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The Navy Annex, located next to the Virginia State Police Barracks. [Source: Arlington County After-Action Report]The FBI establishes a command post for its response to the Pentagon attack at the Virginia State Police Barracks, overlooking the Pentagon. [Fire Engineering, 11/2002] Around midday, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Blecksmith arrived at the Pentagon and took over from Special Agent Chris Combs as the FBI’s on scene commander. He had quickly decided that the area around the Arlington County Fire Department’s incident command post by the Pentagon was too crowded and lacked support facilities. He therefore decides it will be safer for the FBI to carry out its operations at the Virginia State Police Barracks, located next to the Navy Annex, a few hundred yards from the Pentagon. Along with Combs, Blecksmith establishes the FBI’s command post there, and starts moving the FBI up to it. The two men will spend most of the afternoon at the barracks, where they work on establishing a Joint Operations Center (JOC) at nearby Fort Myer. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A23 and C50 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 178] The JOC will open early the following morning (see September 12, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161]
Due to the chaos and gridlock resulting from the morning’s attacks, the FBI is hampered in mobilizing its investigative operation at the Pentagon. Because the Pentagon is a crime scene, it is the FBI’s job to gather and document every piece of evidence there. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 177] Special Agent Chris Combs, the FBI’s representative at the crash site, has been setting up the FBI operation since arriving at 9:49 a.m. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A20 and 1-1 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 178] Since before 10:00 a.m., the bureau’s evidence recovery team has been arriving. But although every available agent has been paged, many are stuck in traffic, and it will take several hours before the entire FBI contingent makes it to the Pentagon. The FBI also has a fleet of sophisticated command vehicles and helicopters, plus other specialized equipment. But even though the crash site is within the “FBI’s backyard,” according to authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, by around 12:15 p.m. none of this has arrived yet. The bureau’s rapid-deployment gear, which includes everything needed to gather and document evidence, is stored in a warehouse in Washington, DC. But with traffic in the region at a standstill, it is almost impossible to get this through the streets to the Pentagon. Chris Combs asks his boss at the FBI’s Washington field office if any helicopters are available to get equipment to the Pentagon quickly. But several choppers at the FBI facility in Quantico, just 30 miles south of the Pentagon, are reserved for specific duties during government emergencies and are currently locked down. And according to Creed and Newman, other government helicopters the bureau relies upon for backup are tied up, though what they are being used for is unstated. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A22 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 177-179] Furthermore, NBC News has reported that the FBI’s top teams have been away from Washington for the last two days for a major training exercise in California (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). This means about 50 personnel, plus helicopters and equipment, are currently out of place and unavailable. [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
San Francisco International Airport. [Source: CBS]San Francisco International Airport, the original destination of Flight 93, the fourth aircraft to be hijacked in the morning’s terrorist attacks, is evacuated except for essential personnel and shut down. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] About 3,000 people are evacuated from the airport. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001] Bomb-sniffing dogs patrol the hallways. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001] While the other major Bay Area airports are also shut down, only San Francisco Airport evacuates its terminals and closes its access roads. [Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 9/12/2001] Security is heightened at many US airports, but the security precautions are particularly high at the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports (see 12:04 p.m. September 11, 2001), since these were the intended destinations of the four hijacked aircraft. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001]
US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002] The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269] At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 69] At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is informed that Vice President Dick Cheney wants him to come down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), located below the East Wing of the White House. Clarke heads down and, after being admitted by Cheney’s security detail, enters the PEOC. In addition to the vice president and his wife Lynne Cheney, the PEOC contains National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, and White House counselor Karen Hughes. Clarke can see the White House Situation on a screen. But Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference [that Clarke has been leading] because Mrs. Cheney keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN… and the vice president keeps hanging up the open line to you.” Clarke later describes that Lynne Cheney is, like her husband, “a right-wing ideologue,” and is offering her advice and opinions while in the PEOC. When Clarke asks the vice president if he needs anything, Cheney replies, “The [communications] in this place are terrible.” His calls to President Bush keep getting broken off. By the time Clarke heads back upstairs to the Situation Room, it is 12:30 p.m. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 17-19]
Secretary of State Colin Powell learned of the attacks on the US while away in Peru, Lima (see (9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During his seven-hour flight back to Washington, he is frustrated at being unable to communicate with other senior government leaders. In a March 2002 speech at the State Department, Powell will recall, “I never felt more useless in my life than on the morning of the 11th of September. Phones [were] gone because of what happened here and what happened to the [communications] system here in Washington. They couldn’t get a phone line through. I was able to get some radio communications—two radio spots on the way back—but for most of that seven-hour period, I could not tell what was going on here in my capital, and I’m the secretary of state!” [Telecom News, 2002, pp. 4-5 ; Verton, 2003, pp. 149-150] Powell is able to talk by radio with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. But, according to journalist Bob Woodward, any “real talk” between them “was hopeless.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 10] Yet, in a 7:40 p.m. press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker will claim that Powell “has been kept in the loop and informed all day.” [US Department of State, 9/11/2001]
Deena Burnett is visited at her home in San Ramon, California, by three FBI agents, and questioned about the calls she received from her husband, Tom Burnett, who was a passenger on Flight 93. Deena has now learned of the plane crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer staying with her informed her that this was her husband’s plane. The FBI agents spend over an hour with Deena, asking her about her husband and what he’d said in his four calls from Flight 93. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 71-72 and 74-75] She describes to them how Tom called her using his cell phone and told her his flight had been hijacked. In his final call he’d described how a group of the passengers was going to “do something.” She says her husband was a former college football player and very intelligent, so if he’d concluded he was going to die, he would have taken action. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ] Deena remembers that she’d taken notes, writing down the details of her husband’s calls. But she does not want the agents to have these, saying, “You wouldn’t be able to read it anyway.” They do not take the notes with them when they leave. They will return later in the day and tell Deena specifically not to say anything to anyone—especially the media—about her cell phone conversations with her husband, because it is part of their investigation. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 75 and 81]
Richard Rotanz. [Source: University of Delaware]Richard Rotanz, the deputy director of New York’s Office of Emergency Management, assesses the state of World Trade Center Building 7 and sees significant damage inside the building. [BBC, 7/6/2008; BBC, 10/17/2008] WTC 7 was damaged by the debris when the North Tower of the WTC collapsed at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 16] At around 12:30 p.m., according to the BBC, Rotanz and some other officials—whose identities are unstated—go into WTC 7 to see what condition the building is in. “At the time the building wasn’t safe, but we had to make an assessment just the same,” Rotanz will later tell the BBC. He will describe what he observes inside WTC 7, saying: “You could hear the building creak above us. You could hear things fall. You could hear the fire burning. You could see columns just hanging from the floors, gaping holes in the floors up above us.” He also sees “an elevator car that was blown out of its shaft” and is now “down the hall.” [BBC, 7/6/2008; BBC, 10/17/2008] The elevator car is “30 or 40 feet away from where the elevator shaft once was,” according to another account. [Aegis Insurance Services, Inc. v. 7 World Trade Center Company, LP, 12/4/2013 ] Rotanz and those with him soon leave the building. “We didn’t spend that long” inside WTC 7, Rotanz will say. Rotanz has also observed significant damage to the exterior of WTC 7 (see (After 10:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 10/17/2008] At around 2:30 p.m., senior firefighters will make the decision to abandon the possibility of fighting the fires in WTC 7 (see (2:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The building will collapse at around 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 111]
President Bush records a speech at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]President Bush delivers a short speech to the nation in a windowless conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, which is recorded and will be broadcast on television about half an hour later. [Time, 9/14/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 113-117] Since arriving at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush has been spending time in the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [American History, 10/2006 ] Bush will later recall that by 12:30 p.m., “it had been almost three hours since I had spoken to the country” (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) and he is “worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133]
Bush Taken to Conference Room to Record Statement - A short statement to the nation has therefore been prepared for Bush to deliver. Keck escorts the president from his office to the conference room in the 8th Air Force headquarters building to record it. Bush is also accompanied to the room by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his communications director, Dan Bartlett, his press secretary Ari Fleischer, and several Secret Service agents. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 113; American History, 10/2006 ] A hurried attempt has been made to prepare the room for the president’s speech. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] Airmen have arranged three US flags behind the wooden lectern behind which Bush will speak, and have tried to add some lighting to brighten up the dark room. The reporters who have been traveling with the president on Air Force One went to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building, and are assembled there when Bush comes in. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; American History, 10/2006 ]
Tape of Speech Taken to Satellite Truck to Be Broadcast - Bush delivers his 219-word speech in precisely two minutes. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] After doing so, he leaves the room without acknowledging, or taking any questions from, the reporters in the room. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165] Keck, who stays to watch Bush deliver the speech, then escorts the president back to his office. [American History, 10/2006 ] Master Sergeant Rich Del Haya, the officer in charge of the 8th Air Force public affairs office, is then called to the 8th Air Force headquarters building to collect the videotape of the speech. He runs out of the building with it, accompanied by a CBS network producer and reporter, and drives toward the base’s far north entrance. Gate officials contact a state trooper outside the base, who escorts the three to a satellite truck of the local CBS affiliate. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The recording of the president’s speech will be broadcast from the satellite truck at 1:04 p.m. (see 1:04 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117]
Philip Perry. [Source: Cornell Law School]Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, her husband, and their children arrive at a secure government facility at Mount Weather, Virginia, where they have been taken by the Secret Service. Earlier on, Secret Service Special Agent Michael Seremetis, a member of the vice presidential protective division, instructed some of his colleagues to locate Liz Cheney, and then evacuate her and her children to the facility. By 10:55 a.m., Cheney and her children had made it to their home, and 20 minutes later they were being taken to Mount Weather by the Secret Service. Cheney’s husband, Philip Perry, arrived at the White House at around 11:20 a.m. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ] Perry is the acting associate attorney general, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department. [US Department of Justice, 8/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/23/2001; US Congress. Senate, 5/19/2005] By 12:40 p.m., Secret Service agents were transporting him to Mount Weather. Cheney, her children, and the Secret Service agents with them arrive at Mount Weather at 12:45 p.m. Perry and the agents with him arrive there at 1.15 p.m. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ] The facility at Mount Weather is “a massive underground complex originally built to house governmental officials in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange,” according to The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/28/2006] It is located in rural Virginia, 48 miles from Washington, DC. [Time, 12/9/1991] Cheney, Perry, and their children will remain there until 5:30 p.m., when they will be taken to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland (see 5:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ] Congressional leaders are also taken to the facility at Mount Weather throughout the day, after being evacuated from Washington (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 79-81]
The FBI interviews Eric Gill, a security guard at Dulles Airport who may have encountered some of the 9/11 hijackers attempting to access aircraft the night before 9/11 (see Around 8:15 p.m. September 10, 2001). Gill tells the FBI his story, but the FBI fails to show him a video it has found of the hijackers passing through an airport security checkpoint on 9/11, even though it is shown to all his colleagues, except the partner he was on duty with when he saw the hijackers. The FBI also obtains video of two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Salem Alhazmi, at Dulles on the day he says he saw another two of them, Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan Alshehhi, but does not show this video to him and this video will not be publicly mentioned until 2008. It is unclear what the FBI does with logs for a door through which Gill says the hijackers would have passed, but they are not shown to Gill. Two days later, the FBI shows him poor quality photocopied pictures of the hijackers and Gill identifies two of them as the people he saw on September 10, but the FBI then loses interest in him, as they think one of the men he identifies hijacked a plane from Boston, not Dulles. Another man who may have seen the hijackers the night before 9/11, Khalid Mahmoud, is taken away by the INS and does not return, presumably because he has been deported. Gill will speak to a 9/11 Commission staffer on the telephone about 18 months later, but nothing will come of this. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 281 ; Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 38-40, 43-5]
Attorney General John Ashcroft arrives at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), located on the fifth floor of its Washington, DC, headquarters. [CNN, 11/20/1998; 9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] Ashcroft has returned to Washington after his scheduled engagement in Milwaukee had to be aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003]
Ashcroft Heads to SIOC instead of Remote, Classified Site - After his plane landed at Reagan National Airport (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft was advised by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel had gone. But because the roads were clogged with traffic, at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, turned around and headed instead toward the SIOC. While on his way to the SIOC, Ashcroft ordered that senior Justice Department officials like Thompson, who was at the remote, classified site, meet him at the center. Ashcroft will later estimate that he arrives at the SIOC sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118-120]
Sophisticated Command Center Can Manage Multiple Crises - The FBI’s new, upgraded SIOC officially opened in November 1998. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The windowless, high-tech command center is 30,000 square feet in size. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120] It can seat 380 people, includes 20 rooms to support its operations, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. It functions as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. It is capable of handling up to five crises at once. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004] The SIOC was operational “[w]ithin minutes” of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to the FBI, and provides “analytical, logistical, and administrative support” for the FBI’s teams on the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003] Ashcroft will remain at the SIOC throughout the day, along with most of the FBI and Justice Department’s top officials (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129]
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks begin, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), at his Senate office, reportedly tells his aides, “This is war.” Within hours, McCain begins frequently appearing on television to discuss responding to the attacks. The New York Times will later say that McCain becomes “the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against al-Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.” For instance, on the morning of September 12, he says on ABC News, “There is a system out there or network, and that network is going to have to be attacked.” He adds on MSNBC, “It isn’t just Afghanistan.” In a CNN interview some days later, he says, “Very obviously Iraq is the first country.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
At around 9:30 p.m., Afghanistan time (1:00 p.m., New York time), Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil holds a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claims that the 9/11 attacks did not originate from Afghanistan. He reads a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which claims that Osama bin Laden also was not involved: “This type of terrorism is too great for one man,” the statement says. [New Yorker, 6/10/2002]
Members of President Bush’s staff decide to remove any nonessential passengers traveling with the president on Air Force One when it leaves Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and determine that they will leave behind some congressmen, numerous White House staffers, and most of the journalists that have been accompanying them. [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 118; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145; Rove, 2010, pp. 259]
Reporters Traveling with President Reduced to Five - While the president’s staffers are preparing to leave Barksdale, Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card pulls White House press secretary Ari Fleischer aside and tells him they need to reduce the number of people flying on the president’s plane. Usually, when the president flies, numerous personnel get to his destination ahead of him to prepare for his arrival, but at the present time, Bush’s support team is limited to those already on Air Force One. “Given the heightened sense of security,” Fleischer will later recall, “the Secret Service didn’t want the president to wait for the normal entourage to board the makeshift motorcade that would be assembled upon landing.” Card says the traveling White House staff is going to be reduced and the members of Congress on board will also be left behind at Barksdale, and he tells Fleischer to decrease the number of reporters flying with the president. Card wants the pool of reporters reduced from the current 13 to three, but agrees to Fleischer’s request to make it five. Fleischer decides the reporters that remain with them will be Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and soundman. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] White House assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe passes on the bad news to the reporters. While they are waiting on a bus to be driven back to Air Force One, he comes on board and tells them there will only be five seats on the president’s plane for the media. [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Reporters Angry at Being Left Behind - The reporters and nonessential personnel remaining at Barksdale Air Force Base will be standing on the tarmac and watching as Air Force One takes off from there, heading for its next destination (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 5/3/2011] Some of the reporters will be angry at being left behind. As the president and his entourage are approaching the plane, Reuters correspondent Steve Holland will shout out to Fleischer, “Ari, what about us?” Another angry reporter will call out, “Who’s in charge here, the military or the civilians?” [White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 146]
'Skeleton Crew' Remaining on Air Force One - As well as the eight reporters, others removed from the plane include Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Dan Miller (R-FL), Bush’s senior education adviser Sandy Kress, Bush’s personal aide Blake Gottesman, and several Secret Service agents. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001] Fleischer will recall that after the nonessential passengers have been left behind, those who continue on Air Force One are just “a skeleton crew.” [White House, 8/8/2002] Those remaining at Barksdale will be escorted to a building and stay there until another plane flies them from the base back to Washington, DC, later in the afternoon (see (3:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001]
Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Adam Putnam, Andrew Card, Ann Compton, Steve Holland, US Secret Service, Gordon Johndroe, Sonya Ross, Blake Gottesman, Doug Mills, Barnett A. (“Sandy”) Kress, Dan Miller
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
GTE customer service supervisor Lisa Jefferson had spoken with Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer for 13 minutes before his plane crashed (see 9:45 a.m.-9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Before heading home from work at 1 p.m., she is questioned by phone by three FBI agents, who asked her scores of questions about her conversation with Beamer. Later in the afternoon, an FBI agent phones her at home. He provides her with several numbers to call, should she remember further details about her conversation with Beamer. He also tells her to maintain secrecy about the call. Jefferson later describes, “In fact, he stressed the importance of keeping the matter under wraps.” [Jefferson and Middlebrooks, 2006, pp. 61-62 and 69] It is not until three days later that the FBI first releases information on the call, and that Beamer’s wife learns of it (see September 14, 2001). [Beamer and Abraham, 2002, pp. 185-186] It is unclear why the FBI wants it kept secret until then. Phone calls made by several other passengers from Flight 93 will be reported within a day of the attacks. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001]
From Barksdale Air Force Base, President Bush speaks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld informs the president that it had been an American Airlines plane that hit the Pentagon. Previously, there had been a question as to whether it was hit by a smaller plane or a helicopter. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 116] Rumsfeld also tells Bush, “This is not a criminal action. This is war.” Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough later reflects, “Rumsfeld’s instant declaration of war… took America from the Clinton administration’s view that terrorism was a criminal matter to the Bush administration’s view that terrorism was a global enemy to be destroyed.” [Washington Times, 2/23/2004] Bush reportedly tells Rumsfeld that there will “be a counterattack and that the military [will] not be hamstrung by politics the way it had been in Vietnam.” He says to Rumsfeld, “It’s a day of national tragedy and we’ll clean up the mess. And then the ball will be in your court and [incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dick Myers’s court to respond.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 116]
A short pre-recorded statement is broadcast on television, in which President Bush tells the nation that all appropriate security measures are being taken, and he assures people that “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117] The 219-word statement, lasting two minutes, was recorded about half an hour ago in a conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19]
Bush Says US Will Find and Punish Terrorists - Bush begins: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by faceless cowards. And freedom will be defended.” He continues: “Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” He reassures the public that he has been in contact with his colleagues in Washington, DC, and they “have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people. Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status, and we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.” He says, “[W]e will do whatever is necessary to protect America and Americans.” He concludes his statement, saying: “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; White House, 9/11/2001]
Bush Remains at Base after Speech Is Broadcast - After the president’s statement was recorded, Rich Del Haya, a military public relations officer at Barksdale, brought the videotape of it to a TV satellite truck outside the base. A technician there put the tape into a deck to be broadcast. However, the uplink failed twice. Finally, the third broadcast goes out to American TV screens. TV anchors emphasize that the president’s remarks are recorded, not live. “The implication,” journalist and author Bill Sammon will later write, “was that the White House had purposely delayed the airing of the tape in order to get a head start on the president’s next secret destination.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The 9/11 Commission Report will similarly state that “for security reasons,” Bush’s statement “was taped and not broadcast live.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to Sammon: “[T]he tape delay had been a function of mere logistics—there were no cables available at Barksdale for a live feed on such short notice. In fact, Bush remained at Barksdale more than half an hour after his taped speech was aired.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117]
Bush's Delivery of Statement Is 'Not Reassuring' - Some commentators will later be critical of Bush’s performance in delivering his statement. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will write: “The president’s eyes were red-rimmed when he walked in. His performance was not reassuring. He spoke haltingly, mispronouncing several words as he looked down at his notes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Howard Fineman of Newsweek will call the speech “the low point” in the president’s war on terrorism. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 116] Bush will comment that the “sentiment” of his speech “was right, but the setting—a sterile conference room at a military base in Louisiana—did not inspire much confidence.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133]
Logan Walters. [Source: SCF Partners]While he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, President Bush receives an intelligence report from the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), informing him that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is already more than 45 minutes since US airspace had been cleared of all aircraft except military and emergency flights (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush orders an underling to notify everyone at the ranch about this. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; CBS News, 9/2/2003] In the White House Situation Room, they are also informed of the rogue aircraft. Logan Walters, who is Bush’s personal aide, calls the ranch’s caretaker and tells him, “Get as far away from there as you can.” Senior national security official Franklin Miller then receives a phone call informing him that a combat air patrol (CAP) has been established over the ranch. [Draper, 2007, pp. 142] (A CAP is an aircraft patrol with the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] ) Miller heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to ask Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the CAP. Both men agree that it seems unnecessarily excessive. When Miller returns to the Situation Room, he sets about calling off the CAP, but finds that it wasn’t even established to begin with, and that, furthermore, the report of a rogue aircraft was a false alarm. [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] A threat to Air Force One had allegedly been received earlier on (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this too is later deemed to have been a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]
A Ryder truck. [Source: Ryder]Personnel in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado are informed that a truck, or a number of trucks, carrying men who appear to be Arabs is heading up the mountain toward the CMOC, but the apparent threat will turn out to be a false alarm. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002] A NORAD representative describes what CMOC personnel are told over the Pentagon’s air threat conference call, saying, “We just received some intel that eight Ryder vans may be en route to the Cheyenne Mountain complex.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] According to some accounts, though, only one vehicle—not eight—is reportedly heading toward the CMOC and this is carrying a number of Arab-looking men. CMOC personnel receive “an input that there [is] a yellow transport truck coming up the hill with seven Islamic folks in the front cab,” Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall. [BBC, 9/1/2002] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, there is a “rumor” going around the CMOC about a “Ryder rental truck full of explosives,” driven by “Arab-looking men,” that is “targeting the mountain.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] The source of the information about the truck, or trucks, supposedly approaching the CMOC is unstated.
Blast Doors Are Reportedly Shut due to the Threat - The massive blast doors leading to the CMOC are closed in response to this apparent threat, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says over the conference call, “Cheyenne Mountain is closing [the] blast doors in response to [a] possible threat of eight Ryder trucks en route from downtown to the Cheyenne Mountain complex.”
Threat Is a False Alarm - The supposed threat will turn out to be a false alarm. The NORAD representative will later report over the conference call: “I previously briefed [about a] possible eight Ryder trucks en route to Cheyenne Mountain. That threat has been negated. That is no longer a threat.” He will be asked if the report about the trucks was “an accurate assessment” or if someone had to “neutralize the force,” presumably meaning military action had to be taken against the trucks. The NORAD representative will answer simply, “We have no more details at this time.” It is unclear when CMOC personnel are alerted to the truck, or trucks, that is supposedly heading their way. The NORAD representative on the air threat conference call first mentions the trucks shortly after he reported that an unidentified aircraft had been spotted flying toward President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Bush was told about this aircraft at 1:05 p.m. (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001), which was presumably around the time that NORAD was alerted to it. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117] CMOC personnel presumably therefore learn about the truck, or trucks, supposedly heading their way shortly after 1:05 p.m.
Just hours after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, neoconservative writer and former CIA asset Michael Ledeen writes an op-ed at the National Review’s website attacking the more moderate “realists” in the Bush administration. Ledeen urges someone in the White House to remind President Bush that “we are still living with the consequences of Desert Storm [referencing the decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1991—see February 1991-1992 and September 1998] when his father and his father’s advisers—most notably Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft—advised against finishing the job and liberating Iraq.” Ledeen is clearly implying that Iraq is responsible for the attacks, and that Bush should “correct” his father’s mistake by invading Iraq. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215]
Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center. [Source: FAA]The pilots of a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is due to land in the US and is considered a possible hijacking, switch their plane’s transponder to transmit the code signaling a hijacking, even though the plane has not been hijacked. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 277-278] Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to New York, and which is currently heading for a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska. For reasons that are unclear, the plane’s pilots included the code signaling a hijacking in a text message they sent to their airline at 11:08 a.m. The FAA was notified of this and alerted controllers at its Anchorage Center to the suspicious flight (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA also alerted NORAD, which launched fighter jets to follow the aircraft (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Pilots Send Signal Indicating a Hijacking - Flight 85 entered the Anchorage Center’s airspace at around 1:00 p.m. The air traffic controller there who is handling the flight queried the pilots to determine whether their plane had been hijacked. He used a code word when speaking to them, as a way of covertly asking if the plane was hijacked, in case the crew was unable to speak openly over the radio. However the pilots offered no reassurance that their plane was secure. Instead, at 1:24 p.m., they switch the plane’s transponder (a device that sends information about an aircraft to controllers’ radar screens) to “7500”: the universal code that means a plane has been hijacked. This action sets off “a frenzy of activity,” according to USA Today. Within minutes, Alaska’s governor orders the evacuation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, as well as the evacuation of federal buildings and all large hotels in Anchorage.
