This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=suzanne_giesemann_1
General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gives a warning to be prepared for a domestic terrorist attack at any time, because the conditions are right for such an attack to occur. Shelton will later recall issuing the warning in a speech he gives at a conference on global terrorism. He ends the speech with the admonition to “be on your toes,” because, he will recall, “conditions were such that a domestic terrorist attack could occur at any time.” Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, an aide to the chairman, will similarly recall that Shelton ends his conference speech with a warning “to prepare for a terrorist attack at any time and any place.” According to Shelton, the conference takes place the week before September 11, but Giesemann will say it takes place several weeks before September 11. Further details of the conference, such as where it is being held and who else is attending it, are unstated. Both Shelton and Giesemann will be reminded of the chairman’s prophetic warning when they are first notified of the attacks in New York on 9/11 (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giesemann 2008, pp. 23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431)
General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes off to fly to Europe for a NATO conference, and will therefore be away from the US when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 20, 22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-433) Shelton is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Military Committee—NATO’s highest military authority—in Budapest, Hungary, on September 12, to discuss the situation in the Balkans, the European Security and Defense Identity, and NATO’s new force structure. On his return journey, he is set to stop in London, Britain, to be knighted by the Queen. (North Atlantic Treaty Organization 9/10/2001; North Atlantic Treaty Organization 9/11/2001; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430) Shelton takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, on a specially modified C-135 (the military version of a Boeing 707) nicknamed “Speckled Trout.” Normally he flies on a VIP Boeing 757 often used by the vice president, but that aircraft is presently unavailable, so he is flying instead on the C-135, which is usually reserved for the Air Force chief of staff. Those accompanying Shelton on the flight include his wife, Carolyn; his executive assistant, Colonel Doug Lute; his aides, Master Sergeant Mark Jones and Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann; and his personal security agent, Chief Warrant Officer Marshall McCants. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 20-22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431, 434) When Shelton is out of the country, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is designated by law as acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his place. Shelton will later recall, “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be [Myers’s] to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” (Myers and McConnell 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432) After learning of the attacks in New York, Shelton will give the order for his plane to return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giesemann 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431) However, the plane will repeatedly be denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will only land back in the US at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). Shelton will only arrive at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; Myers and McConnell 2009, pp. 159; McCullough 9/2011 )
General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Giesemann 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-432)
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431)
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432)
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” (Giesemann 2008, pp. 23) According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1) The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432) But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (McCullough 9/2011 ) The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; Myers and McConnell 2009, pp. 159)
Colonel Matthew Klimow, executive assistant to General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks on the phone with either General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, and alerts them to the attack on the Pentagon soon after it occurs. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 24; Klimow 8/3/2012) Shelton is currently flying across the Atlantic Ocean for a NATO meeting in Europe (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Giesemann is accompanying him. They were both alerted to the crashes at the World Trade Center shortly after the attacks occurred and in response, Shelton gave the order for his plane to turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giesemann 2008, pp. 21-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-431) Klimow is at the Pentagon and has seen the news of the crashes at the WTC on television. He has been participating in the conference call convened by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Executive Assistant Is Alerted to the Call from Shelton's Plane - After Klimow has been on the conference call for a short time, Mary Turner, his secretary, tries to get his attention. Annoyed at the interruption, though, he tells her: “Mary, no, not now. I’m taking notes.” But Turner is undeterred and starts waving her hands at him. She then says Shelton is calling on the unsecured phone, Klimow will later recall. “He wants to talk, now. He’s calling from his airplane,” she adds. But Giesemann will write that she, not Shelton, makes the call from Shelton’s plane at this time. She will describe calling Shelton’s office at the Pentagon and reaching Klimow there.
Executive Assistant Updates the Caller - While still listening to the conference call on his secure phone, Klimow picks up his unsecured phone to talk to either Shelton or Giesemann. He will recall Shelton snapping at him, “Klimow, what the devil is going on back there?” to which he replies: “Sir, I’m on the Red Switch [secure phone] with the White House and NORAD. I’ll relay information.” But according to Giesemann, Klimow tells her: “Suzanne, this is really bad. The scenes on TV are unbelievable.” He then says, “You guys need to get back here right away” and Giesemann replies, “We’re coming now.”
Secretary Feels the Pentagon Move - Klimow’s secretary notices when the Pentagon is attacked, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Klimow will recall that as he is passing on the information he is hearing over the conference call to Shelton’s plane, Turner, who is sitting next to him, suddenly stands up and exclaims, “My God, the building moved.” He then notices “pandemonium” outside his door, with people running down the corridor, yelling and shouting. However, with his attention focused on two phone calls, he hadn’t noticed the building moving or heard anything unusual when the Pentagon was hit. Annoyed, he therefore instructs his secretary: “Mary, close the door. I can’t hear.” Giesemann will describe noticing the turmoil at the Pentagon, with the sound of shouting in the background coming over her headphones. “What’s all that commotion, Colonel?” she asks and Klimow replies: “I’m not sure. Stand by, Suzanne.” (Giesemann 2008, pp. 24; Klimow 8/3/2012)
Crash Is Reported over the Conference Call - Klimow learns what happened when, at 9:39 a.m., Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC, states over the conference call, “There’s a report that an aircraft has crashed into the Mall side of the Pentagon.” A couple of minutes later, Klimow checks this information with Leidig, asking him, “Do we confirm that [an] aircraft crashed into the building?” and Leidig replies: “On live TV you can now see smoke emitting from the Pentagon. Yes, sir. It’s confirmed.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ; US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 )
Executive Assistant Tells the Caller about the Pentagon Attack - Klimow passes on news of the attack to either Shelton or Giesemann. According to his own recollection, he tells Shelton: “Sir, we’ve been hit. The Pentagon’s been hit by an airplane. Turn your aircraft around. Get back to Washington.” The call then ends. (Klimow 8/3/2012; Graff 2019, pp. 98) But Giesemann will recall him saying: “Something’s happened here at the Pentagon. I think a bomb exploded, but we’re still trying to find out what it was.” He then tells her, “I have to go.” (Giesemann 2008, pp. 24) Klimow will subsequently tell Leidig over the conference call that he has informed Shelton’s plane about the Pentagon attack. “I’ve passed all the information that you just said to General Shelton’s aircraft,” he will say, adding, “I’ve had comms with him consistently but he just dropped.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ) A short time later, he will receive a call from Myers, who is being driven back to the Pentagon from a meeting on Capitol Hill (see (Before 9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Klimow 8/3/2012)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike