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Context of '(10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Vice President Cheney Warns President Bush about Threat to Air Force One'

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Security is increased around Air Force One, the president’s plane, in response to the second attack on the World Trade Center and the pilot is informed that the aircraft may be targeted by terrorists while it is on the ground. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Only the standard level of security has been provided, with cones marking a security zone around the plane. Will Chandler, the chief of security, has been standing inside these cones and guarding the aircraft. According to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, prior to the attacks on the WTC, “there was no intel, there was nothing that said we’re about to be attacked.” But Tillman will later recall that after he learns of the second plane crash in New York and realizes it is a deliberate attack, he and the rest of the plane’s crew “start pulling out all the plans that we know we have to execute to keep the president safe and ensure the continuity of government.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file]
Personnel Protecting Air Force One Increase Security - The level of security around Air Force One is increased after the second attack on the WTC occurs. Staff Sergeant William Buzinski, whose job is to protect the plane, was told about the first crash at the WTC by a member of the Secret Service. After the second crash occurs, Buzinski sees the same agent running across the tarmac toward him. The agent tells him, “Another plane hit the towers.” Buzinski realizes right away that the incident must have been an act of terrorism. In response to the news, he will recall, “We started to increase security around the plane—made it a tighter bubble.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Pilot Says Air Force One Is 'Ready to Go' - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, calls Tillman and instructs him to get Air Force One and its crew ready to leave immediately (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, and Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, also call Tillman. Tillman will recall that they ask him: “What is our status? If [Bush and his entourage] can come to us within 10 minutes, can we get going?” Tillman replies: “Yes, absolutely. We are ready to go.”
Pilot Is Told the Plane Is a 'Sitting Duck' - Tillman is informed that “about nine planes” have been hijacked and that “one is in the Florida area.” Rosenker tells him: “Assume that [Air Force One is] a target on the ramp in Sarasota. It’s a large 747. [It is] sitting wide open. [A] sitting duck.” Tillman will say that his intention, therefore, is “to move that aircraft. Get it out of the way, and come back and grab the president when he’s ready to go.” He cannot do this, however, because Bush wants to “come rushing back to us and head to Washington, DC.” Secret Service agents with the president instruct Tillman: “We are coming at you as fast as we can come at you. Do not—repeat—do not move.”
People Are Moved Away from Air Force One - “We started getting reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” Tillman will recall, and there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president.” The crew of Air Force One has “no idea what was going on” and is receiving “a lot of misinformation” while waiting for the president to arrive at the airport. To increase security, people are pushed away from Air Force One. This, according to Tillman, is so that “whoever was near that aircraft had a good reason to be there.” [United Services Automobile Association, 9/11/2011; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file]
Military Presence Is Increased at the Airport - White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who has gone to the Booker Elementary School with Bush, notices the increased security around Air Force One when the president’s motorcade arrives at the Sarasota airport (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There is always “an incredible security presence” around the plane, he will comment. But now he sees “the redoubling of that.” There is “more of a military presence at the airport, as opposed to just a security [made up] of local police officers or anything like that.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Bartlett sees “a lot of military uniforms” and notices “the perimeters [around Air Force One] increasing.” Furthermore, he will recall, “[T]he scrutiny for entering the perimeter was much tougher than you could ever imagine.” [White House, 8/12/2002] Mike Morell, the president’s CIA briefer, will describe, “When we got back to the plane, it was ringed by security and Secret Service [agents] with automatic weapons.” “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he will comment. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Sheriff in a Helicopter Watches Over the Airport - Meanwhile, a helicopter arrives to keep watch over the airport. Sergeant Kevin Kenney of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office had been scheduled to fly the Sheriff’s Office helicopter to cover Bush’s motorcade as it traveled to the Booker Elementary School this morning, but was unable to do so because of heavy fog. However, after the second attack on the WTC, a member of Bush’s Secret Service detail instructs him to launch the helicopter and get to the Sarasota airport as soon as possible. He arrives there around the time Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport. The Secret Service then instructs Kenney to fly around the airport perimeter and be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles or groups of people. He notices “numerous civilian vehicles… already responding to the vicinity of the airport and gathering along the roadways in the proximity.” He relays information to Bush’s Secret Service detail and local agencies that are dispatching patrol units to the area. Kenney continues his surveillance of the airport for the 10 minutes or so it takes to get Bush and the other passengers onto Air Force One. [Sheriff, 9/2011; Longboat Observer, 9/8/2011] Additionally, reporters and other individuals who are traveling with the president are subjected to a strict security check while they are boarding the plane (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Edward Marinzel, Thomas Gould, Mark Tillman, Dan Bartlett, Kevin Kenney, Mark Rosenker, William Buzinski, Michael J. Morell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael Irwin.Michael Irwin. [Source: Publicity photo]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, makes a call requesting a fighter escort and other assets to support Air Force One as it flies away from Sarasota. Gould, who has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, was with Bush on Air Force One when the plane took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). He has talked with Colonel Mark Tillman, Air Force One’s pilot, about the plane’s ability to evade other aircraft. “At this point we don’t know the scope of this attack and what’s in front of us,” Gould will later recall. Gould will say that because he “thought there was a threat,” he makes a phone call and asks for three things: fighter jets to escort Air Force One, a refueling plane, and an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) to provide the ability to “see” around the president’s plane.
Request Relayed over Conference Call - Gould will say, in 2011, that he calls the Pentagon to make this request. [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] However, other evidence indicates that he contacts the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House with the request, and the request is then passed on to the Pentagon over the air threat conference call. A transcript of the air threat conference call shows that at 10:14 a.m., Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, who is in the PEOC, says he has “just talked to [the] mil aide” on Air Force One, and then adds: “We’d like AWACS over Louisiana. We’d like fighter escort.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file]
Fighters and AWACS Later Accompany Air Force One - An AWACS on a training mission off the coast of Florida is directed toward Air Force One and will accompany it all the way to Washington, DC (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Fighters will also arrive to escort the president’s plane. However, it will be over an hour before they reach it (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001] It is unclear if and when a refueling plane reaches Air Force One.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Michael Irwin, Thomas Gould, Mark Tillman

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

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