FAA Wants Flight to Remain on Current Course - However, officials at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, are unconvinced that Flight 85 has been hijacked, and advise the Anchorage Center controllers not to redirect it. The Command Center is in contact with Korean Airlines headquarters, which is emphatically stating it has received no indication that Flight 85 is in trouble. Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the Command Center, urges the Anchorage Center controllers to keep seeking clarification from Flight 85’s pilots about the status of their aircraft. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277-278] But NORAD will instruct the controllers to direct the plane away from Anchorage (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278] Flight 85 will continue transmitting the hijack code from its transponder until it lands in Canada at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). Only then will officials be able to confirm that the flight has not been hijacked (see September 12, 2001).
Reason for False Alarm Unclear - No clear explanation will be given as to why the pilots of Flight 85 switch their transponder to the hijacking code. In August 2002, USA Today will state: “To this day, no one is certain why the pilots issued the alert.… The Korean pilots may have misinterpreted the controller’s comments as an order to reset the transponder.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278-279] Korean Airlines officials will say the pilot of Flight 85 believed that controllers at the Anchorage Center were directing him to send out the hijack signal. Administrator Michael Lim will say: “Our captain was following their instruction. They even told the captain to transmit code 7500, hijack code. Our captain, who realized how serious it is, they were just following instructions.” However, the airline will refuse to make available a tape recording of conversations between the pilot and its officials on the ground in Anchorage. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001]
The commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) orders air traffic controllers to redirect a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked, and warns that he will have the aircraft shot down if it refuses to change course. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 278]
Korean Jet Indicating Hijacking - Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 heading to New York, and which is currently due to land in Anchorage, Alaska, for a refueling stop. Although Flight 85 has not been hijacked, its pilots have given indications that the plane has been hijacked (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002] NORAD has been alerted, and Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, the ANR commander, has ordered fighter jets to take off and follow the aircraft (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Commander Threatens Shootdown - While the FAA wants Flight 85 to remain on its current course, ANR wants it redirected. Controllers at the FAA’s Anchorage Center repeatedly query the pilots, yet they give no reassurance that their plane has not been hijacked. Therefore, Schwartz decides he has had enough. He orders the Anchorage Center controllers to turn the aircraft, and says that if it refuses to divert and remains on its current course, he will have it shot down. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278] At some point, presumably around this time, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is contacted and gives his authorization for Flight 85 to be shot down if necessary (see (Shortly After 1:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/12/2002]
Plane Redirected to Remote Airport - Following Schwartz’s order, a controller instructs Flight 85 to head about 100 miles north of Anchorage, fly east, and then turn southeast for Yakutat, a fairly remote airport with a runway long enough to land the 747. As requested, the plane changes course, which shows those on the ground that its pilot is still in control.
NORAD Decides to Land Plane in Canada - However, weather conditions in Yakutat are deteriorating, and it is unclear whether that airport’s navigational aids and on-board maps are adequate to guide the plane over the risky mountainous terrain. Furthermore, FAA controllers discover that Flight 85 has less than an hour’s worth of fuel remaining. ANR personnel brainstorm over what to do, and decide to have the plane land at Whitehorse Airport in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Schwartz contacts the Canadian authorities and they agree to this. [Alaska Legislature. Joint Senate and House Armed Services Committee, 2/5/2002; Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002] Escorted by the fighter jets, Flight 85 will head to Whitehorse Airport and land there at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 278]
In the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, numerous key officials are assembled, including Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and others. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 18-19] A technician informs Libby that levels of carbon dioxide in the room have climbed too high. Libby remembers that excessive carbon dioxide can affect a person’s judgment, and arranges to have any non-essential personnel—comprising various lower-level aides—removed from the room. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, it is in fact David Addington, the vice president’s general counsel, who asks the lower-level officials to leave. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 343]
Deena Burnett, whose husband Tom Burnett was on Flight 93, is told by United Airlines it isn’t aware this plane has crashed. Deena had earlier on learned of an aircraft crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer with her informed her that this was her husband’s flight. Yet in her own book, published in 2006, Deena Burnett will describe that she now calls “United Airlines and asked about Flight 93. ‘Were there any survivors?’” She will recall: “They said they didn’t know the plane had even crashed. They suggested I call back or they would contact me when they knew something.” According to her own description, Deena appears to make this call shortly before 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time, meaning close to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 71-72 and 79] Yet by 10:15 a.m. ET, United Airlines’ headquarters had confirmed that an aircraft had crashed in Pennsylvania, and believed this was Flight 93 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47] And at 11:17 a.m. ET, the airline had issued a press release confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] At what time Deena Burnett hears back from United Airlines after making this call is unstated.
President Bush and Laura Bush with their dogs, Barney and Spot. [Source: White House]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is told by her Secret Service agents to be prepared to leave Washington, DC, for several days, and members of her staff then go to the White House to fetch some of her belongings. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] Bush is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, where she was brought for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] At the headquarters, there is “a debate over what to do with [President Bush] and what to do with me,” the first lady will later recall. Her Secret Service agents tell her “to be prepared to leave Washington for several days at least.” To help her prepare, several members of her staff briefly return to the White House and collect some of her belongings. They are escorted there at about 1:30 p.m., according to Noelia Rodriguez, Bush’s press secretary. Sarah Moss, Bush’s assistant, collects some of the first lady’s clothes. John Meyers, Bush’s advance man, collects the Bush family dogs, Spot and Barney, and the family cat, India. While they are at the White House, the first lady’s staffers also collect their own purses and keys. The Secret Service agent with them instructs them: “Be fast. Run. Get your things.” The staffers then return to the Secret Service headquarters. However, Bush and those with her at the headquarters subsequently learn that the president will be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It will therefore be decided that the first lady can stay in the capital. She will be taken to the White House at 6:30 p.m. (see 6:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 203]
Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 ; BBC, 9/1/2002]
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. [American History, 10/2006 ]
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117-118] After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. [American History, 10/2006 ] These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 119; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19, 26] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]
Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. [Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters traveling with President Bush that the administration received no warnings of the terrorist attacks that occurred this morning. During a press briefing on Air Force One after the plane takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), a reporter asks if Bush knows “anything more” about who is responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “That information is still being gathered and analyzed,” Fleischer replies. Fleischer is then asked, “Had there been any warnings that the president knew of?” to which he answers, simply, “No warnings.” He is then asked if Bush is “concerned about the fact that this attack of this severity happened with no warning?” In response, Fleischer changes the subject and fails to answer the question. In the coming days and weeks, senior administration officials, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, will similarly say there was “no specific threat” of the kind of attack that happened today. [White House, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 5/18/2002] The 9/11 Commission Report, however, will note, “Most of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented.” On August 6, Bush in fact received a Presidential Daily Brief that included an article titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 262] All the same, Fleischer will say in May 2002 that the answer he gave to reporters today, stating that there were no warnings of the attacks, was appropriate. “Flying on Air Force One, with the destruction of the attacks still visible on the plane’s TV sets, the only way to interpret that question was that it related to the attacks that we were in the midst of,” he will say. [New York Times, 5/18/2002] And according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Despite their large number, the threats received [in the summer of 2001] contained few specifics regarding time, place, method, or target.” The report will state, therefore, that the 9/11 Commission “cannot say for certain whether these reports, as dramatic as they were, related to the 9/11 attacks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 262-263]
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]
The chief fire officer who has been assigned to take charge of operations at WTC Building 7 meets with his command officer, to discuss the condition of this building and the fire department’s capabilities for controlling the fires in it. A deputy fire chief who has just been in WTC 7, inspecting up to its 7th or 8th floor, reports that there was a lot of fire inside and the stairway was filling with smoke. The fire chiefs discuss the situation and identify the following conditions:
WTC 7 has suffered damage caused by falling debris from the Twin Towers, and they are uncertain about its structural stability.
There are large fires on at least six floors.
They do not have enough equipment available for conducting operations in the building, such as hoses, standpipe kits, and handie-talkies.
There is no water immediately available for fighting the fires. (However, this concern is apparently contradicted by reports that two or three fireboats are moored nearby, specifically to provide water-pumping capacity for the WTC site.)
Therefore, at around 2:30 p.m., fire officers decide to completely abandon WTC 7 and a final order is given to evacuate the site. Firefighters and other emergency workers will be withdrawn from the surrounding area (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and Building 7 collapses later in the afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Firehouse (.com), 9/17/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 110-111]
The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007] Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).
The emergency operations facility in Mount Weather, Bluemont, Virginia (the entrance is shown on the left and the interior blast door is shown on the right). This is one of the Continuity of Government bunkers used on 9/11. [Source: ABC News] (click image to enlarge)It is later revealed that only hours after the 9/11 attacks, a US “shadow government” is formed. Initially deployed “on the fly,” executive directives on Continuity of Government in the face of a crisis that date back to the Reagan administration are put into effect. Approximately 100 midlevel officials are moved to underground bunkers and stay there 24 hours a day. Presumably among them are a number of FAA managers, members of a designated group of “shadow” managers, who slip away from their usual activities around midday. Officials rotate in and out of the shadow government on a 90-day cycle. While the measure is initially intended only as a temporary precaution, due to further assessment of the risk of terrorism, the White House will decide to make it a permanent feature of “the new reality.” A senior official tells CNN that major factors are the concern that al-Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device, and the “threat of some form of catastrophic event.” However, this same official will admit that the US has no confirmation, and “no solid evidence,” that al-Qaeda has such a nuclear device, and says that the consensus among top US officials is that the likelihood of this is “quite low.” When the existence of the shadow government is later revealed, some controversy will arise because it includes no Democrats. In fact, top congressional Democrats will remain unaware of it until journalists break the story months later. [CNN, 3/1/2002; Washington Post, 3/1/2002; CBS News, 3/2/2002; Freni, 2003, pp. 75]
On September 11—after the 9/11 attacks are over—the New York FBI office learns that one of the hijackers was Khalid Almihdhar. One of the FBI agents at the office, Steve Bongardt, had attempted to get permission to search for Almihdhar in late August, but was not allowed to do so. He wrote an e-mail on August 29 (see August 29, 2001) predicting that “someday someone will die… the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’” He will later testify that upon seeing Almihdhar’s name on one of the passenger flight manifests, he angrily yells, “This is the same Almihdhar we’ve been talking about for three months!” In an attempt to console him, his boss replies, “We did everything by the book.” Now that Bongardt is allowed to conduct a basic Internet search for Almihdhar that he had been denied permission to conduct before 9/11, he finds the hijacker’s address “within hours.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2002; US Congress, 12/11/2002] The FBI field office in San Diego also was not notified before 9/11 that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi had been put on a no-fly watch list on August 24, 2001 (see September 4-5, 2001). Bill Gore, the FBI agent running the San Diego office on this day, will later make reference to the fact that Alhazmi’s correct phone number and address were listed in the San Diego phone book, and say: “How could [we] have found these people when we didn’t know we were looking for them? The first place we would have looked is the phone book.… I submit to you we would have found them.” [US Congress, 12/11/2002]
James Schwartz. [Source: Arlington County, Virginia]Firefighting and other operations are severely disrupted when the Pentagon site is evacuated due to a report of an unidentified aircraft heading toward the Pentagon. Firefighters have to abandon their equipment and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 ] Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz orders the evacuation after the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport notifies the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of an inbound aircraft that is not identifying itself and is heading up the Potomac River at a high rate of speed. It is not known if this is a hijacked plane, but no aircraft other than military jets are now supposed to be in the air. The ECC then notifies Schwartz at the Pentagon. By the time he orders the evacuation, the aircraft is reportedly just two minutes away. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and A52 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 187] At one point, the controllers at Reagan Airport are reporting that the plane has disappeared from radar, though they do not say why they think this is. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Approaching Aircraft Is 'Friendly' - The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly.” [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193] According to the Arlington County After-Action Report, it turns out to have been a government aircraft flying Attorney General John Ashcroft back to Washington. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453] However, a 2002 FAA report will state that Ashcroft’s plane landed in Washington “just before noon” (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] If that report is correct, then the identity of the approaching aircraft is unclear.
