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Profile: Michael J. Morell
Michael J. Morell was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mike Morell. [Source: CIA]President Bush receives his daily intelligence briefing in his room at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where he has just spent the night (see September 10, 2001), but the briefing includes nothing about terrorism. The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a summary of the most current intelligence reports from around the world. It is delivered to Bush each day by Mike Morell, a CIA analyst. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Bowden, 2012, pp. 4-5; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] It usually includes seven or eight items. Fifteen minutes are usually allotted for the briefing, although it often lasts longer than this.
Brief Arrived Late - The PDB today was, unusually, late to arrive. It was going to be sent from CIA headquarters, via the White House Situation Room, to the White House Communications Agency command post at the resort at 3:30 a.m. But at 4:30 a.m. it had not arrived and so Morell called CIA headquarters to see if there was a problem. He was told there wasn’t and the material had been sent at 3:30 a.m., as planned. He then phoned the command post and was assured that the brief would be brought to him soon. Morell therefore received the PDB after 4:30 a.m., which left him less than three hours to master its contents and select supplementary materials to show the president.
CIA Briefer Met the Situation Room Director to Prepare - Morell met Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, at 7:30 a.m. to compare the information they each planned to show the president during the briefing. At 7:55 a.m. the two went up to Bush’s suite. Shortly after 8:00 a.m. they enter the president’s room to give the briefing, and find Bush seated at a table with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, is also in the room for the briefing. Bush puts down his newspaper and asks, “Anything of interest this morning?”
Brief Includes No Terrorism-Related Items - Loewer goes first. She spends a couple of minutes updating Bush on the Middle East peace process. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 45-46; Priess, 2016, pp. 238-239] Morell then goes through the PDB with the president. The information in it today covers Russia, China, and the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. [Bush, 2010, pp. 126; Bowden, 2012, pp. 5; Priess, 2016, pp. 239] There is nothing in it about terrorist threats. [Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 46; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] “On arguably the most important day in President Bush’s tenure, his intelligence briefing was uneventful,” Morell will later comment. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ] It takes Morell less than 10 minutes to go through the PDB with Bush, according to author David Priess. Bush then talks on the phone for a couple of minutes with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in a call he has requested in response to some of the news Loewer has given him. [Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 46-47; Priess, 2016, pp. 239] He asks Rice to follow up on a few points. [Kessler, 2004, pp. 136; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Briefing Lasts 15 to 25 Minutes - The briefing is over by 8:25 a.m., according to Morell. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47] It ends “close to 8:30,” Loewer will say. [Priess, 2016, pp. 239] But according to other accounts, the briefing lasts 15 minutes and so is over by around 8:15 a.m. (see 8:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2004, pp. 136; Bohn, 2015, pp. 213] After leaving Bush’s suite, Morell and Loewer will head down to take their places in the motorcade that is going to transport them to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, which the president is scheduled to visit this morning. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47; Priess, 2016, pp. 239]
Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]White House officials and reporters who are traveling with President Bush in Florida learn that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center while they are being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, but Bush is not notified about the crash at this time. [White House, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rochester Review, 9/2004] A number of senior officials who are together in a van learn about the crash as their vehicle is pulling into the school’s driveway. Those in the van include White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove; Bush’s CIA briefer, Mike Morell; and White House photographer Eric Draper. [White House, 8/12/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ]
Press Secretary Is Contacted by an Assistant - Fleischer is alerted to the crash by Brian Bravo, an assistant in the White House press office. Bravo learned what happened when he was called by a friend in New York who had seen Flight 11 hitting the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and then saw the television coverage of the incident. In response, he sent a pager message to Fleischer, simply stating, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] After seeing the message, Fleischer exclaims: “Oh, my God! I don’t believe it! A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” [Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] He turns to Morell and asks the CIA officer if he knows anything about the incident. Morell says no and that he will make some calls to try and find out more. He will call the CIA’s operations center to see what people there know (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47-48]
Other Officials Receive Calls from the White House - Around the time Fleischer is alerted to the crash, Rove is called from the White House by his assistant, Susan Ralston, who tells him what happened at the WTC (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Filipinas, 2/2004] And Bartlett receives a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him: “There’s just been an incredible accident or something. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002]
Military Officers Are Called about the Crash - In another vehicle in the motorcade, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, receives a call from Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, alerting her to the crash. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003; McClatchy Newspapers, 8/29/2011; Priess, 2016, pp. 239-240] Meanwhile, as his vehicle is arriving at the school, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer assigned to the White House, is contacted by his operations center, and notified that a plane has struck one of the Twin Towers and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wants to talk on the phone with the president. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002]
Members of the Press Are Alerted to the Crash - Members of the press traveling in the motorcade also learn about the crash during the journey to the school. Reporter Richard Keil is told what happened when he talks on the phone with a friend who has seen the coverage of the incident on television. Keil then passes on the news to the other reporters and photographers in the press van. And Kia Baskerville, a CBS News White House producer, receives a call on her cell phone from a producer who tells her about the crash. [CBS News, 8/19/2002; Rochester Review, 9/2004]
President Is Not Told about the Crash - And yet, while these people are alerted to the crash, Bush reportedly is not called about it at this time and he will only be told what has happened after he arrives at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess, 2016, pp. 240] This is despite the fact that his limousine is “bristling with communications gear,” according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2001] “In the presidential limo, the communications system is almost duplicative of the White House,” author Philip Melanson will note. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] “Yet despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him… and an entire national security staff at the White House,” author James Bamford will comment, “it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] “It mystifies me why they didn’t call the president,” Robert Plunket, a reporter who is waiting for the president at the school, will remark. “He’s totally surrounded by state-of-the-art communications equipment and nobody tells him.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Eric Draper, Brian Bravo, Deborah Loewer, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Kia Baskerville, Thomas Herman, Ari Fleischer, Susan Ralston, Michael J. Morell, Richard Keil, Rob Hargis
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, calls the CIA’s operations center to see if anyone there knows more about what has happened at the World Trade Center and is told that the WTC was hit by a large commercial airliner. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 48] Morell learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC as he was being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where Bush is going to attend a reading event. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was in the same vehicle as him, received a pager message stating what had happened and then exclaimed, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center” (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Fleischer asked Morell if he knew anything about the incident. “As the in-house intelligence officer, Morell was the man they looked to for the scoop when something startling happened,” journalist and author Mark Bowden will comment. [Bowden, 2012, pp. 3] The CIA officer knew nothing about the incident but said he would make some calls to inquire about it.
CIA Officer Thought the Crash Was an Accident - Morell initially assumed the crash was an accident. “The image in my mind,” he will later recall, “was of a small plane losing its way in a storm or fog and hitting the World Trade Center. I figured the death toll would include only two or three people on the plane and perhaps a few more in offices at the point of impact.” All the same, after entering the school, he calls the operations center at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to see if anyone there knows more about the crash. He assumes someone there likely will because, he will write, “I had come to rely on the group of hard-working officers in the center, both to set aside for me key pieces of overnight reporting and to answer my many questions.”
CIA Officer Is Told a Large Plane Hit the WTC - However, the duty officer Morell talks to is able to tell him little more than what he already knows. The one new detail the duty officer provides, Morell will recall, is that “the initial reports indicated that the plane [that hit the WTC] was a large commercial jet.” “My hope that this was not terrorism started to fade,” he will write. Morell then walks into the holding room next to the classroom where Bush is going to listen to some children reading and notices that the time is 9:00 a.m. Minutes later, he will learn about Flight 175 crashing into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and realize immediately that the incident is a “deliberate act of terrorism.” [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47-48]
William Buzinski. [Source: William Buzinski]Security is increased around Air Force One, the president’s plane, in response to the second attack on the World Trade Center and the pilot is informed that the aircraft may be targeted by terrorists while it is on the ground. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Only the standard level of security has been provided, with cones marking a security zone around the plane. Will Chandler, the chief of security, has been standing inside these cones and guarding the aircraft. According to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, prior to the attacks on the WTC, “there was no intel, there was nothing that said we’re about to be attacked.” But Tillman will later recall that after he learns of the second plane crash in New York and realizes it is a deliberate attack, he and the rest of the plane’s crew “start pulling out all the plans that we know we have to execute to keep the president safe and ensure the continuity of government.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ]
Personnel Protecting Air Force One Increase Security - The level of security around Air Force One is increased after the second attack on the WTC occurs. Staff Sergeant William Buzinski, whose job is to protect the plane, was told about the first crash at the WTC by a member of the Secret Service. After the second crash occurs, Buzinski sees the same agent running across the tarmac toward him. The agent tells him, “Another plane hit the towers.” Buzinski realizes right away that the incident must have been an act of terrorism. In response to the news, he will recall, “We started to increase security around the plane—made it a tighter bubble.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Pilot Says Air Force One Is 'Ready to Go' - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, calls Tillman and instructs him to get Air Force One and its crew ready to leave immediately (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, and Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, also call Tillman. Tillman will recall that they ask him: “What is our status? If [Bush and his entourage] can come to us within 10 minutes, can we get going?” Tillman replies: “Yes, absolutely. We are ready to go.”
Pilot Is Told the Plane Is a 'Sitting Duck' - Tillman is informed that “about nine planes” have been hijacked and that “one is in the Florida area.” Rosenker tells him: “Assume that [Air Force One is] a target on the ramp in Sarasota. It’s a large 747. [It is] sitting wide open. [A] sitting duck.” Tillman will say that his intention, therefore, is “to move that aircraft. Get it out of the way, and come back and grab the president when he’s ready to go.” He cannot do this, however, because Bush wants to “come rushing back to us and head to Washington, DC.” Secret Service agents with the president instruct Tillman: “We are coming at you as fast as we can come at you. Do not—repeat—do not move.”
People Are Moved Away from Air Force One - “We started getting reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” Tillman will recall, and there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president.” The crew of Air Force One has “no idea what was going on” and is receiving “a lot of misinformation” while waiting for the president to arrive at the airport. To increase security, people are pushed away from Air Force One. This, according to Tillman, is so that “whoever was near that aircraft had a good reason to be there.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ]
Military Presence Is Increased at the Airport - White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who has gone to the Booker Elementary School with Bush, notices the increased security around Air Force One when the president’s motorcade arrives at the Sarasota airport (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There is always “an incredible security presence” around the plane, he will comment. But now he sees “the redoubling of that.” There is “more of a military presence at the airport, as opposed to just a security [made up] of local police officers or anything like that.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Bartlett sees “a lot of military uniforms” and notices “the perimeters [around Air Force One] increasing.” Furthermore, he will recall, “[T]he scrutiny for entering the perimeter was much tougher than you could ever imagine.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Mike Morell, the president’s CIA briefer, will describe, “When we got back to the plane, it was ringed by security and Secret Service [agents] with automatic weapons.” “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he will comment. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Sheriff in a Helicopter Watches Over the Airport - Meanwhile, a helicopter arrives to keep watch over the airport. Sergeant Kevin Kenney of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office had been scheduled to fly the Sheriff’s Office helicopter to cover Bush’s motorcade as it traveled to the Booker Elementary School this morning, but was unable to do so because of heavy fog. However, after the second attack on the WTC, a member of Bush’s Secret Service detail instructs him to launch the helicopter and get to the Sarasota airport as soon as possible. He arrives there around the time Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport. The Secret Service then instructs Kenney to fly around the airport perimeter and be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles or groups of people. He notices “numerous civilian vehicles… already responding to the vicinity of the airport and gathering along the roadways in the proximity.” He relays information to Bush’s Secret Service detail and local agencies that are dispatching patrol units to the area. Kenney continues his surveillance of the airport for the 10 minutes or so it takes to get Bush and the other passengers onto Air Force One. [Sheriff, 9/2011; Longboat Observer, 9/8/2011] Additionally, reporters and other individuals who are traveling with the president are subjected to a strict security check while they are boarding the plane (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 99]
Edward Marinzel. [Source: Command Group]Secret Service agents and other staffers with President Bush in Florida are worried about Bush’s safety while he is at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, and some of them are concerned that terrorists might try to attack the school. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Bush and his entourage arrived at the school, where the president is now attending a reading demonstration, shortly before 9:00 a.m. (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 41; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] Members of the president’s staff who are in a holding room at the school while Bush listens to the reading demonstration are promptly informed about the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center after the attack occurs (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, who is at the school, will later comment that while details of the terrorist attacks in New York are “hazy,” it is clear that “unknown assailants [are] executing a well-planned attack, of unknown dimensions, against America.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 251] Secret Service agents responsible for protecting the president therefore have serious concerns that Bush could be in danger at the school.
Secret Service Worries that Bush Could Be a Target - Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will recall that he and other agents at the school are worried that Bush could be targeted by the terrorists. They ask each other, “Is there any direction of interest towards the president… or is this just an attack on New York?” The Secret Service determines that the attacks “might be an effort to decapitate the government,” according to Rove. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] The belief of Bush’s agents is, “[T]he president’s whereabouts are known; somebody is going to be flying an airplane into the school,” Rove will say. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/18/2013]
Lead Agent Wants to Leave the School 'as Fast as Possible' - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, has “quite a worried look on his face,” Mike Morell, Bush’s CIA briefer, will recall. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ] Marinzel “wanted to get the hell out of [the school] as fast as possible,” Morell will say. Representative Adam Putnam (R-FL), who is at the school, overhears Secret Service agents telling members of Bush’s staff, “We need to get [Bush] secure.” But before the president and his entourage leave the school, there is “angst from the Secret Service that we don’t know what’s out there,” according to Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff.
