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Context of 'Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Pentagon Not Evacuated Prior to Being Hit'

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William Toti.William Toti. [Source: University of Texas-Pan American]Those working in the office of the vice chief of naval operations (VCNO) at the Pentagon realize that the first plane hitting the World Trade Center is a terrorist attack as soon as they learn of it from television reports, and soon conclude that if this is an organized attack, the Pentagon will be a likely target. Those currently in the office, which is on the fourth floor of the Pentagon’s E-ring, include Captain William Toti, special assistant to the VCNO; Rear Admiral William Douglas Crowder, executive assistant to the VCNO; Commander David Radi, deputy executive assistant to the VCNO; Dee Karnhan, the VCNO’s secretary; and the VCNO’s writer, whom Toti will later refer to only as “Chief LaFleur.” Admiral William Fallon, the VCNO, is currently down the hall in the office of Admiral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations. (Toti 10/10/2001; Washington Post 11/17/2006)
'Everyone' in Office Realizes First Crash Is Terrorism - Toti will later recall that the morning has, until now, been “very routine, very normal.” The first sign of anything unusual is when he hears LaFleur yelling from the VCNO’s outer office, “Holy sh_t, look at that!” LaFleur has noticed CNN showing the burning WTC on television. The television in the VCNO’s outer office is kept on all the time. According to Toti, TV reports will be “our first indication when major events are happening in the world.” Toti goes to the outer office and turns up the volume on the TV, to find out what is happening. He will recall that CNN is reporting that “a small plane had run into the World Trade Center. They were theorizing that it was probably because a navigational beacon had malfunctioned.” Toti will comment that he is “a private pilot, and I know there is no way in hell that any pilot is going to run into the World Trade Center on a clear day like that, navigational beacon or not. It was clear to me, as I think it was to everyone else in the room, that this was not an accident: somebody had collided with the World Trade Center on purpose.” Toti will add: “We began talking about that immediately… and we knew without a doubt that this was a terrorist attack. The question was, ‘Is this it, or is there more to it?’”
Officers Conclude Pentagon Is a Likely Target - Those in the office start discussing whether there could be more attacks. Toti will recall: “We started talking about options. If [the terrorists] are hitting New York, the only other place that makes sense to hit—New York is the capital of our economy, Washington is the capital of our government—okay, they’re going to hit Washington if this is an organized attack.” LaFleur says that if the terrorists are going to attack Washington, “Then they’re going to go after the White House,” but Toti disagrees, saying, “No, there’s only one building in DC that shares the characteristics of the World Trade Center.” Toti notes that the WTC is “symbolic, it houses a lot of people, and it’s easy to hit from the air.” He will later state, “If you go through the list of buildings in DC—remember, we are doing this before the second tower is hit—we’re saying symbolic: White House, Capitol building, the Pentagon; houses a lot of people: the Pentagon; easy to hit by air: Pentagon and the Capitol, too.” Toti therefore concludes: “The only building that makes sense is the Pentagon.… At this point, if [the terrorists] hit any place, they are going to hit this building.” While those in the VCNO’s office are discussing how the Pentagon is “a likely target,” they see the second plane hitting the WTC live on television, at 9:03 a.m. (Toti 10/10/2001) Despite their concerns, no steps will be taken to evacuate the Pentagon or alert workers there before the building is attacked (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Vogel 2007, pp. 429)
Officer Astonished When Pentagon Hit, 'Exactly Like We Had Visualized' - Toti will later recall the unease he feels when the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m., just as he and his colleagues predicted. After the Pentagon is hit, Toti will say, he is “out there saying, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I’m saying: ‘Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? How could we have predicted it like that? How could we have known it was coming? How could this be happening exactly like we had visualized just moments before?’ But it did.” He will say that “for us, this [attack] was unfolding as if we were writing a script. It was really bizarre. To this day, I’m shocked that we had got it so right so early.” (Toti 10/10/2001)

Edmund Giambastiani, Jr.Edmund Giambastiani, Jr. [Source: US Department of Defense]Navy Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., who is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, returned to his office after attending a breakfast meeting hosted by the secretary of defense (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After learning the second WTC tower has been hit, he says, he realizes “it [is] no longer an accident.” Stephen Cambone, who is Rumsfeld’s closest aide, comes to Giambastiani’s office, which is located near to the defense secretary’s office. Reportedly, he is there “to discuss the Pentagon as a potential target and their course of action if it was attacked.” Then, “Minutes later,” the attack on the Pentagon occurs. (Miles 9/8/2006) Cambone is also reported as being at the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), located down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office, some time between when the attacks on the South Tower and the Pentagon occur (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 219-220) It is unclear whether he goes to the ESC before meeting with Giambastiani, or afterwards. Despite Cambone’s concern that the Pentagon could be a target, no attempt is made to evacuate the place before it is struck (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and it does not appear that any alarms are sounded either. (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001)

