’ll work together to ensure that the full resources of the government are brought to bear in these efforts.” To applause, he announces, “Congress will convene tomorrow.” The press conference ends with the members of Congress joining together for an apparently spontaneous singing of “God Bless America.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Dennis Hastert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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