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“Saddam does not control the northern part of the country. We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.” [Mirror, 9/22/2003]
“A decision has been made [about attacking Iraq]. Don’t waste your breath.” [Mirror, 9/22/2003]
“We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” [CNN, 9/8/2002; CNN, 9/8/2002; US Department of State, 9/8/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/9/2002; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“[Saddam Hussein]clearly has links to terrorism…—Links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda….” [Fox News, 9/15/2002; CNN, 9/26/2002; Islam Online, 9/15/2002; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“We have to have a zero-tolerance view of the Iraqi regime this time. The next material breach by Saddam Hussein has got to have serious consequences. I think it’s pretty clear what that may mean.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/11/2002]
Iraq failed “to account for or explain Iraq’s efforts to get uranium from abroad” in its December 2002 declaration to the UN. [New York Times, 1/23/2003]
“There is no question in my mind about the al-Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we’re learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al-Qaeda organization. And what emerges is a picture of a Saddam Hussein who became impressed with what al-Qaeda did after it bombed our embassies in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania, began to give them assistance in chemical and biological weapons, something that they were having trouble achieving on their own, that harbored a terrorist network under this man Zarqawi, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was told that Zarqawi was there.” [CNN, 2/5/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“Well, we are, of course, continually learning more about these links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and there is evidence that Secretary Powell did not have the time to talk about. But the core of the story is there in what Secretary Powell talked about. This poisons network with at least two dozen of its operatives operating in Baghdad, a man who is spreading poisons now throughout Europe and into Russia, a man who got medical care in Baghdad despite the fact that the Iraqis were asked to turn him over, training in biological and chemical weapons.” [Fox News Sunday, 2/16/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“Now the al-Qaida is an organization that’s quite disbursed and—and quite widespread in its effects, but it clearly has had links to the Iraqis, not to mention Iraqi links to all kinds of other terrorists. And what we do not want is the day when Saddam Hussein decides that he’s had enough of dealing with sanctions, enough of dealing with, quote, unquote, ‘containment,’ enough of dealing with America, and it’s time to end it on his terms, by transferring one of these weapons, just a little vial of something, to a terrorist for blackmail or for worse.” [Face the Nation, 3/9/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“We will leave Iraq completely in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as possible.” [White House, 4/4/2003]
“We have found, in Iraq, biological weapons laboratories that look precisely like what Secretary Powell described in his February 5 report to the United Nations.” [White House, 5/28/2003; US Department of State, 5/28/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“But let’s remember what we’ve already found. Secretary Powell on February 5 talked about a mobile, biological weapons capability. That has now been found and this is a weapons laboratory trailers capable of making a lot of agent that—dry agent, dry biological agent that can kill a lot of people. So we are finding these pieces that were described.… We know that these trailers look exactly like what was described to us by multiple sources as the capabilities for building or for making biological agents. We know that we have from multiple sources who told us that then and sources who have confirmed it now. Now the Iraqis were not stupid about this. They were able to conceal a lot. They’ve been able to scrub things down. But I think when the whole picture comes out, we will see that this was an active program.” [CNBC, 6/3/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“The president quoted a British paper. We did not know at the time—no one knew at the time, in our circles—maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003]
“The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report [October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate].” [Washington Post, 7/26/2003; This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 6/8/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“[I]f the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ it would have been gone, without question. What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we now know, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech - but that’s knowing what we know now…. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.” [White House, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
“My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.…And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of Central Intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” [US President, 8/4/2003; Washington Post, 7/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“[Saddam Hussein] had…an active procurement network to procure items, many of which, by the way, were on the prohibited list of the nuclear suppliers group. There’s a reason that they were on the prohibited list of the nuclear supplies group: Magnets, balancing machines, yes, aluminum tubes, about which the consensus view was that they were suitable for use in centrifuges to spin material for nuclear weapons.” [Iraq Watch, 7/30/2003; US President, 8/4/2003; NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 7/30/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“Going into the war against Iraq, we had very strong intelligence. I’ve been in this business for 20 years. And some of the strongest intelligence cases that I’ve seen, key judgments by our intelligence community that Saddam Hussein… had biological and chemical weapons….” [ZDF German Television, 7/31/2003; ZDF German Television, 7/31/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“[W]e know that there was training of al-Qaeda in chemical and perhaps biological warfare. We know that the Zarqawi was network out of there, this poisons network that was trying to spread poisons throughout…. And there was an Ansar al-Islam, which appears also to try to be operating in Iraq. So yes, the al-Qaeda link was there.” [Fox News Sunday, 9/7/2003; Global Views, 9/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
“Saddam Hussein—no one has said that there is evidence that Saddam Hussein directed or controlled 9/11, but let’s be very clear, he had ties to al-Qaeda, he had al-Qaeda operatives who had operated out of Baghdad.” [MSNBC, 9/28/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow, who, as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will investigate her performance in the run-up to 9/11, co-author a book about the implications of German reunification. The two had worked together on the National Security Council in the 1980s and early 90s, but are both now working at universities. Zelikow is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rice is the provost at Stanford. The book, entitled Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, is mostly written by Zelikow, who is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “pleased to share credit with such an obvious up-and-comer as Rice.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 40-41)
Former President Bush secretly invites two people to his Kennebunkport, Maine, compound: his son George W. Bush, and Condoleezza Rice, a longtime protege of his close friend and colleague Brent Scowcroft. Rice had been the elder Bush’s assistant on Soviet affairs from 1989 to 1991, and later became provost of Stanford University. Rice and the younger Bush spend many hours discussing foreign affairs, with Rice attempting to tutor him about the fundamentals of US relations with a host of other countries and regions. “We talked a lot about America’s role in the world,” Rice will recall. Bush “was doing due diligence on whether or not to run for president.” Rice will become “foreign policy coordinator” to the nascent Bush campaign. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 160)
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He reveals to the FBI what an FBI agent will later call “blue-chip” information. (Hirschkorn 1/19/2001) He reveals to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others that when he was told by a handler in Afghanistan that he would take part in an operation in Kenya, he insisted “I want to attack inside the US” instead. But his handler tells him that the Kenya attack is important because it will keep the US distracted while the real attack is being prepared. Al-Owhali futher explains to his interrogators, “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” (Locy, Johnson, and Willing 8/29/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 278-279) Presumably, al-Owhali is also the suspect at this time who “inform[s] the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US.” It is known that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke passes on this information to Condoleezza Rice when she begins her position as National Security Adviser in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001), but other details about this warning are not known. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) Al-Owhali also reveals the telephone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998) and warns that an al-Qaeda attack is Yemen is being planned (see Mid-August 1998). (Hirschkorn 1/19/2001)
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” (Dean 11/7/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 269)
Advisers and colleagues of George H. W. Bush are working alongside a stable of neoconservatives (see April-May 1999) to give Bush’s son, George W., a basic grounding in foreign policies and principles. Though much of the neoconservatives’ teachings conflict with the ideas and interpretations of the elder Bush’s more ‘realist’ advisers, they are not overly concerned about the neoconservatives’ influence on the younger Bush. “The idea that [Paul] Wolfowitz and the neocons represented a great ideological shift from [Brent] Scowcroft’s group of realists was not yet clear,” a knowledgeable State Department source will later note. “Then Wolfowitz and [Condoleezza] Rice [a colleague of Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft with as-yet unsuspected neoconservative leanings] started going down to Austin to tutor Bush in foreign policy (see August 1998). Bush’s grandiose vision emerged out of those tutorials, with Rice tutoring him in global history and Wolfowitz laying out his scheme to remake the world (see February 18, 1992). The whole view of those people was that the next president was not going to be a passive actor, but was to reshape the world to US interests. That was the message that Rice and Wolfowitz were giving to Bush. Rice was the one giving [Bush] the idea that were entering some sort of 1947-like transitional period in which the United States could shape the world.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
As the presidential campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush takes shape, many in the media assume that a Bush presidency would be much like the father’s: moderate and centrist with a pronounced but not extreme rightward tilt. Bush will be “on the 47-yard line in one direction,” says former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis, while Democratic contender Al Gore is “on the 47-yard line in the other.” But while the media continues to pursue that story, the hardliners and neoconservatives surrounding Bush (see December 1998 - Fall 1999) are working quietly to push their favored candidate much farther to the right, especially in foreign affairs, than anyone suspects. Two of the Bush campaign’s most prominent advisers, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are making regular and secret visits to the governor’s mansion. “They were brought in and out under very tight security,” a source in the governor’s office will later recall. “They snuck in and snuck out. They didn’t hold press conferences. [Bush political adviser Karl] Rove didn’t want people to know what they were doing or what they were saying.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
Bush is Willing to be Educated - Perle, like many other neoconservatives, is pleased that the younger Bush may well not be a repeat of the moderate policy stances of the father. “The first time I met [George W. Bush]… two things became clear,” Perle will recall in 2004. “One, he didn’t know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.” (Weisberg 5/7/2004) Perle will continue: “Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something—a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.” A State Department source will put it more bluntly: “His ignorance of the world cannot be overstated.”
Rice a 'Fellow Traveler' with Neoconservatives - One of Bush’s most diligent tutors is Condoleezza Rice, a former Bush administration official. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who had mentored Rice, wrongly expects her to tutor Bush in his own “realist” world view, but Rice is far more aligned with the neoconservatives than Scowcroft realizes (see April-May 1999). “She was certainly a fellow traveler,” the State Department source will say. “She came at it more with a high-level academic approach while the other guys were operational. [Her role] was a surprise to Scowcroft. She had been a protege and the idea that she was going along with them was very frustrating to him.” The absence of retired General Colin Powell, one of the elder Bush’s most trusted and influential moderates, is no accident (see April-May 1999). “That’s a critical fact,” the State Department source will observe. “The very peculiar personal relationship between Rice and Bush solidified during those tutorials, and Wolfowitz established himself as the intellectual face of the neocons and the whole PNAC crew” (see June 3, 1997).
Wolfowitz: Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wolfowitz teaches Bush that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only incidental to the larger issues engulfing the Middle East (see March 8, 1992). The State Department source will recall: “Wolfowitz had gotten to Bush, and this is where Bush thought he would be seen as a great genius. Wolfowitz convinced him that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to leap over this constant conflict and to remake the context in which the conflict was taking place; that democracies don’t fight each other. [He convinced Bush] that the fundamental problem was the absence of democracy in the Middle East, and therefore we needed to promote democracy in the Middle East, and out of that there would be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The US must, Wolfowitz says, exert its moral and military might to eliminate the brutal dictators in the region and replace them with Western-style democratic leaders. Wolfowitz believes “[t]he road to peace in Jerusalem,” as author Craig Unger will write, “run[s] through Baghdad, Damascus, even Tehran.” It is unclear if Bush grasps the full implications of the theories of Wolfowitz and Rice. Certainly the idea of this “reverse domino theory,” as Unger will call it, is far different from anything previously espoused in US foreign affairs—a permanent “neo-war,” Unger will write, “colossal wars that would sweep through the entire Middle East and affect the world.” (Unger 2007, pp. 165-168)
A report commissioned in mid-1999 by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) looks into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military. Dr. Eileen Preisser and Michael Maloof are commissioned to make the report. Dr. Preisser, who runs the Information Dominance Center at the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) and will later become closely tied to Able Danger, uses LIWA’s data mining capabilities to search unclassified information. According to Maloof, their results show Chinese front companies in the US posing as US corporations that acquire technology from US defense contractors. When the study is completed in November 1999, the General Counsel’s office in the Office of the Defense Secretary orders the study destroyed. Weldon complains about this to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and apparently delays the destruction of the report. Weldon also writes a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation into these Chinese links, but Freeh never responds to this. (Maloof 10/9/2005) As part of this report, LIWA analysts had produced a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the US. But this data mining effort runs into controversy when the chart apparently shows connections between future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US figures, and business deals benefiting the Chinese military. (Lathem 8/27/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005) The China chart was put together by private contractor James D. Smith, who will come forward in August 2005 to corroborate revelations about the Able Danger unit and its findings (see August 22-September 1, 2005). The New York Post later says there is “no suggestion that Rice or any of the others had done anything wrong.” (Lathem 8/27/2005) However, articles first appear one month later and through 2001 in the conservative publications WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, which connect Perry and Rice to Hua Di, a Chinese missile scientist and possible spy, and question the nature of their relationship with him. (Smith 12/21/1999; Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Di defected to the US in 1989 and worked most of the 1990s at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, which was co-directed by Perry. Di later returned to China and is subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for writing influential articles said to reveal vital Chinese state secrets. (Trei 2/7/2001) However, other accounts claim that he was in fact passing on disinformation through these articles, successfully misleading the US military for a couple of years about the abilities of certain Chinese missile programs. (Smith 12/21/1999) Additionally, Hua Di teamed in 1994 with Stanford professor Dr. John Lewis and William Perry to buy an advanced AT&T fiber-optic communications system for “civilian” use inside China that instead is used by the Chinese army. The General Accounting Office later criticized the sale. In 1997, Stanford University investigated Dr. Lewis for his role in it, but Condoleezza Rice, serving as a Stanford provost at the time, apparently stopped the investigation. (Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will be severely proscribed in April 2000 as part of the fallout from this China controversy (see April 2000), and the destruction of their collected data will follow shortly thereafter (see May-June 2000).
