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Profile: John Jester

John Jester was a participant or observer in the following events:

Military medical personnel tend to simulated victims during the exercise ‘Cloudy Office.’ Military medical personnel tend to simulated victims during the exercise ‘Cloudy Office.’ [Source: Renee Sitler / US Air Force]A training exercises is held in which hundreds of personnel from the military and other government agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack at the Pentagon involving chemical weapons. The exercise, which lasts about 10 hours, is called “Cloudy Office,” and is run by the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Over 500 people from federal, state, and local agencies take part. (BBC 5/31/1998; Borlik 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151)
Scenario Involves Terrorists Taking Pentagon Staffers Hostage - Cloudy Office is based around a scenario in which nine pro-Iraqi terrorists, armed with pistols and shotguns, split off from a group of tourists at the Pentagon, burst into Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s office, and take Cohen’s staff hostage. The mock terrorists have with them a gallon jug of liquid simulating sarin, a liter bottle of diluted sarin, and an explosive device. They threaten to release the sarin—a lethal nerve gas—if their demands are not met. Someone accidentally knocks over the jug in the confusion, thereby releasing lethal fumes throughout the Pentagon. Hazardous material teams from local fire departments arrive at the scene and set up decontamination facilities, and military medical personnel set up triage units to treat potential sarin victims. Meanwhile, members of the DPS go into the Pentagon to negotiate with the mock terrorists. Eventually the mock terrorists release the hostages and surrender. (Kellman 5/31/1998; Salmon 5/31/1998; Borlik 6/9/1998) Twenty-six people are killed and 100 contaminated by the sarin gas in the scenario, with the mock victims being played by military employees. (CNN 5/30/1998; Borlik 6/9/1998; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151)
Pentagon Is Seen as a Potential Terrorist Target - Cloudy Office has been four months in the planning and is by far the largest exercise of its kind to be held in metropolitan Washington, DC. (Salmon 5/31/1998; Borlik 6/9/1998) It was prompted partly by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters. (CNN 5/30/1998; Salmon 5/31/1998; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151) It is part of an effort to improve America’s ability to respond to incidents involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The Pentagon was selected as the location for the exercise because, as an international symbol of the United States military, it is considered a plausible terrorist target, according to John Jester, chief of the DPS. Agencies that participate include the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Army Pentagon Medical Facility; the Washington Metropolitan Strike Force; the FBI; Arlington County, Virginia, fire and rescue departments; hazardous material teams; and the Virginia Office of Public Health. (Kellman 5/31/1998; Borlik 6/9/1998)

Despite two attacks having occurred in New York, the threat level at the Pentagon is not raised. John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—is in his office at the Pentagon. He had been unaware of the first WTC crash and only learned of it when his press officer, Glenn Flood, phoned about it at around 9:00 a.m. and asked him if he would be reacting. Jester switched on the TV in his office just in time to see the second tower hit, at 9:03 a.m. Even though he realizes that it is “obvious this was a terrible attack,” Jester later recalls that at this time, he is “thinking about what else we needed to do based on the attacks in New York, not having in my mind that it would happen here too.” (Murphy 2002, pp. 243-244) Lieutenant Michael Nesbitt, who runs day-to-day operation in the DPS Communications Center on the first floor of the Pentagon, telephones Jester and asks if he knows about the crashes in New York. Jester instructs Nesbitt to send a message to the building’s Real Estate and Facilities Directorate, reassuring everyone that the Pentagon remains secure. Jester tells him that its Terrorist Force Protection Condition is staying at “Normal,” which means there is no present threat of terrorist activity. (The Terrorist Force Protection Condition—previously known as the Terrorist Threat Condition—ranges from Normal through four higher levels, from Alpha to Delta.) According to the Defense Department’s own book about the Pentagon attack, “No one in DPS received warning of a hijacked aircraft on its way to the Washington area.” Jester apparently will not order the threat level to be raised until shortly before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001); at the time of the attack, the alert level will still be at Normal. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151-152)