Emergency Operations Disrupted - The firefighters and other emergency responders return to the Pentagon and resume their activities, but the evacuation has significantly disrupted firefighting operations, giving fires in some areas 30 minutes to gain ground. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193-194] The FBI’s evidence recovery operation has also been disrupted. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Evacuation Avoidable, Caused by Loss of FBI Presence - This evacuation is later determined to have been avoidable, and only necessary because of the loss of a senior FBI presence at the incident command post (ICP) at the Pentagon, which means there is no way for the ICP to verify whether the approaching aircraft is “friendly” or not. This loss is due to the FBI having relocated to the Virginia State Police Barracks shortly after midday (see (12:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The Arlington County After-Action Report will later conclude, “Friendly aircraft, carrying US government executives and escorted by fighter aircraft, should not have been cause for evacuation.” A previous evacuation of the Pentagon site due to reports of an approaching unidentified aircraft occurred around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and a third similar evacuation will occur on the morning of September 12 (see (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30-A31 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
The three F-16 fighter jets that launched from Langley Air Force Base to defend Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over the capital. The flight lead, Major Dean Eckmann, was refueling on a tanker when the order came for the three fighters to return to base. The two other pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig, immediately headed back to Langley and Eckmann joined them shortly after. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Longman, 2002, pp. 222; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277]
Fighters Kept Planes Away from Washington - During the four hours they were over Washington, the three F-16s, which belong to the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, kept aircraft away from the capital. According to Borgstrom, they only had to intercept a few planes. He will say: “It wasn’t intercept upon intercept. It was one here and, maybe 50 minutes later, one here. There was not a lot of it.” Borgstrom will recall that the three fighters were alone in flying a CAP over Washington for about the first hour, but were then joined by other aircraft “from all over the place.” By the time they headed back to Langley Air Force Base, Borgstrom will say that he “personally counted 17 other fighters in the CAP.” [Leslie Filson, 2002]
Pilots Learn Details of Attacks - The three pilots had been unaware of precisely why they were scrambled and did not realize the threat was from hijacked planes (see (9:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45] They only learn the details of the terrorist attacks after landing back at Langley. Borgstrom is surprised to see over a dozen trailers carrying missiles lined up near the runway. He will recall, “I thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’” because, “At this point, I still didn’t know it was airliners” that were involved in the attacks. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, it is only after they land that the three pilots learn about the World Trade Center towers collapsing. Eckmann learns of the collapses in a phone call with his wife. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002] Borgstrom asks his crew chief, “What else did they get?” As Borgstrom will later recall, the crew chief says he isn’t sure, “but he thought there was some others,” presumably meaning more planes and targets involved. Borgstrom recalls, “So at that point I was like, oh no, a really terrible thing has happened.” [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, the three pilots only learn about Flight 93 on the following day, September 12. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002]
The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center. [Source: FBI]Attorney General John Ashcroft spends most of the rest of the day at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), after arriving there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 129] The SIOC, which is located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC, functions as a 24-hour watch post and crisis management center. The huge, windowless center can seat 380 people, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. [CNN, 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/18/2004]
FBI Director Briefs Ashcroft - Ashcroft will later recall that when he arrives at the SIOC, the place is “teeming with people, abuzz with activity, voices and papers everywhere, with dozens of people coming in and out with bits and pieces of new information moment by moment.” Numerous rows of computer screens are “filled with data, and eight large video display screens were being monitored constantly.” Ashcroft is met by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who briefs him on what is so far known regarding the terrorist attacks.
Priority Is to Clear the Skies - During his initial period at the SIOC, Ashcroft will recall, the “overriding priority” is to make sure all commercial aircraft are on the ground. There are also concerns about some planes that have landed and individuals on them who might have been hijackers, and concerns about securing airports so that flights can get up and running again as soon as possible. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 120-121]
SIOC Is 'the Place to Be to Get Information' - Most of the leading Justice Department and FBI officials remain at the SIOC throughout the day. Other officials in the center along with Ashcroft and Mueller include Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; US Department of Justice, 9/12/2001] According to Ashcroft, the SIOC is “the place to be to get information, and so everyone wanted to be there.” [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Ashcroft will later recall, “I spent the hours, days, and most of the first weeks, months, after the attack on the United States in the [SIOC].” He will add, “That day, in those early hours, the prevention of terrorist attacks became the central goal of the law enforcement and national security mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” [CNN, 5/30/2002]
The driver of a refueling truck at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, mistakenly concludes that one of the three F-16 fighter jets that launched from the base to defend Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and that recently landed back there (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001) shot down Flight 93. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 277]
One Fighter Launched without Missiles - One of the F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base was piloted by Captain Craig Borgstrom. However, Borgstrom was not one of the two pilots at the base on “alert” duty this morning. Consequently, he had taken off in a third, spare fighter in response to the call for help (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Unlike the F-16s belonging to the two pilots on alert duty, Borgstrom’s plane carried no missiles. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 118-119]
Driver Thinks Borgstrom Shot Down Flight 93 - One of the alert pilots, Major Brad Derrig, will later recall, “Confusion arose because Borgstrom had no missiles when he took off and that was noticed when he landed.” [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003] The driver of a refueling truck, who is unaware that Borgstrom had taken off without any missiles, now notices that Borgstrom’s plane has no missiles hanging from its wings. According to author Lynn Spencer, the driver “knows that United 93 has gone down and now he surmises who took it down.” The following day, the driver will voice his suspicion to Borgstrom, and Borgstrom will clarify to him what actually happened. But, according to Spencer, “in the interim, a rumor is started that makes its way onto the Internet and will haunt the pilots for years to come,” that Flight 93 was shot down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 277]
Other Evidence Indicates Shootdown - However, there are other factors that lead to the suspicion that Flight 93 was shot down by the US military. For example, a number of early news reports—published hours before the three fighters landed back at Langley—stated the possibility of a plane having been shot down (see 11:28 a.m.-11:50 a.m. September 11, 2001), and what appears to be debris from a plane is discovered far away from the main Flight 93 crash site (see (Before 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 13, 2001). [TCM Breaking News, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/13/2001; Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002]
The three fighter pilots that launched from Langley Air Force Base to defend Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) sign a letter in which they confirm that they did not shoot down any aircraft on 9/11. At some point after the pilots, who belong to the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, land their fighter jets back at base (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), one of them, Captain Craig Borgstrom, speaks over the phone with Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region (CONR). According to Borgstrom, who will later recall that Arnold phones him either on September 11 “or in [the] next day or two,” the CONR commander requests “a detailed, in writing, accounting of what happened that day.” Consequently, as another of the three pilots—Major Brad Derrig—will recall, “all three pilots signed a letter to 1st Air Force certifying that they had not shot down an aircraft.” Borgstrom will say he believes that “ammunition records were checked” as a part of the response to the 1st Air Force. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003] Some early news reports suggested the possibility of a plane having been shot down by the US military (see 11:28 a.m.-11:50 a.m. September 11, 2001), and what appears to be debris from a plane is discovered far away from the main Flight 93 crash site (see (Before 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 13, 2001). [TCM Breaking News, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/13/2001; Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002] But in later interviews with the media and the 9/11 Commission, the three 119th Fighter Wing pilots will state that they received no orders to shoot down a commercial airliner, and did not shoot down any planes on 9/11. [New York Times, 11/15/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 222; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003]
Logo of the International Islamic Relief Organization. [Source: International Islamic Relief Organization]A man is questioned by the police after being noticed behaving suspiciously near the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and found to belong to an organization with links to terrorism. Suspicions are raised about the man after he is observed following members of the press around the Capitol building and trying to listen in on their conversations. The man is subsequently held by the Capitol Police and questioned. His name is found to be “Shaykh M. Zacharias,” according to an FAA log. He is a member of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), is employed by a non-governmental organization in Nairobi, Kenya, and is “somehow connected” to the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The police have permission to search his hotel room, according to the FAA log. Further details of what, if anything, inquiries into the man discover are unstated. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] The IIRO, of which he is a member, is a charity funded by the Saudi Arabian government and private Saudi individuals. [Emerson, 2002, pp. 157] Police believe it is a front for financing terrorism. [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002]
The two F-15 fighter jets that launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over New York City. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 10/2/2002] The F-15s, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, are piloted by Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy. [Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 35]
Fighters Intercepted about 100 Aircraft - Duffy and Nash’s job during the CAP was to identify and divert all aircraft from the Manhattan area. Duffy will later recall, “We would pull up next to them and tip our wings or fly across in front of them to get them to leave the area.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 ] He will say that during their time flying over Manhattan, “All of the sudden, you get contacts coming toward the city that are unidentified and aren’t talking to anybody, and we were getting real nervous.” [Filson, 10/22/2002] Duffy will estimate that the two fighters intercepted and escorted about 100 aircraft in total, including emergency, military, and news helicopters, plus dozens of small private planes whose pilots were unaware of the attacks on New York. Some of those pilots had seen the smoke over the city and decided to investigate. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]
One Fighter over Manhattan at All Times - Duffy and Nash had alternated their responsibilities, so that one of them would remain over Manhattan at all times while the other would intercept aircraft or be refueled by a tanker plane over the ocean (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying the CAP for about two hours, they were joined by a couple more F-15s from Otis Air Base (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). While those jets flew at around 18,000 feet, Nash and Duffy remained at around 10,000 feet. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 10/2/2002; Filson, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 ] Eventually, after several hours flying over Manhattan, Nash and Duffy were ordered to return to their base.
Base Hectic with Activity - Upon landing, they find that Otis Air Base is very different to how it was when they took off. Rows and rows of their unit’s fighters are lined up near the runway, surrounded by about 100 maintenance personnel who are frantically working to prepare the aircraft for battle. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 273-274] Armed security officers in flak jackets are guarding every entrance to the base; personnel are swarming in the buildings; and officers are trying to locate all the reserve pilots.
