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Context of '1998: Training Exercise Held at the White House, Based Around Militants Using a Plane as a Weapon'

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Richard Clarke, who will be the counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, regularly participates in a series of highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) exercises. (Kurtz 4/7/2004) Throughout the 1980s, the COG exercises rehearse how to keep the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (see 1981-1992). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the exercises continue, but based instead around a possible terrorist attack on the United States (see 1992-2000). (Mann 3/2004) In 2004, Clarke will reveal that he has participated regularly in these exercises over the previous 20 years. He recalls that he had “gone off into caves in mountains in remote locations and spent days on end in miserable conditions, pretending that the rest of the world had blown up, and going through the questions, going through the drill.” He adds: “Everyone there play acts that it’s really happened. You can’t go outside because of the radioactivity. You can’t use the phones because they’re not connected to anything.” He also describes the COG plan requiring coded communications, saying: “There’s an elaborate system for the people in this network, first of all, to verify each other’s identity. That person on the other end has a certain password and information that they have to pass for us to believe that they’re who they say they are.” (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004) Clarke was a senior analyst at the State Department since 1979, and rises to prominence during the Reagan administration when he becomes deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence. (Gellman 3/13/2003; BBC 3/22/2004) After being a member of the National Security Council since 1992, in 1998 he is appointed as counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998). (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004 pdf file; Urquhart 5/13/2004; Buncombe 6/14/2004) According to journalist James Mann, the COG program is of particular interest because it helps explain the thinking and behavior of the Bush administration “in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” (Mann 3/2004) On the morning of 9/11, Clarke is in fact responsible for activating the COG plan, the first time it is ever implemented (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8; ABC News 4/25/2004) Also participating in the COG exercises, at least throughout at 1980s, are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who on 9/11 are the vice president and secretary of defense, respectively. (Mann 3/2004)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke chairs a tabletop exercise at the White House, involving a scenario where anti-American militants fill a Learjet with explosives, and then fly it on a suicide mission toward a target in Washington, DC. Officials from the Pentagon, Secret Service, and FAA attend, and are asked how they would stop such a threat. Pentagon officials say they could launch fighters from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, but would need authorization from the president to shoot the plane down, and currently there is no system to do this. The 9/11 Commission later states: “There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise.” (Kaplan 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 457-458)

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)). (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004) Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also participated (see 1981-1992). (Mann 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; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)


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