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Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel 2007, pp. 428)
Just minutes after the second plane hits the World Trade Center, the Executive Support Center (ESC) within the Pentagon goes into operation. The ESC is located next door to the National Military Command Center (NMCC), and comprises several conference rooms that are secure against electronic eavesdropping. The Pentagon’s state-of-the-art communications hub, “Cables,” is establishing secure two-way video links with the White House and other key agencies. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke arrives at the ESC soon after the second crash, accompanied by Larry Di Rita, who is Donald Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff. They have just visited Rumsfeld and informed him of the second crash, but he has remained in his office to wait for his daily intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Also at the ESC at this time is Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Stephen Cambone. According to Clarke, the ESC is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” Yet supposedly the Secretary of Defense does not join them there until about 10:15 A.M. (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 218-221; Cockburn 2007, pp. 5-6)
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)
Senior officials in the Executive Support Center (ESC) at the Pentagon decide against evacuating the Pentagon, despite being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center. (Clarke 7/2/2002 ; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 22) The ESC, on the third floor of the Pentagon, is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies,” according to Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. (Clarke 2006, pp. 219) Those currently in it include Clarke; Larry Di Rita, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s special assistant; Stephen Cambone, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; and William Haynes, the general counsel of the Department of Defense.
Officials Discuss How to Respond to the Attacks - These officials know about the two crashes in New York and realize America is under attack. They are “talking about setting up a crisis action team and how we needed to respond to this apparent terrorist attack in New York City,” Haynes will later recall. They discuss things like, “Should we think about the force conditions [and] threat conditions?” according to Di Rita. (Rita 6/27/2002 ; Clarke 7/2/2002 ; Cambone 7/8/2002 ; Haynes 4/8/2003 ) However, they reportedly dismiss the possibility of evacuating their building. “The idea of evacuating the Pentagon was batted about, then rejected,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will write. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 22)
Two of the Officials Thought the Pentagon Might Be a Target - This is despite the fact that at least two of them have considered the possibility of the Pentagon being attacked. Haynes has spoken to David O. “Doc” Cooke, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management, and, he will recall, told him “that we ought to be thinking about the possibility of attacks here [at the Pentagon].” (Haynes 4/8/2003 ) And Cambone has talked to Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, about the possibility of the Pentagon being a target and what they would do if it was attacked (see Between 9:03 a.m. and 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Cambone 7/8/2002 ; Miles 9/8/2006) Clarke and Di Rita, however, will subsequently be unclear about whether they thought the Pentagon might be attacked. When asked, “Was there any anticipation at that time that the Pentagon also might be at risk?” Clarke will only say, “There was anticipation that lots of things might be at risk.” (Clarke 7/2/2002 ) And when he is asked, “At that point was there a reason to expect a larger threat specific to the Pentagon?” Di Rita will reply, “I don’t know that I thought about that.” (Rita 6/27/2002 )
Official Will Order an Evacuation after the Pentagon Is Hit - No steps are taken to evacuate the Pentagon before it is attacked (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Vogel 2007, pp. 429) Cambone will finally give the order for the building to be evacuated shortly after 9:37 a.m., when the attack occurs (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Those in the ESC will feel and hear the impact (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Someone will then come in and report to them that the building has been hit by an airplane. “At that moment, I asked for the building to be evacuated and also locked down,” Cambone will recall. (Cambone 7/8/2002 ; Clarke 2006, pp. 220)
Those inside the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC) feel and hear the impact when the building is hit, yet supposedly do not realize what has happened. Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who is in the ESC at this time, calls the center “the Pentagon’s war room, with instant access to satellite images and intelligence sources peering into every corner of the globe.” She describes it as “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” In it with her are Stephen Cambone, Donald Rumsfeld’s closest aide, and Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff. They’d been discussing how to go about getting every plane currently in the air back on the ground when, according to Clarke, “we felt a jarring thump and heard a loud but still muffled explosion. The building seemed to have shifted.” Yet, despite all the ESC’s resources, they supposedly do not initially realize exactly what has happened. Clarke says to the others, “It must have been a car bomb.” Di Rita replies, “A bomb of some kind.” But one unnamed staffer who frequently uses the ESC for meetings points to the ceiling and says, “No, it’s just the heating and cooling system. It makes that noise all the time.” Clarke later claims, “The notion of a jetliner attacking the Pentagon was exactly that unfathomable back then. Our eyes were glued to television screens showing two hijacked planes destroying the World Trade Center and it still didn’t occur to any of us, certainly not me, that one might have just hit our own building.” Clarke guesses aloud that the noise was something other than the heating and cooling system. In the ensuing minutes, she and the others with her will scramble “for information about what exactly had happened, how many were hurt or killed, and [analyze] what we could do to prevent further attacks.” Yet, she will later claim, it is only when Donald Rumsfeld comes into the ESC at 10:15 a.m., after having gone to the crash scene, that they receive their first confirmation that a plane has hit the Pentagon (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 219-221) Those inside the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located next door to the ESC, supposedly do not feel the impact when the Pentagon is hit, and one officer there claims he only learns of the attack from television reports (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/4/2002; Garamone 9/7/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 5) But Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who is in his office about 200 feet away from the ESC, feels the building shake due to the explosion. After seeing nothing out of his window, he immediately dashes outside to determine what has happened (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clarke 9/15/2001; Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returns from the Pentagon crash site “by shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” Then he has “one or more calls in my office, one of which was with the president,” according to his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) The commission later concludes that Rumsfeld’s call with President Bush has little impact: “No one can recall any content beyond a general request to alert forces.” The possibility of shooting down hijacked planes is not mentioned. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Rumsfeld then goes to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office, arriving there at around 10:15 a.m. In the ESC already are Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff, and Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Rumsfeld had instructed Di Rita and Clarke to go to the ESC and wait for him there when they’d come to his office soon after the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presently, Rumsfeld gives them their first confirmation that a plane hit the Pentagon, saying, “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” According to Clarke, he pulls out a yellow legal pad and writes down three categories, “by which his thinking would be organized the rest of the day: what we needed to do immediately, what would have to be underway quickly, and what the military response would be.” (Clarke 2006, pp. 221-222; Cockburn 2007, pp. 5-6) The Executive Support Center has secure video facilities, and while there, Rumsfeld participates in the White House video teleconference. This is the video conference that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims Rumsfeld is a part of much of the morning (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Then at around 10:30 a.m., he moves on to the National Military Command Center NMCC, located next door to the ESC (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scarborough 2/23/2004; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44) Those in the NMCC are apparently unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts during the half-hour from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalls, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” (ABC News 9/11/2002)
When the Taguba report (see March 9, 2004), which together with all its 106 annexes includes 6,000 pages, is delivered by the Pentagon to the Senate Armed Services Committee, some 2,000 pages are missing, withheld by the Defense Department. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita calls this an “oversight.” (Associated Press 5/24/2004) Nevertheless, the missing pages contain key documents, internal Army memos and e-mails, sworn statements by soldiers, officers, contractors, and prisoners. It also includes the final section of Taguba’s interview with Col. Thomas M. Pappas. (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) The missing annexes of the Taguba report hold evidence that the abuse was not conducted solely by a few MPs acting on their own, but instead at the instigation and with the involvement of military intelligence personnel.
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