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A senior Secret Service agent at the White House establishes a direct phone line with his counterpart at the FAA and is told there are more suspect planes that are unaccounted for, but this information supposedly does not lead to the evacuation of the vice president from his White House office.
Secret Service Liaison Calls FAA - Secret Service agent Nelson Garabito, who is responsible for coordinating the president’s movements and is also the agency’s liaison to the FAA, is at the Secret Service Joint Operations Center (JOC) at the White House, attending a 9:00 a.m. meeting. After seeing the second attack on the World Trade Center on television, he calls Terry Van Steenbergen, his counterpart at the FAA. According to Garabito, the TV’s sound is off, so it takes a few minutes before he realizes a second plane has hit the WTC and makes the call. But Van Steenbergen, who is at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, will say Garabito calls him “within 30 seconds” of the attack.
Warning Not Passed On - Shortly into the call, Van Steenbergen tells Garabito there are two unaccounted for planes that are possibly hijacked, in addition to the two that have crashed into the WTC. Garabito tells someone with him to run upstairs and pass this information on to other Secret Service agents, but, according to the 9/11 Commission, “it either was not passed on or was passed on but not disseminated.” As a result, Van Steenbergen’s information “failed to reach agents assigned to the vice president, and the vice president was not evacuated at that time.” (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003, pp. 9-11; 9/11 Commission 3/30/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 464)
Conflicting Evacuation Times - According to the 9/11 Commission, the Secret Service does not evacuate Vice President Dick Cheney from his office at the White House until “just before 9:36.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) However, some accounts will say Cheney is evacuated around the time of the second attack on the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would suggest that Van Steenbergen’s information is indeed passed on and disseminated. (Safire 9/13/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) Garabito and Van Steenbergen will remain in contact over the phone—via a direct line, not a conference call—for the next 14 hours. Garabito feeds information to Van Steenbergen, though Van Steenbergen does not know how Garabito is getting this information. (9/11 Commission 3/30/2004)
The Secret Service tells FAA headquarters that it wants fighter jets launched over Washington, DC, and this message is then relayed to the air traffic control tower at Andrews Air Force Base, which is 10 miles from Washington. The District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews is notified, but no jets will take off from the base until 10:38 a.m. (9/11 Commission 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465) The request for fighter jets is apparently made by Secret Service agent Nelson Garabito, who is responsible for coordinating the president’s movements, during a phone call with his counterpart at FAA headquarters in Washington, Terry Van Steenbergen. This call began shortly after the second tower was hit at 9:03 a.m. (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003; 9/11 Commission 3/30/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 464)
FAA Headquarters Calls Andrews Tower - According to the 9/11 Commission, “The FAA tower” at Andrews is then “contacted by personnel at FAA headquarters” who are “on an open line with senior agents from the president’s detail,” and is informed that the Secret Service wants fighters airborne. Karen Pontius at FAA headquarters tells Steve Marra, an air traffic controller at the Andrews control tower, “to launch F-16s to cap the airspace over Washington.”
Message Passed to DCANG - Marra then relays Pontius’s message to the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 465) Marra apparently passes the message to Major Daniel Caine, the 113th Wing’s supervisor of flying, when Caine phones the control tower (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Caine will later recall that the tower controller (i.e. Marra) tells him “that they just received the scramble order.” But Caine will also tell the 9/11 Commission that the Andrews tower “would not have been in the loop for any Secret Service orders to scramble aircraft.” (Filson 2003, pp. 76; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 ) Despite receiving this message from the Secret Service, the DCANG will not launch its first fighter jet until 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44)
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