Four analysts from the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit are forced to stop their work supporting the Able Danger program. At the same time, private contractors working for Able Danger are fired. This occurs around the time that it becomes known by some inside the military that LIWA had identified future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent Americans as potential security risks (see April 2000). It was apparently these LIWA analysts (such as Dr. Eileen Preisser) and contractors (such as James D. Smith) who conducted most of the data mining and analysis of al-Qaeda in the preceding months. One of the four LIWA analysts, Maj. Erik Kleinsmith, will later be ordered to destroy all the data collected (see May-June 2000). LIWA’s support for Able Danger will resume a few months later (see Late September 2000). (Lathem 8/27/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005)
A 1999 study by the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) to look into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military created controversy and was ordered destroyed in November 1999 (see Mid-1999-November 1999). However, apparently Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) protests, and the issue finally comes to a head during this month. One result of this controversy will be what Major Erik Kleinsmith will later call “severely restricted” support for Able Danger, including a temporary end to LIWA support (see April 2000) In an April 14, 2000 memorandum from the legal counsel in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Captain Michael Lohr writes that the concern over the LIWA data mining study raises privacy concerns: “Preliminary review of subject methodology raised the possibility that LIWA ‘data mining’ would potentially access both foreign intelligence (FI) information and domestic information relating to US citizens (i.e. law enforcement, tax, customs, immigration, etc.… I recognize that an argument can be made that LIWA is not ‘collecting’ in the strict sense (i.e. they are accessing public areas of the Internet and non-FI federal government databases of already lawfully collected information). This effort would, however, have the potential to pull together into a single database a wealth of privacy-protected US citizen information in a more sweeping and exhaustive manner than was previously contemplated.” Additionally, the content of the study is another reason why it caused what Weldon calls a “wave of controversy.” The study had connected future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US citizens to business transactions with Chinese military officials.(see Mid-1999-November 1999). (Lathem 8/27/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005; Maloof 10/9/2005) One article on the subject will comment, “Sources familiar with Able Danger say the project was shut down because it could have led to the exposure of a separate secret data mining project focusing on US citizens allegedly transferring super-sensitive US technology illegally to the Chinese government.” (Green 9/1/2005) A massive destruction of data from Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will follow, one month later (see May-June 2000).
An eminent historian finds serious flaws in a historical treatise about former President John F. Kennedy. The book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, was written in 1997 by conservative historians Ernest May and Philip D. Zelikow, and purports to be an unprecedentedly accurate representation of the events of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis based on transcriptions of recorded meetings, conferences, telephone conversations, and interviews with various participants. (Stern 5/2000) Zelikow is a former member of George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council and a close adviser to future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (US Department of State 8/5/2005) May is a Harvard professor. Both will participate heavily in the creation of the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 387-393) Almost three years after the Kennedy book’s publication, Sheldon M. Stern, the historian for the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 through 1999, pores over it and the May/Zelikow transcripts. In the original edition, May and Zelikow admitted that their final product was not perfect: “The reader has here the best text we can produce, but it is certainly not perfect. We hope that some, perhaps many, will go to the original tapes. If they find an error or make out something we could not, we will enter the corrections in subsequent editions or printings of this volume.” But when Stern checks the book against the tapes, he finds hundreds of errors in the book, some quite significant. Stern concludes that the errors “significantly undermine [the book’s] reliability for historians, teachers, and general readers.” May and Zelikow have corrected a few of the errors in subsequent editions, but have not publicly acknowledged any errors. Stern concludes, “Readers deserve to know that even now The Kennedy Tapes cannot be relied on as an accurate historical document.” (Stern 5/2000) One error has then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy talking about the planned “invasion” of Russian ships heading to Cuba, when the tapes actually show Kennedy discussing a far less confrontational “examination” of those vessels. May and Zelikow imply that the Kennedy administration was discussing just the kind of confrontation that it was actually trying to avoid. Another error has CIA Director John McCone referring to the need to call on former President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “facilitator,” where McCone actually said “soldier.” May and Zelikow will be rather dismissive of Stern’s findings, saying that “none of these amendments are very important.” Stern will express shock over their response, and respond, “When the words are wrong, as they are repeatedly, the historical record is wrong.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 42)
CIA officer Ben Bonk briefs Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on the threat posed by Islamic extremist groups, telling him that Americans will die in a terrorist attack during the next four years, and to highlight the danger, he shows Bush a mock briefcase bomb he sneaked into the meeting. Bush was recently selected as the Republican Party’s candidate for the 2000 presidential election, and it is traditional for the CIA to provide a wide-ranging intelligence briefing to the Republican and Democratic nominees during a presidential campaign, to prepare them for the responsibilities of the White House. John McLaughlin, acting deputy director of the CIA, has come to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to conduct the briefing, along with three other agency officials, including Bonk, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Three of Bush’s senior advisers—Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Josh Bolten—also attend the briefing.
CIA Officer Says Americans Will Die in a Terrorist Attack - During the final hour of the four-hour session, Bonk briefs Bush on terrorism. He tells Bush: “I can say one thing for sure without any qualification: Sometime in the next four years, Americans will die as a result of a terrorist incident.” (CBS News 9/1/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 1-3) According to a book by CIA officer John Helgerson, Bonk specifically says that America’s next president will face “a terrorist attack on US soil.” There is then a “discussion of what certain scenarios could look like.” (Helgerson 2013)
CIA Officer Says Islamic Extremists Are the Biggest Danger - Bonk tells Bush that numerous terrorist organizations are on the move, but the most dangerous are the Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. He says nothing these groups have so far achieved compares to “what lay in store for America and its allies if the terrorists succeeded in their quest for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons, collectively known as CBRN,” according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. Furthermore, Bonk says, “Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, [is] the group most likely to succeed.” It has “the deepest pockets and the most far-flung operational networks.” If al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got its hands on CBRN weapons, Bonk says, that group “would show no hesitation in using the weapons immediately to murder as many Americans as possible.”
Bush Is Shown a Mock Briefcase Bomb - Furthermore, Bonk says that terrorists “could easily slip compact bombs into a crowd without raising suspicion.” To highlight the danger, he has sneaked a mock briefcase bomb into the meeting. Although the device contains no poison gas, it is otherwise a real weapon, built by the CIA based on a design seized from the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters in a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995. Bonk let Bush’s Secret Service agents in on what he was doing, so they would allow him to take the mock bomb into the meeting, but Bush knows nothing about it. Bonk had the briefcase on the floor by his chair during the first three hours of the briefing and activated the mock bomb when his time to speak came. He now picks up the briefcase and carries it toward Bush. He pops it open and tilts it forward, so Bush can see the red digits of its electronic timer counting down. “Don’t worry,” Bonk says. “This is harmless. But it is exactly the kind of chemical device that people can bring into a room and kill everybody. And this one would be going off in two minutes.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 2-3) Bush is apparently unimpressed with the mock bomb. According to Helgerson, “Such show-and-tell devices usually intrigued individuals and groups being briefed, but [Bush] gestured to the effect of ‘Get that out of here’ and wanted to settle down to serious discussion.” (Helgerson 2013, pp. 152)
CIA Director Tenet and other top CIA officials brief President-elect Bush, Vice President-elect Cheney, future National Security Adviser Rice, and other incoming national security officials on al-Qaeda and covert action programs in Afghanistan. Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt recalls conveying that bin Laden is one of the gravest threats to the country. Bush asks whether killing bin Laden would end the problem. Pavitt says he answers that killing bin Laden would have an impact but not stop the threat. The CIA recommends the most important action to combat al-Qaeda is to arm the Predator drone and use it over Afghanistan. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Zakaria 3/24/2004) However, while the drone is soon armed, Bush never gives the order to use it in Afghanistan until after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).
The Bush campaign continues to engage in pre-inaugural transition activities, giving the public the impression that George W. Bush has won the presidency and is preparing to assume the office (see November 27, 2000 and After). After meeting with his foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice, Bush says he has “pretty well made up my mind” on whom to name to his White House staff. His transition team’s slogan is “Bringing America Together.” (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000)
By the end of the Clinton administration, an effort by some US officials to arrest international arms dealer Victor Bout is gathering steam (see Early Spring 1999-2000). National Security Council (NSC) adviser Lee Wolosky has been gathering evidence of Bout’s airplanes being used to smuggle weapons and possibly drugs for the Taliban. Shortly after the Bush administration takes office, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Wolosky, and other NSC deputies hold a briefing about Bout’s activities for Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser. Rice appears interested, and authorizes the NSC team to continue to pursue an attempt to get an arrest warrant for Bout strong enough to secure a conviction. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 186-187) However, Rice focuses on diplomatic solutions and does not allow any actual covert action against Bout. The FBI also does not have an open investigation into Bout and does not appear particularly interested in him. “Look but don’t touch,” is how one White House official will later describe Rice’s approach. (Landesman 8/17/2003; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193) In late spring 2001, Wolosky briefs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about Bout and global organized crime. He receives a go-ahead to present a full briefing to President Bush on the topic, but no specific date is set. Wolosky is still trying to arrange a date when the 9/11 attacks occur. The Bush administration’s interest in Bout was already fading before 9/11, and after 9/11 the remaining interest in him is lost, despite Bout’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wolosky soon quits. “We knew we were being phased out,” he will later say. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193-194) Bout moves to Russia not long after 9/11, but Rice decides that Russia should not be pressured about arms trafficking in general and Bout in particular. One source who talks to Rice claims that she reasons the US has “bigger fish to fry.” (Landesman 8/17/2003)
After the Bush administration takes office in January 2001, it is slow to develop new approaches to Pakistan and Afghanistan. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice orders a new policy review for al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but sets no deadline for it to be completed. State Department officials will later say that Secretary of State Colin Powell shows little interest in the policy review. It takes four months for the Bush administration to even nominate a new assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchange formal letters with each other shortly after Bush takes office, but the letters have little impact. In January, US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam prepares two cables to brief the new Bush administration about Pakistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. There is no response from Washington and no request for further information, even though Milam is the point person for meetings with the Taliban. The US embassy is not consulted at all about the new policy review, indicating just how low a priority the review is. A senior US diplomat will later say: “Al-Qaeda was not on the radar screen in Washington. Nobody thought there was any urgency to the policy review. Papers were circulated, dates were made to meet, and were broken—it was the usual bureaucratic approach.” The first significant meeting related to the review takes place in April, but little is accomplished (see April 30, 2001). The first cabinet-level meeting relating to the policy review takes place on September 4, just one week before the 9/11 attacks. US policy towards Pakistan is discussed, but no firm decisions are reached (see September 4, 2001). After 9/11, Rice will say: “America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working. We recognized that America’s counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and our overall foreign policy.… Al-Qaeda was both a client of and patron to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided al-Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever that.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 56-60)
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, briefs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, about al-Qaeda. (Gellman 1/20/2002) Outgoing National Security Adviser Sandy Berger makes an unusual appearance at the start of the meeting, saying to Rice, “I’m coming to this briefing to underscore how important I think this subject is.” He claims that he tells Rice during the transition between administrations, “I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.” Clarke presents his plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda that he had given to the outgoing Clinton administration a couple of weeks earlier. (Elliott 8/12/2002) He gets the impression that Rice has never heard the term al-Qaeda before. (Clarke 2004, pp. 227-30; Blumenthal 3/25/2004) Clarke is told at the meeting that he will keep his job but the position is being downgraded and he will no longer have direct access to the president (see January 3, 2001).
National Security Adviser Rice decides this day to retain Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, and his staff. However, she downgrades his official position as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. While he is still known as the counterterrorism “tsar,” he has less power and now reports to deputy secretaries instead of attending Cabinet-level meetings. He no longer is able to send memos directly to the president, or easily interact with Cabinet-level officials. (Clarke 2004, pp. 227-30; Blumenthal 3/25/2004) Clarke will not be able to meet with President Bush even a single time before 9/11 to discuss al-Qaeda (see January 25, 2001-September 10, 2001). In 2004, Rice will reveal that the person she tasks with considering changes to Clarke and his staff is Philip Zelikow, the future Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow recuses himself from those parts of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation directly relating to his role in this and other matters. However, 9/11 victims’ relatives are not satisfied. For instance, one relative says, “Zelikow has conflicts. I’m not sure that his recusal is sufficient. His fingerprints are all over that decision [to demote Clarke].” (Waterman 4/9/2004)
Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. (Gellman 1/20/2002; CBS News 6/25/2003) On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. (Gellman 1/20/2002) Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). (CBS News 6/25/2003; Mayer 7/28/2003) However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. (Bridis and Solomon 6/22/2003)
A few days before President Bush assumes the presidency, several Clinton administration officials provide incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell and incoming National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice with a briefing about the unresolved negotiations between the US and North Korea concerning North Korean missiles (see October 2000). Powell is clearly interested; Rice is just as clearly not interested. One Clinton official will later recall, “The body language was striking.” He will add: “Powell was leaning forward. Rice was very much leaning backward. Powell thought that what we had been doing formed an interesting basis for progress. He was disabused very quickly.” When Bush publicly announces his intention to abandon any negotiations with North Korea, and in the process publicly insults the leaders of both North and South Korea (see March 7, 2001), it becomes very clear that the US has changed its tone towards North Korea. Powell is another victim of public rebuke; he is forced to retract statements he has made saying the US will continue its negotiations (see March 7, 2001). (Kaplan 5/2004)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later testifies to the 9/11 Commission that in the first eight months of Bush’s presidency before 9/11, “the president receive[s] at these [Presidential Daily Briefings] more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaeda, and 13 of those [are] in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004) The content of the warnings in these briefings are unknown. However, CIA Director George Tenet claims that none of the warnings specifically indicates terrorists plan to fly hijacked commercial aircraft into buildings in the US. (Semple 4/4/2004) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later emphasize, “Tenet on 40 occasions in… morning meetings mentioned al-Qaeda to the president. Forty times, many of them in a very alarmed way, about a pending attack.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) These briefings are normally given in person by CIA Director George Tenet, and are usually attended by Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. In the Clinton administration, up to 25 officials recieved the PDB. But in the Bush adminisration before 9/11, this was sharply reduced to only six people (see After January 20, 2001). Other top officials have to make due with an Senior Executive Intelligence Brief generally released one day later, which is similar to the PDB but often contains less information (see August 7, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 533)
While still campaigning to become president, George W. Bush frequently argued the US should build an anti-ballistic missile shield (see October 12, 2000). After Bush is made president, the development of such a shield and getting out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the US has signed that would prevent such a shield, becomes the top US security priority (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Senior officials and cabinet members make it their top agenda item in meetings with European allies, Russia, and China. Five Cabinet-level officials, including Condoleezza Rice, travel to Moscow to persuade Russia to abandon the ABM Treaty. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is there on September 10 to make the same case. (Cirincione 9/5/2004)
Ballistic Missiles 'Today's Most Urgent Threat' - In a major speech given on May 1, 2001, Bush calls the possible possession of missiles by rogue states “today’s most urgent threat.” (New York Times 5/2/2001) In a June 2001 meeting with European heads of state, Bush names missile defense as his top defense priority and terrorism is not mentioned at all (see June 13, 2001). It will later be reported that Rice was scheduled to give a major speech on 9/11, in which, according to the Washington Post, she planned “to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and [made] no mention of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups.” However, the speech will be cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). (Wright 4/1/2004)
Criticism and Controversy - Bush’s missile shield stance is highly controversial. For instance, in July 2001 a Guardian article is titled, “US Defies Global Fury Over Missile Shield.” (New York Times 5/2/2001) Domestic critics suggest the missile shield could start a new arms race and cost over $500 billion. (Ferraro 5/3/2001)
Diverting Attention from Terrorism - Some argue that Bush’s missile focus is diverting attention from terrorism. For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a June 2001 hearing that the US is spending too much money on missile defense and not “putting enough emphasis on countering the most likely threats to our national security… like terrorist attacks.” (Cirincione 9/5/2004) On September 5, 2001, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes: “And why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature” and notes that “sophisticated antimissile interceptors can’t stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations, much less germ warfare from terrorists.” (Dowd 9/5/2001) On September 10, 2001, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) warns that if the US spends billions on missile defense, “we will have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threats come into this country in the hold of ship, or the belly of a plane.” In 2004, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial will suggest that if the Bush administration had focused less on the missile shield and had “devoted more attention, more focus and more resources to the terrorist threat, the events of Sept. 11 might have been prevented.” (Cirincione 9/5/2004)
After George W. Bush is inaugurated into office, the manner in which the daily intelligence briefings are presented to the president changes. President Bill Clinton read the PDBs, usually about 12 pages in length, himself and often had no need for the follow-up oral briefings. Bush, on the other hand, prefers a shorter seven-to-10-page PDB containing “more targeted hard intelligence” items. The PDB is delivered to him orally, as he reads along. According to the Washington Post, the CIA’s top officials personally review the PDB before it is presented to Bush. “Tenet reviews the PDB with the briefer as they drive from the director’s Maryland home to the White House. On the way, Tenet often makes notes and looks over the backup material the briefer has brought. Tenet and, often, the deputy director for intelligence have already looked it over before going to bed the night before, though it is finished by staffers who go to work at midnight and monitor incoming intelligence throughout the night.” Tenet is present during the actual briefing and “expands where he believes necessary and responds to questions by Bush and others,” the Post reports. (Ensor 1/18/2001; Pincus 5/24/2002) According to retired veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the CIA director’s presence during these briefing is highly unusual. The daily briefings began during the Reagan administration at the suggestion of then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. According to McGovern, the briefings were done at that time by a “small team of briefers… comprised of senior analysts who had been around long enough to earn respect and trust.” McGovern, who did such briefings for the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the national security assistant from 1981 to 1985, says that briefers “had the full confidence of the CIA director, who… rarely inserted himself into the PDB process.…. The last thing we briefers needed was the director breathing down our necks.” McGovern suggests that Tenet’s presence at the briefings possibly influenced the content of the briefing. (McGovern 3/5/2005)
George W. Bush is inaugurated as the 43rd US President, replacing Bill Clinton. The only Cabinet-level figure to remain permanently in office is CIA Director Tenet, appointed in 1997 and reputedly a long-time friend of George H. W. Bush. FBI Director Louis Freeh stays on until June 2001. Numerous figures in Bush’s administration have been directly employed in the oil industry, including Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Rice. Rice had been on Chevron’s Board of Directors since 1991, and even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. (Cave 11/19/2001) It is later revealed that Cheney is still being paid up to $1 million a year in “deferred payments” from Halliburton, the oil company he headed. (Bryce and Borger 3/12/2003) Enron’s ties also reach deep into the administration. (Milbank and Kessler 1/18/2002)
White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with President Bush and others to discuss the administration’s approach to cyber-security and terrorism. Clarke will later express his surprise at the way Bush conducts himself: “We had a couple of meetings with the president, and there were detailed discussions and briefings on cyber-security and often terrorism, and on a classified program. With the cyber-security meeting, he seemed—I was disturbed because he seemed to be trying to impress us, the people who were briefing him. It was as though he wanted these experts, these White House staff guys who had been around for a long time before he got there—didn’t want them buying the rumor that he wasn’t too bright. He was trying—sort of overly trying—to show that he could ask good questions, and kind of yukking it up with [Dick] Cheney. The contrast with having briefed his father [George H. W. Bush] and [Bill] Clinton and [Al] Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, ‘Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader’—well, sh_t. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan”
(see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. (Gellman 1/20/2002)
Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). (Gellman 1/20/2002) Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. (Benjamin and Simon 2002, pp. 335-36; Benjamin 3/30/2004) Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. (Elliott 8/12/2002) For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” (Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004; Black 3/25/2004) The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a comprehensive plan to deal with al-Qaeda within days of President Bush’s inauguration (see January 25, 2001). He wants to meet with Bush directly to discuss it with him, but he is unable to do so before 9/11. Clarke will later recall, “I asked for a meeting with the president several times beginning, in fact, before [National Security Adviser] Rice even took office in the transition briefing. I said I have given this briefing to the vice president, I’ve given it to the secretary of state, I’ve given it now to you, I would like to give it to the president. And what I was told was I could brief the president on terrorism after the policy development process had been completed.” He does have one meeting with Bush before 9/11, but only to discuss cyber security because Clarke is planning to quit his current job to focus on that issue instead (see June 2001). When asked why he didn’t bring up al-Qaeda at that meeting, Clarke will reply, “Because I had been told by Dr. Rice and her deputy that this was a briefing on countering the cyber threats and not on al-Qaeda and that I would have my opportunity on al-Qaeda if I just held on, eventually they would get to it, probably in September.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) The Bush administration had downgraded Clarke’s position in early January 2001 and he was no longer able to send memos directly to the president as he could during the Clinton administration (see January 3, 2001).
The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Bamford 2004, pp. 261) This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. (Bamford 2004, pp. 265-266; Lang 6/2004) In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. (Bamford 2004, pp. 267; Lang 6/2004) Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” (Lang 6/2004)
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004; Borger 1/12/2004; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 234) Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” (Cochran 1/13/2004) Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. (Kettle 2/3/2005)
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” (Stevenson 1/12/2004)
The final report of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century, co-chaired by former Senators Gary Hart (D-CO) and Warren Rudman (R-NH), is issued. The bipartisan panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hart and Rudman personally brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell on their findings. The report has 50 recommendations on how to combat terrorism in the US, but all of them are ignored by the Bush administration.