Alan Wallace.Alan Wallace. [Source: Michael Norris]A fire chief calls his firefighters who are manning the fire station at the Pentagon’s heliport, and warns them that there could be more attacks, and Washington could be a target. (Wallace 4/17/2003; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 20-21) Chief Charles Campbell works with the fire department at Fort Myer, an army base 1.5 miles northwest of the Pentagon, which sends three of its firefighters each day to man the fire station at the Pentagon heliport. (Lilly and Walz 11/2/2001) Campbell calls the station to make sure his firefighters there—Alan Wallace, Mark Skipper, and Dennis Young—are aware of what is going on in New York. He tells them, “These were intentional acts of terrorism.” He speaks “to each of the three firefighters, making sure they [are] all on their toes and ready to respond to an unexpected incident.” Wallace will recall that Campbell “wanted to be sure we were aware of everything going on around the fire station.” Campbell says there could be more attacks, and that “If it had happened in New York, it could happen in Washington.” As Wallace recalls, Campbell says “Washington, DC could very well be a target and if that happened, our fire truck could be dispatched to an incident.” (Wallace 4/17/2003; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 20-21) Yet, while Campbell believes an attack on Washington is likely, neither the Pentagon nor any government buildings in Washington will be evacuated before the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Plante 9/16/2001) The Fort Myer firefighters will narrowly escape suffering serious injuries when the Pentagon attack occurs (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Lilly and Walz 11/2/2001)

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by the FAA’s Boston Center. Colin Scoggins, Boston Center’s military liaison, tells it: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.… That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.… I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks: “He—American 11 is a hijack?… And he’s heading into Washington?” Scoggins answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston Center has been told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the 9/11 Commission will say it hasn’t been able to find where this mistaken information came from.
Scoggins Makes Error - Vanity Fair magazine will later add, “In Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.” Scoggins will explain why he believes he made this error: “With American Airlines, we could never confirm if [Flight 11] was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.” He says he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), “when the word came across—from whom or where isn’t clear—that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” However, Boston Center was never tracking Flight 11 on radar after losing sight of it near Manhattan: “The plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it headed on a straight course toward DC. This was all controllers were going on.” Scoggins says, “After talking to a supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air.” (Northeast Air Defense Sector 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Bronner 8/1/2006)
Myers Refers to Mistaken Report - In the hours following the attacks, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers will apparently refer to this erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, telling the Associated Press that “prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.” Myers will say “he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.” (Fournier 9/11/2001)

Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002) Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. (Phillips 11/3/2001) In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” (Federal Aviation Administration 5/22/2003) Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Garamone 9/7/2006)
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (US Department of Defense 9/2001) The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)

A contract crew has been installing furniture in the southwest perimeter of the Pentagon. Construction workers are currently doing the final touching up, after more than three years of renovation work on this area of the building, and some Defense Department employees are already moving into their new office spaces. But the wife of one crew member phones her husband after seeing footage of the attacks in New York on CNN and says she feels he is in danger at the Pentagon. Hearing of the attacks, the crew leader instructs his 23 workers to abandon what they are doing and evacuate. Moments later, as they are crossing the parking lot, they see the airliner crash into the exact area of the Pentagon they had just left. (Cahlink 5/1/2002; Freni 2003, pp. 43-44) There is no evidence that anyone else in the Pentagon evacuates the building before it is struck (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001) Another report, which appears to be describing the same incident, says the construction crew evacuates for a different reason: to discuss security with a customer in the parking lot. (Ryan 9/14/2001)

Before the Pentagon is hit, no steps are taken to alert or evacuate the building’s 20,000 employees. Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides are reportedly unaware of a rogue plane heading toward Washington prior to the attack there. (Rumsfeld 9/16/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Vogel 2007, pp. 429) Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood will later try to explain why the Pentagon is not evacuated at this time, saying: “To call for a general evacuation, at that point, it would have been just guessing. We evacuate when we know something is a real threat to us.” He says that an evacuation could have put employees at risk by moving them outside the protection provided by the building’s walls. Another Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Vic Warzinski, will add, “The Pentagon was simply not aware that this aircraft was coming our way.” (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001) Yet, as early as 9:21, the FAA warned the military of a hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The National Military Command Center (NMCC), located inside the Pentagon, was aware of this hijacked aircraft by 9:30, according to the 9/11 Commission (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 26 and 37; Vogel 2007, pp. 429) The New York Times will in fact report that, since shortly before 9:00 a.m., “military officials in [the NMCC] were urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” (Wald 9/15/2001) The order to evacuate will only go out over the Pentagon’s public address system shortly after the building is hit. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 137-138) The Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, does not order that the building’s threat level be raised until the time when it is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 151-152)

At the time the Pentagon is struck, a member of the Defense Protective Service (DPS), which guards the Pentagon, is in the process of ordering the threat level be raised. John Pugrud, the deputy chief of the DPS, has met with DPS Chief John Jester, and Jester directed him to instruct the DPS Communications Center to raise the Force Protection Condition up one level, from Normal to Alpha (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The moment the Pentagon is hit, Pugrud has the phone in his hand to dial the center. When his call is answered, he can hear the center’s alarms activating and radio calls taking place. The dispatcher yells: “We’ve been hit! We’ve been hit! Wedge one. Wedge one.” According to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack, no one in DPS has received any warning of a hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152) No steps have been taken to alert Pentagon employees or evacuate the building. (Vogel 2007, pp. 429) Around 30 minutes after the attack occurs, the US military will increase its threat level to Defcon Delta, the highest possible level (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/4/2002) This will be reduced to “Charlie” before the end of the week. (US Department of Defense 9/16/2001; Weisman 9/16/2001)

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