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Context of '9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001: White House Finally Requests Continuity of Government Plans, Air Force One Escort, and Fighters for Washington'

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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

From the White House Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives the instruction for fighter jets to establish patrols over all major US cities. Clarke has been talking with the FAA over the White House video conference, and his deputy, Roger Cressey, has just announced that a plane hit the Pentagon. According to his own recollection, Clarke responds: “I can still see [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on the screen [for the Pentagon], so the whole building didn’t get hit. No emotion in here. We are going to stay focused.” He orders Cressey: “Find out where the fighter planes are. I want combat air patrol over every major city in this country. Now.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8; Australian, 3/27/2004] A combat air patrol (CAP) is an aircraft patrol over a particular area, with the purpose of intercepting and destroying any hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] It is unclear how long it takes for CAPs to be formed over all major cities, as Clarke requests. At 9:49, NORAD Commander Ralph Eberhart will direct all the US’s air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations (see 9:49 a.m. September 11, 2001), but bases have reportedly been calling into NORAD and asking for permission to send up fighters since after the second WTC crash (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At around 11:00 a.m. Eberhart will implement a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Roger Cressey, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At some point after the White House is ordered to evacuate and while Air Force One is preparing to take off in Florida, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activates the Continuity of Government (COG) plan. The coordinator for Continuity of Government has joined Clarke in the White House Situation Room. Clarke asks, “How do I activate COG?” Recalling this conversation, he will later comment, “In the exercises we had done, the person playing the president had always given that order.” But the coordinator replies, “You tell me to do it.” Soon after, Clarke instructs him, “Go.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]
First Time COG Plan Activated - The Continuity of Government plan, which dates back to the Reagan administration, had originally prepared to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. This is apparently the first time it has ever been put into effect. Clarke will recall, “Every federal agency was ordered… to activate an alternative command post, an alternative headquarters outside of Washington, DC, and to staff it as soon as possible.” Cabinet officers are dispatched around the country, and people in Congress are taken to alternative locations.
Clarke Regularly Particiated in COG Exercises - Since the 1980s, Clarke has in fact been a regular participant in secret COG exercises that rehearsed this plan (see (1984-2004)). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also participated (see 1981-1992). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] Kenneth Duberstein, formerly President Reagan’s White House chief of staff, who took part in the exercises as well, will recall: “I said to myself, as we proceeded through the day [of 9/11], ‘It’s working.’ All those days of patriotic duty were coming back and they were working.” According to ABC News, “If executive branch leaders and large numbers of congressmen had been killed in an attack on the United States, the plan could have gone further, officials suggest, perhaps even with non-elected leaders of the United States taking control and declaring martial law.” [ABC News, 4/25/2004] According to a White House timeline of the events of 9/11, it is in fact Cheney that “orders implementation of Continuity of Government and Continuity of Operations procedures,” at 9:55 a.m., although, according to the Washington Post, Cheney only “officially implemented the emergency Continuity of Government orders,” rather than activating the plan. [White House, 2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Continuity of Government, White House, Kenneth Duberstein

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

Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing.Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing. [Source: Gonda Moncada / Texas Military Forces]Four armed F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Texas Air National Guard are directed toward Air Force One in order to escort the president’s plane. [BBC, 9/1/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40]
SEADS Sends Fighters toward Air Force One - Air Force One has taken off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the White House has requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) orders jets that belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard toward the president’s plane. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall: “We were not told where Air Force One was going. We were told just to follow the president.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Ellington Field an 'Alert' Site - The 147th Fighter Wing is based at Ellington Field, a joint civil and military use airport about 15 miles south of Houston. [Houston Chronicle, 12/9/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] Ellington Field is one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of armed fighters ready to take off immediately if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002]
Pilots Not Told What Their Target Is - Two of the F-16s sent toward Air Force One are on the ground at Ellington Field and have been placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots sitting in the cockpits, when the scramble order is received. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002] The other two have been flying a training mission (see After 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are pulled off it to escort Air Force One. [American Defender, 12/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Among the four pilots are Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts. Their new mission is so secret that their commander does not tell them where they are going. When they ask what their target is, the commander says, “You’ll know when you see it.” Brotherton will later recall, “I didn’t have any idea what we were going up [for] until that point.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Jets First to Reach Air Force One - At least two of the 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will be seen from Air Force One at around 11:30 a.m., although an official will tell reporters on board that fighters are escorting the plane about 15 minutes before that time (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are the first fighters to reach Air Force One after it left Sarasota, according to most accounts. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; 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] However, a few accounts will indicate the first jets to reach it belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] The 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will accompany Air Force One all the way to Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, 147th Fighter Wing, Randy Roberts, Southeast Air Defense Sector, Shane Brotherton