Shelved by White House - According to Hart, Congress will begin to take the commission’s suggestions seriously in March and April, and legislation is introduced to implement some of the recommendations. Then, “Frankly, the White House shut it down.… The president said, ‘Please wait, we’re going to turn this over to the vice president‘… and so Congress moved on to other things, like tax cuts and the issue of the day.” The White House will announce in May that it will have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism, despite the fact that this commission had just studied the issue for 2 1/2 years. Interestingly, both this commission and the Bush administration were already assuming a new cabinet level National Homeland Security Agency would be enacted eventually, even as the public remained unaware of the term and the concept. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Talbot 4/2/2004)
Cannot Get Meeting with Bush - At the meeting with Rice, Rudman says he wants to see President Bush, and is planning to deliver a “blunt and very direct” warning to him that he needs to deal early in his presidency with the question of domestic terror threats. Rice initially agrees to pass on Rudman’s request for a meeting with Bush, but nothing happens. Rudman will contact Rice’s office several times, but still no meeting is arranged. Rudman will later say he is “disappointed” by this, adding, “There’s no question in my mind that somebody at the White House dropped the ball on this.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 56-57)
Ignored by 9/11 Commission - Hart will be incredulous that neither he nor any of the other members of this commission are ever asked to testify before the 9/11 Commission. (Hart 4/6/2004) The 9/11 Commission will later make many of the same recommendations as this commission. However, it will barely mention the Hart/Rudman Commission in its final report, except to note that Congress appointed it and failed to follow through on implementing its recommendations. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 107, 479)
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. (Harris 11/2/2007)
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. (Greenwald 10/15/2007)
The Bush White House holds its second National Security Council meeting. Like the first meeting (see January 30, 2001), the issue of regime change in Iraq is a central topic. (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004) Officials discuss a memo titled “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,” which talks about troop requirements, establishing war crimes tribunals, and divvying up Iraq’s oil wealth. ( [Sources: Paul O’Neill) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld interrupts Colin Powell’s discussion of UN-based sanctions against Iraq, saying, “Sanctions are fine. But what we really want to discuss is going after Saddam.” He continues, “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with US interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond it. It would demonstrate what US policy is all about.” (Suskind 2004, pp. 85-86 Sources: Paul O’Neill) According to Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Rumsfeld talks at the meeting “in general terms about post-Saddam Iraq, dealing with the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, the reconstruction of the country’s economy, and the ‘freeing of the Iraqi people.’” (Stevenson 1/12/2004 Sources: Paul O’Neill) Other people, in addition to O’Neill, Bush, and Rumsfeld, who are likely in attendance include Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers. (US President 2/13/2001)
The USS Greeneville, a fast-attack Los Angeles-class submarine, collides with the Japanese fishing training boat Ehime Maru, in the Pacific Ocean south of O’ahu, Hawai’i, sinking the vessel. Nine aboard the Ehime Maru are killed in the collision, including four high school students. (Honolulu Advertiser 2/9/2001) The accident has political ramifications far beyond its immediate tragedy. The prime minister of Japan, Yoshiro Mori, will be forced to resign in part due to his callous response to the news. Already-fragile military relations between the US and Japan suffer further damage. And the accident is the first major foreign policy challenge for the new Bush administration. (McCarthy and McCabe 4/15/2001) The next day Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, formally apologizes to the Japanese government and to the families of those killed in the collision. Fargo admits that the fault lay completely with the submarine, and says that the sub was surfacing after what is called an “emergency main ballast blow” when its stern collided with the fishing vessel. 16 civilians were on board, but initially the Navy fails to identify them, saying only that business leaders, lawmakers, and other notable civilians are routinely allowed on board naval vessels as part of the Navy’s community relations program. A Navy spokesman claims that the Greeneville’s mission is to support rescue operations. (Scott, Gordon, and Ishikawa 2/10/2001) Secretary of State Colin Powell apologizes to the Japanese foreign minister the day afterwards; while National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice informs President Bush about the incident shortly after it happened, Bush chooses to let the State and Defense Departments handle the apologies and other official responses. (Roth 2/11/2001) The Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the collision, as will interested journalists, who will find that the Greeneville was on a mission to give what amounts to a pleasure cruise to a number of influential Republican corporate donors, mostly from the Texas oil and gas industries. Investigations find that some of those civilians were actually manning the controls of the submarine when it hit the Japanese vessel. (See February 14-April, 2001.)
President Bush’s first national security directive, NPSD-1, dramatically reorganizes the National Security Council. The directive redefines “security” as not only the defense of the US and its borders, but also explicitly defines it as “the advancement of United States interests around the globe. National security also depends on America’s opportunity to prosper in the world economy.” The directive removes many senior advisers and staff from the flow of information and centralizes almost all security information directly to Bush through National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see February 13, 2001). (US President 2/13/2001)
President Bush issues a little-noticed directive that dramatically changes the way information flows among top Bush administration officials. It states that attendees of National Security Council (NSC) meetings shall continue to include the president, vice president, secretary of state, treasury secretary, defense secretary, CIA director, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and assistant to the president for national security affairs. However, other officials, including the “heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials” are excluded from the automatic right to attend NSC meetings. Instead, they “shall be invited to attend meetings of the NSC when appropriate.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is given a pivotal position. In addition to attending all NSC meetings, she is responsible for determining the agenda of all the meetings. The directive also states, “The existing system of Interagency Working Groups is abolished.” Instead, Rice will coordinate a series of eleven new interagency coordination committees within the NSC. She is designated the executive secretary of all eleven committees, meaning that she will schedule the meetings and determine agendas. She is made chairperson of six of the committees, including “Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness,” “Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence,” and “Records Access and Information Security.” Professor Margie Burns will later ask rhetorically, “How could the White House ever have thought that abolishing the interagency work groups was a good idea, if security was the objective? Why was so much responsibility placed on the shoulders of one person, Condoleezza Rice, whose [only] previous experience had been at Stanford University and Chevron?” (US President 2/13/2001; Burns 1/2004)
The US government is considering reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, which had been closed because of security concerns. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice that terrorists could easily drive a truck bomb, which he calls their “weapon of choice,” right into the White House. While discussing this, Clarke tells Rice that he thinks there are terrorist cells within the US, including al-Qaeda cells. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255)
The CIA issues repeated warnings that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida may be planning an attack for the near future. One report cites a source indicating an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia, or India. At this time, the CIA believes Zubaida was a major figure in the Millennium plots (see May 30, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke relays these reports to National Security Adviser Rice. She is also briefed on Zubaida’s activities and the CIA’s efforts to locate him. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 )
It is claimed that after a routine briefing by CIA Director Tenet to President Bush regarding the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, Bush complains to National Security Adviser Rice that he is tired of “swatting at flies” and wants a comprehensive plan for attacking terrorism. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke already has such a plan, but it has been mired in bureaucratic deadlock since January. After this, progress remains slow. (Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) According to Vanity Fair, when 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey asked Rice in 2004 exactly what flies Bush swatted before 9/11, “she fumbled embarrassingly for an answer.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
Over a two-month period, the NSA reports “at least 33 communications indicating a possible, imminent terrorist attack.” None of these reports provide any specific information on where, when, or how an attack might occur. The reports are widely disseminated to other intelligence agencies. (US Congress 9/18/2002; Miklaszewski 9/18/2002; Senate 9/26/2002, pp. p. 9365) National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will later read what she calls “chatter that was picked up in [2001’s] spring and summer. ‘Unbelievable news coming in weeks,’ said one. ‘A big event… there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.’ There will be attacks in the near future.’” (Washington Post 4/8/2004) The NSA director will claim in 2002 that all of the warnings were red herrings unrelated to the 9/11 attacks. (US Congress 10/17/2002) However, in 2004 it will be revealed that the 9/11 attacks were originally planned to take place between May and July 2001, but were delayed until September (see May-July 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke suggests to National Security Adviser Rice that she ask CIA Director George Tenet what more the US can do to stop al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks.” It is believed these attacks will probably be directed at Israeli targets, but possibly on US facilities. Clarke writes to Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, “When these attacks occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145-146)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks for a transfer to start a new national program on cyber security. His request is granted, and he is to change jobs in early October 2001 (which he does, see October 9, 2001). He makes the change despite the 9/11 attacks. He claims that he tells National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, “Perhaps I have become too close to the terrorism issue. I have worked it for ten years and to me it seems like a very important issue, but maybe I’m becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale. Maybe you need someone less obsessive about it.” (White House 10/9/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 25-26) He later claims, “My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn’t believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem. And I thought, if the administration doesn’t believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there’s an urgent problem, and if it’s unprepared to act as though there’s an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job.” (Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004)
Since the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it has been slow to develop an approach on how to deal with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchanged formal letters, but to little impact. The Bush administration is working on a regional policy review, but will not complete it before 9/11 (see January-September 10, 2001). The first substantial diplomatic contact between the US and Pakistan takes place in June 2001, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and ISI Maj. Gen. Faiz Jilani visit Washington, Canada, and Britain. Jilani is accompanying Sattar because it is well known that the ISI controls Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban. Sattar and Jilani meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in early June. Another Pakistani diplomat who attends the meeting will later recall: “She told us that the Taliban were dead in the water and we should drop them. It was a very rough meeting.” But Rice does not give any specific threats or incentives, presumably because the Bush administration has yet to make much progress with its policy review. Despite the harsh words, the Bush administration actually is more conciliatory than the Clinton administration had been. Later in June, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says in an interview: “I don’t want to see Pakistan only through the lens or the prism of Osama bin Laden. We want to look at Pakistan and see what Pakistan thinks about Pakistan’s future.” Bush writes another letter to Musharraf in August, but it simply repeats previous warnings (see August 4, 2001). Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of the 2000 book Taliban, will later comment: “There was now even less incentive for Musharraf to change his policies toward the Taliban and there was no extraordinary US pressure to go after al-Qaeda. Dealing with Bush was going to be much easier than dealing with Clinton. Whereas Clinton resisted the wool being pulled over his eyes, the Bush administration simply closed their eyes themselves.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 56-58)
An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. (CBS News 6/25/2003) In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. (Gellman 1/20/2002) But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. (Bridis and Solomon 6/22/2003) She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” (Mayer 7/28/2003) The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). (Mayer 7/28/2003) The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. (Bridis and Solomon 6/25/2003)
White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke gives National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a checklist, describing what to do if there is a terrorist attack. Clarke will later recall that he and Rice “had discussed what we would do if and when another terrorist attack hit.” This month, he gives her “a checklist of things to do after an attack, in part to underline my belief that something big was coming and that we needed to go on the offensive.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2) Details of what is included in the checklist are unstated.
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. (Newsweek 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 257)
The first Bush administration deputy-secretary-level meeting on terrorism in late April is followed by three more deputy meetings. Each meeting focuses on one issue: one meeting is about al-Qaeda, one about the Pakistani situation, and one on Indo-Pakistani relations. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to roll back al-Qaeda, which has been discussed at these meetings, is worked on some more, and is finally approved by National Security Adviser Rice and the deputies on August 13. It now can move to the Cabinet-level before finally reaching President Bush. The Cabinet-level meeting is scheduled for later in August, but too many participants are on vacation, so the meeting takes place in early September. (Gellman 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ) CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)
CIA Director Tenet writes an intelligence summary for National Security Adviser Rice: “It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” A highly classified analysis at this time adds, “Most of the al-Qaeda network is anticipating an attack. Al-Qaeda’s overt publicity has also raised expectations among its rank and file, and its donors.” (Gellman 5/17/2002) The same day, Tenet is briefed by another CIA official that bin Laden “will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests” (see June 28, 2001). (US Congress 7/24/2003) Apparently, these warnings are partly based on a warning given by al-Qaeda leaders to a reporter a few days earlier (see June 21, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke also later asserts that Tenet tells him around this time, “It’s my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 235)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells a television interviewer that while Bush considers Saddam Hussein “a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact a threat to international security more broadly…let’s remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.” (Pilger 9/22/2003; Kick 10/1/2003)
This is one of only two dates that Bush’s national security leadership discusses terrorism. (The other discussion occurs on September 4.) Apparently, the topic is only mentioned in passing and is not the focus of the meeting. This group, made up of the national security adviser, CIA director, defense secretary, secretary of state, Joint Chiefs of staff chairman and others, met around 100 times before 9/11 to discuss a variety of topics, but apparently rarely terrorism. The White House “aggressively defended the level of attention [to terrorism], given only scattered hints of al-Qaeda activity.” This lack of discussion stands in sharp contrast to the Clinton administration and public comments by the Bush administration. (Elliott 8/12/2002) Bush said in February 2001, “I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.” A few months earlier, Tenet told Congress, “The threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving” (see February 7, 2001). (Bridis 6/28/2002)
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258) Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 236) Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256) Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. (CNN 3/2002; Gellman 5/17/2002)
In 2002, Newsweek will report: “The White House acknowledged for the first time, [President] Bush was privately beginning to worry about the stream of terror warnings he was hearing that summer, most of them aimed at US targets abroad. On July 5, five days before the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), Bush directed [Condoleezza] Rice to figure out what was going on domestically.” (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) In 2004, President Bush will explain why he requested this: “[T]he reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And part of it had to do with the Genoa [Italy] G8 conference that I was going to attend.” (US President 4/19/2004) Though he does not mention it, the chief security concern at the late July 2001 conference he mentions is intelligence that al-Qaeda plans to fly an airplane into the conference. This threat is so widely reported before the conference (with some reports before July 5 (see June 13, 2001 and Mid-July 2001) that the attack is called off (see July 20-22, 2001). For instance, in late June, Time magazine mentioned a German intelligence report of an Osama bin Laden plot “to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens” (see June 20, 2001). Bush will later claim that this request is specifically for the later-famous August 6, 2001 briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), although the CIA analysts who draft it will deny this (see July 13, 2004). (US President 4/19/2004)
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264) The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004) Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 236-37) The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sends National Security Adviser Rice an e-mail message “outlining a number of steps agreed on” at the Counterterrorism Security Group meeting the day before (see July 5, 2001), “including efforts to examine the threat of weapons of mass destruction and possible attacks in Latin America. One senior administration official [says] Mr. Clarke [writes] that several agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, [have] been directed to develop what the official [says are] ‘detailed response plans in the event of three to five simultaneous attacks.’” However, no response or follow-up action has been pointed out. (Johnston and Schmitt 4/4/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 9) On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
CIA Director Tenet has a special meeting with National Security Adviser Rice and her aides about al-Qaeda. Says one official at the meeting, “[Tenet] briefed [Rice] that there was going to be a major attack.” Another at the meeting says Tenet displays a huge wall chart showing dozens of threats. Tenet does not rule out a domestic attack but says an overseas attack is more likely. (Elliott 8/12/2002)
The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. (CNN 7/18/2001) No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 154)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly joins the chorus of Bush administration officials demanding that the US withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Rice, an expert on the former Soviet Union, describes herself as a former “high priestess of arms control” who has changed her thinking. She says there is no longer a reason to discuss respective numbers of ballistic missiles held by the US and Russia, or, as she says, no further reason to debate “how many warheads could dance on the head of an SS-18.” (McFeatters 7/16/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 184)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke informs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley that the spike in intelligence about a near-term al-Qaeda attack has stopped. However, he urges keeping readiness at a high level during August, when President Bush and many other top US leaders go on vacation. He warns that another recent report suggests that an attack has just been postponed for a few months “but will still happen.” Similarly, on August 3, the CIA sends a cable to the US intelligence community warning that the threat of impending al-Qaeda attacks is likely to continue indefinitely. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reports to National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley that the spike in intelligence indicating a near-term attack appears to have ceased, but he urges them to keep readiness high. Intelligence indicates that an attack has been postponed for a few months. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) In early August, CIA Director Tenet also reports that intelligence suggests that whatever terrorist activity might have been originally planned has been delayed. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” (Royce and Brune 4/10/2004; Associated Press 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535)
On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260)
The Bush administration holds no high-level meetings prior to 9/11 to discuss the ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later suggest that 9/11 might have been stopped “if [National Security Adviser] Rice and the president had acted personally, gotten involved, shaken the trees, gotten the Cabinet members involved when they had ample warning in June and July and August that something was about to happen.… [Rice] said that the president received 40 warnings face to face from the director of central intelligence that a major al-Qaeda attack was going to take place and she admitted that the president did not have a meeting on the subject, did not convene the Cabinet. She admitted that she didn’t convene the Cabinet. And as some of the [9/11 Commissioners] pointed out, this was in marked contrast to the way the government operated in December of 1999, when it had similar information and it successfully thwarted attacks.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) Former CIA official Larry Johnson will similarly comment, “At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals’ meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president’s national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the al-Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of al-Qaeda operators in the United States.” (Johnson 4/12/2004) There will be one cabinet-level principals meeting to discuss terrorism on September 4, 2001, but no evidence has been released suggesting the PDB or the possibility of al-Qaeda attacking the US was discussed (see September 4, 2001).
