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(Between 8:46 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Key Administration Officials Allegedly Think First Crash Is an Accident

A number of key White House officials will later claim that, when they learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center, they initially think it is just an accident:
bullet President Bush says that, when he learns of the crash while in Sarasota, Florida: “my first reaction was—as an old pilot—how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 42]
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who is with the president, says: “It was first reported to me… that it looked like it was a, a twin-engine pro—prop plane, and so the natural reaction was: ‘What a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack.’” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet Adviser Karl Rove, who is also with the president in Florida, is later questioned about his feelings after the first crash. When it is suggested, “I guess at that point, everyone is still thinking it is an accident,” Rove concurs, “Yes, absolutely.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also traveling with the president on this day, says, “[W]hen only the first tower had been hit, it was all of our thoughts that this had been some type of terrible accident.” [CNN, 9/11/2006]
bullet National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in her White House office, is informed of the crash by her executive assistant (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). She later recalls, “I thought, what a strange accident.” [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet White House counselor Karen Hughes receives a phone call informing her of the first crash as she is about to leave her Washington, DC, home. She later recalls, “they thought it was a small plane at the time… so, of course, my immediate thought was what a terrible accident.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; CNN, 4/6/2004] She adds, “We all assumed it was some kind of weird accident; at that point terrorism didn’t occur to us.” [Hughes, 2004, pp. 234]
The 9/11 Commission will later describe, “In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an accident, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their regular schedules.” It will only be when they learn of the second tower being hit at 9:03 that “nearly everyone in the White House… immediately knew it was not an accident.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] However, when couterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is called some time after the first crash but before the second by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is at the White House (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—she tells him, “Until we know what this is, Dick, we should assume the worst.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1] And when CIA Director George Tenet learns of the first crash, reportedly he is told specifically, “The World Trade tower has been attacked,” and his initial reaction is, “This has bin Laden all over it” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 4]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Karen Hughes, Andrew Card, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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