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Context of 'March 30, 2000: Lawyer’s Analysis Considers the Legal Aspects of Shooting Down a Hijacked Airliner'

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The US begins launching what the Pentagon calls “psychological operations,” or PSYOPS, against the USSR. The operations consist in part of military exercises designed to agitate and frighten the USSR into believing the US might be preparing for a military assault. Few outside of the White House and the Pentagon’s top officials—and Soviet officials, of course—know about the series of provocative exercises. Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle will later recall: “It was very sensitive. Nothing was written down about it, so there would be no paper trail.” The idea behind the operations is to keep the Soviets off-balance about what, if anything, the US might do. It also is designed to probe for gaps and vulnerabilities in the Soviets’ early warning intelligence system. General Jack Chain, a Strategic Air Command (SAC) commander, will later recall: “Sometimes we would send bombers over the North Pole and their radars would click on. Other times fighter-bombers would probe their Asian or European periphery.” Sometimes the operations send out several probes in a week, coming at irregular intervals to make the effect that much more unsettling. Then the probes stop, only to begin again several weeks later. Undersecretary of State for Military Assistance and Technology Dr. William Schneider will later recall: “It really got to them. They didn’t know what it all meant. A squadron would fly straight at Soviet airspace, and other radars would light up and units would go on alert. Then at the last minute the squadron would peel off and return home.” The operations include naval incursions as well as aerial missions, with US aircraft carrier groups regularly conducting exercises alarmingly close to Soviet military and industrial sites, often without being detected until the groups are already in place. Some exercises simulate surprise attacks on Soviet targets, sometimes simulating air assaults on Soviet fighter units. The naval pressure is particularly intense in the area of the North Atlantic called the “Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)

The KGB, the Soviet intelligence directorate, issues a “high alert” for its Operation VRYAN intelligence alert system monitoring the US for signs of a possible military and nuclear assault (see May 1981). Provoked by two years of US military provocations (see 1981-1983), fearing that the rhetorical war between the US and the USSR (see Early 1983) is ready to explode into something far more concrete, and disheartened by worries that the Soviet Union is losing ground in its global contest with the US (see Early 1981), the Kremlin informs all KGB “rezidenturas,” or station chiefs, that VRYAN has “acquired an especial degree of urgency” and is “now of particularly grave importance.” Forty station chiefs receive new orders marked “strictly personal,” instructing them to organize a “continual watch” using their entire operational staff. They are also ordered to redirect existing agents who might have access to VRYAN-related information, to recruit new agents, and to escalate surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations. (Fischer 3/19/2007)

President Reagan gives his famous “evil empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. The speech is designed to dissuade Christian evangelicals from supporting a freeze on the production and deployment of nuclear weapons, as the Conference of Catholic Bishops had already done. The speech, written by Anthony Dolan, a follower of hard-line conservative philosopher William F. Buckley, is what author J. Peter Scoblic calls “a model conservative blend of religious traditionalism and anticommunism [that makes] explicit the link between Manicheanism and nuclear war fighting.” The cause is not merely peaceful co-existence, but an apocalyptic battle between good (the West) and evil (the Soviet empire), one that must be won no matter the costs. “We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man,” Reagan tells his listeners. “We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.” Supporting the nuclear freeze movement would be to commit the sin of moral relativism, Reagan says, putting moral strictures aside for temporal, even political concerns. “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride,” he warns, “the temptation of blithely declaring yourself above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 117)

The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124-125)

Korean Airlines Flight 007 before takeoff.Korean Airlines Flight 007 before takeoff. [Source: Check-Six (.org)]A Soviet Su-15 fighter plane fires two missiles into a Korean Airlines 747 passenger plane, KAL 007. The plane, en route from Alaska to Seoul, South Korea, had strayed into Soviet air space, had not responded to radio communications, and had either ignored or not seen warning shots fired at it. The 747 crashes into the Sea of Japan, killing all 269 passengers, including conservative House Representative Larry McDonald (D-GA) and 62 other Americans. The Soviets insist that the passenger plane was deliberately sent into their airspace to test their military readiness; later investigation shows that a US spy plane had just left the area, agitating Soviet radar units, and, according to their own radio transmissions, the Soviets had honestly believed the 747 was another spy plane, most likely an American RC-135. Though it has definitely strayed into Soviet airspace at least twice, and flown over a sensitive Soviet airbase on the Kamchatka Peninsula, it is most likely shot down in international airspace. (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 131)
Angry White House Officials Respond - Reagan administration officials are furious. Secretary of State George Shultz, dubbed “The Sphinx” by journalists for his remote demeanor, rails at the Soviets in a press conference called just four hours after the White House learns of the incident. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 131) Four days later, Reagan will denounce the Soviets in a primetime televised speech (see September 5, 1983).
Massive PR Campaign against USSR - The US will use the shootdown to mount a tremendous public relations campaign against the Soviets, focusing on the Soviet civilian leadership as well as Soviet international business interests; for example, the US will demand a global boycott of the Soviet airline Aeroflot. According to a memo issued to the Politburo by the Defense Ministry and the KGB, the Soviets well understood the political ramifications of the shootdown: “We are dealing with a major, dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the US special services. The first purpose was to use the incursion of the intruder aircraft into Soviet airspace to create a favorable situation for the gathering of defense data on our air defense system in the Far East, involving the most diverse systems including the Ferret satellite. Second, they envisaged, if this flight were terminated by us, [the US would use] that fact to mount a global anti-Soviet campaign to discredit the Soviet Union.” In its own counter-propaganda efforts, Soviet leader Yuri Andropov will say that an “outrageous military psychosis” has taken over US foreign policy. He adds, “[T]he Reagan administration, in its imperial ambitions, goes so far that one begins to doubt whether Washington has any brakes at all preventing it from crossing the point at which any sober-minded person must stop.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Exacerbating Tensions - After the shootdown and its aftermath, according to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, both sides go “a little crazy.” The shootdown gives the US hard evidence of its worst-case assumptions about the Soviets. For the Soviets, the US reaction gives them hard evidence of their own assumptions about the US’s attempts to provoke the USSR into some sort of confrontation (see 1981-1983) and to embarrass the Soviet Union in the eyes of the world. Reagan’s use of the KAL 007 incident to ask Congress for more defense funding is, in the Soviets’ eyes, proof that the entire incident was engineered by the Americans for just such an outcome. (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Alternative Accounts - A number of alternative accounts about the incident spring up, in particular concerning McDonald. (Maier 4/16/2001)

Four days after the Soviet shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983), President Reagan delivers a televised speech from the Oval Office calling the incident a “massacre,” a “crime against humanity,” and “an atrocity.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 131) The shootdown is, Reagan says, “an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)

A week after President Reagan publicly denounced the Soviet Union for shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983 and September 5, 1983), Secretary of State George Shultz meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko later recalls the conversation as “the sharpest exchange I ever had with an American secretary of state, and I have had talks with 14 of them.” The Reagan administration will deny Gromyko permission to fly into New York City, where he is scheduled to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 131)

Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown.Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The Soviet Union, flustered and angry at the harsh denunciations heaped on it by the US after their shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983, September 5, 1983, and Mid-September, 1983), reacts badly to the US’s response. Between the KAL incident and other episodes—President Reagan’s terming the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983), the refusal of the US to negotiate on arms reduction (see April 1983-December 1983), and the US’s launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program (see April 1983-December 1983), the Soviets are not prepared to accept the US’s position on the shootdown, nor are they prepared to accept responsibility for shooting down a passenger plane full of civilians. Instead, the KAL incident provides what Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the US, will later call “a catalyst for the angry trends that were already inherent in relations during the Reagan presidency.” Newly installed Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov issues a statement saying that US-Soviet relations cannot improve so long as Reagan is president: “If anybody ever had any illusions about the possibility of an evolution to the better in the policy of the present American administration, these illusions are completely dispelled now.” Soviet statements begin referring to the danger of war and US nuclear first strikes. The Soviet press calls Reagan a “madman” and compares him to Adolf Hitler. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko worries that “the world situation is now slipping towards a very dangerous precipice.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 132)

Yuri Andropov.Yuri Andropov. [Source: BBC]Soviet leader Yuri Andropov issues an unusual “declaration” on US-Soviet relations that demonstrates the tension and mistrust between the two countries since the KAL 007 shootdown (see September 1, 1983). “The Soviet leadership deems it necessary to inform the Soviet people, other peoples, and all who are responsible for determining the policy of states, of its assessment of the course pursued in international affairs by the current US administration,” Andropov says. “In brief, it is a militarist course that represents a serious threat to peace.… If anyone had any illusion about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present American administration, recent events have dispelled them completely.” According to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, the last phrase is the key: the word “completely” was carefully chosen to express the Soviet consensus that the USSR cannot hope to reach any sort of understanding with the Reagan administration. In the following months, a “war scare” mentality engulfs the Soviet populace, fed by Soviet-generated propaganda, until it becomes so widespread that the Kremlin, fearing the agitation will get out of hand, takes steps in early 1984 to calm the fears it has helped generate. (Fischer 3/19/2007)

Debt of Honor, by Tom Clancy.Debt of Honor, by Tom Clancy. [Source: HarperCollins]A novel by the military thriller writer Tom Clancy, one of America’s top-selling authors, includes a plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a commercial jet plane into the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The story of Debt of Honor is based around a crisis between Japan and the United States. A short, armed conflict between the two nations arises and is won by the US. The book ends with a Japanese commercial airline pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the US Capitol building during a joint session of Congress. The president is killed, along with most of the Senate, House, Supreme Court, and others. (Buckley 10/2/1994; Guinn 8/13/1996; Osava 9/15/2001; Pinkerton 5/20/2002) Clancy later describes to the BBC how he’d gone about writing this book: “I didn’t write Debt of Honor without first discussing it with an Air Force officer. And so I ran this idea past him and all of a sudden this guy’s eyeballing me rather closely and I said come on general, I know you must have looked at this before, you’ve got to have a plan for it. And the guy goes, ‘Mr. Clancy, to the best of my knowledge, if we had a plan to deal with this, it would be secret, I wouldn’t be able to talk to you about it, but to the best of my knowledge we’ve never looked at this possibility before.’” (BBC 3/24/2002) Debt of Honor makes number one on the New York Times bestseller list. (Mansfield 10/6/1994) Following the 9/11 attacks, there will be considerable interest in it, particularly because the Capitol building is considered to have been a likely intended target of Flight 93. (Lane and Pan 9/12/2001; Harnden 9/17/2001; Berger 1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14)

