!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Deborah Loewer
Deborah Loewer was a participant or observer in the following events:
Captain Deborah Loewer.
[Source: Military Sealift Command]Captain Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, is traveling in President Bush’s motorcade toward Booker Elementary School, when she learns of the first WTC crash from her deputy in the Situation Room at the White House. According to some reports, as soon as the motorcade reaches the school, Loewer runs from her car to Bush’s car, and informs Bush. [Associated Press, 11/26/2001; Catholic Telegraph, 12/7/2001] Note that Bush maintains that he learns of the crash at a later time.
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. [White House, 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). [White House, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 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; BBC Radio 4, 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. [White House, 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.” [White House, 10/24/2001] Bush has already been informed of this by members of his entourage (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 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.” [White House, 10/24/2001; White House, 11/1/2001; Newsweek, 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 (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Rice goes to her senior staff meeting (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/2/2002; White House, 8/6/2002; Washington Times, 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.” [St. Petersburg Times, 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]
Members of President Bush’s staff who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, are informed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center but then have to find a television in order to see the coverage of it. [White House, 8/12/2002; Rove, 2010, pp. 250; KFDI, 12/11/2012] While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see (9:03 a.m.-9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), several members of his traveling staff stay in the “staff hold.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, according to deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, is “a private room set up as a quiet work space with secure and non-secure phones for us to use during a presidential visit.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101] If you pick up one of the secure phones, Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, will later write, “someone with a quiet military voice answers, you make a request, and a moment or two later, you’re talking to anybody you want, anywhere in the world.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, on this occasion, is next to the classroom where Bush is participating in the reading demonstration. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101]
Staffers Think First Crash Was an Accident - Members of Bush’s staff who stay in the staff hold while Bush joins the reading demonstration include White House chief of staff Andrew Card, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, White House staff secretary Harriet Miers, and Rove. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] Also in the room, according to Rove, are Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides, and “the military doctor, the surgeon, and the surgical nurse with a full operating kit” who “stand ready to go to the aid of the president if he falls ill or is shot or somehow injured.” [KFDI, 12/11/2012] These individuals are aware of the first crash at the WTC. “All of us are still trying to find out information about that, to confirm what our instincts were,” Bartlett will recall, “and our instincts were that this was a tragic accident.”
Staffers Learn about Second Crash - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the staffers quickly learn about the incident in calls to their cell phones or pager messages. “[Y]ou could see it, the rippling effect of people being informed about what was happening,” Bartlett will recall. However, he will say, “most of the tone was disbelief and not knowing what was going on.” Bartlett learns about the crash in a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, Dan, but the other tower was hit.” Bartlett asks his assistant what she means and she says, “Another plane, another plane hit the other tower, World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] And Card learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida. After she informed Bush of the first crash (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Loewer went to a room next to the school and followed events on a television there. When she sees the second crash, she immediately assumes it is an act of terrorism and goes to inform Card. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003] She tells him: “A second plane has impacted the towers. The nation is under attack.” [Dayton Daily News, 3/16/2003]
Chief of Staff Suspects Al-Qaeda Responsibility for Crash - Card immediately thinks al-Qaeda is responsible for the attack. “My mind focused on the al-Qaeda network, because I knew that they had attacked the World Trade Center before,” he will recall. “I don’t know why I thought that, but I did, and I just presumed that it was an Osama bin Laden or an al-Qaeda attack.” [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011] Loewer also tells Card to interrupt the reading demonstration and pass on the news to the president. [Springfield News-Sun, 9/9/2011] He therefore enters the classroom and tells Bush what has happened (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC News, 9/10/2009; BBC, 9/9/2011]
No Television Has Been Set Up in the Staff Hold - Unusually, a television has not been set up in the staff hold, so the staffers there are initially unable to see the coverage of the second attack. “Normally there’s a television in the staff hold,” Rove will comment. “But for some strange reason, this morning at Booker Elementary there was no television in there.” Rove therefore has to go out of the room, and run “up and down the hallways of the elementary school trying to find a television.” He eventually finds one in a classroom and then hurriedly rolls it into the staff hold. But he then has trouble connecting it to cable. The first socket he plugs it into doesn’t work. But after he plugs it into another socket, he gets a signal and the TV starts showing footage of the second crash. [KFDI, 12/11/2012; LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] Around the same time, those in the staff hold make contact with their colleagues at the White House and work with them on coordinating a response to the attacks. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002]
