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(10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: DC Air National Guard Permitted to Shoot Down Threatening Planes over Washington

David Wherley.David Wherley. [Source: US Air Force]Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), finally receives specific instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow when they launch over Washington, and is told they can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent another aircraft hitting a building. (9/11 Commission 8/28/2003; Vogel 2007, pp. 446; Spencer 2008, pp. 218)
Instructions Received within 'Half-Hour' of Request - Wherley phoned the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center after arriving at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The agent he talked to requested that DCANG fighters be sent up over the capital, but Wherley asked for more specific instructions (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Secret Service agents at the White House have been working hard to get these. (Spencer 2008, pp. 184-185, 218) According to the Washington Post, “within a half-hour,” Wherley receives “oral instructions from the White House giving the pilots extraordinary discretion to shoot down any threatening aircraft.” (Vogel 4/8/2002)
Jets May Use 'Whatever Force Is Necessary' - Wherley had been talking to Secret Service agent Kenneth Beauchamp, but these instructions are given to him by Becky Ediger, the deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, who now comes on the line. Ediger says the instructions have come directly from Vice President Dick Cheney. She tells Wherley: “We want you to intercept and turn away any airplane that attempts to fly within 20 miles of the Washington area. If you are not able to turn them away, use whatever force is necessary to keep them from hitting any buildings downtown.”
Wherley Wants to Talk to Military - Wherley asks if there is anybody in a uniform—i.e. from the military—with Ediger that he could talk to. Ediger alludes to a Navy captain who is busy with other things, but says no one from the military is available. Although the instructions he has been given are not in military terms, Wherley feels they are understandable enough. (Marshall 2/12/2003; 9/11 Commission 8/28/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 218) According to the 9/11 Commission, Wherley translates Ediger’s instructions in military terms to flying “weapons free,” meaning “the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the lead pilot.” He will pass these instructions to the DCANG pilots that take off at 10:42 a.m. and after (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44)
Instructions Coming from Cheney - Wherley will later say that Ediger is “standing next to the vice president” during their call. (Filson 2003, pp. 79) However, the 9/11 Commission will apparently state differently, saying a “Secret Service agent” (presumably Ediger) has “a phone in each ear, one connected to Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instructions that the White House agent said he was getting from the vice president.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44)
White House Denies Cheney Involvement - In 2004, Secret Service officials will confirm that its agents’ actions relating to the DCANG on September 11 are ordered by Cheney. The agency will issue a statement, clarifying, “The Secret Service is not authorized to, nor did it, direct the activation or launch of Department of Defense aviation assets.” But two unnamed White House officials that are involved in the emergency response to the attacks will say the Secret Service acts on its own. An official speaking on behalf of Cheney will say he doesn’t know whether the vice president directed Secret Service agents to call the DCANG, and he would not be able to find out. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will state that both Cheney and President Bush “indicated to us they had not been aware that fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Service and outside the military chain of command.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44)
Wherley Wants More Information - Wherley still has questions about the rules of engagement for his fighter jets, which will subsequently be answered by a Secret Service agent at the White House, possibly Ediger (see (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/28/2003)


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