Senator Sam Nunn.Senator Sam Nunn. [Source: Carnegie Corporation of New York]Time magazine’s cover story reports on the potential for anti-American militants to kill thousands in highly destructive acts. It mentions that, three weeks earlier, Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) had outlined a scenario in which terrorists attack the US Capitol building on the night of a State of the Union address, by crashing a radio-controlled airplane into it, “engulfing it with chemical weapons and causing tremendous death and destruction.” The scenario is “not far-fetched,” and the required technology is readily available, Nunn said. (Nelan 4/3/1995) An almost identical scenario was included in the storyline of the Tom Clancy bestseller Debt of Honor, released the previous year, but this involved a plane guided by a suicide pilot, rather than radio control (see August 17, 1994). High-ranking al-Qaeda leaders will claim later that Flight 93’s target was the Capitol Building. (Tremlett 9/9/2002)

Robert De La Cruz, a Justice Department lawyer, writes a detailed analysis that considers the legal issues that would be involved in shooting down an aircraft that was under the control of terrorists who intended to use it as a weapon. De La Cruz, a trial attorney with the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Terrorism and Violent Crime Section (TVCS), apparently writes the analysis on his own initiative. He sends it to Cathleen Corken, the TVCS’s deputy chief for domestic terrorism. The 34-page document is titled “Aerial Intercepts and Shoot-Downs: Ambiguities of Law and Practical Considerations.” In it, among other things, De La Cruz discusses Article 3 bis of the Chicago Convention, a set of rules created after a Soviet fighter jet shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, in 1983 (see September 1, 1983), which is “now considered to be international law.” He states that the “Federal Aviation Administration believes, or at least operates as if, Article 3 bis is binding upon the United States.”
Article States that Using Weapons against Civil Aircraft Should Be Avoided - De La Cruz notes that, according to the article, “The contracting states recognize that every state must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of the aircraft must not be endangered.” He also notes that “contracting states recognize that every state, in the exercise of its sovereignty, is entitled to require the landing at some designated airport of a civil aircraft flying above its territory without authority [or] if there are reasonable grounds to conclude that it is being used for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of this convention.” De La Cruz then describes what he considers three failures of Article 3 bis.
Action Is Only Permitted Once an Aircraft Has Entered a State's Airspace - The first problem is that the article “only permits a state to avail itself of the article’s provisions once the offending aircraft has entered the territorial airspace of the state.” If the aircraft was carrying a weapon of mass destruction, he explains, “awaiting territorial arrival of the aircraft may be too late.” In this scenario, if the aircraft was allowed to enter the “territorial airspace” of the state, “prevailing winds could theoretically spread an airborne-detonated biological weapon or chemical weapon onto the targeted state.”
Analysis Considers the Effects of a Plane Being Crashed into a Building - De La Cruz then states that this failure of the article could still apply if the offending aircraft was carrying no weapons. Significantly, in light of what will happen on September 11, 2001, he points out that this is because “the aircraft itself can be a potent weapon.” He considers the destruction that could result from a commercial airliner being crashed into a building, writing: “An airborne Boeing 747 can weigh in excess of 2 million pounds, retain structural integrity at flight speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, and can carry many thousands of gallons of kerosene-based jet fuel. If used as a weapon, such an aircraft must be considered capable of destroying virtually any building located anywhere in the world.”
Article Fails to Authorize 'Deadly Force' against a Hostile Aircraft - The second problem with Article 3 bis, according to De La Cruz, is that it fails to specify what actions are permitted when an aircraft refuses to comply with instructions. While the article “requires states to make noncompliance punishable by ‘severe penalties,’” he writes, “it does not explicitly authorize the use of deadly force.”
Article Is Not Designed to Deal with Planes under the Control of Terrorists - The third failure De La Cruz describes regards “what actions are permissible when dealing with a terrorist-controlled, hijacked, or surreptitiously armed plane that is carrying a weapon of mass destruction to an intended target.” He notes, “Notwithstanding various works of fiction (see August 17, 1994), to date there are no reported actual incidents of a hijacked civil aircraft being deliberately and successfully used as a flying bomb.” All the same, he continues, “Article 3 bis was designed to protect otherwise legitimate civil aircraft that have wandered off course; it is not designed to deal with the issue of… a passenger airliner that has been deliberately converted for use as a kamikaze.” He concludes that the US should be prepared to shoot down a hostile aircraft, irrespective of what the article states. “It is certainly neither the policy nor intention of the United States to shoot down civil aircraft,” he comments, “but if necessity demands it we shall do it regardless of our formal or informal ratification of Article 3 bis.”
Document Will Be Called a 'Prescient Pre-9/11 Analysis' - It is unclear whether any action will be taken in response to De La Cruz’s analysis after the lawyer sends it to Corken. But the 9/11 Commission Report will call the document a “prescient pre-9/11 analysis of an aircraft plot.” (US Department of Justice 3/30/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 346, 561) On September 11, senior government officials including the president and vice president will discuss the possibility of shooting down a hijacked commercial aircraft (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41)

An advertisement for ‘The Lone Gunmen.’An advertisement for ‘The Lone Gunmen.’ [Source: Fox]The pilot episode of a short-lived Fox television program involves a scenario chillingly similar to the 9/11 attacks that occur six months later. In the episode of The Lone Gunmen, which is a spin-off of the popular show The X-Files, a small, radical faction within the US government takes over a large passenger jet plane from the ground, using remote control, and then tries to crash it into the World Trade Center. Their intention is to blame the attack on foreign terrorists and therefore revive the arms race. Their plot is thwarted at the last moment, with the pilots regaining control of the plane and steering it upwards over the Twin Towers. (Harmon 9/14/2001; Martin 6/20/2002 pdf file) In the program, the plane is destined for Boston, where two of the hijacked aircraft will in fact take off from on September 11. (Fox Television 3/4/2001; Howe and Brelis 9/12/2001) One of its stars, Bruce Harwood, will later call the storyline a “strange awful coincidence,” and add, “[W]ho knows if it was the source of inspiration for September 11.” (Mirror 11/26/2002) Ratings are good for the show, with 13 million people watching it. (Ausiello 3/9/2001) Yet despite the similarity to the actual attacks on the WTC, there will be very little commentary about this after September 11. Media commentator Jack Myers will observe, “This seems to be collective amnesia of the highest order.” (Martin 6/20/2002 pdf file) A best selling 1994 novel by Tom Clancy had similarly included a large passenger jet used as a weapon, being deliberately crashed into the US Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). (Pinkerton 5/20/2002)

The ransom for a wealthy Indian shoe manufacturer kidnapped in Calcutta, India, two weeks earlier is paid to an Indian gangster named Aftab Ansari. Ansari is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has ties to the Pakistani ISI and Saeed Sheikh. Ansari gives some of the about $830,000 in ransom money to Saeed, who sends about $100,000 of it to future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. (Watson 1/23/2002; Popham 1/24/2002) The Times of India will later report that Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the director of the ISI, instructed Saeed to transfer the $100,000 into Atta’s bank account. This is according to “senior government sources,” who will claim that the FBI has privately confirmed the story. (Joshi 10/9/2001) According to some accounts, the money is moved through a charity, the Al Rashid Trust. Some of the money is also channelled to the Taliban, as well as Pakistani and Kashmiri militant groups. (NewsInsight 1/4/2002; Press Trust of India 4/3/2002) The money is apparently paid into two of Atta’s accounts in Florida (see Summer 2001 and before). The Al Rashid Trust will be one of the first al-Qaeda funding vehicles to have its assets frozen after 9/11 (see September 24, 2001). A series of recovered e-mails will show the money is sent just after August 11. This appears to be one of a series of Indian kidnappings this gang carries out in 2001. (Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002; Srivastava 2/14/2002) Saeed provides training and weapons to the kidnappers in return for a percentage of the profits. (Swami 2/2/2002; India Today 2/25/2002) This account will frequently be mentioned in the Indian press, but will appear in the US media as well. For instance, veteran Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon will write, “Western intelligence sources believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings,” although they apparently think the hawala system was used for this. (Gannon 2/9/2002) Some evidence suggests Saeed may also have sent Atta a similar amount in 2000 (see (July-August 2000) and Summer 2000).

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta receives $100,000 from accounts in Pakistan. The money is transferred to two of his accounts in Florida. (Fox News 10/2/2001; Margasak 10/2/2001; US Congress 10/3/2001; CNN 10/6/2001; Ressa 10/8/2001) This will later be reported in various media. For example, ABC News will say that federal authorities track “more than $100,000 from banks in Pakistan to two banks in Florida to accounts held by suspected hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta.” (ABC News 9/30/2001) Law enforcement sources will tell CNN, “[T]he wire transfers from Pakistan were sent to Atta through two banks in Florida.” (CNN 10/1/2001) One of the hijackers’ financiers, the Pakistan-based Omar Saeed Sheikh, is said to wire Atta around $100,000 in August (see Early August 2001). The transfers from Pakistan will be disclosed a few weeks after 9/11 but will then fade from view (see September 30-October 7, 2001), until 2003 when John S. Pistole, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, tells the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that the FBI has traced the origin of funding for 9/11 back to accounts in Pakistan (see July 31, 2003). However, in 2004 the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention any funding coming directly from Pakistan (see Late-September 2001-August 2004).