CIA Officer Is Worried about a Plane Crashing into the School - Other members of Bush’s entourage are concerned about the president’s vulnerability while he is at the school. There is “the fear of the unknown” among the president’s staff, according to Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance. “We didn’t know if someone had put a biological agent or chemical agent at the school,” he will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Morell is particularly worried that Bush could be the target of an attack. He will recall that he grows “increasingly concerned about [Bush’s] safety as well as the safety of others at the school” while Bush is in the holding room, where he goes after listening to the reading demonstration (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ] “I was really worried that someone was going to fly a plane into that school,” Morell will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] He thinks about telling Marinzel of his concern, but decides not to, determining that Marinzel has probably already considered this scenario. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 49]
Bush's Visit Is Public Knowledge - Bush’s plan to visit Sarasota today was publicly announced four days ago, on September 7 (see September 7, 2001). [White House, 9/7/2001] “The fact that the president would be at Booker Elementary at this hour, on this day, had been public knowledge for days,” Morell will point out. [Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 49] The planned visit has been “big news” in Sarasota, according to journalist and author Mark Bowden. [Bowden, 2012, pp. 3] Therefore, Morell will say, “anyone could have known about it.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Would Be Safer in His Limousine - Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will note that at the current time, Bush would be “safer in that presidential limo, which is bombproof and blastproof and bulletproof.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] And yet, apparently, no attempt is made to evacuate him from the school and move him to somewhere more secure for more than 30 minutes after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, and it became obvious that America was under attack. Instead, Bush will only leave the school at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39]
Entity Tags: Dave Wilkinson, Adam Putnam, Brian Montgomery, US Secret Service, Andrew Card, Michael J. Morell, Edward Marinzel, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Philip Melanson
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, about a claim that has supposedly been made by a radical Palestinian group, of responsibility for the attacks on the US and is told the group lacks the capability to have carried out the attacks. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 166; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 52] Abu Dhabi television reported, at around 9:43 a.m., that it had received a call from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but at around 10:00 a.m., the group denied that it was behind the attacks (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/12/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] Now, on Air Force One, Bush calls Morell to his office. He asks Morell what he thinks about the DFLP’s supposed claim of responsibility for the attacks. Morell tells Bush he doubts the validity of the assertion. “Mr. President,” he says, “DFLP is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.” Before Morell leaves the office, Bush asks him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to make sure that he, the president, is informed right away as soon as the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. “Michael, I want to be the first to know. Got that?” he says. Morell replies, “Yes, sir” and says he will call Tenet right away (see (Shortly After 10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush apparently talks to Morell around the time the White House informs personnel on Air Force One that it has received a threat against the president’s plane (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, tells Morell about the threat as he is leaving the president’s office. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 52-53]
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, speaks to Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, who can provide him with little more information about the attacks on the US than is generally known. Morell, who is with the president on Air Force One, has just spoken to Bush, who asked him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to inform the president immediately when the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of today’s attacks (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Morell now sits down in the staff section of the plane, picks up the phone by his seat, and calls Tenet’s office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. However, the headquarters is currently being evacuated (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so Tenet and his staff are in the process of relocating to a secure site. The secretary who answers Morell’s call says Tenet is unavailable and Morell instead has to talk to Black, the nearest senior official, after the secretary passes the phone to him. During their conversation, Black tells Morell what the CIA currently knows about the attacks on the US, which, Morell will later comment, “was little beyond what the rest of the world knew.” Morell then passes on the president’s request to be informed right away as soon as the CIA has information about who is responsible for the attacks and asks Black to share the request with Tenet. As he hangs up the phone, however, Morell is doubtful that his message will be passed on. “I was not confident [Tenet] would get the word, given the evacuation and given everything that would be asked of Black over the next few hours,” he will recall. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 52-53] Tenet will inform Bush, for the first time, that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to the attacks during a video teleconference at around 3:15 p.m. this afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326]
Dan Miller. [Source: Publicity photo]A member of Congress who has been travelling with President Bush on Air Force One asks Mike Morell, Bush’s CIA briefer, who he thinks is behind the attacks on the US and Morell says he is certain al-Qaeda is responsible. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 54] After Air Force One landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), while Bush headed off to record a message to the American people (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), Morell stayed on the plane with most of the president’s staff. [Bowden, 2012, pp. 16] Two members of Congress who have been travelling with the president, Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Dan Miller (R-FL), also stayed on the plane after it landed. They now sit in the conference room with Morell, watching the news coverage of the attacks on television. One of them—which one is unstated—knows Morell works for the CIA and provides the president with his daily intelligence briefing. He therefore asks him who he thinks is responsible for the attacks on the US. Morell replies that he would bet every dollar he has that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization is to blame. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Lakeland Ledger, 9/10/2011; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 54]
President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, who is responsible for today’s attacks on the US and Morell says he is sure al-Qaeda is to blame. About 15 minutes after Air Force One left Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), White House chief of staff Andrew Card enters the staff section of the plane, where Morell is seated, and tells Morell that the president wants to see him. Morell goes to Bush’s office, where he then sits alone with the president and Card.
