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(Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Vice President Cheney Authorizes the Military to Shoot Down a Suspicious Plane Approaching Washington

Dick Cheney in the PEOC, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice, and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.Dick Cheney in the PEOC, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice, and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Navy Captain Anthony Barnes, deputy director of presidential contingency programs for the White House Military Office, asks Vice President Dick Cheney if the military is authorized to engage a suspicious aircraft that is approaching Washington, DC, and Cheney says it is. [White House, 11/19/2001; White House, 12/17/2001] Communicators in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House have received reports from the Secret Service about a suspicious aircraft that is presumably hijacked and is heading toward Washington (see 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] Meanwhile, Barnes, the senior military officer on duty in the PEOC this morning, was called by a general at the Pentagon who wanted permission for the military to shoot down this aircraft (see (Shortly Before 10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In response to the request, Barnes goes into the PEOC conference room to ask the vice president to provide this authorization. [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 141; Graff, 2019, pp. 164-165]
Cheney Is Told that a Suspicious Aircraft Is 80 Miles Out - He tells Cheney there is an unidentified aircraft approaching Washington that is not squawking a transponder code and is believed to be hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 4/16/2004; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] He says the plane is 80 miles out and asks Cheney for authorization to engage it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] “I posed this question to the vice president exactly the way it was posed to me,” Barnes will later recall. “I asked for confirmation on what I was being allowed to pass back to the general,” he will say. [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 141-142]
Cheney Authorizes the Military to Shoot the Plane Down - Cheney responds immediately and decisively, telling Barnes that fighters can engage the inbound aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] “Yes, take it out,” he will recall saying. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] But according to Barnes, he says, “If you can confirm there’s another terrorist aircraft inbound, permission is granted to take it out.” [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 142] Cheney will explain why he decided so quickly that the military could shoot down the aircraft, saying, “As the last hour and a half had made brutally clear, once a plane was hijacked it was a weapon in the hands of the enemy.” [Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] At 10:14 a.m., presumably as a result of hearing Cheney giving his authorization, a military officer in the PEOC tells participants on the air threat conference call convened by the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon that the vice president has confirmed that fighters are cleared to engage hijacked aircraft (see 10:14 a.m.-10:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]
Officer Again Asks for Authorization to Engage the Aircraft - A short time after receiving Cheney’s authorization for the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, Barnes returns to the conference room to repeat his request. He says the plane is now 60 miles out and, for a second time, asks Cheney to give his authorization for the military to engage it. [White House, 11/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Gellman, 2008, pp. 120] “For me, being a military member and an aviator—understanding the absolute depth of what that question was and what that answer was—I wanted to make sure that there was no mistake whatsoever about what was being asked,” he will explain. “I am confirming that you have given permission,” he says to Cheney. [Graff, 2019, pp. 164-165] Again, Cheney agrees to the request. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] “Yes, if it won’t divert, take it out,” he says. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] According to Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, Barnes then asks Cheney to give his authorization for a third time. “Just confirming, sir, authority to engage?” Bolten will recall him saying. But according to the Washington Post, Barnes asks, “Does the order still stand?” Cheney, sounding annoyed, replies, “I said yes,” according to Bolten. But according to the Washington Post, he snaps, “Of course it does.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002; Hayes, 2007, pp. 338] After receiving the shootdown authorization from Cheney, Barnes goes and passes it on to the general who called him to request it (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 142; Graff, 2019, pp. 165]
Bush Has Already Given Shootdown Authorization, Cheney Will Claim - Cheney will claim that he talked to President Bush about “rules of engagement” for fighter pilots and Bush gave his authorization for them to shoot down hostile aircraft during a call made before the vice president talked to Barnes about the issue (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 11/19/2001; White House, 12/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] “I had a conversation with the president earlier about what the rules of engagement would be with our airplanes,” Cheney will say. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] He will recall telling Bush, “We’ve got to give the pilots rules of engagement,” and recommending that “we authorize them to shoot,” and Bush replying, “Okay, I’ll sign up to that.” Therefore, Cheney will explain, when he authorized the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, he simply “passed on the decision the president had already made.” [White House, 11/19/2001] However, the 9/11 Commission Report will state that “no documentary evidence for this call” was found and some 9/11 Commission staffers will be highly skeptical about Cheney’s claim (see June 15, 2004). [Newsweek, 6/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Shenon, 2008, pp. 265] The first time Cheney talks to Bush to get his authorization for the military to shoot down hostile aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, will be in a phone call at 10:18 a.m., shortly after the vice president gives his permission for the military to engage the approaching aircraft (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41, 465; Gellman, 2008, pp. 121-122]

Entity Tags: Anthony Barnes, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joshua Bolten

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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