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Context of 'September 12-14, 2001: Cargo Plane Flies Predator Drones from California to Washington'

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The US denounces Israel’s use of targeted killing against Palestinian terrorists. Martin Indyk, the US ambassador to Israel, says: “The United States government is very clearly on record as against targeted assassinations.… They are extrajudicial killings and we do not support that.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009] Around the same time, the US military is working on arming the Predator drone to enable remote, targeted assassinations of terrorists like Osama bin Laden (see Early June-September 10, 2001). The US will begin frequently using targeted assassinations shortly after the 9/11 attacks two months later (see September 18-October 7, 2001). In 2009, Gary Solis, former head of the law program at the US Military Academy, will comment, “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Gary Solis, Martin Indyk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations

Attendees to an important cabinet-level meeting on terrorism have a heated debate over what to do with the armed Predator drone, which has been ready for use over Afghanistan since June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke has been repeatedly pushing for the use of the Predator over Afghanistan (in either armed or unarmed versions), and he again argues for its immediate use. Everyone agrees that the armed Predator capability is needed, but there are disputes over who will manage and/or pay for it. CIA Director Tenet says his agency will operate the armed Predator “over my dead body.” [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clarke recalls, “The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] National Security Adviser Rice concludes that the armed Predator is not ready (even though it had been proven in tests during the summer), but she also presses Tenet to reconsider his opposition to immediately resume reconnaissance flights, suspended since September the year before. After the meeting, Tenet agrees to proceed with such flights. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The armed Predator is activated just days after 9/11, showing that it was ready to be used after all. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; New York Times, 5/26/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; USA Today, 9/2/2002] According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 38] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 39] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107] According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file] This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41] In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 41] According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Grimes.Bill Grimes. [Source: Lori A. Bultman / US Air Force]Colonel Bill Grimes receives a call in which he is asked about getting the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to fly over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] Grimes is the director of Big Safari, a highly secretive Air Force program based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that specializes in modifying standard Air Force aircraft for time-sensitive and highly classified operations. [Defense Update, 5/3/2013; Wired, 12/17/2015] He was in his office at Wright-Patterson this morning when a colleague told him an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. He then joined others watching the television coverage of the incident in the conference room next to his office and saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within a few minutes” of the second crash, according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, Grimes is called back to his office to take a call from Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Johns, who is at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon. Johns wants to know what needs to be done to get three Predators, and whatever is needed to fly them over Afghanistan, ready to go. But just as the two men start discussing the matter, Johns says he will have to call again later, since the Pentagon is being evacuated. This evacuation is presumably in response to the attack on the Pentagon, which occurs at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Grimes says he will have answers by the time the two men talk again. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] He will subsequently call members of his team, and tell them to pack their bags and prepare to deploy. He will instruct them to go to the airfield at Palmdale, California, where a C-17 cargo plane will arrive soon to pick them up. Grimes will later write that he starts calling the members of his team “[m]ere moments after the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center.” According to Whittle, he starts making the calls “shortly after” the second crash at the WTC. However, if his conversation with Johns occurs around the time of the Pentagon attack, he presumably only starts calling the members of his team after 9:37 a.m. A C-17 will set off tomorrow to fly three Predators, along with members of Grimes’s team, from California to Washington, DC (see September 12-14, 2001). [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Bill Grimes, Kenneth Johns

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) [CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Washington Post, 11/21/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; CBS, 9/11/2002] Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 431 and 449] Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” [US Department of Defense, 9/15/2001] “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 450]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of Defense, Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Pentagon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Donald Cook.Donald Cook. [Source: US Air Force]Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), receives a call in which he is told the White House wants to know how quickly the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, can be deployed over Afghanistan. Cook, who is currently at ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, receives the call “less than one hour after” the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, which means the call is made before around 9:45 a.m. The caller, Whittle will write, says that the “White House [wants] to know how soon the Air Force could get three Predators over Afghanistan—with missiles under their wings.” The identity of the caller is unstated. Later this morning, Cook will talk to Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the ACC, who is away in Arizona, and pass on this information to him (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236; Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rich Gibaldi.Rich Gibaldi. [Source: Rich Gibaldi]Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the Air Combat Command (ACC), and Colonel Rich Gibaldi, another senior Air Force intelligence officer, are ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to get the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to deploy over Afghanistan. Boyle spent part of the summer organizing an expanded “expeditionary intelligence squadron” to fly Predators over Afghanistan for the CIA, beginning on September 25, but he has recently had time for some other business. He and Gibaldi flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where, yesterday, they attended some meetings.
Officers Learned of the Attacks While Driving to an Army Base - The two officers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center this morning as they were driving from there to Fort Huachuca, an Army base in southern Arizona, where they were going to attend a change of command ceremony. They heard of the crashes on the car radio. After hearing about the second one, Boyle told his colleague, “We’ve got a problem.” The officers arrived at Fort Huachuca within half an hour.
Officer Was Told to Return to Langley Air Force Base - While they were at the gate, Boyle’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the ACC, calling from ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. After Boyle said where he and Gibaldi were, Cook told him to get back to Langley Air Force Base as soon as possible and ordered him to call back from a secure phone. Boyle was unable to use a secure phone at Fort Huachuca. But with the ceremony there canceled in response to the terrorist attacks, he and Gibaldi apparently left the base promptly to head back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Commander Asks about Getting Drones Airborne - Now, as they are driving to Davis-Monthan, Boyle calls Cook and explains that it will be some time before he can call from a secure phone. Cook then tells him he will need to get Predator drones ready for use as soon as possible. “You need to get your butt back here,” he says. He adds that General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, “wants to know when you can be operational and flying.”
Officer Is Told the White House Wants Drones over Afghanistan - After Boyle and Gibaldi arrive back at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Boyle finds a secure phone and calls Cook. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 232-233, 236] Cook received a call earlier this morning in which he was told the White House wanted to know when Predators could be deployed (see (Before 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] He now tells Boyle about this call, saying the White House wants to know how soon the Air Force can get three Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, over Afghanistan. Boyle and Gibaldi will subsequently have to drive the long distance from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Langley Air Force Base, and will arrive at Langley early on the morning of September 14. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236, 238-239] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Rich Gibaldi, Ed Boyle, John P. Jumper, Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A C-17.A C-17. [Source: Jeff Fisher / US Air Force]A C-17 cargo plane flies three Predator drones, along with the personnel and equipment needed to operate them, from California to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, where they will be ready to be deployed over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] Around the time of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, Colonel Bill Grimes, director of a highly secretive Air Force program called Big Safari, was called by an officer at Air Force headquarters and asked what had to be done to get three Predators ready for use in the airspace over Afghanistan (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] After that call, Grimes phoned members of his team in California and told them to prepare to deploy. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334] Meanwhile, James Clark, a retired colonel who now works as a civilian for the Air Force, arranged, with some assistance from the CIA, for a C-17 to carry three Predators across the US while the nation’s airspace is shut down in response to the 9/11 attacks. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 240]
Cargo Plane Starts Its Journey within 24 Hours of the Attacks - The C-17 begins its journey to Andrews Air Force Base at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. After being called by Grimes on the morning of September 11, Major Mark Mattoon, who had been running flight tests with the Predator at China Lake, talked to the commanding admiral at the base and requested permission for a C-17 to land. He said the aircraft would be arriving at China Lake in five hours, which means it would have landed there early that afternoon. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334; Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] However, the C-17 only leaves the base on the morning of September 12. It begins its journey across America “barely 24 hours after the attacks of 9/11,” according to journalist and author Richard Whittle.
Plane Stops Off at Several Bases - The plane stops off at an airfield in Palmdale, California, where additional equipment and personnel get on board. It stops again at Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Alabama. There, about a dozen AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are loaded onto it. The plane stops once more at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. It arrives there at 4:00 a.m. on the morning of September 13 and remains on the ground for 20 hours. While at the base, it undergoes inspection, maintenance, and refueling.
Plane Arrives near Washington on September 14 - The plane’s next stop is Andrews Air Force Base, about 10 miles from Washington. It arrives there at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 14. On board, apart from the Hellfire missiles, are three disassembled Predators, along with a flight control console and a portable C-band radio antenna, which a small team could use to get the drones in and out of the air from almost any airfield in the world. A small number of experts who are needed to operate the Predators also travel from California to Andrews Air Force Base on the C-17. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Mark Mattoon, Bill Grimes, James Clark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the days just after the 9/11 attacks, top US officials give approval to use the Predator drone in Afghanistan. The first Predator drones and missiles reached the Afghanistan theater on September 16. Two days later, the Predator is first used, flying over Kabul and Kandahar, but without carrying weapons. On October 7, the unnamed nearby country hosting the drones grants approval for armed Predators to be used. The first armed mission is flown later the same day. The CIA is in charge of most Predator flights in the region. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file] The speed in which the Predator is deployed in Afghanistan is noticeable, considering that just one week before 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was not ready to be used there (see September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Central Intelligence Agency, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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