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Profile: Thomas E. White
Thomas E. White was a participant or observer in the following events:
Thomas White. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hosts a breakfast meeting in his private dining room at the Pentagon. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The meeting, which is attended by several members of Congress, is intended to discuss the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. As well as the secretary of defense, others in attendance include Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, Navy Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr.; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Pete Geren, a special assistant to Rumsfeld; and Representatives John Mica (R-FL), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), John Hostettler (R-IN), Kay Granger (R-TX), John Shimkus (R-IL), Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), and Christopher Cox (R-CA). [Powell Moore, 9/10/2001 ; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 9/14/2001; Federal Computer Week, 3/31/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; Powell Moore, 9/19/2003 ; US Department of Defense, 9/10/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who is at the meeting, appears to say it is also attended by numerous key military figures, later telling PBS: “Don Rumsfeld had a breakfast, and virtually every one of the senior officials of the Department of Defense—service chiefs, secretary, deputy, everybody, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And as that breakfast was breaking up, the first plane had hit the World Trade tower.” [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004; PBS, 10/26/2004] By “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” White presumably means Richard Myers, who is the acting chairman on this day, in place of Henry Shelton who is out of the country (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] During the course of the meeting Rumsfeld predicts that some kind of “shocking” world event will occur in the near future (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Most accounts suggest the meeting is adjourned soon after the time the first World Trade Center tower is hit, presumably around 8:50 a.m., though one report says it ends at about 9:00 a.m. Just prior to the meeting ending, Rumsfeld is handed a note informing him of the crash (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Giambastiani also sees this note. Whether the other people in attendance are notified of the crash at this time is unknown. [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002; PBS, 10/26/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] White will later recall, “We all went on with the day’s business,” after leaving the meeting. White heads off to give a speech at the nearby Army Navy Country Club. [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004] Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Giambastiani return to their offices. [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] The members of Congress leave the building. [Washington Post, 1/9/2002] If Myers is at the meeting, as White appears to say, he must head promptly to Capitol Hill, as he enters another meeting in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) before the time when the second WTC tower is hit (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; American Forces Press Service, 10/23/2001]
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Christopher Cox, Doug Bereuter, Kay Granger, Donald Rumsfeld, John Hostettler, Edmund Giambastiani, Mac Thornberry, Pete Geren, Paul Wolfowitz, Thomas E. White, Roger Wicker, Mark Steven Kirk, Robin Hayes, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, John Shimkus, John Mica
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
John Keane. [Source: US Army]The Army’s Crisis Action Team (CAT) at the Pentagon is “formally stood up” and its members respond to the terrorist attacks. [Rossow, 2003, pp. 66; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135; St. Louis Jewish Light, 9/8/2011] Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Stramara activated the CAT after the second hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m., on the orders of Major General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s director of operations, readiness, and mobilization (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 96-97] Chiarelli’s intention was, he said, “to respond to the contingency in New York if requested by state and local officials.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 134] The CAT is now “formally stood up,” according to author Robert Rossow, although exactly what this means is unstated.
Senior Officials Come to Operations Center - When the CAT is activated, its members assemble in the Army Operations Center (AOC) in the basement of the Pentagon. [Rossow, 2003, pp. 64, 66] Numerous senior officials now start arriving in the AOC. These include General John Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army; Brigadier General Clyde Vaughn, deputy director of operations, readiness, and mobilization; Major General Philip Kensinger, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations and plans; and Thomas White, the secretary of the Army. More senior officers come to the AOC than would usually be the case in a crisis, according to Chiarelli, “because a large portion of the Army section of the building had been destroyed” in the attack on the Pentagon. “People had been forced out of their space,” he will later say, and “were looking for some place to go.” [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; US Army Center of Military History, 2/12/2002; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 98-101; Fox News, 9/12/2011]
Operations Center Personnel Unaware that a Plane Hit the Pentagon - Chiarelli arrived at the AOC shortly before the Pentagon was hit (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and, he will recall, heard a “muffled noise” when the attack occurred, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 98-99] Colonel Henry Huntley, who also arrived at the AOC around the time of the Pentagon attack, will recall, “Alarms started going off and there was an announcement that an explosion had gone off in the building.” [Daily American, 7/8/2008] However, those in the AOC are apparently initially unaware that a plane has hit their building. Vaughn, who witnessed the attack from the road outside the Pentagon, calls Major George Sterling, the AOC commandant, and says to him, “You know that you’ve been hit by an airplane?” Sterling responds, “Is that what happened?” Vaughn will comment that “many people… didn’t find out for some time” that the Pentagon had been hit by an airplane. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/12/2002; Rossow, 2003, pp. 15-16; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 3-4]
Support Agency Commander Unaware that the US Is under Attack - Colonel Bruce Bachus, commander of the Command and Control Support Agency, who is responsible for keeping the AOC operating, arrived at the Pentagon around the time the attack there occurred and yet he is unaware of the crisis taking place in the US when he gets to the AOC. In the AOC, Dick Mansfield, deputy director of the Command and Control Support Agency, says to him: “We’ve been hit! The CAT has been stood up!” But Bachus appears to be puzzled. Mansfield therefore asks him, “Sir, do you know what’s going on?” Bachus says no and that he had not been listening to the radio—like he usually does—while he drove to work. He says he heard a loud sound while he was in the Pentagon’s A-E Drive, and saw people shouting and running down the corridors, but he’d had no idea what was going on. Mansfield therefore has to quickly brief him on the catastrophic events of the past hour. [Rossow, 2003, pp. 9, 68]
Crisis Team Assesses How Many Army Staffers Are Missing - The “first big task” for the CAT, according to Vaughn, is “to get a count on how many people were missing on the Army staff.” Chiarelli instructs Vaughn to focus on this assignment. Vaughn then announces on the CAT floor that he wants each section “to start that process of figuring out who was missing and who was not.” “For a long time, our number one priority was locating and identifying and taking care of… our soldiers and civilians,” Vaughn will say. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/12/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Richard Kotch, who is working in the AOC this morning, will recall that those in the operations center also “assured continuity of operations after the impact [i.e. the attack on the Pentagon].” [St. Louis Jewish Light, 9/8/2011]
Intelligence Officers Give Inaccurate Reports of Hijackings - Meanwhile, after he arrives at the AOC, Chiarelli receives reports from his intelligence officers informing him, inaccurately, about additional hijacked aircraft. He is told there are “a minimum of four aircraft that were hijacked and a possibility, at one time, [of] as high as seven.” [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 99]
Operations Center Has Sophisticated Equipment - The CAT, according to Soldiers magazine, “consists of a dedicated ‘hot’ desk with classified and unclassified computers, and secure telephones for 24 separate Army staff sections.” [Soldiers, 9/2004] The AOC, where its members assemble, is equipped with state-of-the-art communications equipment and has television sets for monitoring news coverage. [Washington Post, 8/25/1995] A glassed-in balcony overlooks the main floor and four giant screens are on the wall above the computer workstations. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Lofgren, 2011, pp. 99-100]
Watch Team Regularly Communicates with Government Agencies - AOC personnel usually work around the clock to keep senior Army leaders aware of issues and events around the world. A watch team monitors the world constantly and is ready to sound the alarm if a crisis erupts somewhere. The watch team also “directs hundreds of communications daily to the FBI, the State Department, the White House command center, local law enforcement agencies, and others,” according to Soldiers magazine. The AOC is equipped with an “emergency action console,” which is a switchboard with a sophisticated communications system that allows watch team members to contact, at the touch of a button, the White House, the secretary of defense’s office, and Army commands around the world. [Washington Post, 8/25/1995; Soldiers, 9/2004] The CAT will become “a focal point for all Pentagon activities” in response to the terrorist attacks, according to Kotch. [St. Louis Jewish Light, 9/8/2011] It will continue working around the clock in the aftermath of the attacks. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002]
Entity Tags: Bruce Bachus, George Sterling, Clyde A. Vaughn, Dick Mansfield, US Army Crisis Action Team, US Department of the Army, Richard A. Kotch, Henry Huntley, Thomas E. White, John Keane, Philip R. Kensinger Jr., Peter W. Chiarelli
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Secretary of the Army Thomas White is ordered to leave the Pentagon and go to Site R, an alternate military command center outside Washington, DC, but the decision to send him there will subsequently be found to have been a mistake and so he will return to the Pentagon later in the day. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Christopher N. Koontz, 2011, pp. 57 ; Arkin, 2013, pp. 176] White arrived at the Army Operations Center (AOC) in the basement of the Pentagon sometime after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was attacked (see 9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135] While there, he has provided leadership and guidance to personnel in the center. [Christopher N. Koontz, 2011, pp. 56 ]
Army Secretary Is Ordered to Leave the Pentagon - After he has spent some time in the AOC, though, he is ordered to leave the Pentagon and go to Site R, a secure complex of buildings on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135; Arkin, 2013, pp. 176] The facility was designed as a duplicate of the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) that would serve as the Pentagon’s primary command center if the NMCC was destroyed in an attack or needed to be evacuated. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174] White is ordered to go there by Major General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s director of operations, readiness, and mobilization. Chiarelli will later recall that he issued the order to White after he “got word that we were going to exercise a relocation plan of key leaders to a place called Site R.”
White Initially Objects to Leaving the Pentagon - White is unhappy when he is first told that he has to leave the Pentagon and refuses to go. “He communicated he was not leaving, he was staying in the building,” Chiarelli will recall. But the officer in charge of the relocation and continuity of operations plan then explains to Chiarelli that White has to go to Site R. He says: “Sir, he has no choice at this time. This has been directed and he must immediately proceed to leave here. This is bigger than him. This is continuity of the government of the United States.” Chiarelli asks the officer, “Are you sure of this?” and the officer replies: “Yes, I’m sure. Sir, you need to go up and tell him he needs to get up and go.” Chiarelli therefore goes up to White and tells him that he has “no choice; he was bound to do this; we had gotten word that this portion of the implementation plan was in effect, and that he must proceed directly to a specified place in the building where he would get in a helicopter and leave.” White then agrees to go to Site R.
Order to Send White Away Will Be Found to Be Unnecessary - He leaves the Pentagon at the same time as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz does (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the two men are flown to the secure facility in the same helicopter, according to Chiarelli. However, personnel in the AOC will subsequently discover that the decision to send White to Site R was a mistake. “We found out that it wasn’t required for him to leave at that particular point in time, because the level of evacuation did not reach his level,” Chiarelli will say. The unnecessary order came about because the person who said White had to leave the Pentagon “misspoke over the phone,” he will add. White will therefore return to the Pentagon about four hours after leaving it. [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002]
Army Vice Chief of Staff Will Be in Charge While White Is Away - As secretary of the Army, White is the top civilian leader for the US Army and is responsible for the effective and efficient functioning of the Army. [US Department of the Army, 7/9/2002 ; USA Today, 4/7/2017] He is also the “top executive agent in the Pentagon hierarchy,” the “coordinator of continuity for the Pentagon,” and the “middleman for military support to civil authorities,” according to military expert and author William Arkin. But while he is away from the Pentagon, General John Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army, will be “in charge of the Army (and of decisions relating to military support to civil authorities),” Arkin will write. [Arkin, 2013, pp. 176]