Douglas Cochrane with Dick Cheney.Douglas Cochrane with Dick Cheney. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Douglas Cochrane, Vice President Dick Cheney’s military aide, learns that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and subsequently heads to Cheney’s office to pass on to the vice president a phone number for President Bush. Cochrane is in his office on the fifth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, when he learns a plane has hit the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learns about the crash when someone in the White House Situation Room calls and tells him what has happened, according to the Florida Times-Union. However, he will tell the 9/11 Commission that he learns about it from the television coverage of the incident, at about 8:50 a.m.
Military Aide Heads to the Situation Room - Cochrane leaves his office and goes to the Situation Room, seeking information, but personnel there can tell him nothing more than what is being reported on CNN. Cochrane will tell the 9/11 Commission that a supervisor informs him that Cheney got cut off while talking on the phone with Bush. He therefore takes a piece of paper with a phone number for the president on it and heads to Cheney’s office, in the West Wing of the White House. When he reaches the office, he finds National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice there with the vice president, according to the Florida Times-Union. (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004) However, according to other accounts, Rice will only go to Cheney’s office after 9:03 a.m., when the second hijacked plane hits the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 9/16/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 332; Gellman 2008, pp. 114)
Military Aide Reportedly Sees Cheney on the Phone with Bush - Cochrane will tell the 9/11 Commission that while he is in Cheney’s office at this time, he sees the vice president picking up the phone and answering a call from Bush. Cheney says, “Yes, Mr. President,” he will recall. (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004) However, according to other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney will first talk with Bush about the crashes in New York sometime after the second plane hits the WTC, apparently around 9:15 a.m. (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 9/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Hayes 2007, pp. 332) Cochrane then shuts the door to Cheney’s office and heads back to the Situation Room. There, he will see the second crash at the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Aguilar 9/10/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004)

The jet fuel that spilled from Flight 11 when it hit the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) has mostly burned up by this time. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which investigates the collapses, will say “The initial jet fuel fires themselves lasted at most a few minutes.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 183) Engineering professor Forman Williams will say the jet fuel “burned for maybe 10 minutes.” (Chertoff et al. 3/2005) Flight 11, a Boeing 767, had a fuel capacity of 23,980 gallons, but was only carrying about 10,000 gallons when it hit the WTC. NIST will estimate that less than 1,500 gallons were consumed in a fireball inside the tower and a comparable amount was consumed in the fireballs outside the building. Therefore, approximately 7,000 gallons splashed onto the office furnishings and started fires on various floors. However, after the jet fuel is used up, office fires burn until the building collapses. NIST will calculate that there were about four pounds per square foot of combustibles in the office space, or about 60 tons per floor. Offices in the WTC actually have fewer combustibles than some other similar spaces due to the small number of interior walls and limited bookshelf space. NIST will later find that only three of sixteen perimeter columns it recovers reached a temperature of 250°C and neither of the two core columns it retrieves reached this temperature. NIST will also find that none of the samples it acquires reaches a temperature above 600°C (see August 27, 2003). Although steel does not melt until its temperature is about 1,600°C, it may begin to lose significant strength at over 500°C. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 20, 29, 24, 77) The jet fuel will also burn up in the South Tower about 10 minutes after it is hit (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001).

John Glenn.John Glenn. [Source: John Glenn Archives, Ohio State University]Despite being a potential target for terrorists, the US Capitol building in Washington is not evacuated when the second World Trade Center tower is hit and it is clear the US is under attack. (CNN 9/11/2002) Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) is in the lobby of his office at the Capitol, and some of his staff members there are watching the television coverage of events in New York. Daschle has already been told about the first plane hitting the WTC, and then sees the second one hitting the South Tower live on television. As Daschle later recalls, he now realizes, “This is an attack.” Former Senator John Glenn (D-OH), who has stopped by to say hello to Daschle, now warns him: “I’m not sure you ought to be here. This would be a logical target.” Indeed, Daschle will later comment, “I’ve heard people observe since that day what a prime target the Capitol building makes for such an air attack—this brilliant white structure perched on its own terraced hill, its dome outlined against the sky, with the broad, sprawling expanse of the Mall leading up to it like a long open runway.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 105-107; Daschle 5/10/2004) A bestselling 1994 novel by Tom Clancy in fact included the plotline of a suicide pilot deliberately crashing a Boeing 747 into the Capitol building (see August 17, 1994). (Buckley 10/2/1994; Pinkerton 5/20/2002) Yet Daschle is able to continue with his scheduled weekly team meeting with his senior staff, where they discuss budget issues. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 106-107) Even by the time the Pentagon is hit, more than 25 minutes later, there will still have been no evacuation of the Capitol. (CNN 9/11/2002) The building will eventually be evacuated around 9:48 a.m., reportedly due to fears of a plane approaching it (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 8/21/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 109; Hastert 2004, pp. 8)

President Bush continues to read.President Bush continues to read. [Source: Lions Gate Films]President Bush stays in the classroom where he has been participating in a reading demonstration for at least two minutes after the demonstration has ended, asking the children questions and talking to the school’s principal, before joining his colleagues in another room and responding to the terrorist attacks. Despite being told that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and America is under attack (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush has spent the last five minutes listening to some second graders reading a story about a pet goat (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/7/2002; Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39)
Bush Stays in the Classroom and Chats with the Students - After the children finish the story, rather than leaving the classroom, Bush stays seated and talks to them. “Hoo! These are great readers,” he says. “Very impressive. Thank you all so very much for showing me your reading skills.” He then says: “I’ll bet they practice, too. Don’t you? Reading more than they watch TV?” Bush, who is “notoriously punctual,” is now “openly stretching out the moment” and “lollygagging as if he didn’t want the session to end,” journalist and author Bill Sammon will comment. He asks the children: “Anybody do that? Read more than you watch TV?” The children raise their hands and he says: “Oh, that’s great. Very good. Very important to practice.” He is “smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world,” according to Sammon. Bush then turns to the teacher, Sandra Kay Daniels, and in a relaxed manner tells her, “Thanks for having me.” He says to the children, “I’m very impressed with how you read this book.” With the reading demonstration now over, Daniels instructs the children to close their books and place them under their chairs. (Sammon 2002, pp. 89-90)
Bush Says He Will Talk about the Events in New York Later - After he learned that a second plane had crashed into the WTC, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer instructed the president’s advance team to get members of the press out of the classroom as soon as the reading demonstration ended, so they wouldn’t ask Bush about the events in New York before he had enough information to give an appropriate answer. (Fleischer 8/8/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 139) Following this instruction, White House assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe now urges the reporters in the room to leave. He says to them: “Thank you, press. If you could step out the door we came in, please.” However, before exiting, one reporter calls out, “Mr. President, are you aware of the reports of the plane crash in New York?” (Sammon 2002, pp. 90; CBS 9/11/2002) During the reading demonstration, Fleischer held up a message instructing Bush to not say anything yet about the attacks (see (Shortly After 9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/7/2002) In line with this instruction, Bush tells the reporter, “I’ll talk about it later.”
Bush Talks to the Principal before Leaving the Room - The president then steps forward and shakes hands with Daniels. “He was taking his good old time,” Sammon will comment. Bush waits until all the members of the press have left the room and then pulls aside Gwendolyn Tosé-Rigell, the school’s principal, to explain to her that his plans have changed. “I’m so sorry, but a tragedy has occurred,” he says. He tells Tosé-Rigell about the second crash at the WTC and says that, instead of giving a talk about education, he will have to give a speech to the nation from the school, to comment on the terrorist attacks (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 90-91) He then goes to a holding room next to the classroom, where he will talk on the phone with officials in Washington, DC, and work on the statement that he wants to deliver before leaving the school (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/7/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush was supposed to leave the classroom at 9:15 a.m., according to his original schedule. (US President 9/2001) Despite everything that has happened, he leaves the room close to this time—“shortly before 9:15,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

Frank Brogan.Frank Brogan. [Source: Publicity photo]The Secret Service allows President Bush to stay at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, after a reading demonstration he was participating in has ended, even though he could be in danger at the school. (Martin 7/4/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush has just left the classroom where the reading demonstration was held and entered a holding room next to it. There, he talks on the phone with officials in Washington, DC, and works on a statement to the nation that he wants to deliver before leaving the school (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Members of his staff in the holding room apparently have little information about the terrorist attacks beyond what has been reported on television. They are in contact with the White House Situation Room but not the Pentagon and, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “No one in the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were hijacked or missing.” (Sammon 10/7/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39) All the same, Secret Service agents and other personnel with the president are concerned that Bush could be in danger at the school, and some of them are worried that terrorists might attack the place (see (9:04 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush's Lead Agent Wants to Evacuate the President - Edward Marinzel, the head of Bush’s Secret Service detail, is “eager to get the president out of the school, to Air Force One, and airborne,” according to Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser. (Rove 2010, pp. 251) He therefore approaches Bush and tells him, “We need to get you to Air Force One and get you airborne.” (Graff 9/9/2016) However, his concern does not result in Bush being evacuated from the school right away. The Secret Service will later tell the 9/11 Commission that although its agents “were anxious to move the president to a safer location” while he was in the holding room, they “did not think it imperative for him to run out the door.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Chief of Staff Wants Bush to Give His Speech before Leaving - Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, suggests that Bush should be allowed to give his speech to the nation from the school before leaving. He says that “we have a whole auditorium full, waiting for the next event”—meaning Bush’s speech—and there is “no imminent threat there in Sarasota,” according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. The Secret Service therefore accepts a compromise and agrees that Bush can give his speech before leaving. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Should Be Taken to the 'Closest Secure Location' - Author Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will criticize Bush’s Secret Service detail for failing to get the president away from the school immediately after the second hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “With an unfolding terrorist attack, the procedure should have been to get the president to the closest secure location as quickly as possible, which clearly is not a school,” he will state. (Martin 7/4/2004) Bush himself will comment on the situation while he is in the holding room, saying, “One thing for certain: I needed to get out of where I was.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 93)
Bush Refuses to Leave - And yet the president refuses to leave the school at this time when he is urged to do so, according to Frank Brogan, lieutenant governor of Florida, who is in the holding room with him. “The Secret Service tried to get the president to return to Air Force One immediately,” Brogan will state, “but he refused, saying he was committed to staying on the ground long enough to write a statement about what was happening, read it to the nation, and lead a moment of silence for the victims.” (Frost 9/18/2003) Bush “was courageously insistent about remaining on the ground to make a statement to the people of America,” Brogan will comment. (Stein 9/11/2011) Bush will give his speech to the nation, which will be broadcast live on television, from the school library at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (White House 9/11/2001; Bohn 2015, pp. 215) He will finally leave the school at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

