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Profile: Dana Lark

Dana Lark was a participant or observer in the following events:

Personnel on Air Force One, the president’s plane, are unclear about what is happening in the United States and receive a number of incorrect reports about the terrorist attacks, leading one officer to wonder if a nation-state is responsible for the attacks. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Air Force One is currently on the ground at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida. [US President, 9/2001; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file] Master Sergeant Dana Lark, superintendent of communications on the plane, followed the television coverage of the first crash at the World Trade Center and then saw the second plane hitting the WTC live on TV, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, she and her colleagues are unable to acquire precise information about what is happening. She will later recall: “We still didn’t know what the hell was going on. We’re just monitoring the Secret Service and staff radio channels. It was chaos. What’s next?” They subsequently receive inaccurate reports about the attacks. “All of a sudden, other reports start coming in—explosion at the White House, car bomb at the State Department” (see (Between 9:50-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Lark will say. In the confusion, Lark wonders if a nation-state such as Russia is responsible for what is happening. “I’m thinking Cold War, the big bad Soviet bear,” she will recall. “This was an extensive attack. Could this be a nation-state?” Even after Air Force One takes off from the Sarasota airport, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), personnel on the plane continue receiving incorrect reports and remain unclear about what is going on. “As we’re taking off, you’re still getting all this misinformation” and “[y]our head was spinning, trying to figure out what had actually happened,” Lark will describe. “The only thing we knew for sure, because we’d seen it with our own eyes,” according to Lark, “was that the World Trade Center had been hit.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]

Entity Tags: Dana Lark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush on the phone during the flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base.President Bush on the phone during the flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: White House]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). [Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006; Politico Magazine, 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. [White House, 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. [Northwest Indiana Times, 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?” [Politico Magazine, 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. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] At one point, Bush pounds his desk in frustration and shouts: “This is inexcusable. Get me the vice president.” [CBS News, 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). [Washington Post, 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). [Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002; Business Week, 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. [Politico Magazine, 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. [Marist Magazine, 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.” [Politico Magazine, 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). [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Thomas Herman, Scott Heyer, Andrew Card, Mark Rosenker, Dana Lark, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Karen Hughes

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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