Donald Rumsfeld speaking at his 6:42 p.m. news briefing. Behind the secretary of defense, left to right, are Thomas White, Henry Shelton, John Warner, and Carl Levin. [Source: Bob Houlihan/US Navy]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and four other senior officials give a news briefing at the Pentagon, which is broadcast live around the world, to reassure the public that the US government is still functioning and the nation is strong, and during the briefing Rumsfeld says that, despite the devastating attack there, the Pentagon will reopen the following day. [Government Executive, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436] Joining Rumsfeld in the Pentagon press room to give the briefing are Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the committee’s ranking minority member, respectively; General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has returned to the US after his flight to Europe was aborted (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who has come to the Pentagon from the alternate command location. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 145] Levin and Warner called Rumsfeld earlier in the day, promising him their wholehearted support, and he had suggested they come over to the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 228]
Officials Addressing Millions of Americans - As Rumsfeld and the four other men stood outside the press room before the briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke informed them, “Gentlemen, you are about to address 320 million Americans who have witnessed an unspeakable tragedy today.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34]
Pentagon 'Will Be in Business Tomorrow' - Rumsfeld begins the briefing, reading out a statement he has written by hand. He says, “This is a tragic day for our country,” and adds, “We have taken a series of measures to prevent further attacks and to determine who is responsible.” After summarizing some of the Defense Department’s actions throughout the day, Rumsfeld gives reassurance that the Pentagon is still up and running, pointing out that “the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s functioning,” and, he adds, “It will be in business tomorrow.” Shelton calls the day’s terrorist attacks “an outrageous act of barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics,” and states, “I have no intentions of discussing today what comes next, but make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready.”
'No Information' that Military Shot Down Any Aircraft - Rumsfeld takes a number of questions from reporters, but refuses to speculate about any uncertain information. When asked: “What about Osama bin Laden? Do you suspect him as the prime suspect in this?” Rumsfeld answers, “It’s not the time for discussions like that.” One reporter says, “[T]here were rumors earlier in the day that the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania had been brought down by the United States, either shot down or in some other manner,” to which Rumsfeld responds, “We have absolutely no information that any US aircraft shot down any other aircraft today.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 230-231]
Briefing Would Be a 'Powerful Statement' - The briefing has come about because Clarke felt earlier on that Rumsfeld should do a media briefing today and that, despite the objections of others, it should be conducted at the Pentagon, as this would be “the most powerful statement we could deliver that we were open for business.” Rumsfeld agreed with Clarke’s suggestion to hold such a briefing. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 229-230] Shelton will later recall that the feedback the briefing generates “by far surpassed any other I have ever received. The nation was obviously shaken and looking for reassurance that their government was still functioning.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]
Rumsfeld before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. [Source: AP]Three days before paying personal tribute to Pat Tillman (seeJune 28, 2002), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld forwards a news article on the former football star’s recent enlistment in the US Army to the Secretary of the Army, Tom White, calling Tillman “world-class.” In the informal communication accompanying the June 2 story, Rumsfeld says, “We might want to keep an eye on him.” White responds, agreeing that Tillman is “a world-class American.” However, when testifying in 2007 before the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Rumsfeld will say that he does not remember when or how he learned that Tillman was not killed in action by the Taliban, but was a victim of fratricide. [House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, 8/16/2009]
General Dynamics logo. [Source: Castle Air Museum.]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has so far hired “32 appointees to top policymaking positions who were former executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of top defense contractors,” according to author William Hartung, writing for the Los Angeles Times. Hartung says Rumsfeld came into office determined to hire a “core group of corporate executives to run the Pentagon in what one commentator describe[s] as ‘Department of Defense Inc.’” Rumsfeld placed executives in charge of three of the military’s five branches—Northrop Grumman’s James Roche for the Air Force, General Dynamics’s Gordon England for the Navy, and Enron’s Thomas White for the Army. Since their ascension to power, the military has been accused by such critics as Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of stunning levels of “war profiteering.” Hartung writes that the Pentagon is suffering from a severe case of “ethical rot” under Rumsfeld, and says that the Pentagon is experiencing “decreased accountability and a level of cronyism… more reminiscent of Indonesia under Suharto than anything Washington has seen in recent memory.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 72]
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