Bush in a holding room before giving his speech. Communications director Dan Bartlett points to the TV, and the clock reads 9:25. 
Bush in a holding room before giving his speech. Communications director Dan Bartlett points to the TV, and the clock reads 9:25. [Source: White House]After leaving the Booker Elementary School classroom, President Bush returns to an adjacent holding room where he is briefed by his staff, and gets his first look at the footage of the burning World Trade Center on a television that has been set up there. He instructs his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, to take notes to create an accurate accounting of events. According to some accounts, he speaks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney who is at the White House, and they both agree that terrorists are probably behind the attacks. (Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; Churcher 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) But White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also in the holding room, will later tell NBC News that Bush is unable to reach Cheney because the vice president is being moved from his office to the White House bunker at this time. (Rove 9/11/2002) The president speaks with New York Governor George Pataki and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Bush learns from Mueller that the planes that hit the WTC were commercial American aircraft, and at least one of them had apparently been hijacked after leaving Boston. According to some accounts, Bush also speaks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time. However, Rice herself will later suggest otherwise (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 93-94; Churcher 9/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett quickly draft a statement for the president to deliver in the school’s library, which Bush rewords, scribbling three sheets of notes. Bush will deliver this at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he works on the statement, Bush briefly glances at the unfolding horror on the television. Turning to his aides in the room, he declares, “We’re at war.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 94; Krueger 9/10/2002) According to the 9/11 Commission, the focus at the present time is on the president’s statement to the nation, and the only decision made by Bush’s traveling party is to return to Washington. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush will later claim that he makes no major decisions in response to the crisis until after Air Force One takes off at around 9:55 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. 
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. [Source: US Department of Transportation]Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta arrives at the White House bunker—the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—containing Vice President Dick Cheney and others. Mineta will tell NBC News that he arrives there at “probably about 9:27,” though he later says to the 9/11 Commission that he arrives at “about 9:20 a.m.” He also later recalls that Cheney is already there when he arrives. (Mineta 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; Martin 7/4/2004; Mineta 6/3/2006) This supports accounts of Cheney reaching the bunker not long after the second WTC crash (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Questioned about this in 2007 by an activist group, Mineta will confirm that Cheney was “absolutely… already there” in the PEOC when he arrived, and that “This was before American Airlines [Flight 77] went into the Pentagon,” which happens at 9:37. Yet, while admitting there is “conflicting evidence about when the vice president arrived” in the PEOC, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that the “vice president arrived in the room shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” Mineta also later claims that when he arrives in the PEOC, Mrs. Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, is already there. Yet the 9/11 Commission will claim she only arrives at the White House at 9:52 (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Mineta 6/26/2007) Once in the PEOC, Mineta establishes open phone lines with his office at the Department of Transportation and with the FAA Operations Center. (Mineta 6/3/2006)

Captain Craig Borgstrom.Captain Craig Borgstrom. [Source: US Air Force / Austin Knox]The three F-16 fighter jets ordered to scramble from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) take off and, radar data will show, are airborne by 9:30 a.m. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Tyson 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27)
Delayed during Launch - Major Dean Eckmann will recall that, after receiving the scramble order, he and the two other pilots have “a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” (BBC 9/1/2002) According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, the three fighters are “given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base” as they are launching. (Filson 2003, pp. 63) But, according to author Lynn Spencer, in spite of this, the jets are delayed. As Eckmann is approaching the runway, he calls the control tower for clearance to take off, but the tower controller tells him, “Hold for an air traffic delay.” Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center “have not had time to clear airliners out of the way for the northerly heading. Dozens of aircraft at various altitudes fill the jets’ route.” After having to wait two minutes, Eckmann complains: “We’re an active air scramble. We need to go now!” Finally, the tower controller tells him, “Roger, Quit flight is cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning the fighters are to fly due east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Taking Off - The three jets launch 15 seconds apart, with Eckmann in front and the two other jets following. (Spencer 2008, pp. 143-144) Pilot Craig Borgstrom will later recall, “[W]e took off, the three of us, and basically the formation we always brief on alert, we’ll stay in a two- to three-mile trail from the guy in front.” (Filson 2003, pp. 63) According to the BBC, the pilots get a signal over their planes’ transponders, indicating an emergency wartime situation. (BBC 9/1/2002)
Could Reach Washington before Pentagon Attack - F-16s have a maximum speed of 1,500 mph at high altitude, or 915 mph at sea level, so the three fighters could plausibly travel the 130 miles from Langley Air Force Base to Washington in just minutes. (Chant 1987, pp. 404; Associated Press 6/16/2000; Weisman 9/16/2001; Graham 9/16/2001 pdf file; US Air Force 10/2007) Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I think if those aircraft had gotten airborne immediately, if we were operating under something other than peacetime rules, where they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC, and gone into burner, it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, the jets are redirected east over the Atlantic Ocean and will be 150 miles from the Pentagon when it is hit (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27)
Conflicting Times - Some early news reports after 9/11 will say the Langley jets take off at the later time of 9:35 a.m. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; CNN 9/14/2001; Graham 9/15/2001; CNN 9/17/2001) But according to Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, though the jets are airborne at 9:30, the report of this does not come down until 9:35, so this fact may account for the conflicting times. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Garamone 9/7/2006)
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (US Department of Defense 9/2001) The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, requests a fighter escort for Air Force One and authorization for the Air Force to shoot down threatening aircraft. According to Clarke’s own account, when they see President Bush starting his short speech from the Booker Elementary School library on television (at about 9:30), he and others in the Situation Room briefly discuss getting the president away from the school to somewhere safer. Clarke then telephones the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, which contains Vice President Dick Cheney and others. He speaks with Army Major Mike Fenzel and instructs him: “Mike, somebody has to tell the president he can’t come right back here [to Washington]. Cheney, Condi, somebody. Secret Service concurs. We do not want them saying where they are going when they take off. Second, when they take off, they should have fighter escort. Three, we need to authorize the Air Force to shoot down any aircraft—including a hijacked passenger flight—that looks like it is threatening to attack and cause large-scale death on the ground. Got it?” Fenzel replies, “Roger that, Dick, get right back to you.” This conversation appears to take place shortly before the Pentagon attack occurs, so roughly around 9:35 or 9:36, as soon afterwards Secret Service Director Brian Stafford slips Clarke a note stating that radar shows an aircraft heading their way (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and then Ralph Seigler, the Situation Room deputy director, reports an explosion having occurred at the Pentagon. (Clarke 2004, pp. 6-7) However, it is unclear how long it takes for Clarke’s requests to be implemented. According to some accounts, fighters do not arrive to accompany Air Force One until an hour or more after it takes off (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Reports are also contradictory as to when shootdown authorization is given for the Air Force. According to Clarke’s own recollections, it is given between around 9:38 and 9:56 (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Other accounts, including that of the 9/11 Commission, state that it is not given until after 9:56, possibly as late as 10:20 (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001).

President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport.President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush has difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) While he is in his limousine, he tries calling colleagues at the White House over a secure telephone line, but all the secure lines are down. He ends up trying to call Washington using a borrowed cell phone. Even this doesn’t work, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, he talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time, which means he is able to make at least one call (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will later comment on the difficulties Bush and his entourage have communicating with Washington today, saying, “Every kind of communication… was challenged” and the “communications network did not hold up.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will claim that Bush had difficulty communicating with Washington while he was being driven to the airport because members of his entourage all tried calling the capital at the same time after leaving the school, thereby causing a “communication jam.” However, the communication problems will continue after Bush takes off from Sarasota on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) The president’s difficulty reaching his colleagues in Washington during the drive to the airport is particularly notable since, just a few months ago, Bush instructed Joseph Hagin, his deputy chief of staff for operations, to promptly ensure that he is always able to make phone calls, after he had trouble making a call from his limousine (see Spring 2001). Hagin has apparently not yet fixed the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011)

Dick Cheney heading to the the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.Dick Cheney heading to the the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney is taken by the Secret Service from his office to an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House around this time, according to some accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office about half an hour earlier. (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 pdf file; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes 2007, pp. 333, 335) Cheney, who is in his office in the West Wing of the White House, is aware of the two plane crashes in New York and realizes this is a terrorist attack. He is now “watching developments on the television,” he will later recall, and starting “to get organized to figure out what to do.” (Cheney 9/16/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 330-331) The Secret Service was informed that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House at around 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Concern about this aircraft prompted it to order the evacuation of Cheney “just before 9:36,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Armed Agents Enter Cheney's Office - Four or five Secret Service agents carrying submachine guns therefore enter Cheney’s office, according to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. One of them, Special Agent James Scott, pushes through the group of government officials who are gathered around Cheney (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the vice president, “Sir, we need to move you—now.” Cheney nods, indicating that he will respond to the agent in a moment, and then turns to say something to another person. But Scott brings down the flat of his hand sharply on Cheney’s desk and commands, ”Now!” (Gellman 2008, pp. 114-115)
Cheney Propelled out of His Office - Scott then puts his hand on Cheney’s shoulder, grabs the vice president by the back of his belt, and moves him out the door. (Hayes 2007, pp. 333) Cheney will comment that Secret Service agents “practice this, I’m sure, because… whether you wanted to move or not, you’re going. They don’t exactly pick you up and carry you. It’s more like they propel you forward.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) As the Secret Service agents take Cheney through his outer office, the vice president manages to grab the latest issue of The Economist off a table. “I’m always carrying something in case I get hung up someplace,” he will explain. “I’ve got to have something to read.” (Thomas 12/30/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 333) Carrying the magazine but nothing more, Cheney is hurried down the hallway, past the Oval Office, and down into the basement of the White House. (Cheney 11/19/2001)
Other Officials Left in Cheney's Office - The officials who were with Cheney are left in his office. Mary Matalin, one of Cheney’s senior advisers, will recall: “[S]peechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, ‘What are we, chopped liver?’ I think I actually said that.” (National Review 9/8/2011) Cheney will arrive in the underground tunnel leading to the PEOC about a minute after he leaves his office (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There he will learn that the Pentagon has been hit and talk over the phone with the president (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) before heading into the PEOC (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) However, according to some accounts, Cheney was evacuated from his office a significant time earlier on, around 9:03 a.m., when the second plane crashed in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2)

Barbara Riggs.Barbara Riggs. [Source: Miles B. Norman / Elmira Star-Gazette]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke learns of an aircraft heading toward the White House. Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is passed a note by Secret Service Director Brian Stafford, which says, “Radar shows aircraft headed this way.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 7) Around this time, the FAA’s Boston Center is reporting a low-flying aircraft six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), so this is presumably the same airliner to which Stafford’s note refers. (Bronner 8/1/2006) Clarke later comments that the Secret Service is aware of the approaching plane because it has “a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 7) Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs, who is in the agency’s Washington headquarters, will later corroborate this, recalling: “Through monitoring radar and activating an open line with the FAA, the Secret Service was able to receive real time information about… hijacked aircraft. We were tracking two hijacked aircraft as they approached Washington, DC, and our assumption was that the White House was a target.” (PCCW Newsletter 3/2006) Stafford informs Clarke that he is going to evacuate the White House complex. (This evacuation appears to take place at around 9:45 (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Those in the Situation Room are then informed that there has been an explosion at the Pentagon, and soon after that a plane has hit it. (Clarke 2004, pp. 7)

According to one account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is given the go-ahead to authorize Air Force jets to shoot down threatening aircraft around this time. In late 2003, Clarke will recall to ABC News that, minutes earlier, he’d picked up the phone in the White House Situation Room and called Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. He’d told him: “We have fighters aloft now. We need authority to shoot down hostile aircraft.” (Koppel 11/29/2003) This call appears to be one Clarke also describes in his 2004 book Against all Enemies, though in that account he will describe having made his request to Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, rather than directly to Cheney. According to that account, the call occurred shortly before Clarke learns of the Pentagon attack, so roughly around 9:36 (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 6-7) Clarke describes to ABC News, “I thought that would take forever to get that [shootdown] authority.” But, “The vice president got on the phone to the president, got back to me, I would say within two minutes, and said, ‘Do it.’” (Koppel 11/29/2003) If correct, this would mean the president authorizes military fighters to shoot down threatening aircraft at around 9:37-9:38. However, around this time, the president and vice president are reportedly having difficulty communicating with each other, while Bush heads from the Booker Elementary School to the Sarasota airport (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Shenon and Marquis 6/18/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Furthermore, this account contradicts several others. In his 2004 book, Clarke will describe being told to inform the Pentagon it has shootdown authorization slightly later, some time between 9:45 and 9:56 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8) According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives the shootdown authorization in a phone call with Cheney shortly after 9:56 (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) The 9/11 Commission will say he gives it in a call at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)

Shortly after boarding Air Force One, President Bush speaks by phone with Vice President Dick Cheney for approximately 10 minutes. (Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) According to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney had reached the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House at 9:37 a.m. (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He and the Secret Service agents escorting him had paused in an area of the tunnel with a secure phone and a television. He’d then asked to speak to the president, but it had taken a while for his call to be connected. However, elsewhere in its final report, the Commission will indicate that Bush, not Cheney, makes this phone call, saying that after he’d boarded Air Force One, the president “called the vice president.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Cheney will later recall making “one phone call [to the president] from the tunnel. And basically I called to let him know that we [at the White House] were a target and I strongly urged him not to return to Washington right away, that he delay his return until we could find out what the hell was going on.” (Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 464) He will recall, “What I was immediately thinking about was sort of continuity of government.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) According to notes made by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, at about 9:45 a.m. Bush tells Cheney: “Sounds like we have a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We’re at war… somebody’s going to pay.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39 and 463; Fleischer 2005, pp. 141) Bush instructs Cheney to call the congressional leadership and give them a briefing. (Lemann 9/25/2001) (However, around this time, Capitol Hill is being evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001).) The 9/11 Commission will state that, according to “contemporaneous notes,” at 9:55 a.m. “the vice president [is] still on the phone with the president advising that three planes [are] missing and one had hit the Pentagon.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) In his book Against All Enemies, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will indicate that it is around the time this call occurs that he is informed that the president has authorized the military to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8) Yet various accounts of Bush and Cheney’s call will make no mention of the president and vice president discussing any orders or making any decisions. (Sammon 2002, pp. 101; Woodward 2002, pp. 16; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) Their call apparently ends around 9:56 a.m.-9:57 a.m., as, according to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney enters the PEOC “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) (However, some accounts will indicate that he enters the PEOC significantly earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After hanging up, Bush turns to the men who are with him at his desk: his chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, military aide Lieutenant Colonel Tom Gould, and Fleischer. He tells them: “That’s what we’re paid for, boys. We’re gonna take care of this. When we find out who did this, they’re not gonna like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 101; Woodward 2002, pp. 17) According to some accounts, shortly after finishing this call, the president and vice president will be back on the phone with each other (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate.Senator John Kerry looks up to the sky as he and others evacuate. [Source: CBC]The Capitol building in Washington, DC is evacuated. (Associated Press 8/21/2002) It is the first time in US history this has ever happened. (Zuckman 9/12/2001; Mitchell and Seelye 9/12/2001) Both the Senate and the House are in session at the time. (CNN 8/17/2002) Capitol Police officers go through the building and order people to leave at once. (Lancaster and Dewar 9/12/2001; CNN 9/11/2002)
Reports of Plane Approaching the Capitol - The evacuation appears to be in response to reports of a plane heading toward the Capitol. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 8/17/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 80-81) According to CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash, “the Capitol Police were hearing, in their radio, that there was a plane—another plane in the air, likely headed for the Capitol.” (CNN 9/11/2006) When a Capitol Police officer instructs Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to leave the building, he says: “We have word that an airplane is heading this way and could hit the building anytime. You need to evacuate.”
'Nothing Orderly' about Evacuation - However, there are problems with the evacuation. According to Daschle, “The fire alarm system, which was working in the nearby Senate office buildings, was never activated in the Capitol, so there were people who weren’t aware that an evacuation was taking place.” Also, some individuals are reluctant to leave. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 109-110) Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ) will recall: “They tried to throw me out three times, but they didn’t succeed. I figured I was safer in the building than out on the street.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001) Daschle will recall that there is “nothing orderly” about the evacuation. Outside the building “No one knew what to do or where to go. People congregated on the grass and in the parking lot. Senators and staff were mixed in with tourists, all staring up at the sky, wondering what might be headed our way.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 110) CNN will report, “[S]ome of the most high ranking officials in the United States government were just kind of scattered around this area without a gathering point.” (CNN 9/11/2006)
Sergeant at Arms Concerned over Poor Security - Al Lenhardt, the Senate’s sergeant at arms, will later say how alarmed he was “to see members of Congress and their staffs mixed in with visitors and passersby wandering in the open around the Capitol grounds. One of the tactics that terrorists have been known to employ is to create a diversion to move their intended target to the area where the actual attack will take place. Al imagined a bomb or gunfire erupting right there on the lawn outside the Capitol.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 111) Eventually, many of the members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, which then serves as their command center for the day (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001 and (10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 112)

Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers wants clear rules of engagement for military fighter pilots, according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. In his book Against All Enemies, Clarke will describe hearing that the president has authorized the military to shoot down hostile aircraft some time between about 9:45 and 9:56 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). From the White House Situation Room, where he is located, he then gets the attention of those on the video conference screen for the Pentagon, and informs them of this decision. Myers asks, “Okay, shoot down aircraft, but what are the ROE [rules of engagement]?” As Clarke will comment, “It was one thing to say it’s okay to shoot down a hijacked aircraft threatening to kill people on the ground, but we needed to give pilots more specific guidelines than that.” Clarke asks his colleague Franklin Miller and Marine Colonel Tom Greenwood—a member of Miller’s staff—to ensure that the Defense Department has “an answer to that question quickly.” He tells them, “I don’t want them delaying while they lawyer that to death.” Clarke recalls that he is then informed: “CNN says car bomb at the State Department. Fire on the Mall near the Capitol.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 8-9) It is therefore unclear exactly what time he is describing, as CNN first makes the incorrect report of the State Department car bomb at 10:33, but it reports the fire on the Mall at 9:45. (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001; Miller 8/26/2002) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will tell the 9/11 Commission that he works on fashioning the rules of engagement for fighter pilots, in collaboration with Myers, after he enters the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) at around 10:30 (see (10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) Yet he does not complete and issue these rules until 1:00 p.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 465; Cockburn 2007, pp. 7; Myers 2009, pp. 157-158)

Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, joins her husband in an underground tunnel that leads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Cheney 11/9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Cheney has been driven to the White House by her Secret Service agents after they evacuated her from a hair salon in Washington, DC (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001) As they were making their way through the White House, Cheney and the Secret Service agent accompanying her ran into I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, and Libby then joined them as they headed toward the PEOC (see 9:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). In the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, Cheney, the Secret Service agent, and Libby find the vice president. (Libby 11/14/2001) Vice President Cheney was being taken to the PEOC by his Secret Service agents (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but stopped in an area of the underground tunnel where there is a secure telephone, in order to speak to President Bush (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) He is on the phone with Bush when his wife reaches him. (Cheney 9/11/2001; Cheney 11/9/2001) Dick and Lynne Cheney will enter the PEOC at around 9:58 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 into the FAA computer system, giving a new destination of Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. Flight 93 is currently flying in the airspace covered by the Cleveland Center’s Imperial Sector radar position, which is being managed by controller Linda Justice. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Ballingrud 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; Lynn Spencer 2008)
Controller Enters New Flight Plan for Flight 93 - Justice changes the flight’s destination code from “SFO,” the code for San Francisco International Airport, to “DCA,” the code for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (Ballingrud 9/12/2001) An FAA chronology will specify that she changes the flight plan “direct HGR [the code for Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland] to DCA.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001) Another FAA chronology will similarly state that Justice reroutes Flight 93 “direct to Hagerstown direct to Washington National.” (Federal Aviation Administration 12/6/2001) Flight 93’s tag therefore now reads, “Hagerstown—National,” according to Justice. (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file)
New Flight Plan Not Due to Communication with Pilot - The reason Justice enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 is unclear. A minute earlier, the hijacker pilot on Flight 93 reprogrammed the plane’s navigational system for the new destination of Reagan Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Longman 2002, pp. 182; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 457) And according to the St. Petersburg Times, controllers typically only change a plane’s destination when this is requested by the pilots. (Ballingrud 9/12/2001) But one of the FAA chronologies will state that Justice’s change to the flight plan is “not a result of any communication with the pilot.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001)
Flight Plan Changed to Aid Handoff to Washington Controllers - Justice will later explain why she changes the flight plan. She will state that Flight 93 appears to be heading toward the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, and so, in “an attempt to expedite the situation,” she enters the change of routing to reflect Hagerstown Airport to Reagan Airport. She will say she does this “only to forward [the] information [about Flight 93] to the sectors the aircraft appeared to be tracking toward.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001 pdf file) Justice will tell the 9/11 Commission that she changes the routing when she sees Flight 93 is heading eastbound. She will say, “The easiest way to do a handoff is to change the flight plan,” and also say she changes the flight plan “to show that Washington Center was the recipient.” According to Justice, the “controversial step” she takes is “putting in Hagerstown, because the misconception was that she had communicated with the plane and cleared it through.” (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file) John Werth, another controller at the Cleveland Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Justice enters the new destination for Flight 93 “because she knew it would be easier to track the primary [radar track for the aircraft] when the computer has a flight plan to work with.” (9/11 Commission 10/1/2003 pdf file) After changing the flight plan, Justice calls the Potomac Sector radar position at the Washington Center and tells the controller there to “pull up the data block” for Flight 93. Justice will say it is clear to the Washington Center controller that she has created the new destination in order to make it easier to locate the plane. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file)
New Flight Plan Causes False Reports of Plane Approaching Washington - According to author Lynn Spencer, the new flight plan creates a “coast track” of Flight 93 on the traffic situation displays at air traffic control facilities. “A coast track,” Spencer will write, “differs from a radar track in that it is not supported by radar returns but rather by a computer-generated, projected course for the flight. Although this track did not appear on controller radar screens, its presence on their [traffic situation displays] allowed Washington controllers to monitor the flight’s progression toward Washington.” According to Spencer, the presence of this coast track leads to incorrect reports of an aircraft approaching Washington in the minutes after Flight 93 crashes. She will write, “A controller in Washington, unaware that the flight had crashed, was calling position reports for the coast track of United 93 to the White House (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001)… as well as the FBI at the Pentagon (where firefighters were evacuated and the firefight suspended in anticipation of a second impact)” (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lynn Spencer 2008)

