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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Burns 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) He assumed the crash was an accident. (Vogel 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335)
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 243) The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002)
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. (Priess 2016, pp. 244) The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 336)
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 ; Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks (see a904rumsfeldrefuses). (Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439)
Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to the secretary of defense, try to persuade Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the terrorist attacks, but Rumsfeld refuses to do so and continues with a routine intelligence briefing. (Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld is in his office at the Pentagon with Denny Watson, a CIA analyst, who is giving him his daily intelligence briefing. He is aware of the two crashes at the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 334-335)
Aides Go to Talk with Rumsfeld about His Response to the Crisis - Clarke and Di Rita, meanwhile, learned of the attacks on the WTC from seeing the coverage of them on television. After the second crash, Clarke headed to Di Rita’s office, which is down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office. There, she and Di Rita discussed “what had to be done right away in terms of the secretary [of defense],” Clarke will later recall. The two aides then headed together to see Rumsfeld, to talk with him about “the kinds of things he needed to do in response to this [crisis].”
Aides Tell Rumsfeld What They Know about the Attacks - After they enter Rumsfeld’s office, Clarke and Di Rita tell the secretary of defense what is happening and what they know about the attacks. They say the Executive Support Center (ESC) “is going to start getting spun up.” (Rita 6/27/2002 ; Clarke 7/2/2002 ; Clarke 2006, pp. 216-219) The ESC is a secure communications hub with a video teleconference facility, located on the third floor of the Pentagon. (Rita 6/27/2002 ; Vogel 2007, pp. 440) It is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies,” according to Clarke.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Change His Schedule - Clarke and Di Rita also advise Rumsfeld to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day. “Sir, I think your entire schedule is going to be different today,” Di Rita says. But Rumsfeld refuses to do so. “No! If I cancel my day, the terrorists have won,” he says. Undeterred, the two aides pull out a copy of Rumsfeld’s agenda for the day and go through it point by point, explaining to the secretary of defense why each item could be canceled. However, Rumsfeld’s response is to look at the television on the desk and watch the coverage of the attacks on the WTC. (Clarke 2006, pp. 219; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld “wanted to make a few phone calls” at this time, Clarke will tell one interviewer. (Clarke 9/15/2001)
Aides Go to the Support Center to Respond to the Attacks - Rumsfeld tells the two aides to go to the ESC and wait for him there. Clarke and Di Rita therefore leave the office and head to the ESC (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). They will be in the ESC at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clarke 7/2/2002 ; Clarke 2006, pp. 219-220) Rumsfeld, meanwhile, continues skimming through the copy of the President’s Daily Brief that Watson brought him. (Priess 2016, pp. 244) He will still be in his office receiving his intelligence briefing when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439)
A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)
A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. (CNN 9/11/2001)
Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” (Washington Post 9/5/2002)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245)
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. (Office of Medical History 9/2004, pp. 11) Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. (Thomas Crosbie Media 9/11/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” (Airline Industry Information 9/11/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. (Cheney 9/16/2001) The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. (Borger et al. 9/12/2001) New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. (Safire 9/13/2001)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, see a helicopter flying very close to the Pentagon, just outside the window of Rumsfeld’s office, shortly before the Pentagon is attacked. (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) Watson has been giving Rumsfeld his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon and they are both aware of the crashes at the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335) Rumsfeld is skimming through a copy of the President’s Daily Brief when the sound of a helicopter outside causes him to stop what he is doing. The helicopter, which is blue and white, is “hovering so close to the window that I could see what one of the men in it looked like,” Watson will later recall. He has “dark hair, a beard and a mustache, and reflector sunglasses.” Rumsfeld and Watson talk about how easy it would be for the pilot to turn the helicopter and crash into Rumsfeld’s office. Finally, the helicopter pulls away from the Pentagon. As it does, Rumsfeld and Watson feel the building shake due to it being attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) A number of other people will recall seeing a helicopter flying close to the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002) One of them, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, will describe the helicopter he sees as being blue and white, so it is presumably the helicopter that Rumsfeld and Watson see. The helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and its pilot has been directed to try and intercept a plane, presumably Flight 77, that was approaching the Pentagon, according to US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001)
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