President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. (Gellman 5/17/2002) National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237-38) Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. (Elliott 8/12/2002) However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. (Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004) Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” (Elliott 8/12/2002) The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004; Holland 4/2/2004)
Attendees to an important cabinet-level meeting on terrorism have a heated debate over what to do with the armed Predator drone, which has been ready for use over Afghanistan since June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke has been repeatedly pushing for the use of the Predator over Afghanistan (in either armed or unarmed versions), and he again argues for its immediate use. Everyone agrees that the armed Predator capability is needed, but there are disputes over who will manage and/or pay for it. CIA Director Tenet says his agency will operate the armed Predator “over my dead body.” (Washington Post 10/2/2002) Clarke recalls, “The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.” (Mayer 7/28/2003) National Security Adviser Rice concludes that the armed Predator is not ready (even though it had been proven in tests during the summer), but she also presses Tenet to reconsider his opposition to immediately resume reconnaissance flights, suspended since September the year before. After the meeting, Tenet agrees to proceed with such flights. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The armed Predator is activated just days after 9/11, showing that it was ready to be used after all. (Bridis and Solomon 6/25/2003)
White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213)
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” (9/11 Commission 4/8/2004) The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212) Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237)
According to a New York Times article several days later, on this day President Bush holds a National Security Council meeting with Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, and others, to consider how to change his Middle East policy. This potential change in US policy comes after the Saudis threatened to end their alliance with the US because of US policy towards Israel and Palestine (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001). It is reported that he is considering meeting with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat when Arafat is scheduled to come to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later. Bush has so far been firm in refusing to meet with Arafat. According to the New York Times, at this meeting, “Bush discussed the wisdom of changing tack, officials said. While no clear decision was made, there was an inclination to go ahead with a meeting with Arafat if events unfolded in a more favorable way in the next 10 days or so…” Additionally, it is reported that Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres will meet with Arafat in mid-September, in what it is hoped will be “the first of a series that could start a process of serious dialogue” between Palestine and Israel. (Perlez 9/9/2001) Reporter Bob Woodward will add in 2006, “Bush agreed to come out publicly for a Palestinian state. A big rollout was planned for the week of September 10, 2001.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 77) But after the 9/11 attacks a few days later, Bush and Peres do not go forward with any meetings with Arafat and US policy does not change. The Nation will later comment, “In the aftermath of [9/11], few people recalled that for a brief moment in the late summer of 2001, the Bush Administration had considered meeting with Arafat and deepening its political involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Rozen 7/14/2005) The leak to the New York Times about this September 6 meeting will result in a wide FBI investigation of Israeli spying in the US (see September 9, 2001).
Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO), one of the two co-chairs of a comprehensive, bipartisan report on terrorism released in January 2001, meets with National Security Adviser Rice to see if the Bush administration is implementing the report’s recommendations. He later claims to give her a grave warning. He recalls to tone of her response: “She didn’t seem to feel a terrible sense of urgency. Her response was simply ‘I’ll talk to the vice president about it.‘… Even at this late date, nothing was being done inside the White House.” (Talbot 4/2/2004)
National Security Adviser Rice, upset with a media leak, orders an investigation that will uncover evidence of widespread Israeli spying in the US. The Saudis had recently threatened to end their close alliance with the US (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001), and on September 6, 2001, President Bush held a meeting attended by Rice and others to work on how to appease Saudi concerns (see September 6, 2001). Just three days after the meeting, there is a story by Jane Perlez in the New York Times accurately detailing what was discussed in the meeting. It will later be reported that Rice is furious about the leak to Perlez and immediately demands a clampdown on leakers. The determination to improve secrecy increases in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This leak investigation focuses on Israelis in the US. No one is ever prosecuted for the leak to Perlez, but the investigation will takes on a life of its own and continue for years. (Perlez 9/9/2001; Kampeas and Berger 5/17/2005; Rozen 7/14/2005) It appears the FBI had been investigating Israeli spying in the US since at least 1999 (see April 13, 1999-2004), and there are reports of a discovery of a “massive” Israeli spy operation in the US in 2001 (see 2001) and/or the discovery of the Israeli art student spy ring (see March 23, 2001 and June 2001). It is unclear if there is any connection between these investigations and this media link investigation or not.
Another deputies meeting further considers policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, and makes further revisions to the National Security Presidential Directive regarding al-Qaeda. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) By the end of the meeting, a formal, three-phase strategy is agreed upon. An envoy is to go to Afghanistan and give the Taliban another chance to expel Osama bin Laden. If this fails, more pressure will be put on the Taliban, including more support for the Northern Alliance and other groups. If the Taliban still refuse to change, the US will try to overthrow them through more direct action. The time-frame for this strategy is about three years. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) CIA Director George Tenet is formally tasked to draw up new authorities for the covert action program envisioned and request funding to implement it. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The directive is then to be sent to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for approval. President Bush is apparently aware of the directive and prepared to sign it (though he hasn’t attended any of the meetings about it), but he will not sign it until October. (MSNBC 5/16/2002; Drogin 5/18/2002; Wright 4/1/2004)
National Security Adviser Rice is scheduled to deliver a speech claiming to address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech is never given due to the 9/11 attacks earlier in the day, but the text is later leaked to the media. The Washington Post calls the speech “telling Insight into the administration’s thinking” because it promotes missile defense and contains no mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups. The only mention of terrorism is in the context of the danger of rogue nations such as Iraq. In fact, there are almost no public mentions of bin Laden or al-Qaeda by Bush or other top Bush administration officials before 9/11, and the focus instead is on missile defense. (Wright 4/1/2004; unknown 4/1/2004)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice arrives at her office at the White House. (Bumiller 2007, pp. xi) Rice will later recall that today is intended to be “a normal day, foreign visitors, several meetings.” (Rice 9/11/2002) Usually she or her deputy, Stephen Hadley, goes along on presidential trips to handle any national security questions that might come up, so one of them would have gone with President Bush the previous day for his two-day trip to Florida (see September 10, 2001). (Hillman 9/9/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xi) But, as Rice will later recall, Bush’s trip is “such a short trip that we decided not to do that.” (Rice 9/11/2002) In their place, they have sent Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room. (Bumiller 2007, pp. xi)
President Bush receives his daily intelligence briefing in his room at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where he has just spent the night (see September 10, 2001), but the briefing includes nothing about terrorism. The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a summary of the most current intelligence reports from around the world. It is delivered to Bush each day by Mike Morell, a CIA analyst. (Morell 9/2006 ; Bowden 2012, pp. 4-5; Graff 9/9/2016) It usually includes seven or eight items. Fifteen minutes are usually allotted for the briefing, although it often lasts longer than this.
Brief Arrived Late - The PDB today was, unusually, late to arrive. It was going to be sent from CIA headquarters, via the White House Situation Room, to the White House Communications Agency command post at the resort at 3:30 a.m. But at 4:30 a.m. it had not arrived and so Morell called CIA headquarters to see if there was a problem. He was told there wasn’t and the material had been sent at 3:30 a.m., as planned. He then phoned the command post and was assured that the brief would be brought to him soon. Morell therefore received the PDB after 4:30 a.m., which left him less than three hours to master its contents and select supplementary materials to show the president.
CIA Briefer Met the Situation Room Director to Prepare - Morell met Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, at 7:30 a.m. to compare the information they each planned to show the president during the briefing. At 7:55 a.m. the two went up to Bush’s suite. Shortly after 8:00 a.m. they enter the president’s room to give the briefing, and find Bush seated at a table with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, is also in the room for the briefing. Bush puts down his newspaper and asks, “Anything of interest this morning?”
Brief Includes No Terrorism-Related Items - Loewer goes first. She spends a couple of minutes updating Bush on the Middle East peace process. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 45-46; Priess 2016, pp. 238-239) Morell then goes through the PDB with the president. The information in it today covers Russia, China, and the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Bush 2010, pp. 126; Bowden 2012, pp. 5; Priess 2016, pp. 239) There is nothing in it about terrorist threats. (Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 46; Graff 9/9/2016) “On arguably the most important day in President Bush’s tenure, his intelligence briefing was uneventful,” Morell will later comment. (Morell 9/2006 ) It takes Morell less than 10 minutes to go through the PDB with Bush, according to author David Priess. Bush then talks on the phone for a couple of minutes with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in a call he has requested in response to some of the news Loewer has given him. (Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 46-47; Priess 2016, pp. 239) He asks Rice to follow up on a few points. (Kessler 2004, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016)
Briefing Lasts 15 to 25 Minutes - The briefing is over by 8:25 a.m., according to Morell. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 47) It ends “close to 8:30,” Loewer will say. (Priess 2016, pp. 239) But according to other accounts, the briefing lasts 15 minutes and so is over by around 8:15 a.m. (see 8:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Kessler 2004, pp. 136; Bohn 2015, pp. 213) After leaving Bush’s suite, Morell and Loewer will head down to take their places in the motorcade that is going to transport them to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, which the president is scheduled to visit this morning. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 47; Priess 2016, pp. 239)
Just prior to learning about the 9/11 attacks, top US leaders are scattered across the country and overseas:
President Bush is in Sarasota, Florida. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is flying across the Atlantic on the way to Europe. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Giesemann 2008, pp. 19-40)
Attorney General John Ashcroft is flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh is at a conference in Montana. (ABC News 9/14/2002) Others are in Washington:
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are at their offices in the White House. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is at his office in the Pentagon, meeting with a delegation from Capitol Hill. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
CIA Director George Tenet is at breakfast with his old friend and mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks from the White House. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
FBI Director Robert Mueller is in his office at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is at his office at the Department of Transportation. (US Congress 9/20/2001)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Building, three blocks from the White House. (Clarke 2004, pp. 1)
A number of key White House officials will later claim that, when they learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center, they initially think it is just an accident:
President Bush says that, when he learns of the crash while in Sarasota, Florida: “my first reaction was—as an old pilot—how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 42)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with the president, says: “It was first reported to me… that it looked like it was a, a twin-engine pro—prop plane, and so the natural reaction was: ‘What a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack.’” (Card 9/11/2002)
Adviser Karl Rove, who is also with the president in Florida, is later questioned about his feelings after the first crash. When it is suggested, “I guess at that point, everyone is still thinking it is an accident,” Rove concurs, “Yes, absolutely.” (Rove 9/11/2002)
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also traveling with the president on this day, says, “[W]hen only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident.” (CNN 9/11/2006)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in her White House office, is informed of the crash by her executive assistant (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). She later recalls, “I thought, what a strange accident.” (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 9/11/2002)
White House counselor Karen Hughes receives a phone call informing her of the first crash as she is about to leave her Washington, DC, home. She later recalls, “they thought it was a small plane at the time… so, of course, my immediate thought was what a terrible accident.” (Hughes 9/11/2002; CNN 4/6/2004) She adds, “We all assumed it was some kind of weird accident; at that point terrorism didn’t occur to us.” (Hughes 2004, pp. 234)
The 9/11 Commission will later describe, “In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an accident, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their regular schedules.” It will only be when they learn of the second tower being hit at 9:03 that “nearly everyone in the White House… immediately knew it was not an accident.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35) However, when couterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is called some time after the first crash but before the second by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is at the White House (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—she tells him, “Until we know what this is, Dick, we should assume the worst.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 1) And when CIA Director George Tenet learns of the first crash, reportedly he is told specifically, “The World Trade tower has been attacked,” and his initial reaction is, “This has bin Laden all over it” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 4)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice learns from her executive assistant that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, but assumes the crash was an accident. (Rice 8/1/2002 ) Rice is in her office at the White House (see 6:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, as she will later recall, “My day was shaping up as a fairly normal day.” She has been given her intelligence briefing and is standing at her desk, getting ready to go to her senior staff meeting. (Rice 8/6/2002) At “8:47 a.m. or so,” according to Rice’s later recollection, Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, comes into the office. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 8/1/2002 ) Crawford informs Rice of the crash in New York, saying, “Do you know a plane has hit the World Trade Center?” (Rice 9/11/2002) Rice will later recall, “I thought, ‘That’s odd, that’s a strange accident.’” She asks Crawford, “What kind of plane, Tony?” He replies, “Twin engine, they think.” (Rice 10/24/2001) According to journalist and author Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice “assumed that a small plane had veered out of control.” (Bumiller 2007, pp. xi) Rice will later comment, “It just didn’t come to mind immediately that it might be terrorism.” (Rice 8/6/2002) She tells Crawford, “I better call the president.” (Rice 10/24/2001) She will then call President Bush, who is in Florida for an education event (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 8/2/2002) While Rice is talking over the phone with Bush, Crawford will inform her that the plane that hit the WTC was in fact a commercial aircraft, not a small twin-engine plane. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001)
Douglas Cochrane, Vice President Dick Cheney’s military aide, learns that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and subsequently heads to Cheney’s office to pass on to the vice president a phone number for President Bush. Cochrane is in his office on the fifth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, when he learns a plane has hit the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learns about the crash when someone in the White House Situation Room calls and tells him what has happened, according to the Florida Times-Union. However, he will tell the 9/11 Commission that he learns about it from the television coverage of the incident, at about 8:50 a.m.
Military Aide Heads to the Situation Room - Cochrane leaves his office and goes to the Situation Room, seeking information, but personnel there can tell him nothing more than what is being reported on CNN. Cochrane will tell the 9/11 Commission that a supervisor informs him that Cheney got cut off while talking on the phone with Bush. He therefore takes a piece of paper with a phone number for the president on it and heads to Cheney’s office, in the West Wing of the White House. When he reaches the office, he finds National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice there with the vice president, according to the Florida Times-Union. (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004) However, according to other accounts, Rice will only go to Cheney’s office after 9:03 a.m., when the second hijacked plane hits the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 9/16/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 332; Gellman 2008, pp. 114)
Military Aide Reportedly Sees Cheney on the Phone with Bush - Cochrane will tell the 9/11 Commission that while he is in Cheney’s office at this time, he sees the vice president picking up the phone and answering a call from Bush. Cheney says, “Yes, Mr. President,” he will recall. (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004) However, according to other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney will first talk with Bush about the crashes in New York sometime after the second plane hits the WTC, apparently around 9:15 a.m. (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 9/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Hayes 2007, pp. 332) Cochrane then shuts the door to Cheney’s office and heads back to the Situation Room. There, he will see the second crash at the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004)
President Bush continues chatting with members of the official party that has assembled to greet him at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, even though Andrew Card, his chief of staff, has told him he needs to go and take an important call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (Safdie 4/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; O'Connor 9/11/2011) Bush has just arrived at the school, where he is going to attend a reading demonstration (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41) The greeting party that is there to meet him includes teachers and administrators. It also includes Frank Brogan, lieutenant governor of Florida, and two members of Congress: Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Dan Miller (R-FL). (Sammon 2002, pp. 43; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002)
Greeting Party Members Were Told Bush Would Not Talk to Them - While the members of the greeting party were waiting for the president’s motorcade to arrive, a White House staffer informed them that Bush would not stop and talk to them as he made his way into the school, because he has to take an important call from Rice. They were told, “When he arrives, and he’ll be here in a minute, he’s going to walk past you,” Putnam will later recall. “He’s not being rude, he’s just got to take this phone call,” the staffer added.
Bush Stops and Talks to the Greeting Party - However, the president seems to be in no hurry to take the call. After getting out of his limousine, he stops to talk to the members of the greeting party. He goes “down the receiving line, shaking hands and exchanging a few words with everyone,” according to Brogan. He “comes up [to the greeting party] and does not go past us,” Putnam will recall. “He stops and talks with us, having a good chat with the teacher of the year.” (Safdie 4/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; Frost 9/18/2003; Leary 9/6/2011) (This is Edwina Oliver, who is in the greeting party. (Sammon 2002, pp. 43) )
Bush Continues Chatting When Told He Has a Call to Take - While Bush is chatting with Oliver, Card tells him, “You have a phone call from National Security Adviser Rice you need to take.” Bush says, “I’ll be right there,” but continues talking with the teacher. Card then comes over to him, grabs him by the arm, and says, “Mr. President, you need to take this call right now.” (Safdie 4/8/2002; O'Connor 9/11/2011) Bush tells the members of the greeting party, “I need to go take an important telephone call.” He then goes to a classroom, where he will talk on the phone with Rice (see (Shortly Before 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 42; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush already knows a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center when he meets the greeting party. He was told about the incident by Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, after he got out of his limousine (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lance 8/17/2003; Priess 2016, pp. 240) He is also told about the crash by Karl Rove, his senior adviser, while he is shaking hands with the members of the greeting party (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rove 2010, pp. 249-250; Graff 9/9/2016)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice phones President Bush, who is away in Florida, to pass on to him the news that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, and she tells the president that the plane involved was a commercial jetliner, not a light aircraft. (Rice 11/1/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35; Bush 2010, pp. 126) Rice, who is in her office at the White House, has just been informed of the crash by her executive assistant, but she mistakenly believes it was an accident involving a small plane (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 9/11/2002) Bush has just arrived at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota for an education event there (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 41-42; Rice 8/1/2002 )
Bush Calls WTC Crash a 'Strange Accident' - Rice calls Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president, and Loewer fetches Bush. (Rice 10/24/2001) Bush goes to a classroom that has been converted into a communications center for the traveling White House staff and talks to Rice using a secure phone there. (Bush 2010, pp. 126) Rice says, “Mr. President, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” (Rice 10/24/2001) Bush has already been informed of this by members of his entourage (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 11/26/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 42; Bush 2010, pp. 126) He says, “That’s a really strange accident,” and Rice replies, “Yeah, it really is.” (Bumiller 2007, pp. xi-xii)
Bush Told that Crash Involved a Commercial Plane - Bush asks Rice, “What kind of plane?” and Rice says she has been told it was a twin-engine plane. She tells Bush she will let him know if she learns anything more about the crash. Around this time, Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, comes and tells Rice that it is now believed the plane that hit the WTC was a commercial plane. Rice passes on this information to Bush and then says, “That’s all we know right now, Mr. President.” (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35) Bush will later recall that at this moment, “I was stunned.” He thinks to himself: “That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he’d had a heart attack.” Bush mutters, “There’s one terrible pilot.” He tells Rice to stay on top of the situation and then asks his communications director, Dan Bartlett, to work on a statement promising the full support of federal emergency management services. (Sammon 2002, pp. 42-43; Bush 2010, pp. 126-127)
Bush and Rice Continue with Their Schedules - After the call ends, Bush heads on to watch a children’s reading drill at the school (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Rice goes to her senior staff meeting (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Rice 8/6/2002; Sammon 10/7/2002) Representative Dan Miller (R-FL), who is waiting in a receiving line to meet the president, has been told to hold on while Bush takes the call from Rice. When Bush comes over to Miller after the call, he appears unbothered. Miller will recall: “[I]t was nothing different from the normal, brief greeting with the president. I don’t think he was aware at the time, maybe, of the seriousness.” (Martin 7/4/2004) Author James Bamford will comment that at this time, “neither Rice nor Bush was aware that the United States had gone to ‘battle stations’ alert and had scrambled fighter jets into the air to intercept and possibly take hostile action against multiple hijacked airliners, something that was then known by hundreds of others within NORAD, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Pentagon.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 17)
Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, learns of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and then, according to his own account, goes and tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice what has happened. With many of President Bush’s senior staff members, including White House chief of staff Andrew Card, traveling with the president in Florida, Bolten is the acting chief of staff at the White House this morning. He has run the senior staff meeting and, after the meeting ended, noticed the coverage of the first crash at the WTC on the television in his office. He’d thought the crash was a “freak accident,” he will later comment. “But then,” he will say, “the TV pictures kind of made me wonder.” Bolten went down to the White House Situation Room to see if he could learn anything more. The Situation Room, according to Bolten, “is supposed to be the information nerve center of the White House, where they are monitoring all of the TV stations, all the intelligence sources.” It is “where the Defense Department and CIA and everybody funnels in information to the president and to the White House.” After he enters the Situation Room, Bolten learns of Flight 175 hitting the second WTC tower, presumably seeing it live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “[I]t was at that moment that I realized this is not an accident,” he will recall. Bolten will say that he then heads into the conference area of the Situation Room, where Rice is conducting a meeting with her senior directors. After he enters the room, Rice says, “Here’s Josh Bolten,” and then starts introducing him to her senior directors. Bolten will say he gives Rice “the timeout signal” and asks her to step outside the room with him. He then tells her, “A second plane has hit; this is not an accident, it is an attack.” (C-SPAN 10/6/2013) Rice, however, will contradict Bolten’s account. In interviews in which she discusses this morning’s events, she will make no mention of Bolten coming into her senior directors’ meeting. She will say she learns a second plane has hit the WTC not from Bolten but from her executive assistant, Tony Crawford, who comes into her meeting and hands her a note that tells her about the crash (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001; Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 8/6/2002) Bolten will say that after he tells Rice about the crash, the two of them head upstairs to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and talk to Cheney there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (C-SPAN 10/6/2013)