President Bush talks on the phone to Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any plane that might be under the control of hijackers. “I said, ‘You bet,’” Bush later recalls. “We had a little discussion, but not much.” (Weisman 9/16/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Kohn 9/2/2003) Bush recalls that this isn’t a difficult decision for him to make, “once I realized there was a protocol… because again, I now realized we’re under attack. This is a war.” According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, this call between Bush and Cheney takes place shortly after 9:56, when Air Force One took off from the Sarasota airport. (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Consistent with this, Bush and Cheney will tell the 9/11 Commission that Bush gives the shootdown authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the 9/11 Commission will say the authorization is given in a later call, at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) Bush later indicates that he doesn’t make any major decisions about how to respond to the attacks until after boarding Air Force One, which fits with these accounts of him approving shootdown authorization after take off. (Bush 12/4/2001; Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file) But according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the authorization is given earlier, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56 (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Koppel 11/29/2003; Clarke 2004, pp. 8)

Lynne Cheney conferring with Dick Cheney in the early afternoon on 9/11.Lynne Cheney conferring with Dick Cheney in the early afternoon on 9/11. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney, accompanied by his wife, enters the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the East Wing of the White House, after being evacuated from his office by the Secret Service. (Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Secret Service agents hurried Cheney out of his office in the West Wing of the White House at around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from there at around 9:03 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman 2008, pp. 115) Cheney paused in an underground tunnel leading to the PEOC (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), where he talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and was joined by his wife, Lynne Cheney, after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
Cheney and Wife Go into Conference Room - After he finishes his call with the president, the vice president goes with his wife into the PEOC. (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 2) They pass through a small communications studio and then turn left into a larger conference room. (Gellman 2008, pp. 116) There is “conflicting evidence” about when Cheney arrives in the conference room, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The 9/11 Commission will conclude, however, that he enters it “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
Cheney Now in a Position to 'Receive Reports' and 'Make Decisions' - In the middle of the conference room, according to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “is a rectangular wood table, long enough to seat 16 people comfortably. At several places around the table, drawers contain a white telephone for secure communications. A second row of chairs along the wall provides room for support staff.” The vice president takes his place at the center of the table. (Hayes 2007, pp. 337-338) Cheney will describe: “On the wall across from me were two large television screens and a camera for videoconferencing. A side wall contained another video camera and two more TV screens.” (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 2) He will comment that in the conference room, he is “in a position to be able to see all the stuff coming in, receive reports, and then make decisions in terms of acting with it.” (Cheney 9/16/2001)
Cheney Starts 'Working the Problem' - Cheney will recall that shortly after he enters the conference room, he watches the first World Trade Center tower collapsing on television (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, he will say, he “plugged in and start[ed] working the phones and working the problem.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) A short time after he enters the PEOC, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney will talk over the phone with the president (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)

According to the 9/11 Commission: “An Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office [joins] the [NMCC’s air threat] conference and state[s] that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The White House request[s]: (1) the implementation of Continuity of Government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave the order to implement the Continuity of Government plan a few minutes earlier, from inside the White House Situation Room (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Before that, he had requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and combat air patrols over all major US cities (not just Washington), according to his own recollection (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 7-8)

Dick Cheney talking to Condoleezza Rice.Dick Cheney talking to Condoleezza Rice. [Source: David Bohrer / White House] (click image to enlarge)According to the 9/11 Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is told that the Air Force is trying to establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, then calls President Bush on Air Force One to discuss the rules of engagement for this CAP. Cheney later tells the 9/11 Commission that he’d felt “it did no good to establish the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert.” He recalls that “the president signed off on that concept.” Bush will recall this phone call and emphasize to the 9/11 Commission that, during it, he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in the PEOC with Cheney, will tell the Commission she recalls hearing Cheney inform the president: “Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.” Then she hears Cheney say, “Yes sir.” However, as the Commission will later note, “Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete” (see (Mid 2004)). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) Reportedly, some members of the Commission’s staff will not believe this call between Bush and Cheney ever took place. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Cheney phones Bush at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, it is in fact during that call that Bush authorizes the military to shoot down threatening aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)

United Airlines official Sandy Rogers calls Ellen King at the FAA’s Command Center to discuss Flight 93. The timing of the call is not known specifically, although it appears to be after the Pentagon was hit and could not be long after Flight 93 is thought to have crashed, which is shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rogers tells King that Flight 93 has been hijacked, and King responds, “Oh God… thank you,” indicating she was previously unaware of the hijacking. However, the FAA had been aware of the situation since a few minutes after the hijacking took place (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rogers also says: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” Rogers states that United Airlines is “advising the military” about the plane and King also says that the FAA will do the same. (Federal Aviation Administration 10/14/2003, pp. 37-39 pdf file) However, there are no other reports of Flight 93 ever being over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. Flight 93 is said to crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and is thought never to reach Maryland. There will be some—apparently mistaken—reports that the plane is still airborne after it is thought to have crashed (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and this may be another such report.

The air traffic control tower at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, broadcasts regular warnings over radio that any aircraft entering the restricted airspace around the capital will be shot down, even though, according to the 9/11 Commission, the president does not authorize the shooting down of threatening aircraft until 10:18 a.m. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41) The Andrews control tower begins broadcasting warning messages over the Air Traffic Information System (ATIS) at 10:05 a.m. (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) The ATIS is an automatic information system over which “[p]re-recorded airfield advisory information is automatically transmitted at timed intervals over the airways on a specific frequency.” (US Air Force 10/1/1999 pdf file)
Planes Told They Could Be 'Shot Down' - A 9/11 Commission document summarizing key transmissions from the Andrews tower will show that warning messages are broadcast about once or twice every 10 minutes. The messages, which are all quite similar, include: “No fly notice. Remain clear of Andrews Class B airspace or you will be shot down,” and, “Any aircraft monitoring Andrews Approach Control frequency: remain clear of Andrews Class B airspace or you will be shot down.” (9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) (Class B airspace is restricted airspace in which no one is supposed to fly without a working transponder and permission from an air traffic controller. The airspace around much of Washington is designated Class B airspace. (Kessler and Phillips 9/12/2001; Bumiller and Wald 9/29/2001) )
Fighter Pilots Hear Warning - At least one of the warning messages is heard by District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter pilots who launch from Andrews Air Force Base at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and by pilots launched from Langley Air Force Base by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) earlier on (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). DCANG pilots Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney Garcia are flying at low altitude over Washington, while the three Langley pilots are above them at around 20,000 feet. Although they are on different radio frequencies, both sets of pilots hear a message over a shared channel: “Attention all aircraft monitoring Andrews tower frequency. Andrews and Class Bravo airspace is closed. No general aviation aircraft are permitted to enter Class Bravo airspace. Any infractions will be shot down.” (Filson 2003, pp. 82)
Officers Hear Warning - The warning messages are also heard by DCANG officers at Andrews. After hearing that violators of the Washington airspace will be shot down, Brigadier General David Wherley thinks to himself, “I guess that will be us doing the shooting.” (Vogel 4/8/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 446) Apparently referring to the warnings from the Andrews tower, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson will later recall: “We kind of winced at that, because there are plenty of hard reasons to not shoot somebody down. We were really in an ID posture—and trying to really be careful.” (Scott 9/9/2002)
Shootdown Not Authorized until 10:18 - Although the first of the warnings is broadcast at 10:05 a.m., President Bush only gives authorization for hostile aircraft to be shot down at 10:18 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, in a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). Furthermore, NEADS only learns that NORAD has been given clearance to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission document of Andrews tower transmissions will show that the warnings are broadcast until at least 11:05 a.m., although presumably they continue after that. (9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41-42)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told by White House Situation Room Deputy Director Ralph Seigler, “Secret Service reports a hostile aircraft ten minutes out.” Two minutes later, he is given an update: “Hostile aircraft eight minutes out.” In actual fact, when Flight 93 crashed at 10:06 a.m., it was still about 15 minutes away from Washington. Clarke is also told that there are 3,900 aircraft still in the air over the continental US (which is roughly accurate); four of those aircraft are believed to be piloted by terrorists (which is inaccurate by this time). Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Richard Myers then reports: “We have three F-16s from Langley over the Pentagon. Andrews is launching fighters from the DC Air National Guard. We have fighters aloft from the Michigan Air National Guard, moving east toward a potential hostile over Pennsylvania. Six fighters from Tyndall and Ellington are en route to rendezvous with Air Force One over Florida. They will escort it to Barksdale.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 8-9) However, fighters do not meet up with Air Force One until about an hour later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Franklin Miller, a senior national security official who is working alongside Clarke on 9/11, and another official who is also in the Situation Room, will later fail to recall hearing any warning that a plane could be only minutes away. (Sanger 3/30/2004) The time of this incident is unstated, but the Michigan fighters are not diverted until after 10:06 a.m. (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). If it takes place after 10:06 a.m., this would parallel similar warnings about Flight 93 after it has already crashed provided to Vice President Dick Cheney elsewhere in the White House (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Dick Cheney in the White House bunker, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.Dick Cheney in the White House bunker, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House] (click image to enlarge)The Secret Service, viewing projected path information about Flight 93, rather than actual radar returns, does not realize that Flight 93 has already crashed. Based on this erroneous information, a military aide tells Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the White House bunker that the plane is 80 miles away from Washington. Cheney is asked for authority to engage the plane, and he quickly provides it. The aide returns a few minutes later and says the plane is 60 miles out. Cheney again gives authorization to engage. A few minutes later and presumably after the flight has crashed or been shot down, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten suggests Cheney contact President Bush to confirm the engage order. Bolten later tells the 9/11 Commission that he had not heard any prior discussion on the topic with Bush, and wanted to make sure Bush knew. Apparently, Cheney calls Bush and obtains confirmation (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, there is controversy over whether Bush approved a shootdown before this incident or whether Cheney gave himself the authority to make the decision on the spot. As Newsweek notes, it is a moot point in one sense, since the decision was made on false data and there is no plane to shoot down. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004)

