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Context of 'September 12, 2001-March 2004: White House Officials Give Conflicting Accounts about Alleged Threat to Air Force One on 9/11'

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Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998.Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998. [Source: Jeffery S. Viano]As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59]
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. [US Congress, n.d.; Collins Center Update, 12/1999 pdf file; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” [NET News, 12/27/2011]
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. [Kristensen, 10/1998] In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 379] And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. [Space Observer, 3/23/2001, pp. 2 pdf file] If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. [IAnewsletter, 6/1998 pdf file] It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.

Entity Tags: US Strategic Command, Apollo Guardian, Crown Vigilance, Global Guardian, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of Defense, US Space Command, Vigilant Guardian, Amalgam Warrior, Richard Mies

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US Strategic Command command center.The US Strategic Command command center. [Source: US Strategic Command]At the time the attacks in New York occur, a small group of business leaders are having breakfast at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) is headquartered. With them is Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. They are in town for an annual charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. Along with other visitors who have come for the fundraiser, they are scheduled to tour the Stratcom underground command center, located 60 feet below Offutt, and receive an unclassified mission briefing. According to the Omaha World-Herald, staff members have left the command center in advance of their visit. It is only after the second attack occurs, at 9:03, that Admiral Mies excuses himself from the breakfast and the battle staff reconvenes in the center. [San Francisco Business Times, 2/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] It is unclear what effect the absence of Mies and the members of the battle staff have upon the military’s ability to respond effectively to the first attacks. However, the command center does have significant capabilities that would, presumably, be of much use under such a crisis. Stratcom is the military command responsible for the readiness of America’s nuclear forces. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59] The Lincoln Journal Star describes its underground command center as “a military nerve center that collects and assesses information from high-tech ‘eyes and ears’ across—and above—the globe.” [Journal Star (Lincoln), 10/25/2000] The cavernous room has eight giant video screens and complex communications systems. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] Stratcom itself states that the senior controller in the command center “has a direct line to the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC, and to the other major command headquarters.” This system, called the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, allows the commander in chief of Stratcom to make “prompt contact with the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other unified commanders.” Furthermore, “Through satellites and radio networks (VLF, LF, UHF and HF), the command center can communicate with aircraft in flight over any part of the world. A principal purpose of these networks is to pass National Command Authority [i.e. the president and secretary of defense] orders to the alert forces.” While only the president can order nuclear strikes, the commander in chief of Stratcom “can launch aircraft for survival.” [United States Strategic Command, 6/22/2001] With the command center’s sophisticated capabilities, after Mies returns to it from his breakfast, the eight video screens there are “loaded up with data,” providing him with “the latest information on the unfolding drama.” [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] And at the time President Bush arrives at Offutt, later in the day (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the battle staff in the center will reportedly be “watching the skies over the United States” and “tracking a commercial airliner on its way from Spain to the United States.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard Mies, US Strategic Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

White House chief of staff Andrew Card, according to his own later recollections, learns that a threat has been made against Air Force One while he is traveling with President Bush to the airport in Sarasota, Florida, although other accounts will indicate that Bush and his entourage are first alerted to the threat at around 10:30 a.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/16/2002; White House, 8/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] Card is traveling with Bush in the presidential limousine to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, after leaving the Emma E. Booker Elementary School (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 9/8/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Card will later recall that he and Bush are “both on the phones,” calling Washington, DC, to try and learn more about the terrorist attacks. He will say that as well as learning about the attack on the Pentagon (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “we also heard that there had been a threat” to Air Force One. “The Secret Service had indicated to us that someone had used the code name for Air Force One and had indicated that it might be a target,” Card will recall. He will say his goal, therefore, is “to get [Bush] to Air Force One as quickly as possible and get Air Force One in the air.” [White House, 8/16/2002; White House, 8/16/2002] Apparently contradicting Card’s claim, most accounts will indicate that Bush and his entourage are first informed that a threat has been made against Air Force One at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; CBS News, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141-142] But Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer who is in Sarasota with Bush, will support Card’s account. He will say that around the time the president’s motorcade is leaving the school, “There was some question… that Air Force One and the president were a target.” [Marist Magazine, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Thomas Herman, George W. Bush, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael Miller.Michael Miller. [Source: US Navy]A number of White House staffers who are visiting New York make their way back to Washington, DC, following the attack on the Pentagon. About 15 members of the White House staff, including Joseph Hagin, the deputy chief of staff for operations, and Captain Michael Miller, the deputy director of the White House Military Office, are in New York conducting the “survey trip” for President Bush’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly later in the month (see September 10, 2001).
Staffers Learn of Crashes while Visiting US Mission to the UN - Earlier this morning, they went to the US Mission to the United Nations for some preliminary meetings with the mission staff about the president’s forthcoming visit. In a conference room there, shortly after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Miller informed Hagin of the crash. After seeing the early coverage of the incident on television, Hagin called the military aide who is with the president in Sarasota, Florida, to check if he was aware of what had happened. The military aide told him, “We’re on it.”
Staffers Taken to Police Station - After the White House staffers watched the second plane hitting the WTC live on TV, a State Department security officer told Hagin: “Sir, you need to get out of here as quickly as possible. There are reports of other planes inbound into the city.” The White House staffers were then taken by the Secret Service to a police station in Midtown Manhattan, where it was thought they would be safe. From there, Hagin called Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff for policy, who is at the White House. As the attacks were considered to be “just a New York incident” at that time, Hagin will later recall, Bolten and his colleagues decided that Hagin “should go down and be with the mayor, and… be the federal face in New York for the time being.”
Some Staffers Fly toward Nebraska to Meet President - The New York City police and the Secret Service had been trying to work out how to get Hagin to Ground Zero. But when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), they decide that the White House staffers should return to Washington. The staffers are driven to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. There, they are split up. Eight of them, including Hagin, get on a military plane and head toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to meet the president, who has been taken to the base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). However, as they are flying over Missouri, they learn that Bush has decided to come back to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, their plane turns around and heads to the capital.
Hagin and Other Staffers Return to White House - After they land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, the staffers are driven to the White House. The time when they arrive there is unstated, but it is presumably around late afternoon or early evening. At the White House, Hagin goes to work immediately. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003] As the deputy chief of staff for operations, he is a key member of the White House staff. He is responsible for the management and administrative functions of the White House, plans all of the president’s travel, and oversees the president’s schedule. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 7/4/2008] Hagin will recall that, after reaching the White House, he is “very involved in the continuity of government and just how, operationally, we were going to deal with this.” He will remain at the White House for the next two days. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph W. Hagin, Michael H. Miller, New York City Police Department, US Secret Service, Joshua Bolten

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush’s travels on 9/11.President Bush’s travels on 9/11. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion / MagicGrapix.com]Air Force One begins heading for Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana after the base is identified as a suitable interim destination for the president’s plane. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] Washington, DC, was the plane’s original destination. [White House, 8/29/2002; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011] But after taking off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida without a fixed destination (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One changed course at around 10:10 a.m. and headed west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This was because it had been determined that Washington was too unsafe for President Bush to return there (see (9:55 a.m.-10:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325] At that time, the plane’s new destination was undecided.
Military Base Sought for President to Make a Statement - Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, who is with the president on Air Force One, will later recall, “And so we started looking at potential Air Force bases or Navy bases where we could land the plane.” [White House, 8/16/2002] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will recall that Card comes up to him in the communications area of the plane and says, “We need to find a facility, a base that we can get to in a relatively short period of time so that the president can make a statement.” [White House, 8/29/2002]
Secret Service Told of Bush's Desire to Land - Card will recall: “I had a goal of landing the plane within an hour and a half. It was somewhat arbitrary, but I wanted to get the president down.” [White House, 8/16/2002] Card similarly tells Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, that Bush wants to land so he can make a statement to the press. It is also noted “that the stop would provide an opportunity for the airplane to be refueled and those on board to effect necessary communication,” Marinzel will say. [United States Secret Service, 2001]
Offutt Air Base Rejected as Destination - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, Bush’s military aide, quickly researches the possibilities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] The first plan that is considered, according to Rosenker, is to fly all the way out to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, but this idea is dismissed because it would take too long to get there, and it is “very important to the president to address the nation and make sure that the people could see that he was safe and in total control of the situation.” [White House, 8/29/2002] (Air Force One will in fact head to Offutt later in the day, landing there at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001).)
Barksdale Makes 'the Greatest Sense' - Instead, at around 10:20 a.m., Gould identifies Barksdale Air Force Base as “an appropriate interim destination,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325-326] Rosenker will recall: “Barksdale made the greatest sense to us. It was a highly secure Air Force base, had B-52s there; they had the capability to do what was necessary to secure Air Force One and to make sure that the president was safe, and make sure that we could provide the appropriate communications facility so the president could make his statement.” [White House, 8/29/2002]
Bush Agrees with Decision to Head to Barksdale - The final decision to head to Barksdale Air Base is made by Card, “after talking to the military and the Secret Service,” according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 142] Bush agrees with the decision and Barksdale becomes his plane’s new destination. [Bush, 2010, pp. 130; Rove, 2010, pp. 255] Air Force One will land at Barksdale Air Force Base at around 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Edward Marinzel, Andrew Card, Mark Rosenker, Thomas Gould, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Eric Edelman.Eric Edelman. [Source: US Department of Defense]An anonymous phone call is received at the White House in which the caller says Air Force One, the president’s plane, will be the next terrorist target and uses code words indicating they have inside information about government procedures. [Cheney, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/13/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18] Air Force One is currently flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with President Bush on board (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] The White House receives a call from an anonymous individual, warning that the next target of the terrorist attacks will be Air Force One. The caller refers to the plane as “Angel.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] “Angel” is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. [Williams, 2004, pp. 81; CBS News, 11/25/2009] An unnamed “high White House official” will later say the use of “American code words” shows the caller has “knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001]
Government Officials Told about Threat - News of the threatening call is promptly passed on to government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—a bunker below the White House—and reported on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the PEOC, will comment that the news “reinforced the notion here… that the government has been targeted and that we need to be extra careful about making certain we protected the continuity of government, secured the president, secured the presidency.” [White House, 11/19/2001] According to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is also in the PEOC, “The talk among the principals in the room quickly determined that the use of a code word implied that the threat to Air Force One and the president could well be from someone with access to [the president’s] inner circle—possibly someone who was near the president at that very moment.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 61]
Accounts Conflict over Who Receives Call - It is unclear who at the White House answers the call in which the threat against Air Force One is made. The call is received by the White House switchboard, according to some accounts. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141-142] Other accounts will indicate it is received by the White House Situation Room. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Eric Edelman, a member of Cheney’s staff who is in the PEOC, will say the call is received by the Secret Service. [White House, 10/25/2001] But two Secret Service agents who are on duty today will deny “that their agency played any role in receiving or passing on a threat to the presidential jet,” according to the Wall Street Journal. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] However, a Secret Service pager message will be sent at 10:32 a.m., which states that the “JOC”—the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House—has received an “anonymous call” reporting that “Angel is [a] target.” [CBS News, 11/25/2009]
Military Officer Passes on Details of Threat - Officials in the PEOC reportedly learn about the threat to Air Force One from a military officer working in the center. Although Cheney will say the threat “came through the Secret Service,” he will say later this year that he is unsure who passed the details of it to those in the PEOC. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; White House, 11/19/2001] An official in Cheney’s office will say in 2004 that Cheney was informed of the threat by “a uniformed military person” manning the PEOC, although Cheney and his staff are unaware who that individual was. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say that those in the PEOC are told about the threat by a “communicator,” meaning one of the military officers who works in the PEOC, and is responsible for “establishing phone lines and video lines, and staying in touch with the National Military Command Center” at the Pentagon. [White House, 11/1/2001] The military officer Rice is referring to may be Darling. Darling will recall that he answers a call from the White House Situation Room about the threat to Air Force One and then passes on the information he receives to Rice, telling her, “Ma’am, the [Situation Room] reports that they have a credible source in the Sarasota, Florida, area that claims Angel is the next target.” Rice immediately passes on the news to Cheney, according to Darling. [Darling, 2010, pp. 60-61] Cheney will subsequently call Bush and tell him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Reason for 'Bogus' Threat Unclear - The threat will be determined to be “almost surely bogus,” according to Newsweek. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] The Secret Service’s intelligence division tracked down the origin of this threat,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “and, during the day, determined that it had originated in a misunderstanding by a watch officer in the White House Situation Room.” Although the 9/11 Commission will say it found the intelligence division’s “witnesses on this point to be credible,” Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, will dispute this account. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] By the end of 2001, White House officials will say they still do not know where the threat came from. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] Darling will write in 2010, “To this day, it has never been determined why either the ‘credible source’ or Situation Room personnel used that code word [i.e. ‘Angel’] in their report to the PEOC.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 62] “The best we can tell,” Rice will say, is that “there was a call that talked about events—something happening to the president on the ground in Florida. And that somehow got interpreted as Air Force One.” She will say that the fact the caller knew the code name for Air Force One is “why we still continue to suspect it wasn’t a crank call.” [White House, 11/1/2001] However, former Secret Service officials will say the code name wasn’t an official secret, but instead “a radio shorthand designation that had been made public well before 2001.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Deborah Loewer, US Secret Service, Robert J. Darling, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney phones President Bush and tells him the White House has received a credible threat against Air Force One. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; CBS News, 9/11/2002] The White House has just received an anonymous phone call in which the caller said the president’s plane would be the next terrorist target (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] The caller referred to the plane as “Angel,” which is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141-142] Details of the call were passed on to government officials, including Cheney, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. [White House, 11/19/2001; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]
Cheney Tells Bush about 'Credible' Threat - Cheney now tells Bush: “We’re getting reports of a threat against you. It appears credible,” Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is with Cheney in the PEOC, will later recall. Cheney says, “We’re scrambling fighter escorts and the Secret Service is taking internal precautions on board Air Force One.” [Darling, 2010, pp. 61] Bush turns to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, his military aide, and passes on the news, saying, “A call came into the White House switchboard saying, ‘Angel is next.’” Bush then continues talking with Cheney and says, “We’re at war, Dick, and we’re going to find out who did this and we’re going to kick their ass.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 107; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 141-142]
Pilot Told of Threat and Asks for Guard at Cockpit Door - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is told about the threat. [CBS News, 9/11/2002] Noting that “Angel” is “a classified call sign of Air Force One,” Tillman will comment that “the only people that knew that call sign was us, [the] Secret Service, and the staff.” Therefore, he will say, “for somebody [to] call into the White House and say that Angel was next, that was just incredible.” [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file] “It was serious before that, but now… no longer is it a time to get the president home,” Tillman will comment. “We actually have to consider everything we say. Everything we do could be intercepted and we have to make sure that no one knows what our position is.” Tillman asks to have an armed guard at his cockpit door. Secret Service agents double-check the identity of everyone on the plane, while the crew reviews the emergency evacuation plan. [CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Threat Influences Decision to Fly to Nebraska - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is on Air Force One with Bush, will say the threat against the president’s plane is what leads to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and is also one of the reasons why Bush does not head back to Washington, DC, right away. [White House, 9/12/2001] However, during the afternoon, the Secret Service will determine that the reported threat was unfounded. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] Shortly after Bush learns about the threat, Tillman will be informed that an aircraft that may have been hijacked is heading toward Air Force One (see (10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/11/2002; CBS News, 1/17/2009] White House chief of staff Andrew Card will say he in fact learned a threat had been made against Air Force One almost an hour earlier, while he was being driven with Bush to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/16/2002; White House, 8/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Mark Tillman, Ari Fleischer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Robert J. Darling, US Secret Service, Thomas Gould

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mark Rosenker.Mark Rosenker. [Source: National Transportation Safety Board]The FAA’s Jacksonville Center informs the pilot of Air Force One that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and this aircraft is out of radio contact, has its transponder off, and might be another hijacking. Air Force One is currently flying toward Gainesville in northern Florida. [CBS News, 9/11/2002; CBS News, 1/17/2009; Peter Schnall, 1/25/2009] Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, has just been informed that President Bush, who is on the plane, has been called by Vice President Dick Cheney, and Cheney told the president that an anonymous threat has been phoned into the White House, stating that Air Force One is the next target (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; CBS News, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]
Suspicious Plane Descending toward Air Force One - Tillman is now notified of the suspicious aircraft by the Jacksonville Center. He will later recall that the Jacksonville Center air traffic controller says there is “an aircraft coming at us, descending… and… its transponder was not on, and they had no idea who it was. It could have been another hijacked airliner. They weren’t sure.” The controller tells Tillman the aircraft is “behind you 10 miles, descending at least, flight level 3-5-0, looks to be holding there.” He adds: “Apparently we’ve lost radio contact with them. Are you aware of them?” Tillman replies, “Affirmative.” [Peter Schnall, 1/25/2009] The FAA reports this suspicious aircraft over the Pentagon’s air threat conference call at 10:39 a.m., saying the Jacksonville Center “is not working the aircraft. He’s not under [air traffic control] control.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file] Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that around this time, those in the PEOC receive word “of an unaccounted-for airliner last seen in the Atlanta, Georgia, area headed southeast toward Florida.” It is unclear if this is the aircraft that Tillman is warned about. [Darling, 2010, pp. 61]
Pilot Tells Others on Air Force One of Suspect Plane - Tillman informs others onboard Air Force One of the suspicious plane. Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will recall that Tillman “indicated to us that something was coming at us, it was not squawking [i.e. its transponder was off], it was not turning, and we had a feeling that we were going to be able to get away from it. But for a moment you ask the question, ‘What could it be?’” A CBS interviewer will point out to Rosenker that since this “unidentified aircraft… had its transponder off and wasn’t communicating,” it is apparently following “the MO [modus operandi] of all the other aircraft that attacked that day,” and suggest, “That must have made everybody a little nervous.” Rosenker will reply, “Well, it did.” However, he will add, “[W]e are clearly on probably the finest airplane in the world, so we were comforted by knowing that we had the ability to out-run and out-climb anything that was going to get near us.” [White House, 8/29/2002]
Air Force One Heads toward Gulf of Mexico for Safety - Tillman turns Air Force One and heads out to the Gulf of Mexico. He will recall: “We weren’t sure who was hijacked and who wasn’t, so I went out into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s basically fighters all over the Gulf that have the capability to make sure that no one comes into the Gulf, penetrates the United States. So I knew I’d be safe out into the Gulf of Mexico.” He will say he heads to the Gulf “to regroup and figure out where we could bring the president to keep him safe.”
Suspicious Plane a False Alarm - The concern about the suspicious aircraft turns out to be a false alarm. According to Tillman, “In reality, just his transponder was off [and] he hadn’t checked in with the controller right afterwards.” [CBS News, 1/17/2009; Peter Schnall, 1/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Rosenker, Mark Tillman, Robert J. Darling, Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilot Mark Tillman in the cockpit of Air Force One.Pilot Mark Tillman in the cockpit of Air Force One. [Source: CBS News]Reporters accompanying President Bush on Air Force One notice their plane significantly increasing its altitude. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Salon, 9/12/2001; Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 148] According to Ann Compton of ABC Radio, who is on Air Force One, there is “a noticeable increase in the plane’s altitude” at this time. [Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 136] At 11:14 a.m., the reporters on the plane will be informed that they are flying at around 40,000 feet. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] Compton will later recall that around the time it increases its altitude, Air Force One is heading west, instead of flying toward Washington, DC. A Secret Service agent shakes his head and whispers to her, “We aren’t going home.” [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 148; Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 136] It is unclear if there is a specific reason for Air Force One’s increase in altitude. Around 20 minutes earlier, Colonel Mark Tillman, the plane’s pilot, was notified of a threat received by the White House indicating that Air Force One is a target (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and shortly afterwards, air traffic control alerted him to a suspicious aircraft that was flying toward his plane (see (10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 106-107; CBS News, 9/11/2002; CBS News, 1/17/2009]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Ann Compton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two congressmen, Dan Miller (R-FL) and Adam Putnam (R-FL), are on Air Force One. They have been receiving periodic updates on the crisis from President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove. At this time, they are summoned forward to meet with the president. Bush points out the fighter escort, F-16s from a base in Texas, has now arrived. He says that a threat had been received from someone who knew the plane’s code name. However, there are doubts that any such threat ever occurred (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Adam Putnam, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Dan Miller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Logan Walters.Logan Walters. [Source: SCF Partners]While he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, President Bush receives an intelligence report from the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), informing him that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is already more than 45 minutes since US airspace had been cleared of all aircraft except military and emergency flights (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush orders an underling to notify everyone at the ranch about this. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; CBS News, 9/11/2002] In the White House Situation Room, they are also informed of the rogue aircraft. Logan Walters, who is Bush’s personal aide, calls the ranch’s caretaker and tells him, “Get as far away from there as you can.” Senior national security official Franklin Miller then receives a phone call informing him that a combat air patrol (CAP) has been established over the ranch. [Draper, 2007, pp. 142] (A CAP is an aircraft patrol with the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] ) Miller heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to ask Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the CAP. Both men agree that it seems unnecessarily excessive. When Miller returns to the Situation Room, he sets about calling off the CAP, but finds that it wasn’t even established to begin with, and that, furthermore, the report of a rogue aircraft was a false alarm. [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] A threat to Air Force One had allegedly been received earlier on (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this too is later deemed to have been a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Logan Walters, US Strategic Command, Franklin Miller, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing, 6/30/2002 pdf file; BBC, 9/1/2002]
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 145-146] Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file]
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117-118] After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 119; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19, 26] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck, Ann Compton, Ari Fleischer, Doug Mills, George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, US Secret Service, 147th Fighter Wing, Sonya Ross, Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing.An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. [Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 159th Fighter Wing, Randy Riccardi, Jeff Woelbling, Southeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The entrance to the Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker, very far underground. Bush officials are seen here entering it on 9/11.The entrance to the Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker, very far underground. Bush officials are seen here entering it on 9/11. [Source: CBC]Having left Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana at around 1:30 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One lands at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. President Bush stays on the plane for about ten minutes before entering the United States Strategic Command bunker at 3:06 p.m. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Offutt Air Force Base appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that was “in full swing” at the time the attacks began (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While there, the president spends time in the underground Command Center from where Global Guardian was earlier being directed, being brought up to date on the attacks and their aftermath. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Offutt Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Karl C. Rove, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fighter pilots who have been escorting Air Force One as it transports President Bush across the US are not informed that the president’s plane is departing Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and have to try and catch up with it after they hear it taking off. The pilots belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. Four F-16s from the wing have been escorting Air Force One since before it landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Pilots Told They Would Be Called When Air Force One Is Leaving - After Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the F-16s landed there as well. The fighter pilots then met with Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One. Tillman asked them about the capabilities of the F-16. He also took down their cell phone numbers and said he would call them when Air Force One would be leaving the base. However, he was unable to tell them where Air Force One would be going next, so the fighter pilots could not file a flight plan. The fighter pilots then headed off to get a snack and a drink.
Air Force One Takes Off, Pilots Not Informed - However, they are not informed when Air Force One, with Bush on board, takes off from Offutt (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). One of the fighter pilots, Major Shane Brotherton, will later recall: “We were eating our snacks and heard jet noise. It was Air Force One and they’d never called us. We got to the jets and he’s taxiing fast and never stopped. Now we’re taxiing fast and we blast off.” By the time the fighters are airborne, Air Force One is 100 miles ahead of them. Some Iowa Air National Guard fighters from Sioux City are also now airborne to protect the president’s plane, but the 147th Fighter Wing jets continue to follow it. Brotherton will recall: “All across the country we were playing catch up, because [Air Force One] was moving. And we didn’t catch up until we were nearing Washington.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88]

Entity Tags: 147th Fighter Wing, Mark Tillman, Shane Brotherton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush speaking with Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer on Air Force One on September 11.President Bush speaking with Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer on Air Force One on September 11. [Source: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum]Bush administration officials give differing accounts about whether a threat was made against Air Force One, the president’s plane, on September 11. [Washington Post, 9/27/2001; Slate, 9/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] The White House reportedly received an anonymous phone call at around 10:30 a.m. on September 11 in which the caller said Air Force One would be the next terrorist target and used code words indicating they had inside information about government procedures (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney promptly phoned President Bush on Air Force One and told him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]
Press Secretary Reveals Threat during News Briefing - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals the existence of the threat on September 12, after conferring with Cheney and White House counselor Karen Hughes about whether the administration should respond to criticisms of Bush’s failure to return to Washington, DC, immediately after the previous day’s attacks. Hughes advises Fleischer to mention the threat during his press briefing on this day. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 157] Fleischer therefore says in the briefing, “[W]e have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets of these attacks.” He says the threat against the president’s plane led to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and was one of the reasons why Bush did not head back to Washington right away in response to the attacks. [White House, 9/12/2001]
Cheney Recalls 'Credible Threat' - On September 16, Cheney similarly tells NBC’s Meet the Press, “We received a threat to Air Force One,” and adds, “I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] And later in the month, White House adviser Karl Rove, who was with Bush on Air Force One on September 11, recalls that those on the president’s plane were informed of “a specific threat made to Air Force One,” which was a “declaration that Air Force One was a target.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001]