Pilot Learns of Pentagon Attack - The two fighter pilots had been poorly informed about what was going on regarding the terrorist attacks, and were only told in passing by an air traffic controller that there had been an attack in Washington (see (8:53 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After he gets out of his plane, Nash is informed by a crew member that an aircraft crashed into the Pentagon. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Michael Bronner, 2006] Nash and Duffy subsequently go to their unit’s “intelligence shop” and describe what they have done since taking off from the base hours earlier. [Filson, 10/2/2002]
No relatives of the Flight 93 passengers are waiting at San Francisco International Airport at the time when the plane is scheduled to have arrived there. A counseling center has been set up at the airport for any relatives that might show up, and dozens of clergy members gave gathered at United Airlines’ VIP lounge to await the families. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown has arranged to come and meet them. But at 11:15 a.m. Pacific Time (2:15 p.m. Eastern Time), when Flight 93 was scheduled to arrive, no family members have shown up, nor have any arrived by midday (3:00 p.m. ET). Willie Brown cancels his trip to meet the families when it appears none will show up. Knight Ridder will suggest the reason no relatives have come is that United Airlines employees contacted many of them before they left home. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Knight Ridder, 9/12/2001] Also, United Airlines publicly confirmed that Flight 93 had crashed several hours earlier (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), so passengers’ relatives may have realized for themselves what has happened by now. [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] Another possible factor could be that many of the passengers—at least 16 out of a mere 33—were not originally scheduled to be on Flight 93, and only arranged to be on it at the last minute or switched from another flight (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001-Early Morning September 11, 2001), so their relatives may not initially realize they had been on the plane. [New York Times, 9/11/2002] In contrast, some relatives of passengers on the other three hijacked planes have gone to Los Angeles International Airport, the destination of those planes: The New York Times will describe “a few grieving relatives” there, and the Associated Press describes, “In Los Angeles, several dozen relatives met grief counselors at an airport hotel.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001]
One of the pilots of the two F-15s from the 102nd Fighter Wing that took off in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) is told by a colleague that the military has shot down an aircraft over Pennsylvania. After the fighter pilots, Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, land at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, having spent the past few hours flying a combat air patrol over New York (see (2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), a “bunch of people” at the base start telling them “what was going on,” Nash will later recall. A crew chief tells Nash that an F-16 fighter jet shot down a fourth airliner over Pennsylvania. Nash will comment, “Obviously that wasn’t true, so there were lots of rumors floating around.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 10/2/2002] Some early news reports suggested the possibility of a plane having been shot down by the US military (see 11:28 a.m.-11:50 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Forbes, 9/11/2001; TCM Breaking News, 9/11/2001] But the Pentagon has by now informed the White House that the military did not shoot down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania (see (Shortly After 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
The FAA announces that there will be no commercial air traffic in the United States for at least a day. According to CNN, the FAA says this operating status will remain until noon on September 12, “at the earliest.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; CBS News, 2002, pp. 15]
Two sections from RumsfeldÃ¢Â€Â™s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone. [Source: Defense Department]Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” [CBS News, 9/4/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 285] In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 18]
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announces that the New York City subway and bus service has been partially restored. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
Don Nickles. [Source: Publicity photo]Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002]
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115-116]
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326]
The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker. [Source: CBC]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Offutt is the home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; US Air Force, 9/6/2011] The large base is one of the most heavily defended in the US. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Personnel there were told earlier in the day that the president might come to Offutt during the crisis but they only received confirmation that he would be landing at the base about 20 to 30 minutes ago. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/9/2016] They have, however, taken the initiative to start preparing for his arrival. “There were pretty wide-scale preparations going on anticipating that the president might come, without knowing for sure, even before we got notice that he was coming,” Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, will later recall. “We’d started to evacuate the main quarters that could be used for VIPs and install some of the protection there that’d be needed in case [Bush] needed to spend the night,” Mies will say. [NET News, 12/27/2011; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Journalists on Air Force One were not told they would be landing at Offutt. However, they learned what was happening when they saw a local television channel showing the plane arriving at the base (see (2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 198; Sammon, 2002, pp. 120-121; Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 138] Bush will get off the plane about 10 minutes after it lands and then be taken to an underground command center (see (3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] He will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference while he is at the base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Personnel at Offutt were the middle of a major training exercise called Global Guardian when America came under attack this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), although the exercise has now been canceled (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Schmitt and Shanker, 2011, pp. 22]
A local television channel shows live coverage of Air Force One, the president’s plane, landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 198; Sammon, 2002, pp. 120-121; Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 138] Air Force One, accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets, arrives at Offutt at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] As it is coming in to land, reporters on the plane notice the television in the press cabin showing a local Nebraska news affiliate interrupting the national coverage of the terrorist attacks in order to show live video of Air Force One descending toward Offutt. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 120-121] “We had the eerie experience of watching ourselves landing live on the local TV channel broadcast in our cabin,” Ann Compton of ABC Radio, who is traveling with the president, will later comment. [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 198] It is unclear why local news crews are at Offutt in time to report Air Force One arriving there. Personnel at the base only learned the president’s plane would be landing there about 20 to 30 minutes ago. [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; NET News, 12/27/2011] And reporters on Air Force One were not told that the plane was going to land at Offutt. [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 198; Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 138] According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Nebraska reporters “instinctively gathered outside the gates of the local air base at this time of national crisis.” These reporters have “made no agreement with the White House to keep the president’s location a secret,” which is presumably why Air Force One’s arrival at Offutt is being shown live on television. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 120] Earlier today, a local television channel reported the arrival of Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, even though the president’s location was meant to be a secret (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Salon, 9/12/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 258]
James L. Jones. [Source: US Marine Corps]The Navy establishes a new command center at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Virginia, after its original command center was destroyed in the attack on the Pentagon. The original Navy Command Center, located on the first floor of the Pentagon, provided Navy leaders with timely information and intelligence about operations around the world. But it was destroyed, and many of its personnel died, when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 133] Reportedly, 70 percent of the Navy’s spaces in the Pentagon were damaged or destroyed in the Pentagon attack. [Navy Times, 10/1/2001]
Navy Invited to Join Marines at Navy Annex - General James Jones, the commandant of the Marine Corps, therefore invited several of his Navy counterparts and their staffs to co-locate with the Marine Corps at the Navy Annex. [Sea Power, 1/2002] The Navy Annex is a huge building located a few hundred yards uphill from the Pentagon. It has enough room for 6,000 employees. Currently, about 100 Navy personnel work in it, and most of the space is used by the Marine Corps. [American Forces Press Service, 9/24/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 14; GlobalSecurity (.org), 5/7/2011] It is the location of the Marine Corps Command Center. [Sea Power, 1/2002] Admiral William Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations, has consequently made arrangements for the Navy’s leadership and support personnel to move to the Navy Annex. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 133]
Building Manager Unhappy about Moving People to Navy Annex - At around 3:00 p.m., Coneleous Alexander, a building manager at the Navy Annex, learns from one of the Marine Corps administrative managers of the plan to relocate the Navy Command Center to his building. The new command center will be set up in an area on the fourth floor that, Alexander will later say, “had been demolished for use by the build out for ballistic missiles.” [Naval Historical Center, 12/21/2001] It is unclear from Alexander’s account whether he means that missiles are being stored at the Navy Annex, or is referring to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which has been housed at the Navy Annex since February this year. [US Department of Defense, 11/30/2001; US Air Force Academy, 5/2/2002] Alexander is unsure whether it is a good idea to move personnel to the Navy Annex. One reason for his uncertainty, he will say, is “the ballistic missiles” being there. He thinks a better choice would be to move people to Henderson Hall, the Marine Corps headquarters, which is located next to the Navy Annex.
Only Mission-Essential Personnel Allowed into Building - All the same, Marines start moving equipment into the Navy Annex, and maintenance crews set up portable air conditioners and exhaust fans for the Navy’s new command center there. It is decided that, due to the fear of another attack, only mission-essential personnel may enter the building. [Naval Historical Center, 12/21/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 133] While some Navy staffs will be able to promptly return to their spaces at the Pentagon, others have to temporarily move to offices at locations that, as well as the Navy Annex, include the Washington Navy Yard and Northern Virginia’s Crystal City office complex. [Navy Times, 10/1/2001]
President Bush gets off Air Force One and is taken to a command center several stories underground at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] At 2:50 p.m., the president’s plane landed at Offutt, home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] About 10 minutes later, Bush emerges from the plane. [Salon, 9/12/2001] Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, along with a driver and a Secret Service agent, has come in a car to meet Air Force One on the runway. After getting off the plane, Bush gets into the back of the car with Mies. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 121; NET News, 12/27/2011; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] His staffers, meanwhile, get onto buses. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ] The vehicles are driven away from the plane and across the large base. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 121]
Bush Goes to the Underground Command Center - Bush and his staffers are then taken to Stratcom’s underground command center. [CBS News, 9/2/2003] They are taken by Mies through the center’s fire escape in order to reach it. [NET News, 12/27/2011; Omaha World-Herald, 9/9/2016] They are driven to a small, concrete building, resembling a hut, go through a door in it, and then head down a staircase. [White House, 8/12/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 147-148] “We went down and down and down, pretty far underground,” Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, will later recall. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] “It’s a long way down,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will describe, “and then you emerge and go through a series of hallways and special doors, blast doors… and then you enter into a conference center, which is… several stories underground.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Means Extra People Are in the Command Center - The command center, according to author James Bamford, is “a cavernous two-story war room with banks of dark wooden desks curved away from a giant projection screen on which [is] displayed the status of military forces around the world.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] Eight giant video screens are loaded with data and numerous military personnel are seated at computer terminals that are hooked into satellites monitoring activities around the world. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] Stratcom was in the middle of a major training exercise, called Global Guardian, when the attacks began this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and consequently many more people are in the command center than would normally be there.
Bush Is Briefed on the Attacks - When Bush enters, Rear Admiral Jay Donnelly, the operations officer in the center, announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president.” Everyone comes to attention. Bush then tells them to sit down. Mies gives Bush a briefing in the command center. “The president sat down and I briefed him on what each of [the] screens was displaying,” he will recall, adding, “Gave him, as best I could, an update from [Stratcom’s] perspective of what was happening based on what we knew.” [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; NET News, 12/27/2011] After being briefed, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, will be taken to a teleconference center. [CBS News, 9/2/2003; Rove, 2010, pp. 261] There, Bush will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; NET News, 12/27/2011]
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
[Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26] He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke, 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet, 2007, pp. 169] The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]
Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, announces that the last of the aircraft inbound to the United States has landed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] At 10:21 a.m., the FAA ordered the diversion of all international flights inbound to the US (see 10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most flights that were close to US shores then headed for Canada, while other flights headed back to the airports they had come from. [Time, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] In total, 239 diverted aircraft have landed at Canadian airports. Most of them had been heading to the US from Europe. [NAV Canada, 7/22/2005]
A Boeing 757 takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to fly a group of reporters, congressmen, White House staffers, and Secret Service agents to Washington, DC. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 259; National Journal, 5/3/2011] The group consists of individuals considered nonessential passengers that had been traveling on Air Force One, whom members of President Bush’s staff decided to leave behind when the president’s plane departed from Barksdale (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It includes eight reporters, two congressmen, numerous White House staffers, and several Secret Service agents. After Air Force One took off from the base earlier in the afternoon to fly the president to his next destination (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), these individuals were escorted to a building, where they remained until the plane arrived for them. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145] Blake Gottesman, Bush’s personal assistant, who was among those left behind at Barksdale, was given the task of getting the group back to Washington. He has been able to commandeer a Boeing 757 from the Air Force’s Special Missions Fleet. [Rove, 2010, pp. 259] This plane was sent from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, to Barksdale. [Rochester Review, 9/2004] It is painted with the “United States of America” label, and has an office, a private cabin, and all-first class seats. It has in fact been used previously as Air Force One. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] About two hours after the president and his entourage left Barksdale, the plane takes off from the base with the group of former Air Force One passengers on board. [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165] It lands at Andrews Air Force Base around 5:00 p.m. [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; National Journal, 5/3/2011] Reuters correspondent Arshad Mohammed, who is on the plane, will later comment, “It’s sort of amazing that they got us back to DC that same day when planes were locked down all over the country.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 165]
Yaron Shmuel, one of the five Israelis found in the van. [Source: Public domain via Israeli television]The FBI issues a BOLO (be on lookout) bulletin for three suspicious men who were seen leaving the New Jersey waterfront minutes after the first hijacked plane hit the WTC (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Law enforcement officers in the greater New York City area are warned in a radio dispatch to watch for a “vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack.” The bulletin reads, in part: “White, 2000 Chevrolet van…with ‘Urban Moving Systems’ sign on back seen at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, at the time of first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center…. Three individuals with van were seen celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and detain individuals.” The van is located a short time later and five men inside it are arrested (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CounterPunch, 2/7/2007]
Robert J. Darling. [Source: Robert J. Darling]Government and military officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that the FBI’s crisis response team wants to be flown from California back to Washington, DC, and, because of the team’s crucial role in responding to terrorism, they arrange a flight for it as a matter of priority. [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-75] The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and was therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 75]
FBI San Francisco Office Arranges to Get Team to Washington - Two agents belonging to the CIRG learned of the attacks when the FBI’s San Francisco field office phoned them just before 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time) and alerted them to the events in New York. The agents quickly went to the field office, where Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge, gave them the details of what had happened, and told them to get their team together and head to the San Francisco airport. Gebhardt said that although US airspace was closed to all commercial air traffic (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he would do what he could to get the CIRG transported back to Washington as soon as possible. The team members therefore packed their gear and went to the airport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/18/2004; Darling, 2010, pp. 75-76]
Transporting Unit Home Becomes 'Priority' at White House - In the PEOC, Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, is called by a senior member of the FBI, who requests airlift support for the CIRG. The request is quickly passed to Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff. Hagin hands it back to Irwin and says: “I want you to get these folks back to DC immediately! Let the military know this is a White House priority.” The task of getting the CIRG back to Washington is then passed to Major Robert Darling, the White House Military Office airlift operations liaison officer, who is also in the PEOC. It becomes his “number-one mission priority.” The CIRG is the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks. Therefore, “It made perfect sense,” Darling will later comment, “that the president would want them home and at the ready, given the day’s events.”