A lieutenant colonel at the White House repeatedly relays to the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that fighter jets are cleared to engage an inbound aircraft if they can verify that the aircraft is hijacked. The lieutenant colonel notifies the NMCC of the authorization over the air threat conference call (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, said at sometime between 10:10 and 10:15 that fighters could engage an aircraft that was reportedly approaching Washington (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it is only when Cheney calls President Bush at 10:18 a.m. that Bush confirms the shootdown order (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). The shootdown order will be received by NORAD, and then, at 10:31 a.m., sent out to its three air defense sectors in the continental US (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41-42; Spencer 2008, pp. 240)

In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465) Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” (Rove 9/11/2002) But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Koppel 11/29/2003; Clarke 2004, pp. 8)

William Haynes.William Haynes. [Source: C-SPAN]Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, and John Bellinger, senior associate counsel to the president and legal adviser to the National Security Council, discuss whether the president has the legal authority to order the shooting down of a civilian aircraft and Flanigan then consults a Pentagon lawyer to get his opinion on the issue. (C-SPAN 2/28/2009; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 35-36) President Bush authorized the US military to shoot down hostile aircraft in a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney at 10:18 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41) Flanigan, who is in the White House Situation Room, has heard about this and understands the reasons for Bush’s directive, but is concerned about its legality. He approaches Bellinger, mentions the shootdown order, and asks, “Do we have the legal authority nailed down for this?” Bellinger hands him an instant transcript of the conversation between Bush and Cheney. “Here’s the authority,” he says.
White House Lawyer Wants to Know the Opinion of the Military - Flanigan will later recall that he is currently certain of two things regarding the shootdown authorization. Firstly, since it has already been given, “any legal analysis was going to be woefully behind the event.” And secondly, he knows it “was completely justified as a matter of the president’s exercise of commander-in-chief authority to repel an immediate attack.” All the same, he feels uncomfortable. He realizes this is an issue for the military to consider. He therefore instructs an officer in the Situation Room to track down Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes. He is soon on the phone with the lawyer, who is at the Pentagon this morning, and tells him what he read in the transcript of Bush and Cheney’s conversation. Haynes says he already knows about the shootdown authorization. “We need the best possible rational legal basis for this,” Flanigan explains. “We’ve got commander-in-chief authority,” he continues, but adds, “Is there any other authority we can rely on?” Haynes says he will look into this.
Pentagon Lawyer Determines that Only the President Can Issue a Shootdown Order - Haynes thinks the most obvious issue with the shootdown authorization is constitutional, according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. “Under the 14th Amendment, the passengers on those planes could not be deprived of their rights to life, liberty, and property without due process of law,” and “shooting them out of the sky didn’t meet that standard,” Eichenwald will write. Furthermore, Haynes thinks, the Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable search and seizure,” and shooting down a commercial aircraft “would be quite a dramatic seizure” of the citizens on board. All the same, he knows that “the preamble of the Constitution spoke of providing for a common defense and promoting the general welfare,” and, “Under Article 2, the president was the commander in chief of the military.” He therefore determines that the issue of possibly shooting down a commercial aircraft is “a matter of self-defense, of protecting the citizenry, balanced against the rights of the passengers.” With this in mind, he concludes that a shootdown order “could be lawfully issued… but only by the president.” He soon returns to the phone and gives Flanigan his opinion.
Lawyer Says a NORAD Statute Authorizes Shooting Down Hostile Aircraft - However, according to Flanigan’s later recollection, Haynes gives a very different explanation why the president’s shootdown authorization was legal than the reasoning Eichenwald will describe. Flanigan will recall that Haynes tells him someone has already looked into the matter. “There is authority under…” he says, and then cites a “NORAD statute that gives the national command structure authority to deal with imminent threats in US airspace.” (C-SPAN 2/28/2009; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 35-36)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, missing for at least 30 minutes, finally enters the NMCC, where the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks is being coordinated. (CNN 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Rumsfeld later claims that he only started to gain a situational awareness of what was happening after arriving at the NMCC. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Rumsfeld was in his office only 200 feet away from the NMCC until the Pentagon crash at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His activities during this period are unclear. He went outside to the Flight 77 crash site and then stayed somewhere else in the Pentagon until his arrival at the NMCC. Brigadier General Montague Winfield later says, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” (ABC News 9/11/2002) Winfield himself apparently only shows up at the NMCC around 10:30 a.m. as well.

After he finally arrives at the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Donald Rumsfeld’s primary concern, according to the 9/11 Commission, is “ensuring that the [military fighter] pilots [have] a clear understanding of their rules of engagement.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44) Rumsfeld later recalls, “It was clear they needed rules of engagement telling them what they should and should not do. They needed clarity. And there were no rules of engagement on the books for this first-time situation where civilian aircraft were seized and were being used as missiles.” By this time, the president has supposedly already given authorization for the military to shoot down hijacked aircraft (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Dick Cheney informs Rumsfeld of this over the air threat conference at 10:39 (see 10:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rumsfeld says that, “Throughout the course of the day,” along with acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, he “returned to further refine those rules.” (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) As journalist Andrew Cockburn will later remark though, Rumsfeld’s work on the rules of engagement “was an irrelevant exercise for he did not complete and issue them until 1:00 p.m., hours after the last hijacker had died.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 465; Cockburn 2007, pp. 7)

Vice President Dick Cheney tries to bring Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld up to date over the National Military Command Center’s (NMCC) conference call (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), as Rumsfeld arrived at the NMCC just minutes earlier (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Cheney explains that he has given authorization for hijacked planes to be shot down and that this has been passed on to the fighter pilots. Rumsfeld asks, “So we’ve got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instructions at the present time?” Cheney replies: “That is correct. And it’s my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out.” Then Rumsfeld says: “We can’t confirm that. We’re told that one aircraft is down but we do not have a pilot report that they did it.” Cheney is incorrect about his authorization having reached the pilots (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Heather Penney Garcia.Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel 2007, pp. 446) But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82)
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 446) He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82) Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks with President Bush, and they discuss the rules of engagement for fighter pilots and Rumsfeld’s decision to raise the defense readiness condition to Defcon 3. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 465, 554) Rumsfeld is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon and Bush is on board Air Force One, flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Martin 7/4/2004) After Rumsfeld entered the NMCC at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he had been concerned with ensuring that fighter pilots defending US airspace have a clear understanding of their rules of engagement, so they know “what they could and could not do” (see (10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44) He also directed that the nation’s armed forces go to Defcon 3, an increased state of military readiness (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 131)
President Approves Decision to Raise Defcon - Rumsfeld now speaks with Bush and, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, tells him that the Department of Defense is “working on refining the rules of engagement, so pilots would have a better understanding of the circumstances under which an aircraft could be shot down.” Also at this time, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Rumsfeld briefs Bush on his decision to raise the defense readiness condition to Defcon 3. When Rumsfeld ordered that the condition be raised, Vice President Dick Cheney told him to run the issue by the president; Rumsfeld replied that he would “call him shortly.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 465, 554) Bush gives Rumsfeld his approval for having raised the defense readiness condition. (Milbank and Allen 9/12/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 133)
Defense Readiness Condition Possibly Discussed at Later Time - Although the 9/11 Commission Report will say Rumsfeld and Bush’s discussion of the defense readiness condition occurs at 11:15 a.m., in his 2010 book Decision Points, Bush will write that he approves Rumsfeld’s decision when he speaks to Rumsfeld from the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck at Barksdale Air Force Base. (Bush 2010, pp. 133) If correct, this would mean the relevant phone call takes place sometime after 12:11 p.m., when Bush goes to Keck’s office (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 112-113; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)

President Bush (center, bending) and others look out  the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives.President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 109; Kohn 9/11/2002) The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer 2008, pp. 255)
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” (BBC 9/1/2002) Bush also notices the fighters. (Sammon 2002, pp. 109) White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” (Kohn 9/11/2002)
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Martin 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” (Plunket 11/2001) Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88; Cousins 7/9/2005)

Tom Clancy.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.’” (Pinkerton 5/20/2002)

A four-image progression of photos showing World Trade Center Building 7 collapsing down into its footprint.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. (Jarvik 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. (Glanz 11/29/2001; Shwartz 12/5/2001; Glanz and Lipton 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. (Glanz 11/29/2001; Glanz and Lipton 3/2/2002; Rice 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)

Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” (Page 9/12/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 24-25)