Eric Edelman. [Source: US Department of Defense]An anonymous phone call is received at the White House in which the caller says Air Force One, the president’s plane, will be the next terrorist target and uses code words indicating they have inside information about government procedures. [Cheney, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/13/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18] Air Force One is currently flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with President Bush on board (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] The White House receives a call from an anonymous individual, warning that the next target of the terrorist attacks will be Air Force One. The caller refers to the plane as “Angel.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] “Angel” is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. [Williams, 2004, pp. 81; CBS News, 11/25/2009] An unnamed “high White House official” will later say the use of “American code words” shows the caller has “knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001]
Government Officials Told about Threat - News of the threatening call is promptly passed on to government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—a bunker below the White House—and reported on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the PEOC, will comment that the news “reinforced the notion here… that the government has been targeted and that we need to be extra careful about making certain we protected the continuity of government, secured the president, secured the presidency.” [White House, 11/19/2001] According to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is also in the PEOC, “The talk among the principals in the room quickly determined that the use of a code word implied that the threat to Air Force One and the president could well be from someone with access to [the president’s] inner circle—possibly someone who was near the president at that very moment.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 61]
Accounts Conflict over Who Receives Call - It is unclear who at the White House answers the call in which the threat against Air Force One is made. The call is received by the White House switchboard, according to some accounts. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141-142] Other accounts will indicate it is received by the White House Situation Room. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Eric Edelman, a member of Cheney’s staff who is in the PEOC, will say the call is received by the Secret Service. [White House, 10/25/2001] But two Secret Service agents who are on duty today will deny “that their agency played any role in receiving or passing on a threat to the presidential jet,” according to the Wall Street Journal. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] However, a Secret Service pager message will be sent at 10:32 a.m., which states that the “JOC”—the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House—has received an “anonymous call” reporting that “Angel is [a] target.” [CBS News, 11/25/2009]
Military Officer Passes on Details of Threat - Officials in the PEOC reportedly learn about the threat to Air Force One from a military officer working in the center. Although Cheney will say the threat “came through the Secret Service,” he will say later this year that he is unsure who passed the details of it to those in the PEOC. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; White House, 11/19/2001] An official in Cheney’s office will say in 2004 that Cheney was informed of the threat by “a uniformed military person” manning the PEOC, although Cheney and his staff are unaware who that individual was. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say that those in the PEOC are told about the threat by a “communicator,” meaning one of the military officers who works in the PEOC, and is responsible for “establishing phone lines and video lines, and staying in touch with the National Military Command Center” at the Pentagon. [White House, 11/1/2001] The military officer Rice is referring to may be Darling. Darling will recall that he answers a call from the White House Situation Room about the threat to Air Force One and then passes on the information he receives to Rice, telling her, “Ma’am, the [Situation Room] reports that they have a credible source in the Sarasota, Florida, area that claims Angel is the next target.” Rice immediately passes on the news to Cheney, according to Darling. [Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Cheney will subsequently call Bush and tell him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Reason for 'Bogus' Threat Unclear - The threat will be determined to be “almost surely bogus,” according to Newsweek. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] The Secret Service’s intelligence division tracked down the origin of this threat,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “and, during the day, determined that it had originated in a misunderstanding by a watch officer in the White House Situation Room.” Although the 9/11 Commission will say it found the intelligence division’s “witnesses on this point to be credible,” Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, will dispute this account. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] By the end of 2001, White House officials will say they still do not know where the threat came from. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] Darling will write in 2010, “To this day, it has never been determined why either the ‘credible source’ or Situation Room personnel used that code word [i.e. ‘Angel’] in their report to the PEOC.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 62] “The best we can tell,” Rice will say, is that “there was a call that talked about events—something happening to the president on the ground in Florida. And that somehow got interpreted as Air Force One.” She will say that the fact the caller knew the code name for Air Force One is “why we still continue to suspect it wasn’t a crank call.” [White House, 11/1/2001] However, former Secret Service officials will say the code name wasn’t an official secret, but instead “a radio shorthand designation that had been made public well before 2001.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.