CIA Briefer Says He'd Bet Al-Qaeda Was behind the Attacks - Bush wants to know who Morell thinks is responsible for today’s attacks. “Michael, who did this?” he asks. Morell explains that he doesn’t have any intelligence indicating who is to blame, so he will simply provide his personal opinion. “I said that there were two countries capable of carrying out an attack like this, Iran and Iraq, but I believed both would have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the attack,” he will later recall. The culprit was almost certainly a non-state actor, he says, adding that he has no doubt that the trail of evidence will lead to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “I’d bet my children’s future on that,” he says.
Briefer Is Unsure How Long It Will Take to Determine Who Is Responsible - “When will we know?” Bush asks. Morell replies, “I can’t say for sure,” and then goes over some recent terrorist attacks and says how long it took the CIA to determine, with any certainty, who was responsible. He says that in the case of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it took a couple of days; with the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 (see October 12, 2000), it took a couple of months; but with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), it had taken over a year. He says the CIA may know soon who is to blame for today’s attacks, but then again it might take some time. Bush says nothing in response once Morell has finished giving his views on who is responsible for today’s attacks and the men sit in silence for a while. Finally, Morell asks, “Is there anything else, Mr. President?” and Bush replies, “No, Michael, thank you.” Morell then returns to his seat in the staff section of the plane. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 55-56; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Bush will learn that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to today’s attacks later this afternoon, after Air Force One lands at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). During a video teleconference, CIA Director George Tenet will tell him that early signs indicate the terrorist group is behind the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Bowden, 2012, pp. 17-18]
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, passes on to Bush all the information the CIA currently has relating to today’s terrorist attacks, which includes a warning the agency received about the possibility that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists is in the United States, preparing for a second wave of attacks. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Bush, 2010, pp. 136; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] While he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet said the CIA had information linking al-Qaeda to today’s attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Priess, 2016, pp. 243] Before the meeting ended, Morell slipped out to phone Ted Gistaro, Tenet’s executive assistant, at the CIA’s operations center and asked to have the information Tenet provided to Bush sent to Air Force One. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 57]
Fax Includes All of the CIA's Information on the Attacks - A few minutes after Air Force One took off from Offutt, heading for Washington, DC (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Morell received a six-page fax that included all the intelligence the CIA had relating to the attacks. It included the talking points Tenet used to brief Bush during the teleconference, along with a lot of information Tenet was unable to cover in the meeting. Morell read through the material several times and highlighted several passages.
Briefer Goes Over the CIA's Information with Bush - Now, about 30 minutes later, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, comes to the staff cabin and tells Morell that Bush will see him to go through the information. Morell therefore accompanies Card to the conference room on the plane and the two men meet with Bush there. Morell goes over the material he has been sent with the president, allowing Bush to read as much of it as he wants. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 57; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Briefer Reports the Possibility of a Second Wave of Attacks - The material includes information provided by French intelligence, explaining that it has detected signs that al-Qaeda has “sleeper cells” in the US that are planning a second wave of attacks. Bush is concerned when he learns this. He will later describe receiving the information as “one of the darkest moments of the day.” “I believed America could overcome the September 11 attacks without further panic,” he will write. “But,” he will add, “a follow-on strike would be very difficult to bear.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Bush, 2010, pp. 136; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] After Morell has finished briefing the president, Bush thanks him and he returns to his seat in the staff cabin. This meeting apparently takes place at around 5:20 p.m., since Morell will comment that Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses while he is briefing the president and this incident occurs at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 15]
Mike Morell. [Source: Public domain]CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 39-41; Washington Post, 1/28/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165] Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).
Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Michael J. Morell, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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