Vice President Dick Cheney sees the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television while meeting with his speechwriter John McConnell. He later claims that several other officials then come and join him in his White House office: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, and his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who has come across from the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House. (Cheney 9/16/2001) According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “As word of the attacks spread throughout the West Wing, many White House officials migrated to Cheney’s office.” As well as Rice, Libby, and Matalin, these include Sean O’Keefe, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget; Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff; and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. (Hayes 2007, pp. 332) However, other accounts contradict this. Clarke claims that when he arrives at the White House shortly after 9:03, he sees the vice president and Rice, but the two are “alone in Cheney’s office” (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (It is possible, though, that the other officials only arrive after Clarke ends his brief visit to the vice president’s office.) (Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2) In numerous interviews where she discusses her actions this morning, Rice makes no mention of heading to Cheney’s office after the second tower is hit. (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 8/1/2002 ; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 9/11/2002; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Also, according to some accounts, the Secret Service evacuates Cheney from his office shortly after the second attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) Cheney claims that President Bush phones him around this time, while he is still in his office. (Cheney 9/16/2001) But according to White House adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Florida, Bush is unable to reach the vice president because Cheney is being evacuated from his office (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rove 9/11/2002)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is informed of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and immediately realizes it is a terrorist attack. Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, informed Rice of the first crash shortly before 9:00 a.m. while she was in her office at the White House, but, Rice will later say, she had thought it was a “strange accident” (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rice had gone down to the conference area of the White House Situation Room for her daily meeting with her top aides. (Rice 9/11/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xi-xii) According to her own later recollections, a few minutes into this meeting, Crawford comes in and hands her a note saying a second plane has hit the WTC. Rice will comment: “I thought, ‘My God, this is a terrorist attack.‘… I knew right away, right away, because that—that couldn’t be coincidence that two planes had hit the World Trade Center that morning.” She gets up and tells Anna Perez, her communications counselor who is with her in the meeting, “Find Dick Clarke,” referring to the White House counterterrorism chief. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 7/12/2002; Rice 9/11/2002) According to Perez’s later recollection, Rice also tells the others in the room about the second plane hitting the WTC. (Rice 11/1/2001) After saying to her staff, “I have to go,” Rice abruptly heads out. (Thomas 12/30/2001) However, Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, will contradict Rice’s account and say that he, not Crawford, alerts Rice to the second crash at the WTC. Bolten will recall that he learned of the crash while in the Situation Room and then, realizing it was not an accident, walks into the conference area where Rice is holding her meeting. He asks Rice to step outside the room for a minute and then tells her, “A second plane has hit; this is not an accident, it is an attack” (see (9:03 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolten, and Clarke will indicate that Rice initially goes from her staff meeting to Cheney’s office (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (NBC 9/16/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2; C-SPAN 10/6/2013) But in her own recollections, Rice will make no mention of this, saying that she goes straight from the conference area to the Situation Room’s operations center, intending to assemble a crisis meeting of the national security team (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 7/12/2002; Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 9/11/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xii)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. (Thomas 12/30/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002) Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. (US President 2/13/2001; Felix 2002, pp. 226) However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 9/11/2002) Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. (US Department of the Treasury 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury 1/23/2002) And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. (CNN 10/1/2001) Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. (Rice 7/12/2002; Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1) She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 161-162) ) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is driving up to a gate outside the White House when Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is already at the White House—calls and tells him, “The other tower was just hit.” He responds: “Well, now we know who we’re dealing with. I want the highest level person in Washington from each agency on-screen now, especially the FAA.” He ordered Gordon-Hagerty to set up a secure video conference about five minutes earlier. A few minutes later, according to his own recollections, Clarke finds Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in Cheney’s White House office. Clarke tells Cheney: “It’s an al-Qaeda attack and they like simultaneous attacks. This may not be over.” Rice asks Clarke for recommendations and he says, “We’re putting together a secure teleconference to manage the crisis.” He also recommends evacuating the White House. (A slow evacuation of the White House will begin around 9:20-9:25 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Rice notes the Secret Service wants them to go to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, and as Clarke leaves the other two, he sees Cheney gathering up his papers. In Cheney’s outer office, Clarke will recall, he sees eight Secret Service agents instead of the usual two, ready to move to the PEOC. (Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2; Australian 3/27/2004)
Around this time, according to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reaches the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. From there, he directs the response to the 9/11 attacks and stays in contact with other top officials through video links. Clarke claims that on video he can see Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (filling in for the traveling Attorney General John Ashcroft), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (filling in for the traveling Secretary of State Colin Powell), and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (filling in for the traveling Chairman Henry Shelton). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is with Clarke, but she lets him run the crisis response, deferring to his longer experience on terrorism matters. Clarke is also told by an aide, “We’re on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-4; Australian 3/27/2004) According to the 9/11 Commission, logs indicate that Clarke’s video teleconference only begins at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is later than Clarke suggests, and CIA and FAA representatives only join it at 9:40 a.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36 and 462) Other accounts claim that, rather than being involved in Clarke’s teleconference at this time, Donald Rumsfeld is still in his office waiting for his intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Myers is in a meeting on Capitol Hill (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service 10/17/2001; Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219) The 9/11 Commission claims that, “While important,” Clarke’s conference has “no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet, as the Washington Post puts it, “everyone seems to agree” Clarke is the chief crisis manager on 9/11. (Achenbach 3/28/2004) Even Clarke’s later opponent, National Security Adviser Rice, calls him 9/11’s “crisis management guy.” (Waterman 4/9/2004) The conference is where the government’s emergency defense efforts are concentrated.
According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, around this time, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says she is going down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to be with Vice President Dick Cheney. Clarke is currently convening a video teleconference with top officials from the Secure Video Conferencing Center, just off the main floor of the Situation Room (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rice has just walked in with her deputy, Stephen Hadley. Clarke asks her, “Do you want to chair this as a principals meeting?” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-4) (A “principals meeting” includes the principals of the National Security Council, but not the president. (Bumiller 2007, pp. 141) ) Rice declines, allowing Clarke to run the conference. Clarke will recall that Rice says to him: “You’re going to need some decisions quickly. I’m going to the PEOC to be with the vice president. Tell us what you need.” Clarke replies, “What I need is an open line to Cheney and you.” Clarke then turns to his White House Fellow, Army Major Mike Fenzel, and instructs him to “go with Condi to the PEOC and open a secure line to me. I’ll relay the decisions we need to you.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 3-4) However, according to her own later recollections, Rice does not head down from the Situation Room to the PEOC until later, at some time shortly after the Pentagon is hit (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 7/12/2002; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)
After leaving the Booker Elementary School classroom, President Bush returns to an adjacent holding room where he is briefed by his staff, and gets his first look at the footage of the burning World Trade Center on a television that has been set up there. He instructs his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, to take notes to create an accurate accounting of events. According to some accounts, he speaks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney who is at the White House, and they both agree that terrorists are probably behind the attacks. (Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; Churcher 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) But White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also in the holding room, will later tell NBC News that Bush is unable to reach Cheney because the vice president is being moved from his office to the White House bunker at this time. (Rove 9/11/2002) The president speaks with New York Governor George Pataki and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Bush learns from Mueller that the planes that hit the WTC were commercial American aircraft, and at least one of them had apparently been hijacked after leaving Boston. According to some accounts, Bush also speaks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time. However, Rice herself will later suggest otherwise (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 93-94; Churcher 9/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett quickly draft a statement for the president to deliver in the school’s library, which Bush rewords, scribbling three sheets of notes. Bush will deliver this at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he works on the statement, Bush briefly glances at the unfolding horror on the television. Turning to his aides in the room, he declares, “We’re at war.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 94; Krueger 9/10/2002) According to the 9/11 Commission, the focus at the present time is on the president’s statement to the nation, and the only decision made by Bush’s traveling party is to return to Washington. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush will later claim that he makes no major decisions in response to the crisis until after Air Force One takes off at around 9:55 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
President Bush has difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) While he is in his limousine, he tries calling colleagues at the White House over a secure telephone line, but all the secure lines are down. He ends up trying to call Washington using a borrowed cell phone. Even this doesn’t work, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, he talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time, which means he is able to make at least one call (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will later comment on the difficulties Bush and his entourage have communicating with Washington today, saying, “Every kind of communication… was challenged” and the “communications network did not hold up.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will claim that Bush had difficulty communicating with Washington while he was being driven to the airport because members of his entourage all tried calling the capital at the same time after leaving the school, thereby causing a “communication jam.” However, the communication problems will continue after Bush takes off from Sarasota on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) The president’s difficulty reaching his colleagues in Washington during the drive to the airport is particularly notable since, just a few months ago, Bush instructed Joseph Hagin, his deputy chief of staff for operations, to promptly ensure that he is always able to make phone calls, after he had trouble making a call from his limousine (see Spring 2001). Hagin has apparently not yet fixed the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011)
President Bush learns that the Pentagon has been attacked while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, during a phone call with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush and his entourage left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be taken to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) As the president’s limousine is speeding toward the airport, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, talk on the phone with colleagues at the White House. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) In a call with Rice, Bush is told that there has been a third plane crash, this one at the Pentagon. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) The attack took place at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10) Rice, who is in the White House Situation Room, learned about it when she saw it being reported on television. (Rice 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002)
Bush Appears 'Preternaturally Calm' - After Rice tells him about the attack, Bush “sat back in my seat and absorbed her words,” he will later recall. “My thoughts clarified,” he will write, adding: “The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war.” In response to the news, he will recall, his “blood [is] boiling” and he thinks, “We [are] going to find out who did this and kick their ass.” (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush, though, is able to maintain his composure, according to Karl Rove, his senior adviser, who is with him in the limousine. “I was aghast at the news [of the attack on the Pentagon] and probably seemed anxious,” Rove will comment, but “he seemed preternaturally calm.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Accounts Will Conflict over Who Makes the Call - Bush will claim that he makes the call to Rice. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Rice, though, will say that she makes it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Bush will also state that he talks to Rice using the secure phone in his limousine. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) However, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the secure telephone lines are currently down and so he has to contact Washington, DC, using a borrowed cell phone (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
Government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House are frustrated at technical problems they have with the televisions in the center, which mean they are unable to get audio from both the TV broadcast channels and the videoconferencing system at the same time. (Rice 11/1/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001) Two large television screens are built into a wall of the PEOC conference room, and, according to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, for most of the day one of them is tuned to CNN and the other to the Fox News Channel. Hayes will write, “Watching the uninterrupted news coverage not only provided new and timely information; it also allowed officials in the shelter [i.e. the PEOC] to understand, as they designed their public response, what exactly the American people were seeing.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 337, 342)
Officials Have Problems with Television and Video Conference Audio - But, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will later recall, the “only frustration” among those in the PEOC is “that we kept having trouble getting the TV to work.… [W]e were having trouble with the, some of the video link.” Therefore, “if you were trying to do the video conference, you had trouble doing TV.” (Rice 11/1/2001) The “video conference” Rice refers to is presumably the White House video teleconference being conducted by counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) Anna Perez, Rice’s communications counselor, will add, “[Y]ou couldn’t do the SVTS [secure video teleconference system] at the same time you could do the CNN.” (Rice 11/1/2001) Eric Edelman, a member of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, will recall: “[T]he video conference that Dick Clarke was chairing was going on.… [W]e could see that, so that was on the screen, we could follow that. Not always with audio… sometimes with audio, sometimes not.” (Edelman 10/25/2001) According to Hayes, however, the problem is in fact that “[a]lthough the two televisions on the wall could be tuned to different channels, they could get audio from only one.” Consequently, “On several occasions, the officials could see notices of ‘breaking news’ without being able to hear the details of those updates.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 342)
'Everybody' in PEOC Frustrated by TV Problem - Rice will recall that the problem with the televisions is “kind of frustrating to everybody.” (Rice 11/1/2001) One unnamed official will recall that Cheney, who is in the PEOC for much of the day, is “cranked up” about the problem and repeatedly demands that it be fixed. (Hayes 2007, pp. 342) Mary Matalin, a counselor to Cheney, will recall, “You can have sound on one or the other [i.e. the TV broadcasts or the video teleconference], and [Cheney] found that technically imperfect.” (CNN 9/11/2002; CNN 9/14/2002) According to Newsweek, this is the only thing that causes Cheney’s composure to break and leads to him showing any irritation while he is in the PEOC. (Thomas 12/30/2001)
Accounts Conflict over Whether Problem Is Fixed - It is unclear whether this technical problem with the televisions gets fixed. According to Perez, PEOC personnel are able to fix it. “It took them a little while, but they did get it together. They got it right,” she will say. (Rice 11/1/2001) But according to Hayes, the problem remains unfixed. (Hayes 2007, pp. 342) Clarke will later give a different account of the problem with getting audio from television broadcasts and the video conference simultaneously. He will write that when he goes down to the PEOC sometime around midday (see (Shortly Before 12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Army Major Mike Fenzel complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference because Mrs. Cheney [Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president] keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 18)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice briefly talks on the phone with President Bush and warns him against returning to Washington, DC, before she is escorted to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker below the White House. (Rice 11/1/2001; Rice 8/1/2002 ; Rice 8/2/2002) Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, has just come into the White House Situation Room and told Rice she must go to the PEOC because a plane may be heading toward the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Rice 8/6/2002) But before she goes to the PEOC, Rice wants to talk to the president.