United Airlines Offers to Provide Aircraft - After learning that the FBI has essential personnel trying to return to Washington, United Airlines quickly offers its services. If the White House can authorize an aircraft to fly under the Special Assignment Air Mission designator, the airline says, it will provide the required aircraft and crew immediately. With the approval of Hagin and a phone call to NORAD, United Airlines Flight 8811 is authorized to transport the CIRG back to Washington. “Within the hour” of this authorization being given, according to Darling, the CIRG members will take off from San Francisco and head back to Washington (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76]
White House adviser Karen Hughes briefly speaks to the media and says President Bush is at an undisclosed location, taking part in a video conference. This is possibly the only in-person media appearance by any Bush administration official since the attacks and until a news conference by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at 6:40 p.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
The white van used by five Israeli agents as they were leaving New York on 9/11.Five Israelis are arrested for “puzzling behavior” related to the WTC attacks. Shortly after an FBI lookout bulletin was issued for a van with the words “Urban Moving Systems” written on the side, officers with the East Rutherford Police Department in New Jersey stop the van after matching the license plate number with the one given in the bulletin. According to the police report, Officer Scott DeCarlo and Sgt. Dennis Rivelli approach the van and demand the driver exit the vehicle. The driver, Sivan Kurzberg, does not obey after being asked several more times, so the police physically remove Kurzberg and four other men from the van and handcuff them. They have not been told the reasons for their arrest, but Kurzberg tells them, “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” Again before the police have made any mention of the 9/11 attacks, another one of the arrested men says, “[W]e were on the West Side Highway in New York City during the incident.” In fact, it will later be determined they were on the roof of a building at Liberty State Park, watching and videotaping the first crash into the WTC (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bergen Record, 9/12/2001; Ha'aretz, 9/17/2001; CounterPunch, 2/7/2007] The FBI and additional police quickly arrive. They shut down the section of Route 3 in East Rutherford where the van was stopped and evacuate a nearby hotel as a security precaution. [Bergen Record, 9/12/2001] One man is found with $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock, another has two foreign passports on him, and a box cutter is found in the van. [ABC News, 6/21/2002] Another has pictures of the men standing with the burning wreckage of the WTC in the background. [Forward, 3/15/2002] All five identify themselves as Israeli citizens and claim to be working for the New Jersey-based Urban Moving Systems company. In addition to the driver Sivan Kurzberg, the others are identified as Paul Kurzberg (Sivan’s brother), Oded Ellner, Omer Marmari, and Yaron Shmuel. The men are detained but not charged. [Forward, 3/15/2002; ABC News, 6/21/2002] The next day it will be reported that “bomb-sniffing dogs reacted as if they had detected explosives.” An investigator high up in the Bergen County law enforcement hierarchy will say in 2006, “There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted…. It looked like they’re hooked in with this [referring to the 9/11 attacks]. It looked like they knew what was going to happen.…It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park.” [Bergen Record, 9/12/2001] The FBI will later conclude at least two of the five are Mossad agents and that all were on a Mossad surveillance mission. The FBI interrogates them for weeks. [Forward, 3/15/2002] They are held on immigration violation charges, but will be released 71 days later (see November 20, 2001). [ABC News, 6/21/2002]
Entity Tags: Yaron Shmuel, Sivan Kurzberg, Urban Moving Systems, World Trade Center, Paul Kurzberg, Scott DeCarlo, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dennis Rivelli, Omer Marmari, Oded Ellner, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ] But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is tasked to come up with actions that can be taken immediately to strike back at al-Qaeda. According to Michael Scheuer, the first head of Alec Station, one of the most promising ideas considered is to ask other countries to raid Islamist charity fronts and seize computers and documents. Scheuer will later assert that the “suggested raids would have netted far more relevant data on how the [charity front-al-Qaeda link] worked than we ever had before.” However, he claims the White House rejects the idea because of concerns that it would offend Muslim popular opinion. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 306]
Later in the day of 9/11, weapons are found planted on board three US airplanes. A US official will say, “These look like inside jobs.” Time magazine will later report, “Sources tell Time that US officials are investigating whether the hijackers had accomplices deep inside the airports’ ‘secure’ areas.” [Time, 9/22/2001] Penetrating airport security does not appear to have been that difficult: Argenbright, the company in charge of security at all the airports used by the hijackers, had virtually no security check on any of its employees, and even hired criminals and illegal immigrants. Security appears to be particularly abysmal at Boston’s Logan Airport, even after 9/11. [Boston Globe, 10/1/2001; CNN, 10/12/2001] An FAA official had similar concerns about two other security contractors at Logan Airport: Huntleigh USA, a subsidiary of ICTS International NV, a large Israeli security company, and Globe Aviation. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 1/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004, pp. 6 ]
Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45, C47 ; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010] But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C47 ] The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41 ]
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C3, C45 ; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/6/2006] The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003]
CNN reports US officials say there are “good indications” that Osama bin Laden is involved in the attacks, based on “new and specific” information developed since the attacks. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
Brian Stafford. [Source: Publicity photo]President Bush reportedly had begun his video conference call with the National Security Council (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001) by announcing, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 21] Toward the end of this meeting, around 4 p.m., Secret Service Director Brian Stafford tells Bush, “Our position is stay where you are. It’s not safe.” The Secret Service reportedly wants to keep the president where he is, at Offutt Air Force Base, overnight, and—according to some later accounts—indefinitely. To Stafford’s surprise, Bush ignores his advice and tells him, “I’m coming back.” Leaving the meeting, Bush tells his staff, “We’re going home.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Woodward, 2002, pp. 28] Bush adviser Karl Rove later claims that, around this time, there are concerns that several planes still remain unaccounted for (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Building 7 of the World Trade Center, located across the street from the Twin Towers, caught fire after the initial attacks on the WTC. [CNN, 9/12/2001] By 4:10 in the afternoon, CNN had reported it being on fire (see 4:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). Subsequently it is reported that WTC 7 is in danger of collapsing or may have already collapsed. At around 4:15 p.m., CNN reports, “We’re getting information that one of the other buildings… Building 7… is on fire and has either collapsed or is collapsing… now we’re told there is a fire there and that the building may collapse as well.” About 12 minutes later, BBC reporter Greg Barrow, who is in New York, appears on the BBC radio channel Five Live and says, “We are hearing reports from local media that another building may have caught light and is in danger of collapse.” He adds, “I’m not sure if it has yet collapsed but the report we have is talking about Building 7.” Around this time, the area around Building 7 is being evacuated, apparently because senior firefighters have determined it is in danger of collapsing (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). At 4:53, based on the earlier reports, the Radio Five Live show’s presenter will incorrectly claim that Building 7 has already collapsed, saying, “Twenty-five minutes ago we had reports from Greg Barrow that another large building has collapsed just over an hour ago.” [BBC, 3/2/2007] Starting at 4:54, BBC television will also begin reporting that Building 7 has already collapsed (see 4:54 p.m.-5:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). In fact, it does not do so until 5:20 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Fred Simms. [Source: Con Edison]After the fire department informs it that Building 7 of the World Trade Center could collapse, New York power company Con Edison shuts off power to this building. [9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ] Con Edison has a major electrical substation on the first and second floors of WTC 7. [New York Times, 9/11/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 5] Its representatives who had been in WTC 7 did not think that the building would come down. But, at 4:15 p.m., Con Edison emergency field manager Fred Simms speaks to the New York Fire Department and then tells his company’s headquarters that the fire department thinks WTC 7 will collapse. The fire department then asks Con Edison to shut down the power to WTC 7, which it does. [City of New York, 6/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ] Electric power to Con Edison’s lower Manhattan substation at WTC 7 is shut off at 4:33 p.m. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 303 ] Also around this time, people are evacuated from the area around WTC 7, due to concerns that the building could collapse (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kansas City Star, 3/28/2004] WTC 7, a 47-story tower located just to the north of the main WTC complex, will come down at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. xxxv] The Con Edison electrical substation below it will be destroyed in this collapse. [New York Times, 9/11/2002]
After President Bush leaves his video conference, other top leaders continue to discuss what steps to take. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks what to do about al-Qaeda, assuming they are behind the attacks. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage states, “Look, we told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that if this happened, it’s their ass. No difference between the Taliban and al-Qaeda now. They both go down.” Regarding Pakistan, the Taliban’s patrons, Armitage says, “Tell them to get out of the way. We have to eliminate the sanctuary.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 22-23]
Members of Laura Bush’s staff who are with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, go to the White House and then head home. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Most of Bush’s staffers are with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters, having been with Bush for her scheduled appearance on Capitol Hill this morning. (Bush’s other staffers stayed behind at the White House.) [ABC, 9/18/2001 ] They were brought to the headquarters for their own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] Some of them briefly returned to the White House earlier in the afternoon, to collect some of Bush’s belongings (see (1:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Members of Bush’s staff now leave the Secret Service headquarters and go to the White House a final time. There, they have to show a Secret Service agent their IDs. “Then,” according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, “it was time to go home.” The first lady will head back to the White House at 6:30 p.m. (see 6:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 203]
According to numerous rescue and recovery workers, the area around World Trade Center Building 7 is evacuated at this time. [Kansas City Star, 3/28/2004] For example:
Emergency medical technician Joseph Fortis says, “They pulled us all back at the time, almost about an hour before it, because they were sure—they knew it was going to come down, but they weren’t sure.” [City of New York, 11/9/2001]
Firefighter Edward Kennedy says, “I remember [Chief Visconti] screaming about 7, No. 7, that they wanted everybody away from 7 because 7 was definitely going to collapse.” [City of New York, 1/17/2002]
Firefighter Vincent Massa: “They were concerned about seven coming down, and they kept changing us, establishing a collapse zone and backing us up.” [City of New York, 12/4/2001]
Firefighter Tiernach Cassidy: “[B]uilding seven was in eminent collapse. They blew the horns. They said everyone clear the area until we got that last civilian out.” [City of New York, 12/30/2001]
Battalion Fire Chief John Norman: “I was detailed to make sure the collapse zone for 7 WTC had been set up and was being maintained.” [Fire Engineering, 10/2002]
Several New York Fire Department chief officers, who have surveyed Building 7, have apparently determined it is in danger of collapsing. [Fire Engineering, 9/2002] For example, Fire Chief Daniel Nigro explains their decision-making process, saying: “A number of fire officers and companies assessed the damage to the building. The appraisals indicated that the building’s integrity was in serious doubt. I issued the orders to pull back the firefighters and define the collapse zone.” [Fire Engineering, 9/2002] Fire Chief Frank Fellini says, “We were concerned that the fires on several floors and the missing steel would result in the building collapsing.” [City of New York, 12/3/2001] And Fire Captain Ray Goldbach says, “[W]e made a decision to take all of our units out of 7 World Trade Center because there was a potential for collapse.” [City of New York, 10/24/2001] However, some firefighters seem surprised at this decision. When Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen is making his way through hundreds of firefighters who are being held away from the WTC site, he hears complaints like, “It could take days for that building to come down,” and, “Why don’t they let us in there?” [Essen, 2002, pp. 45] When Deputy Fire Chief Nick Visconti is instructing firefighters to evacuate the area, one comment he receives is, “[O]h, that building is never coming down, that didn’t get hit by a plane, why isn’t somebody in there putting the fire out?” [Firehouse Magazine, 9/9/2002]
Entity Tags: Joseph Fortis, Daniel Nigro, Nick Visconti, Ray Goldbach, Tiernach Cassidy, Frank Fellini, Thomas Von Essen, Edward Kennedy (firefighter), Vincent Massa, John Norman, World Trade Center
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman, Montana. [Source: Gallatin Field Airport]Several dozen emergency management officials and federal staff from Eastern US states, including Virginia and Washington, DC, are flown back to their home states from Montana. They are among hundreds of emergency management personnel who have been attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) in Big Sky, Montana, which began on September 8 (see September 8-11, 2001). [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 ] The emergency managers learned of the attacks in New York while waiting to participate in a series of conference sessions on domestic preparedness (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [State Government News, 10/2001 ; Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002] The conference’s organizers then began arranging for military aircraft to fly state emergency management leaders back to their capitals. [New York Times, 9/12/2001]
Seven Hours before Plane Cleared to Fly Managers Home - An Air Force C-17 cargo plane now flies more than 40 emergency managers and federal staff from the airport in Bozeman, Montana, back to their home states. They have had to wait at the airport for more than seven hours while others at the conference site arranged clearance from the FAA for the aircraft to take them home. [State Government News, 10/2001 ] Military aircraft reportedly fly about 23 emergency management directors back to their home states on this day. [Stateline (.org), 10/11/2001] Ed Jacoby, the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, was flown back to New York State earlier on (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [119th Fighter Wing, 10/25/2001; Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002] Many of those attending the NEMA conference who are unable to get on emergency military flights to take them home have to instead drive hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of miles to get back to their states. [State Government News, 10/2001 ]
Fighter pilots who have been escorting Air Force One as it transports President Bush across the US are not informed that the president’s plane is departing Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and have to try and catch up with it after they hear it taking off. The pilots belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. Four F-16s from the wing have been escorting Air Force One since before it landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Pilots Told They Would Be Called When Air Force One Is Leaving - After Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the F-16s landed there as well. The fighter pilots then met with Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One. Tillman asked them about the capabilities of the F-16. He also took down their cell phone numbers and said he would call them when Air Force One would be leaving the base. However, he was unable to tell them where Air Force One would be going next, so the fighter pilots could not file a flight plan. The fighter pilots then headed off to get a snack and a drink.
Air Force One Takes Off, Pilots Not Informed - However, they are not informed when Air Force One, with Bush on board, takes off from Offutt (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). One of the fighter pilots, Major Shane Brotherton, will later recall: “We were eating our snacks and heard jet noise. It was Air Force One and they’d never called us. We got to the jets and he’s taxiing fast and never stopped. Now we’re taxiing fast and we blast off.” By the time the fighters are airborne, Air Force One is 100 miles ahead of them. Some Iowa Air National Guard fighters from Sioux City are also now airborne to protect the president’s plane, but the 147th Fighter Wing jets continue to follow it. Brotherton will recall: “All across the country we were playing catch up, because [Air Force One] was moving. And we didn’t catch up until we were nearing Washington.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88]
Bush speaking to Cheney shortly after leaving Offutt.
[Source: White House]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, takes off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and heads for Washington, DC. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Draper, 2007, pp. 143] The president’s plane landed at Offutt at 2:50 p.m. While he was at the base, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 89, 91; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Against objections from the Secret Service, he has announced that he will be returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 135]
Bush Thanks Personnel at Offutt - Bush waved to personnel at the base as he was making his way out to his plane. “We were working at our desks and all of a sudden, there was the president striding down the hallway,” Julie Ziegenhorn, a public affairs officer, will later describe, adding, “He walked right out the front door, waving to us.” He shouted to the personnel, “Thanks for all you’re doing!”
Pilot Was Surprised that Bush Is Leaving - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, was incredulous when he was told the president was getting ready to leave, since he’d expected Bush to stay at Offutt for a much longer time. He had been in an office at the base when a young airman ran up to him and said, “It looks like the president is heading back to the plane.” He dismissed the airman, saying, “It probably wasn’t the guy,” but the airman replied, “No, I’m pretty sure I just saw him drive by.” Tillman then raced back to Air Force One and found the president waiting for him at the top of the stairs by the cockpit. Bush told him: “Tillman, we got to get back home. Let’s get back home.”
Reporters Are Allowed to Say What Bush Is Doing - Reporters who have been traveling with Bush are finally permitted to describe the president’s movements on the record. “I called my bureau and told them that the president was heading back to Washington and would address the nation from the Oval Office,” Ann Compton of ABC Radio will recall. [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Tells His Wife, 'See You at the White House' - As Air Force One is taking off, Bush calls his wife, Laura, who is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington (see (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), to let her know he is returning to the capital. He tells her: “I’m coming home. See you at the White House. I love you. Go on home.” After talking to her, he feels comfortable enough to make a joke. “If I’m in the White House and there’s a plane coming my way, all I can say is I hope I read my Bible that day,” he says to his aides. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17, 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]
Richard Tubb. [Source: US Air Force]Dr. Richard Tubb, the White House physician, gives everyone on Air Force One a week’s worth of Cipro, a drug used to treat anthrax. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Air Force One, with President Bush on board, took off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska at around 4:33 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Draper, 2007, pp. 143]
Doctor Is Concerned about a Possible Biological Attack - Tubb will later recall that as the plane is then flying toward Washington, DC, “The thing at that moment I was most worried about was a biologic [attack].” In order to protect the White House staffers on the plane in the “unlikely but high-risk scenario” of such an attack occurring, he decides there is “little harm” in giving them antibiotics. He therefore gives everyone on the plane—presumably including the president—a week’s worth of Cipro. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Cipro is an antibiotic that is commonly used to treat anthrax. [Forbes, 10/17/2001]
Passengers Are Given an Envelope Containing Cipro - Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, notices Tubb giving the drug to the passengers on Air Force One. He sees the doctor leaning over each person, whispering to them, patting them on the shoulder, and giving them a small envelope containing Cipro. When Tubb reaches Montgomery, he asks him, “How do you feel?” Montgomery says he feels fine. “You don’t feel disoriented?” Tubb asks and Montgomery says no. Tubb asks, “Have you ever heard of Cipro?” and comments, “We don’t know what might’ve been in that school”—referring to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, which Bush visited this morning (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—“so we’re just being careful.” Montgomery asks what the drug is used for and Tubb replies, “In case it’s anthrax.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Doctor Will Later Be Pleased at His Actions - Letters containing anthrax spores will be sent to media organizations and US government offices later this month and in October, leading to five people dying and a further 17 people becoming ill but surviving (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; BBC, 9/25/2006; CNN, 2/19/2010; National Public Radio, 2/15/2011] Commenting on this, Tubb will reflect, “It was scary later realizing later that fall [that] anthrax wasn’t as unimaginable as we’d thought.” “I was suddenly real pleased with how we’d reacted on the plane,” he will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Tubb is director of the White House Medical Unit and physician to the White House. He oversees all healthcare services within the White House and Camp David, and aboard executive aircraft. [US Air Force, 7/2006] Later today, staffers accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney to Camp David (see Shortly After 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001) will also be given Cipro, supposedly as “a precaution” (see Evening, September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 10/23/2001]
The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-431] However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. [Sanger Herald, 10/17/2013] After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ] “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
The BBC’s Jane Standley, reporting the collapse of WTC 7 while it is visible still standing behind her. [Source: BBC]Several times, the BBC reports that Building 7 of the World Trade Center has collapsed, when it is in fact still standing. At 4:54 p.m., its domestic television news channel, BBC News 24, reports, “We’re now being told that yet another enormous building has collapsed… it is the 47-story Salomon Brothers building [i.e. WTC 7].” Three minutes later, its international channel, BBC World, reports, “We’ve got some news just coming in actually that the Salomon brothers building in New York right in the heart of Manhattan has also collapsed.” Then, at about 5:10 p.m., BBC World repeats the claim: “I was talking a few moments ago about the Salomon building collapsing and indeed it has… it seems this wasn’t the result of a new attack but because the building had been weakened during this morning’s attack.” Yet WTC 7 does not collapse until 5:20 p.m., over 25 minutes after the BBC first reported it (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The BBC’s live shot even shows the building still standing in the background, while its collapse is being reported. When these reports come to light early in 2007, Richard Porter, the head of news for BBC World, will suggest the error was due to the “confusing and chaotic situation on the ground” on 9/11. [BBC, 3/2/2007] Starting around 4:15 p.m., CNN and other news outlets had been reporting that WTC 7 was in danger of collapsing or may already have collapsed (see (4:15 p.m.-4:27 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker in Virginia speak with other members of Congress back in Washington, and decide Congress will reconvene the following morning. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002] Other senators and representatives have spent the day at the Capitol Police headquarters back in Washington. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001] About 50 of them are now assembled in a first-floor conference room and speak by telephone with the leaders at Mount Weather. They all discuss when Congress should reconvene, with some wanting to do so this evening. It is decided that Congress will not reconvene until the following morning, but the leaders will return to Washington this evening, and then leaders and members will appear together to announce to the press that they will be back in session the next day. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Lott, 2005, pp. 221] The Congressional leaders will return to Washington around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001) and their press conference is held around 7:25 (see 7:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10]
Tom Clancy. [Source: UPI]CNN’s Judy Woodruff remarks, “People in our newsroom have been saying today that what is happening is like right out of a Tom Clancy novel.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] James Lindsay, a former member of the Clinton administration’s national security team, subsequently comments on the attacks, “People both inside and outside the government would think this is more the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel than reality.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] Clancy had in fact written a book called Debt of Honor, released in 1994, that included a plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the US Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). Presumably influenced by this book, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) had outlined a similar scenario the following year, which he’d said was “not far-fetched” (see April 3, 1995). Some commentators will later refer to Clancy’s book when criticizing official claims of surprise at the nature of the 9/11 attacks. Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who was in the Pentagon when it was struck, will write, “I thought most people in the military read Tom Clancy novels in the 1990s. And yet, military leaders and spokespersons consistently expressed shock and surprise at such a possibility.… Was Tom Clancy really more savvy than the entire Pentagon?” [Griffin and Scott, 2006, pp. 27] Newsday columnist James Pinkerton later comments, “insofar as Clancy is one of the best-selling authors in the country with a particularly large following among military types, it’s a depressing commentary on military intelligence that Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could say, a month [after 9/11], to the American Forces Radio and Television Service, ‘You hate to admit it, but we hadn’t thought about this.’” [Newsday, 5/20/2002]
Trent Lott. [Source: Publicity photo]Despite having been instructed by Vice President Dick Cheney to remain where they are, Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker outside Washington decide to return to the capital and are then flown back there. [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 222] A number of members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who is among this group: “We all felt anxious and frustrated, feeling responsible as Congressional leaders to both communicate and take action, but unable to do either. We talked among ourselves of our concern for our loved ones back in Washington and our need to be with them as soon as possible.” In particular, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) begins “pressing the people around him—his own security detail and the facility’s personnel—about his strong desire to get back to Washington.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115] However, during a teleconference, Vice President Cheney told the leaders they could not leave Mount Weather (see (Between 2:50 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Lott will recall that, in spite of this, he makes the decision to go back to Washington and arranges for this to happen: “I’d finally had enough. I told my ground security to leave for the Capitol, and now—‘because I’m not spending the night here.’ I had this decision radioed back to the vice president’s people, and the others pulling the strings. They finally relented and arranged to have us ferried back to the Capitol by helicopter.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 222] But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will say he in fact is responsible for making this decision, and that he then tells his colleagues: “Hey, it’s up to us. We need to stand together, go back to Washington and show people that we are standing together.” The leaders are flown back to Washington at around 6:00 p.m. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10]
Mark Jacobson, a reporter for New York Magazine, later recounts an encounter he has about this time. Walking through the ruins of the World Trade Center complex, he sits down next to a weary and dust covered firefighter. The firefighter points to WTC Building 7, perhaps 400 yards away, and says, “That building is coming down.” Jacobson asks when and the firefighter responds, “Tonight. Maybe tomorrow morning.” Jacobson watches as the building collapses about five minutes later. [New York Magazine, 3/20/2006]
The 47-story WTC Building 7 collapses. It housed New York City’s emergency command center, offices of the FBI, CIA, and various commercial offices. The collapse of the building buries an electrical substation containing more than 130,000 gallons of oil from transformers and high-voltage lines—most of which contain low levels of hazardous PCBs—that provides fuel for a fire that will burn for more than three months contaminating the city’s air with a number of toxins including dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans, and other polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Hang, 11/26/2001; New York Daily News, 11/27/2001; New York Daily News, 11/29/2001; Stanford Report, 12/5/2001; Environmental Law, 12/26/2001; Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 1/9/2002; Kupferman, 2003 ]
A four-image progression of photos showing World Trade Center Building 7 collapsing down into its footprint. [Source: unknown] (click image to enlarge)Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex, a 47-story tower, collapses. No one is killed. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] It collapses in 6.6 seconds, which is just 0.6 of a second longer than it would have taken a free-falling object dropped from its roof to hit the ground. [Deseret Morning News, 11/10/2005] Many questions will arise over the cause of its collapse in the coming months and years. Building 7, which was not hit by an airplane, is the first modern, steel-reinforced high-rise to collapse because of fire. [Chicago Tribune, 11/29/2001; Stanford Report, 12/5/2001; New York Times, 3/2/2002] Some will later suggest that the diesel fuel stored in several tanks on the premises may have contributed to the building’s collapse. The building contained a 6,000-gallon tank between its first and second floors and another four tanks, holding as much as 36,000 gallons, below ground level. There were also three smaller tanks on higher floors. [Chicago Tribune, 11/29/2001; New York Times, 3/2/2002; New York Observer, 3/25/2002; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-17] However, the cause of the collapse is uncertain. A 2002 government report will conclude: “The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time. Although the total diesel fuel on the premises contained massive potential energy, the best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-17] Some reports indicate that the building may have been deliberately destroyed. Shortly after the collapse, CBS News anchor Dan Rather comments that the collapse is “reminiscent of… when a building was deliberately destroyed by well-placed dynamite to knock it down.” [CBS News, 9/11/2001] And moments after the collapse, MSNBC’s Brian Williams joins David Restuccio, an FDNY lieutenant, by phone to ask him about the collapse. “You guys knew this was coming all day?” asks Williams. Restuccio replies: “We had heard reports that the building was unstable, and that it would eventually need to come down on its own, or it would be taken down. I would imagine it came down on its own.” Restuccio does not explain what he means by “it would be taken down.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2001]
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]
United Airlines Flight 8811 takes off from San Francisco, California, to transport a group of FBI agents to Washington, DC. The Boeing 757 is carrying 75 FBI agents and 14,000 pounds of equipment across the US. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] The agents are members of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and its Hostage Rescue Team, which is operated by the CIRG, who arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and were therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). After learning that the FBI had essential personnel wanting to return to Washington, United Airlines offered to provide an aircraft and crew to fly them home (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76] Flight 8811 has received approval to take off from NORAD headquarters. It is one of the first non-military aircraft to be permitted to take off since NORAD implemented a limited version of a plan called “SCATANA,” which gave the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After taking off, the plane’s pilot, Captain Barry Nance, is cleared “direct” across the country. As he flies to Washington, Nance hears just three other aircraft over the radio, all of them military fighter jets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] Flight 8811 will reach Washington just after midnight and land at Reagan National Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 282; Lynn Spencer, 2008]
Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, her husband, Philip Perry, and their children are taken by the Secret Service to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ] Camp David is located about 70 miles northwest of Washington, DC, in the Catoctin Mountains. The retreat is closed to the public and surrounded by maximum security fencing. [BBC, 7/10/2000; Washington Times, 3/28/2003; Baltimore Sun, 9/2/2011] Cheney and her family are transported there from a secure government facility at Mount Weather, Virginia, where they were taken by the Secret Service earlier in the day (see 12:45 p.m.-1:15 p.m. September 11, 2001). They will arrive at Camp David at 7:05 p.m. Cheney’s parents—Dick and Lynne Cheney—will join them there at around 10:30 p.m. (see Shortly After 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001). Liz Cheney, Perry, and their children will leave Camp David the following morning. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ]
General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally arrives at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon after returning to the US when his flight to Europe was aborted.