The head of the agency that provides security at the Pentagon informs another military employee that the Pentagon is unprotected against an aerial attack. In reaction to the news of the attacks on New York, Army Deputy Administrative Assistant Sandra Riley telephones John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon. She asks him, “What do we have in place to protect from an airplane?” He tells her, “Nothing.” According to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack: “The Pentagon did not have an antiaircraft system on the roof of the building or on the grounds. Even if DPS had received word of an inbound plane, it had no plan to counter a suicide air attack. Had a warning been issued in time, DPS’s only effective response would have been evacuation and dispersal of the building’s occupants.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152) The Washington Post will similarly claim the Pentagon has “no anti-aircraft guns posted on its roof, nor any radars of its own for tracking local air traffic.” (Graham 9/16/2001) Yet, at the nearby White House, the Secret Service is believed to have a battery of ground-to-air Stinger missiles ready to defend the place. (Wastell and Jacobson 9/16/2001)

John Jester.John Jester. [Source: The Pentagon Channel]John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service (DPS), which guards the Pentagon, finally gives the instruction to raise the Pentagon’s state of alert, though only by one level. Jester had been in his office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when he learned of the attacks in New York (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He had reviewed contingency plans and procedures for increasing security with DPS Major James Phillips, and then headed to the office of David O. “Doc” Cooke, the head of the Washington Headquarters Services. Jester next goes to the office of his immediate supervisor Paul Haselbush, the director of real estate and facilities. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151-152) Jester will recall that Haselbush asks him: “What if a plane were to come here? It’s just a thought that people have had. What if it were to occur here?” Jester replies: “Hopefully it is not going to happen here. What can you do to defend a building against a plane?” (Murphy 2002, pp. 244) According to the Defense Department’s own book about the Pentagon attack, before returning to his office Jester meets with his deputy, John Pugrud, and directs him to notify the DPS Communications Center to raise the Terrorist Force Protection Condition. This ranges from Normal up through four higher levels, Alpha to Delta. But Jester only instructs that it be raised one level, from Normal to Alpha, which means a general threat of possible terrorist activity exists that requires enhanced security. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152) It requires spot-inspections of vehicles and increased police patrols. (Graham 9/16/2001) In one account, Jester will recall having instructed Pugrud to increase the threat level earlier, before he’d headed to Cooke’s office. (Murphy 2002, pp. 244) But other evidence is consistent with him giving this instruction at the later time, minutes before the Pentagon attack. For example, Marine Corporal Timothy Garofola reportedly receives an e-mail shortly before the Pentagon is struck, informing all Defense Department employees that the threat condition remains at Normal (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Allison 11/2001) And Pugrud is reportedly trying to phone the DPS Communications Center about raising the threat level at the very time the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152)