Unnamed Officials Doubt whether Threat Was Made - Other officials, however, contradict these accounts. Near the end of September, CBS News reports that the phone call in which the threat was reportedly made “simply never happened.” It says that, according to unnamed sources, “White House staffers apparently misunderstood comments made by their security detail.” [Slate, 9/28/2001] And some unnamed Bush administration officials tell the Associated Press that “they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening Air Force One.” The officials say they “have been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat [on] September 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it.” [Associated Press, 9/26/2001] Fleischer will later recall that he learns, weeks after publicly revealing the existence of the supposed threat against Air Force One, “that the threat was unfounded.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] “I learned it was a mistake from the press,” he will say, “who had been tipped by someone who knew.” [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 158]
Threat Was 'Almost Surely Bogus' - At the start of November, when asked about the alleged call in which Air Force One was threatened, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says: “I don’t know if it was a crank call or a real threat. I don’t think we’re going to ever know.” [White House, 11/1/2001] And at the end of 2001, Newsweek reports that the reported threat to Air Force One has been determined to be “almost surely bogus,” although it adds, “White House officials say they do not know where it came from.” [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] White House spokesman Dan Bartlett says in 2004 that “there hadn’t been any actual threat” against Air Force One on September 11. Word of a threat, he says, “resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously.” Around the same time, however, Cheney’s office says it still cannot rule out that a threat to Air Force One was made. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dan Bartlett, Karen Hughes, Karl C. Rove, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he is “gravely concerned” to learn that President Bush “received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers,” referring to a CBS News report revealing that Bush had been warned about a possible hijacking over a month before the 9/11 attacks (see August 6, 2001). Daschle calls on the White House to provide the classified briefing to Congressional investigators. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says, using the language of Watergate investigators, “I think what we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at the time.” White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that, as objectionable as the White House finds these statements, “the Democrat who most aroused the ire of the White House and Republicans was New York’s Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton.” Clinton takes the floor of the Senate and says, “We learn today something we might have learned at least eight months ago: that President Bush had been informed last year, before September 11, of a possible al-Qaeda plot to hijack a US airliner.” She displays a New York Post headline that reads, “BUSH KNEW” (see May 15, 2002) and “9/11 BOMBSHELL.” “The president knew what?” Clinton asks. McClellan will write that he and his White House colleagues are “incensed” at Clinton’s rhetoric: “To us, such grandstanding appeared to be a return to the ugly partisan warfare that had come to define Washington and its culture during the 1990s. Politics as war, the innuendo of scandal, and the egregious implication that the president had deliberately neglected the country’s safety—it was all in service of the November election results. All the familiar elements were there. The story and the partisan accusations that followed provided great controversy for the media to cover.” (In this passage, McClellan fails to note that White House political guru Karl Rove had, months before, advised Bush and Republican candidates to use the war to attack Democrats in the November 2002 elections—see January 2002). McClellan will complain that Clinton “had not even bothered to call [the White House] to find out more about the facts behind the headlines before delivering her speech,” and will note: “To us, the disingenuous way the leaders rushed to create a damning story line about the president and his administration crossed a line. Republicans objected vehemently and aggressively in a counteroffensive led by the White House,” with Vice President Dick Cheney calling the Democrats’ questions “incendiary” (see May 16, 2002) and Bush declaring, “Had we any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” Bush adds: “And I’m confident that President Clinton would have done the same thing (see September 7, 2003). Any president would have.” McClellan will call Bush’s statement “a gesture toward the rapidly vanishing spirit of bipartisanship.” He will write that Democrats did not, by themselves, break the bipartisanship that had supposedly reigned before CBS broke the news of the August 6 briefing: “Democrats were responding in part to perceived efforts by Republicans seeking political advantage from the president’s aggressive efforts to wage war against Islamist terrorists,” and will note that in 1998, Republicans accused President Clinton of “wagging the dog”—launching military strikes against Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal (see December 16-19, 1998). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. [New York Times, 11/12/2006]
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67] Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. [Guardian, 1/29/2003] Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; New York Times, 9/5/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26] New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” [Washington Post, 6/19/2003] Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 25-26]
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” [New York Times, 9/5/2003]
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” [Salon, 9/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Charles Krauthammer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Showtime, Alessandra Stanley, Tony Blair, Bob Woodward, Morton Kondracke, Lionel Chetwynd, Timothy Bottoms, Kristen Breitweiser, Donald Rumsfeld, Clinton administration, Fred Barnes, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Linda McQuaig, Jim Hightower

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

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