Vice Chairman Updates Shelton - After Shelton enters the NMCC, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs him. Myers says that Air National Guard and regular Air Force combat air patrols are flying above major US cities under AWACS control, the entire US military is on Threatcon level Delta, and the Joint Forces Command is sending headquarters units to New York and Washington, DC.
Intelligence Director Says Only One 'Hint' Indicated Possible Attack - Shelton then turns to Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Rear Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, and asks them, “Have we had any intel ‘squeaks’ on an attack like this—anything at all?” Wilson replies: “The only possible hint of this coming was several months ago when we got a single intercept requesting jumbo jet training. Since then, there’s been nothing.” Myers will later comment that Wilson is “referring to the vast electronic signals data-mining operations of our intelligence community that targeted known terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda and their allies.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Shelton Flying to Europe at Time of Attacks - Shelton was flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary for a NATO conference when he learned of the terrorist attacks in the US, and had ordered that his plane return to Washington (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the plane was repeatedly denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and only landed at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). From there, three patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops escorted the chairman and his accompanying staff members as they were driven to the Pentagon. Once at the Pentagon, Shelton initially went to his office and then visited the site of the attack, to see the wreckage there. After returning to the building, he headed to the NMCC. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-32; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-436; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ]
Chairman in Office for Much of Evening - Shelton will spend much of the evening in his office with staff, preparing for meetings of the National Security Council later this evening and the following day (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). At 6:42 p.m., he will join Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) to give a news briefing (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001), and at around 9:00 p.m. he will head to the White House for the National Security Council meeting there. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Priest, 2003, pp. 37; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]
Two F-15 fighter jets that have been patrolling the airspace above New York are instructed to investigate a supposedly suspicious aircraft, but upon inspection find it to be the tanker plane that has been providing them with fuel. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] The two fighters, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] They arrived over New York at around 11:00 a.m., after being instructed to set up a combat air patrol over the city (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Richard, 2010, pp. 24]
NEADS Reports Suspect Aircraft over Long Island - After patrolling the New York airspace for several hours, the two pilots are preparing to fly back to Otis Air Base. Suddenly, a controller at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) calls and alerts them to a suspicious aircraft in the area. The controller says, “We have a report of a light aircraft flying erratically, 15 west of your position over Long Island.” After Martyn acknowledges the message, the two fighters bank hard to the left and descend. Richard reaches an altitude of about 500 feet, but, as his plane’s radar sweeps, he looks around and sees nothing there. He calls out, “Picture clear,” and then reports back to NEADS. The NEADS controller then tells Richard to “skip it,” and says the suspect aircraft is now “20 northeast of your position, at 30,000 feet.” He asks if the two fighters have enough fuel to investigate it and Richard responds, “Affirmative.” Richard and Martyn then reform and increase their power. However, Richard will later write, “It didn’t make any sense that a large aircraft would make it from the city, head northeast, and climb to 30,000 feet undetected.”
Pilot Inspects Aircraft, Finds It Is Tanker Plane - Martyn asks the NEADS controller, “Are you sure that’s not the tanker we just used over Ground Zero?” but the controller retorts, “Unknown.” Martyn says to Richard over the radio, “That’s the tanker we just were refueling with,” and asks him if he has enough fuel left to go and identify the target. Richard says he has and then flies above Martyn. He closes in to within about three miles of the aircraft NEADS identified, and can see the engines and the boom, revealing it to indeed be the tanker that has been providing them with fuel. He thinks to himself, “How could [NEADS] have screwed this up?” He will later reflect, “It was incredible to me that they didn’t know this was the tanker we had just left!” Richard calls NEADS and tells the controller there, “It’s the tanker.” Sheepishly, the controller confirms the message. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] Richard and Martyn then return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001]
The Washington Post reports, “Several US officials said there was no warning in the days before the attacks that a major operation was in the works. ‘In terms of specific warning that something of this nature was to occur, no,’ one official said.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2001] An anonymous “senior US official” tells ABC News, “There were no warnings regarding time or place. There are always generic threats now but there was nothing to indicate anything specific of this nature. In fact, in recent weeks, we were not in all that high a period of threat warning.” [ABC News, 9/12/2001]
On the evening of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the military decline to comment on whether fighter jets were launched to intercept any of the hijacked aircraft earlier in the day. Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, refuses to say whether the agency requested military intercepts. Major Barry Venable, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), similarly says he does not know whether the FAA asked NORAD to send up jets to intercept the errant aircraft. Lt. Col. Margaret Quenneville, a spokeswoman for the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which operates from Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, refuses to comment on whether the fighter wing was requested to intercept the hijacked airliners. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] Several days later, it will be revealed that two F-15s were indeed launched from Otis around the time the first WTC tower was hit, and three F-16s were launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia shortly before the time the Pentagon was hit (see September 14, 2001). [CBS News, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/16/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] But as late as September 15, the New York Times is reporting, “The Federal Aviation Administration has officially refused to discuss its procedures or the sequence of events on Tuesday morning, saying these are part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001]
An unidentified fast-moving aircraft is noticed flying toward Air Force One as it is bringing President Bush back to Washington, DC, but the aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet, reportedly “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush announced he would be returning to Washington while he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and his plane left the base and headed for the capital shortly after 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Bush, 2010, pp. 135] As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) and the 119th Fighter Wing are flying combat air patrols over the capital. They have been joined by a number of other fighters from across the northeast US.
Pilots Told They Will Be Escorting Air Force One - Among the pilots flying over Washington are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney of the DCANG, who are flying their second mission of the day. Sasseville and Penney are instructed to contact an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in their area and “expect special tasking.” When they make contact with the AWACS plane, its controller directs them to fly about 160 miles to the west and says they are going to “escort Air Force One.” Two of the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets offer to accompany Sasseville and Penney, and Sasseville accepts.
Unidentified Aircraft Seen Flying toward Air Force One - A short time later, an AWACS controller reports that a fast-moving unidentified aircraft is flying toward Air Force One. The aircraft is currently about 70 miles southwest of the president’s plane, but is on a “cutoff vector” to Air Force One. The controller reports that the suspicious plane is flying above 40,000 feet, whereas Air Force One is “in the 20,000 feet range.” All the same, Sasseville directs the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets to intercept the aircraft and they quickly do so.
Aircraft Is Not a Threat - The suspicious aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet “that hadn’t yet landed after aircraft nationwide had been ordered out of the air,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] However, the FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport many hours earlier, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The plane is simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to author Leslie Filson. [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] “There was a Learjet vectored on Air Force One,” Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission, “but it was nothing.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] The two DCANG fighters and the two 119th Fighter Wing jets will subsequently accompany Air Force One as it flies into Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, with the president on board, the FAA reports an aircraft racing towards it. Fighters quickly intercept the aircraft, which turns out to be a Lear business jet, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88]
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urges New Yorkers to stay home the following day. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England will later claim that President Bush makes an unpublicized visit to the Pentagon at this time. In 2007, England will recall in a speech, “Then that night, on 9/11, we had a meeting in the Pentagon—and I remember this well, because the president came to the Pentagon that evening, at 6:15 in the evening… And the president came and met in the conference room right next to Secretary Rumsfeld’s office. And he came and he said, ‘Get ready.’ He said,‘Get ready.’ He said, ‘This is going to be a long war.’” [US Department of Defense, 1/22/2007] If this account is true, then Air Force One must have flown very quickly from Nebraska (if reports are true Bush left at 4:33 (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), the plane would have travelled at about 700 mph, faster than its official top speed of 600 mph), and Bush must have stayed at the Pentagon briefly before arriving live on camera at the White House around 6:45 (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). If Bush did go to the Pentagon, is it not exactly clear why or why no account would mention it until 2007.
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. [CNN, 9/11/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 8/23/2009] Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush, 2010, pp. 204-205] Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002]
Donald Rumsfeld (center) with, left to right, Secretary of the Army Tom White, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton, and Senators John Warner (R-VI) and Carl Levin (D-MI). [Source: Bob Houlihan / US Navy]At a press briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld takes Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to task for the Democrats’ opposition to increased defense spending. After answering questions about the terrorist attacks and assuring the nation that “the Pentagon is functioning,” Rumsfeld suddenly turns to Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and says: “Senator Levin, you and other Democrats in Congress have voiced fear that you simply don’t have enough money for the large increase in defense that the Pentagon is seeking, especially for missile defense, and you fear that you’ll have to dip into the Social Security funds to pay for it. Does this sort of thing convince you that an emergency exists in this country to increase defense spending, to dip into Social Security, if necessary, to pay for defense spending—increase defense spending?” Levin replies: “One thing where the committee was unanimous on, among many, many other things, was that the—we authorized the full request of the president, including the $18 billion. So I would say that Democrats and Republicans have seen the need for the request.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
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]
Members of the Secret Service emergency response team (ERT) are ordered to pull back out of camera range when President Bush’s helicopter arrives at the White House, which means they are too far from the president to respond effectively should something bad happen. ERT officers are waiting on the South Lawn of the White House when Marine One, the president’s helicopter, lands there with Bush on board (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). However, senior Secret Service officials who are also present order them to “pull back so that the television cameras would not capture images of the heavily armed sharpshooters and alarm the public,” according to US News and World Report. Several ERT officers will later report that they are therefore “too far away from the president when he stepped out of Marine One to be effective if something had happened.” ERT members are the Secret Service’s “sharpshooters assigned to respond to any terrorist strike,” according to US News and World Report. [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002; Melanson, 2005, pp. 331] They are “[d]edicated to protecting the president and securing the White House grounds,” according to the Daily Mail, and are “skilled, unobtrusive, and absolutely lethal when called upon.” [Daily Mail, 12/16/2010]
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