President Told that Washington Is 'under Attack' - Bush has now arrived at the Sarasota airport after leaving the Booker Elementary School (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Rice calls him and says: “Mr. President, here’s what’s going on. The Pentagon has been hit.” He tells her, “I’m getting ready to come back [to Washington].” (Rice 9/11/2002) Bush is “very calm” as he talks, Rice will later recall. Franklin Miller, a senior national security official who “does defense policy” for Rice, is with the national security adviser. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001) He whispers to her, “Tell him that it may not be wise to come back here, because Washington is under attack.” (Rice 8/2/2002) Rice therefore tells Bush: “Sir, you can’t come back here. Washington’s under attack.” (Rice 9/11/2002)
Rice Is Being 'Pushed' to Go to the Bunker - The call between Bush and Rice is only short. Rice will say this is because she is “being pushed” by Truscott “to get off the phone and get out of the West Wing.” (Rice 8/2/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002) “I had people pulling at my arm, saying, ‘You have to go to the bunker,’” she will recall. (Rice 11/1/2001) After she has finished speaking to Bush, Rice heads toward the PEOC. She will enter it shortly before 10:00 a.m. (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is escorted toward the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker below the White House, by Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Rice 11/1/2001; Felix 2002, pp. 227) Rice was in the White House Situation Room when the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m., according to her own later recollections, and had subsequently looked up and seen the television footage of the burning building. (Rice 11/1/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)
Rice Told She Must Go to the PEOC - “[T]he picture had just come up on television of the plane lodged in the side of the Pentagon,” Rice will recall. “And no one had told me. I literally turned and looked at the picture and saw it.” She will say: “And then there were incoming reports that there had been a car bomb at the State Department, that there was a large fire on the Mall near the Washington Monument, and [I was] just trying to sort through the information when a Secret Service agent [i.e. Truscott] came and said: ‘You have to go to the bunker. The vice president is already there. There may be planes heading for the White House.’” (Rice 9/11/2002) Rice will say Truscott is “quite firm” when he talks to her. (Rice 8/7/2002)
Secret Service Agent Is Heading to the PEOC from Nearby Building - Truscott has just come from his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, where he was meeting with other Secret Service agents to discuss security matters. One issue the agents discussed was providing protection for Rice (see (9:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, Truscott learned that a suspicious aircraft was flying toward Washington, DC (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and instructed a “security representative” to evacuate the White House. He then left his office and headed toward the PEOC, meeting Rice on his way there. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001)
Rice Is 'Pushed Along' toward the PEOC - Rice briefly talks on the phone with President Bush and warns him not to return to Washington before she leaves the Situation Room (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Felix 2002, pp. 227; Rice 8/2/2002; Rice 8/6/2002) She is then escorted down toward the PEOC. (Rice 11/1/2001) She will recall being “pushed along” the corridors by Truscott as she heads there. (Rice 8/2/2002) Truscott and Rice will encounter Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, in the underground tunnel leading to the PEOC, and then enter the PEOC shortly before 10:00 a.m. (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii) White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will contradict Rice’s account, however, indicating that Rice headed to the PEOC significantly earlier, roughly around 9:15 a.m. (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 3-4)
President Bush and his staff have difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are traveling on Air Force One, after the plane takes off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush had problems calling his colleagues at the White House while he was being driven to the airport, after leaving the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
Air Force One Should Have 'Outstanding Communications' - He ought to have more success after he boards Air Force One, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since the plane has state-of-the-art communications systems. (Inside the White House 9/1998; Hardesty 2003, pp. 167) Its capabilities are “just as good as the communications from the Oval Office in terms of [the president] being able to call, in a secure way, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the generals that might have to fight a war, or the vice president or… the national security adviser,” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment. The plane has the “capacity to have… outstanding communications,” he will say. (Card 8/12/2002)
Communications Systems Are 'All Jammed' - However, Bush and his staff have great difficulty sending and receiving information about the day’s events while they are on Air Force One. (Donnelly 9/22/2002) The “multiple [communications] systems—commercial and terrestrial systems” on the plane are “all jammed,” according to Master Sergeant Dana Lark, superintendent of communications. Lark actually wonders, “Did someone sabotage our comms?” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Has Problems Communicating with Vice President Cheney - Bush finds that his calls are successful only intermittently. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Attempts are made to establish an open line with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are at the White House, but the line keeps dropping. (Bush 2010, pp. 131) “It was absolutely stunning, standing next to the president as he was talking to the vice president, then holding the phone off his ear because it cut off,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will comment. (Graff 9/9/2016) At one point, Bush pounds his desk in frustration and shouts: “This is inexcusable. Get me the vice president.” (Kohn 9/11/2002) He also has difficulty reaching his wife, Laura, since the line keeps dropping when he tries to call her. He eventually talks to her shortly before 11:45 a.m., when Air Force One is approaching Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 132)
Officials in Washington Are Unable to Call the Plane - Some key individuals in Washington are unsuccessful when they try calling Air Force One. Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the White House Situation Room, is unable to contact the plane while it is flying from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base, even when he tries calling its satellite phone (see 9:54 a.m.-11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/16/2004) And White House counselor Karen Hughes is unable to reach the president when she tries calling him while he is airborne (see (Between 10:31 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; NBC 4/4/2004)
Bush Has His First Teleconference Hours after Leaving Sarasota - As a result of his problems communicating from the plane, Bush will hold his first teleconference with his principal advisers at around 3:15 p.m. (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—more than five hours after he takes off from Sarasota—after he arrives at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where there is sophisticated communications equipment (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Weisul 11/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) By that time, the communication problems will apparently have started to ease. Lark will recall that as Air Force One is flying to Offutt, “some of the commercial systems finally began to become available” and she actually receives a call from her chief. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Good Communications Are 'Critical' for the President - Bush’s communication problems may have a significant impact on the government’s ability to respond to the terrorist attacks. Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will explain why the president’s ability to communicate during a crisis is so important, saying, “In the case of any kind of attack in the United States, what you’re supposed to do is get the president off the ground and Air Force One then becomes the command center.” Once he is airborne, the president is “commanding the forces of the United States from the air,” Kean will say. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) “The president literally can’t function in his constitutional role unless he can communicate, so [good communications are] absolutely critical,” Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will similarly comment. (Bates 10/2002) The president “is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given,” Kean will note. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will claim that the communication problems have only a limited impact. “[F]or the most part I believe the president had the ability to do what was necessary to be in control and have command of his forces, and talk with his national security structure,” he will say. (White House 8/29/2002)
Communications Systems Are Supposedly 'Saturated' - Lark will learn at a later date that the communication problems occur because, she will say, “the commercial systems were all just saturated.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Rosenker will similarly suggest that the problems may be partly due to the fact that communications from Air Force One “have to get through a regular telephone network,” and when there is a crisis, the increased volume of communications “jam and overuse the structure.” (White House 8/29/2002) On top of their problems making and receiving calls, Bush and his staffers have difficulty monitoring the television coverage of the attacks while they are airborne, because the reception on the plane is poor and intermittent (see (9:54 a.m.-6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Donnelly 9/22/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice enters the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—the bunker below the White House—where she encounters Vice President Dick Cheney, and then heads into the PEOC. Rice has been escorted down from the White House Situation Room by Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, who told her she had to go to the PEOC (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Rice 8/6/2002) Before she left the Situation Room, Rice briefly talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Rice 8/6/2002)
Rice Meets Cheney in Underground Tunnel - When Rice and Truscott enter the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, they encounter Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, along with one of Cheney’s Secret Service agents. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001) Cheney was being taken to the PEOC by his Secret Service agents (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001, but stopped in an area of the underground tunnel where there is a secure telephone, in order to speak to Bush (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Lynne Cheney joined him there after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Cheney is still on the phone with Bush when Truscott and Rice meet him. Truscott advises the group assembled in the tunnel to move on to the PEOC. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001)
Rice Heads into the PEOC - Rice subsequently goes from the tunnel into the PEOC, although the exact time when she does so is unclear. She enters the PEOC “shortly after the vice president,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report, which will state that Cheney arrives in the PEOC at around 9:58 a.m. (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Rice must enter the PEOC before 9:59 a.m., since she is there at the time the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, as will be confirmed by a photo taken at that time (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas 12/30/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Rice Calls Relatives in Alabama - In the PEOC, Rice takes a seat next to Cheney. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii) The first thing she does after arriving, according to some accounts, is call her aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama, to tell them to inform her family that she is okay. (Rice 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 8/2/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) But other accounts will say she called them just before she headed out from the Situation Room. (Rice 11/1/2001; Rice 8/7/2002; Associated Press 9/9/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)
In the conference room of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and their aides watch the South Tower collapsing on television. (Thomas 12/31/2001) Cheney will later say that the WTC coming down “was a shock to everybody—it certainly was to me.” (PBS 9/9/2002) However, if he is indeed shocked, this is not how Cheney appears to others in the room. One witness who is present will later recall that, as the South Tower collapses, there is “a groan in the room that I won’t forget, ever. It seemed like one groan from everyone.” However, Cheney makes no sound, but closes his eyes for a long, slow blink. The witness says, “I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) According to Mary Matalin, a counselor to the vice president, Cheney says nothing in response to the collapse, but “he emoted in a way that he emotes, which was to stop.” (CNN 9/11/2002; CNN 9/11/2002) When he is told that a casualty estimate ranges well into the thousands, the vice president reportedly just nods grimly. (Thomas 12/31/2001) According to the Washington Post, three people who are present say they see no sign now or later “of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney.” What they see is “extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of ‘first responders,’ Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.” He will promptly begin assembling the legal team that subsequently assists him in expanding presidential power (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
According to the 9/11 Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is told that the Air Force is trying to establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, then calls President Bush on Air Force One to discuss the rules of engagement for this CAP. Cheney later tells the 9/11 Commission that he’d felt “it did no good to establish the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert.” He recalls that “the president signed off on that concept.” Bush will recall this phone call and emphasize to the 9/11 Commission that, during it, he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in the PEOC with Cheney, will tell the Commission she recalls hearing Cheney inform the president: “Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.” Then she hears Cheney say, “Yes sir.” However, as the Commission will later note, “Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete” (see (Mid 2004)). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) Reportedly, some members of the Commission’s staff will not believe this call between Bush and Cheney ever took place. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Cheney phones Bush at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, it is in fact during that call that Bush authorizes the military to shoot down threatening aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)
At the instruction of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage sends a cable out around the world saying the US government is still functioning. (Rice 9/8/2006) Having recently arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the first thing that occurs to Rice, she will later say, is that it is important to get a cable out to all diplomatic posts around the world, to say the United States government has “not been decapitated by this attack.… I thought to myself, we need to let everybody know that we’re still up and running.” (Rice 9/11/2002) She therefore tells her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to call Armitage at the State Department, and urge him to send a cable to all overseas posts with this message. (Rice 8/1/2002 ; Bumiller 2007, pp. xvi)
In the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta track numerous suspicious aircraft. Mineta will recall that, even after the time Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania: “we still had these unaccounted for aircraft. So the question was where are they and who are the targets for that?” He says that, at “about 10:30, 11 o’clock in the morning,” they are aware of “about seven or eight unaccounted-for aircraft.” (Mineta 9/11/2002) Rice will describe: “There were false reports of planes, unidentified planes, squawking all over the place. We were doing many, many things, but we would write down on a yellow pad that these numbers are still out there.” (Bumiller 2007, pp. xv) She recalls, “[F]or several hours the most difficult thing is that we didn’t know what else was coming because there were planes still in the air, we were trying to ground civil aviation, there were still planes in the air, some were supposedly not responding properly to command to go to the ground.” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 9/11/2002)
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