Steve Pennington.Steve Pennington. [Source: Chesapeake and Midlantic Marketing]Two recently installed security cameras outside the Pentagon capture the building being hit, but the images they take will turn out to be of poor quality. (Burns 5/17/2006; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) The cameras are located at a checkpoint north of the crash site that visitors to the Pentagon go through and usually focus on the drivers of the vehicles that come in and out. They are reportedly the only security cameras at the Pentagon that capture the building being hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 5/20/2006; Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)
Video System Was Switched on Early for Testing - It is fortunate that the cameras film the crash. The Pentagon has an elaborate new, centralized, digital video recording system that was only installed a few weeks ago and is not yet government property. It should not be on now, but workers started running it early to capture data for testing purposes. Steve Pennington, a private consultant responsible for the Pentagon’s security cameras, will later recall that, along with Brian Austin, the maintenance team chief responsible for the cameras, a colleague called Greg Goff, and a couple of other people, he “decided to turn it on a few days before [9/11], not knowing that something was going to occur.” “It was purely happenstance that the system happened to be running [on 9/11], because it wasn’t supposed to be running for another month,” Pennington will comment. However, since the system is only being tested, the cameras are running at a slower rate than they normally would and therefore capture less information. Whereas they usually record at a rate of either 3.75 or 7.5 images per second, they are currently recording just one image per second.
Government Will Initially Withhold the Captured Video - On September 12, the footage of the crash captured by the cameras will be put onto CDs and copies will be provided to the FBI, the secretary of defense’s office, and the Joint Operations Center at Fort Myer (see September 12, 2001). (Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file) Subsequently, the US government will initially refuse to make public the footage because it is going to be used as evidence in the trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. It will finally be released in May 2006 (see May 16, 2006). However, five frames from one of the tapes will be released unofficially in March 2002 (see March 7, 2002). (Markon 5/17/2006; CNN 5/20/2006) The images of the crash captured by the cameras will turn out to be of poor quality, though. The Associated Press will describe the plane shown hitting the building as “a thin white blur.” (Burns 5/17/2006) John Jester, chief of the Defense Protective Service, will similarly describe it as “just a blur.” “You can see a bit of tail, a plane sliding across the ground, and a huge explosion,” he will say. (Jester 1/31/2006 pdf file)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heads for the crash site immediately after the Pentagon is hit. At the time of the attack, Rumsfeld is in his office proceeding with his regularly scheduled CIA briefing, despite being aware of the two attacks on the World Trade Center earlier on. Waiting outside his door is Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police, who is assigned to the defense secretary’s personal bodyguard and has come of his own initiative to move Rumsfeld to a better-protected location. According to Davis, there is “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” as the Pentagon is struck. Just 15 or 20 seconds later, Rumsfeld walks out of his door looking composed, having already put on the jacket he normally discards when in his office. Davis informs him there is a report of an airplane hitting a section of the Pentagon known as the Mall. Rumsfeld sets off without saying anything or informing any of his command staff where he is going, and heads swiftly toward the Mall. Davis accompanies him, as does Rumsfeld’s other security guard Gilbert Oldach, his communications officer, and the deputy director of security for the secretary’s office. Finding no sign of damage at the Mall, Davis tells Rumsfeld, “[N]ow we’re hearing it’s by the heliport,” which is along the next side of the building. Despite Davis’s protests that he should head back, Rumsfeld continues onward, and they go outside near where the crash occurred. (Cockburn 2007, pp. 1-2; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Democracy Now! 3/7/2007) The Pentagon was hit on the opposite site of the huge building to Rumsfeld’s office. (Aldinger 9/11/2001) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say that Rumsfeld is “one of the first people” to arrive at the crash scene. (Clarke 9/15/2001) He spends a brief time there (see Between 9:38 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), before returning to the building by about 10:00 a.m., according to his own account (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004 pdf file) Rumsfeld will later justify his actions following the attack, saying, “I was going, which seemed to me perfectly logically, towards the scene of the accident to see what could be done and what had happened.” (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) As journalist Andrew Cockburn will point out, though, “[T]he country was under attack and yet the secretary of defense disappears for 20 minutes.” (C-SPAN 2/25/2007) John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, will criticize Rumsfeld for heading to the crash scene at this time. He will say: “One of my officers tried to stop him and he just brushed him off. I told [Rumsfeld’s] staff that he should not have done that. He is in the national command authority; he should not have gone to the scene.” (Jester 10/19/2001 pdf file) The numerous reports of Rumsfeld going outside to the crash scene are apparently contradicted by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. In his 2004 book Against All Enemies, Clarke will give the impression that Rumsfeld never leaves a video conference for very long after the Pentagon is hit, except to move from one secure teleconferencing studio to another elsewhere in the Pentagon. (Clarke 2004, pp. 7-9) However, video footage confirms that Rumsfeld does indeed go to the crash site. (CNN 8/17/2002)