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

Logo of the 148th Fighter Wing.Logo of the 148th Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]Although the White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), fighter jets that are kept on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida reportedly fail to launch in order to accompany the president’s plane after it takes off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]
Fighters on 'Battle Stations' but Not Launched - The 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard has a full time active duty detachment at Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City. [Filson, 1999; US Air Force, 2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] This unit serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of fighter jets on the runway, armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] But, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, although NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) puts the alert jets at Tyndall on “battle stations,” it does not launch them. The jets’ pilots sit “in their cockpits awaiting word to go, but Air Force One moved so quickly they were never scrambled.” Instead, F-16s from Ellington Field in Texas are scrambled, and escort Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] However, in a 2002 interview, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will claim that after NORAD is told “just to follow the president” on Air Force One, it “scrambled available airplanes from Tyndall and then from Ellington in Houston, Texas. The Ellington F-16s chased Air Force One and landed with the president at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Other Alert Fighters in Florida Not Launched - NORAD also keeps two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base, near Miami, Florida, but it is unclear whether these are scrambled after Air Force One, and apparently they never accompany the president’s plane (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will later comment: “I can’t imagine by what glitch the protection was not provided to Air Force One as soon as it took off. I would have thought there’d be something in place whereby one phone call from the head of the security detail would get the fighters in the air immediately.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Southeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, 148th Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks over the phone with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is at the Pentagon, and is given information about the Pentagon attack and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks. Shelton took off at 7:15 a.m. to fly to Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learned of the attacks in New York while his plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, and has just been told of a “big explosion at the Pentagon” (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
First Report Is of a Hand Grenade Going Off at Pentagon - Shelton heads to the communications console just behind the plane’s cockpit. From there, he talks over a secure, encrypted phone line with Myers, who is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. Myers updates Shelton on what is known about the explosion at the Pentagon. He says the first report is that a hand grenade went off in the Pentagon parking lot.
Myers Updates Shelton on Military Response to Attacks - Myers then gives Shelton a complete status report. He says: “We’ve transitioned the SIEC [significant event conference] into an air threat conference call, which is in progress as we speak (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). FAA has requested that NORAD take over control of US airspace. Fighters have scrambled to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and we’re sending AWACS up to provide further monitoring (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). We’ve escalated to Threatcon Delta and are about to launch the NAOC [National Airborne Operations Center plane]. Bases around the world are locked tight, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz has been relocated to Site R (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), plus, [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley has requested we implement full ‘Continuity of Government measures’ (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and we are proceeding along those lines.”
Myers Says Plane Hit the Pentagon - Myers is then interrupted by some commotion in the background. When he returns to the line, he tells Shelton, “Okay, we just got the word: the prior report was incorrect; it was not a hand grenade that exploded, it was another commercial airline that struck the Pentagon.” He then continues with his status report, saying, “[P]er the president, we’ve gone weapons free in the event of a hijacked aircraft or one that threatens the White House.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-24; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433]
Shelton Wants to Return to Washington - Myers will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the NMCC—presumably referring to the time of this phone call—he “recommended General Shelton return to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file] But Shelton will recall that he tells Myers, “I need you to call Ed Eberhart [General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD] at NORAD and let him know that we’re coming back [to Washington] on Speckled Trout [the nickname of the plane he is on], and tell him that I would consider it a personal favor if he would see to it that the chairman and his crew are not shot down on their way back to Andrews.” Myers confirms, “Will do.” According to Shelton, his plane is called back 10 minutes later “with confirmation that we had been officially cleared to fly through the shutdown airspace.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will therefore only land at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159] The exact time of the call between Shelton and Myers is unclear, though it would be at some time after about 10:00 a.m., when Myers arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing.Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing. [Source: US Air Force]The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it is unable to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane, Air Force One, because a lieutenant general at the Air Combat Command (ACC) has instructed the wing to stand by. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240] The White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and officers at the headquarters of the Continental US NORAD Region in Florida have been calling around to find any available jets that might be able to provide that escort, irrespective of what branch of the military they belong to. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 239]
Wing Told to Stand By - As a result, a colonel from the 1st Fighter Wing now calls NEADS. He says that although his unit would love to help, the lieutenant general at ACC has told it to stand by, as, technically, the wing belongs to ACC, not NORAD. Author Lynn Spencer will comment, “In times of war, commanders can waive a significant amount of the military bureaucracy and make such decisions.” However, “they are assuming an enormous personal responsibility if they do so and something terribly wrong happens.” Personnel at NEADS are thus “reminded of the military bureaucracy governing orders and authorizations.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240]
Wing's F-15s Take Off Following Attacks - F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing will take off later on—“within two hours” of the terrorist attacks, according to one account—to provide “protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership,” and to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006] Eventually, fighters from Ellington Field in Texas and elsewhere will escort Air Force One (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87]
ACC Is Air Force's Combat Arm - The ACC, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, is the main combat arm of the US Air Force, and is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; US Air Force, 2/26/2010] The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley, and, as such, operates and maintains one of the largest fighter bases in the ACC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; Air Force Print News, 11/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Air Combat Command, 1st Fighter Wing

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, 11/2001] 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

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