John Farmer.John Farmer. [Source: Publicity photo]The team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission that is investigating the events of the morning of September 11 comes to believe that a key part of Vice President Dick Cheney’s account is false. The team, led by John Farmer, is convinced that the decision to authorize the military to shoot down threatening aircraft on 9/11 was made by Cheney alone, not by President Bush. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon: “If Farmer’s team was right, the shootdown order was almost certainly unconstitutional, a violation of the military chain of command, which has no role for the vice president. In the absence of the president, military orders should have been issued by Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld, bypassing the vice president entirely.”
No Evidence - Other than Cheney’s own account of his actions that morning, and a subsequent attempt Bush made to confirm this account, the team has found no evidence that the president was involved in making the shootdown decision before Cheney issued the order, and much evidence that he was unaware of this decision. Shenon will describe: “Even in moments of crisis, the White House keeps extraordinary records of communications involving Bush and his senior staff; every phone call is logged, along with a detailed summary of what happened during the call.… But for 9/11, the logs offered no evidence of a call between Cheney and Bush in which Bush authorized a shootdown. And Farmer’s team reviewed more than just one set of communications logs. There were seven of them—one maintained by the White House telephone switchboard, one by the Secret Service, one by the Situation Room, and four separate logs maintained by military officers working in the White House.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 265-266)
Issued by Cheney - The Commission believes Cheney issued the shootdown order between around 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. on 9/11, in response to reports of an aircraft heading toward Washington (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)
No Notes - Yet deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who was with Cheney at the time, had reportedly “not heard any prior conversation on the subject [of shooting down aircraft] with the president.” As Newsweek describes: “Nor did the real-time notes taken by two others in the room, Cheney’s chief of staff, ‘Scooter’ Libby—who is known for his meticulous record-keeping—or Cheney’s wife, Lynne, reflect that such a phone call between Bush and Cheney occurred or that such a major decision as shooting down a US airliner was discussed.… National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and a military aide said they remembered a call, but gave few specifics.” (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) The notes of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who had been on Air Force One with the president, show no reference to a shootdown order until several minutes after Cheney issued it (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001).
"Completely Understandable" - Daniel Marcus, the general counsel of the 9/11 Commission, will later say he thought: “[I]n many ways, it would have been completely understandable for Cheney to issue a shootdown order without authorization from Bush. Whatever the constitutional issues, it would have been difficult to second-guess Cheney about a decision to save the White House from destruction if a suicide hijacker was bearing down on the capital and there were only seconds to act.” Yet, as Marcus will recall, Cheney’s staff is “obsessed with showing that he didn’t give the order.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 266-267)
Cheney Angry - White House lawyers will subsequently lobby the 9/11 Commission to amend its treatment of the shootdown issue in one of its staff reports (see June 15, 2004). (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) And, on this same issue, an angry Cheney will try to get the 9/11 Commission Report changed just before it is released (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 411-412)

White House lawyers send an angry letter to the 9/11 Commission, which causes the Commission to water down its staff report account of Vice President Dick Cheney’s actions on September 11. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Members of the team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission examining the events of the morning of 9/11 believe that a key part of Cheney’s account, regarding the shootdown order, is false (see (Mid 2004)). (Shenon 2008, pp. 265) The Commission has found that Cheney issued the shootdown order, but he and President Bush have stated that this was only after the president had authorized the shooting down of threatening aircraft during a phone call between the two men. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) However, the Commission has found “no documentary evidence for this call.” Newsweek learns that “some on the Commission staff [are], in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president’s account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report.” Some staffers “flat out didn’t believe the call ever took place.” But when the early draft was circulated among the Bush administration, it provoked an angry reaction. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett will say, “We didn’t think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the Commission.” In a series of phone calls and a letter from its lawyers, the White House forcefully lobbies the Commission to change the language in its report. According to Newsweek, “Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the Commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton… agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report ‘was watered down,’ groused one staffer.” (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) The amended staff report will be presented days later, on June 17, at the final round of the Commission’s public hearings. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Stout 6/17/2004) Cheney will again be angry at how the Commission has dealt with the shootdown issue in its final report, and tries to get this report changed on the eve of its release (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 267)

Vice President Dick Cheney is furious that the 9/11 Commission is going to conclude in its final report that it does not believe he has been telling the full truth about his actions on the morning of September 11, and tries to get the report rewritten on the eve of its release. Since late June, each completed chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report has been forwarded to the White House for a declassification review by a team of intelligence specialists assembled by White House chief of staff Andrew Card. According to author Philip Shenon, “Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, [are] outraged by the Commission’s timeline on Cheney’s actions on September 11—and the clear suggestion that Cheney had issued an unconstitutional shootdown order that morning without Bush’s knowledge or approval.” Members of the Commission’s staff had become convinced that the decision to authorize the military to shoot down threatening aircraft was made by Cheney alone, not by President Bush (see (Mid 2004)). A few days before the 9/11 Commission Report is to be released, an angry Cheney phones Thomas Kean, the chairman of the Commission. Cheney complains, “Governor, this is not true, just not fair.” He says he finds it startling that the Commission does not accept his word and that of President Bush: “The president has told you, I have told you, that the president issued the order. I was following his directions.” Cheney demands that the relevant sections of the report be rewritten. Kean promises that he will ask the Commission’s staff to review the material about the shootdown order again before the report is published. According to Shenon, “no major changes” are subsequently made in response to Cheney’s complaint. (Shenon 2008, pp. 265 and 411-412) The White House had previously successfully lobbied the Commission to water down one of its staff reports that dealt with the shootdown authorization (see June 15, 2004). (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004)

A poll released by Zogby International shows widespread skepticism towards the official 9/11 story. The nationwide telephone survey of 1,200 adults finds that 42 percent of respondents agreed that “the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks,” and that “there has been a cover-up.” Ten percent of respondents said they were unsure, while less than half said the government and 9/11 Commission were not covering up. Forty-five percent of respondents felt the 9/11 attacks should be reinvestigated. Forty-four percent believed that President Bush exploited the attacks to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The survey also found that 43 percent of respondents were unaware of the collapse of WTC 7 on 9/11. (Zogby International 5/24/2006; Feuer 6/5/2006; Silverman 9/1/2006) When Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, is later questioned about this poll, he will say the figure of 42 percent of Americans believing there has been a cover up is “dispiriting, it’s an unusually high number” (see August 21, 2006). (Hamilton 8/21/2006) A previous Zogby poll found 49 percent of New York City residents agreed that some leaders “knew in advance” of the 9/11 attacks and “consciously failed to act” (see August 30, 2004).

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, release a book giving a behind-the-scenes look at their 20-month investigation of the September 11 attacks. (Yen 8/4/2006) They begin their book, titled Without Precedent, saying that, because their investigation started late, had a very short time frame, and had inadequate funding, they both felt, from the beginning, that they “were set up to fail.” (Hamilton 8/21/2006; Lemieux 8/25/2006) They explain the difficulties they faced in obtaining certain government documents and describe how the commission almost splintered over whether to investigate the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 as a reason for going to war. It says that if original member Max Cleland—a strong proponent of this line of inquiry—had not resigned (see December 9, 2003), the commission probably would not have reached unanimity. It also calls their gentle questioning of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during his May 2004 testimony, “a low point” in the commission’s handling of witnesses at its public hearings (see May 19, 2004). (Yen 8/4/2006; Nichols 8/5/2006; Williams 8/6/2006) Despite the problems it faced, when discussing his book with the CBC, Hamilton says he thinks the commission has “been reasonably successful in telling the story” of 9/11. (Hamilton 8/21/2006) Without Precedent, however, contains little new information about the events of 9/11. Intelligence expert James Bamford says there is “an overabundance of self-censorship by the authors.” (Bamford 8/20/2006)

Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton.Former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton. [Source: CBC]Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, gives a wide-ranging interview to the CBC about Without Precedent, a book he recently co-authored about his time on the 9/11 Commission (see August 15, 2006). In the interview he discusses the various “conspiracy theories” surrounding the events of 9/11. The interviewer, Evan Solomon, mentions to him a recent Zogby poll (see May 17, 2006) that found that 42% of Americans agreed that “the US government, and its 9/11 Commission, concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts the official explanation of September 11th.” Hamilton calls this lack of trust in the Commission’s report “dispiriting,” but attacks the “conspiracy theory people,” saying, “when they make an assertion they do it often on very flimsy evidence.” He addresses some of the various “conspiracy theories” that have been put forward about 9/11:
bullet In order to contradict the allegation that the Twin Towers were brought down deliberately with pre-planted explosives, Hamilton says the WTC collapsed (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001) because “the super-heated jet fuel melted the steel super-structure of these buildings and caused their collapse.” He adds, “There’s a powerful lot of evidence to sustain that point of view, including the pictures of the airplanes flying into the building.”
bullet With regard to the collapse of WTC Building 7 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), which some people claim was also caused by explosives, he argues, “[W]e believe that it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case, we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container, which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory on Building 7.” However, the interviewer points out that the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not actually mention the collapse of Building 7, and Hamilton says he does not recall whether the Commission made a specific decision to leave it out.
bullet In reply to a question about why the debris of Building 7 were moved quickly from the scene without a thorough investigation, even though nobody died in Building 7 and there was no need for rescue operations there, Hamilton responds, “You can’t answer every question when you conduct an investigation.”
bullet When asked whether Saeed Sheikh sent Mohamed Atta $100,000 for the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before), Hamilton replies, “I don’t know anything about it.” When the interviewer presses him about whether the Commission investigated a possible Pakistani Secret Service (ISI) connection to the attacks, Hamilton replies, “They may have; I do not recall us writing anything about it in the report. We may have but I don’t recall it.”
bullet Asked about Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s claim that Vice President Dick Cheney was in the presidential bunker beneath the White House at 9:20 a.m. on 9/11 (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), almost 40 minutes earlier than the Commission claimed he had arrived there, Hamilton replies, “I do not recall.” When pressed, he expands, “Well, we think that Vice President Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock. And there is a gap of several minutes there, where we do not really know what the Vice President really did. There is the famous phone call between the President and the Vice President. We could find no documentary evidence of that phone call.”
bullet When the interviewer points out that Richard Clarke’s account conflicts with the Commission’s over what time authorization was received from Dick Cheney to shoot down Flight 93 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Hamilton retorts, “Look, you’ve obviously gone through the report with a fine-toothed comb, you’re raising a lot of questions—I can do the same thing.”
The interviewer also asks Hamilton whether he has any unanswered questions of his own about 9/11. Hamilton’s response is: “I could never figure out why these 19 fellas did what they did. We looked into their backgrounds. In one or two cases, they were apparently happy, well-adjusted, not particularly religious - in one case quite well-to-do, had a girlfriend. We just couldn’t figure out why he did it. I still don’t know.” (Hamilton 8/21/2006)


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