Pentagon security cameras facing the crash scene allegedly have been put out of order by the attack. (Murphy 2002, pp. 245) John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service (DPS), runs from his office at the Pentagon down to the DPS Communications Center and orders, “Get a camera up there!” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152-153) As the Washington Times will later note, “The attack occurred close to the Pentagon’s heliport, an area that normally would be under 24-hour security surveillance, including video monitoring.” (Gertz and Scarborough 9/21/2001) However, some of the Communications Center’s eight wall-mounted monitor screens are blank, because the crash has destroyed the camera nearest the area of impact and cut connectivity to others. Furthermore, some of the security cameras at the Pentagon are currently inoperable because of construction work going on (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Officer Jesse De Vaughn brings up an image from a camera at the Navy Annex, located a few hundred yards from the Pentagon, which is then focused onto the crash site. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 153 and 244) Two recently installed security cameras located north of the crash site in fact captured the moment the aircraft impacted the Pentagon (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) The poor quality footage from these will be officially released in 2006 (see May 16, 2006). (Burns 5/17/2006) Whether the cameras that were destroyed or disconnected when the Pentagon was hit captured the approaching aircraft or the moment of impact is unstated.

Mike Walter.Mike Walter. [Source: CNN]According to a number of witnesses on the ground, a US Air Force F-16 flies low over the Pentagon at this time; apparently becoming the first fighter to arrive over the scene of the third attack. (Garamone 10/11/2001; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 130-131) Firefighters and other emergency responders at the Pentagon recently evacuated away from the crash site, due to reports of another supposedly hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 pdf file)
bullet Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, is in the Pentagon’s center courtyard, expecting this plane to hit the building. He then sees an F-16 zoom “low and fast over the courtyard.” (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 130)
bullet On Washington Boulevard, where many fire and rescue personnel relocated during the evacuation, cheers go up when the F-16 flies over. Firefighter Mike Smith shouts out: “Thank God that guy’s there! Where has he been?” (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 130-131)
bullet Lieutenant Commander Dale Rielage will recall that an “arriving combat air patrol F-16 thundered overhead” after the alleged second hijacked plane was said to be approaching the Pentagon. (Rielage 11/1/2002)
bullet John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, says that, following the evacuation, “It wasn’t until an F-15 fighter jet crossed in the sky that we realized the danger had passed.” (Murphy 2002, pp. 246-247)
bullet USA Today reporter Mike Walter, who has been at the Pentagon since the attack there, recalls that, after the evacuation, an “F-16 came screaming by the Pentagon, and people cheered.” (People 9/24/2001)
bullet Staff Sergeant Edwin Rotger Jr. will also describe seeing fighters arriving over the Pentagon at this time. However, he says there are two of them, not one. (Marble and Milhiser 9/2004, pp. 49)
bullet According to the New York Times, “witnesses, including a reporter for the New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any [fighter jets over the Pentagon] until closer to 11 [o’clock].” (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001)
According to some accounts, the fighter that flies over the Pentagon at this time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 235) Hutchison will recall, “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by” (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 81-82) However, some accounts contradict this. Major Dean Eckmann, from Langley Air Force Base, suggests his F-16 is the first to fly over the Pentagon, and this was at some time shortly after 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will say: “I heard stories that people went back in [the Pentagon] after seeing me fly over to help others out.… Now they knew they were safe.” (Filson 2003, pp. 66) Other accounts similarly suggest that the first fighter jet (or jets) arrived over the Pentagon significantly earlier than is described by the witnesses on the ground, between 9:49 and 10:00 a.m. (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 34)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces that, despite the unprecedented attack there this morning, September 12 will be a normal day at the Pentagon and he wants all employees to report for work. (Vogel 2007, pp. 455; Graff 2019, pp. 362) Rumsfeld has, since 12:19 p.m., been based in the Executive Support Center, on the third floor of the Pentagon (see 12:19 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 132) Earlier in the afternoon, he went outside to inspect the crash site and saw the extent of the damage there (see (Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Myers and McConnell 2009, pp. 158; Klimow 8/3/2012) He saw that while the west wall is breached and on fire, the building’s other four sides are undamaged and at least 60 percent of the building is unaffected by the attack. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 247-248)
Rumsfeld Has Not Consulted the Incident Commander - He now tells those around him: “I want the chain of command to notify everybody that tomorrow, 12 September, is a normal workday at the Pentagon. I want everybody here reporting for work.” This is “a pretty startling announcement,” Colonel Matthew Klimow, executive assistant to General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later comment. (Graff 2019, pp. 362) Rumsfeld did not consult Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD), who is the incident commander at the Pentagon, or building supervisors before making the decision to reopen the Pentagon. (Vogel 2007, pp. 455) “I hadn’t talked to anybody when I said that [the Pentagon should open the next day],” he will recall. His decision was based on his impression “that the smoke and problems had declined, and that there were undoubtedly significant portions of the building that could be occupied safely,” he will say. (Rumsfeld 12/23/2002 pdf file) “Having it open for business the next day seemed to me to be important,” he will comment.
Firefighters Will Be Alarmed at Rumsfeld's Decision - Rumsfeld’s announcement, however, will cause concern among senior fire officials. Schwartz will be “astonished at the news,” according to journalist and author Steve Vogel, since firefighters are “battling a big and dangerous fire, an unknown number of dead [are] in the rubble, and there [is] danger of further collapse.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 455) Chief Edward Plaugher of the ACFD will also be concerned, for a number of reasons. Pamela Varley, a senior case writer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, will describe these, writing: “From a fire safety perspective, it was not considered wise to have the utilities turned back on in parts of the building while the roof was on fire and a large volume of water was being sprayed there. In addition, the crash and fire were emitting potentially dangerous toxins into the building’s air supply. Finally, to have thousands of workers coming and going from the Pentagon complicated the task of controlling and securing the site, and threatened to impede the emergency response.” (Varley 2009, pp. 256) FBI representatives, meanwhile, will be concerned because the Pentagon is a crime scene. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 144) And Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, will be “flabbergasted,” according to Vogel, although he will understand the rationale behind Rumsfeld’s decision, since the Pentagon has never closed its doors in its history. (Vogel 2007, pp. 455)
Special Measures Will Be Arranged So the Pentagon Can Reopen - Rumsfeld’s decision will place additional burdens on the ACFD response force and the FBI’s evidence recovery team. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A65 pdf file) Plaugher and John Jester, chief of the Defense Protective Service—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—will begin an informal negotiation over what will be necessary for large numbers of people to return to the Pentagon. Plaugher will insist that plywood barriers be erected to cordon off the whole area between Corridors 3 and 6. He will also want armed guards with the authority to turn back even the most senior officers placed at every juncture, to prevent military personnel returning to their wrecked offices. And, in light of the smoke and fumes from the fires, he will want plans in place to evacuate the building at a moment’s notice, if necessary. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 248-249) Due to FBI concerns, yellow crime scene tape and guards will signify that sections of the building between Corridors 2 and 7 are off limits, and wooden wall barriers will later be built to further restrict access to the crash site. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 144) Rumsfeld will publicly announce his decision to reopen the Pentagon on September 12 during a news briefing at 6:42 p.m. (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001; Peters 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001)

The Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon—arrests three people at the Pentagon who are dressed in firefighting gear but are not firefighters. Further details of who these people are and why they are at the Pentagon are unstated. John Jester, the chief of the DPS, later reflects: “When you have a major event, certain people are like moths around a light bulb. They come to the scene as thrill seekers.” Reportedly, incident command, DPS, and FBI officials are worried by the “absence of an effective identification system to control the large number of people that [are passing] through the outer perimeter fence to support firefighting and recovery operations” at the Pentagon. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 170)

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