The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a945ricewarns


Context of '(9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: National Security Adviser Rice Calls President Bush before Heading to White House Bunker'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: National Security Adviser Rice Calls President Bush before Heading to White House Bunker. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Bush in a holding room before giving his speech. Communications director Dan Bartlett points to the TV, and the clock reads 9:25. 
Bush in a holding room before giving his speech. Communications director Dan Bartlett points to the TV, and the clock reads 9:25. [Source: White House]After leaving the Booker Elementary School classroom, President Bush returns to an adjacent holding room where he is briefed by his staff, and gets his first look at the footage of the burning World Trade Center on a television that has been set up there. He instructs his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, to take notes to create an accurate accounting of events. According to some accounts, he speaks on the phone with Vice President Dick Cheney who is at the White House, and they both agree that terrorists are probably behind the attacks. (Sammon 2002, pp. 92-93; Churcher 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) But White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also in the holding room, will later tell NBC News that Bush is unable to reach Cheney because the vice president is being moved from his office to the White House bunker at this time. (Rove 9/11/2002) The president speaks with New York Governor George Pataki and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Bush learns from Mueller that the planes that hit the WTC were commercial American aircraft, and at least one of them had apparently been hijacked after leaving Boston. According to some accounts, Bush also speaks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time. However, Rice herself will later suggest otherwise (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 93-94; Churcher 9/8/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett quickly draft a statement for the president to deliver in the school’s library, which Bush rewords, scribbling three sheets of notes. Bush will deliver this at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he works on the statement, Bush briefly glances at the unfolding horror on the television. Turning to his aides in the room, he declares, “We’re at war.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 94; Krueger 9/10/2002) According to the 9/11 Commission, the focus at the present time is on the president’s statement to the nation, and the only decision made by Bush’s traveling party is to return to Washington. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush will later claim that he makes no major decisions in response to the crisis until after Air Force One takes off at around 9:55 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)

President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport.President Bush trying to use a cell phone as his motorcade nears the Sarasota airport. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush has difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) While he is in his limousine, he tries calling colleagues at the White House over a secure telephone line, but all the secure lines are down. He ends up trying to call Washington using a borrowed cell phone. Even this doesn’t work, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, he talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice around this time, which means he is able to make at least one call (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division, will later comment on the difficulties Bush and his entourage have communicating with Washington today, saying, “Every kind of communication… was challenged” and the “communications network did not hold up.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will claim that Bush had difficulty communicating with Washington while he was being driven to the airport because members of his entourage all tried calling the capital at the same time after leaving the school, thereby causing a “communication jam.” However, the communication problems will continue after Bush takes off from Sarasota on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) The president’s difficulty reaching his colleagues in Washington during the drive to the airport is particularly notable since, just a few months ago, Bush instructed Joseph Hagin, his deputy chief of staff for operations, to promptly ensure that he is always able to make phone calls, after he had trouble making a call from his limousine (see Spring 2001). Hagin has apparently not yet fixed the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011)

President Bush learns that the Pentagon has been attacked while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, during a phone call with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush and his entourage left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be taken to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004) As the president’s limousine is speeding toward the airport, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, talk on the phone with colleagues at the White House. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) In a call with Rice, Bush is told that there has been a third plane crash, this one at the Pentagon. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) The attack took place at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10) Rice, who is in the White House Situation Room, learned about it when she saw it being reported on television. (Rice 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002)
Bush Appears 'Preternaturally Calm' - After Rice tells him about the attack, Bush “sat back in my seat and absorbed her words,” he will later recall. “My thoughts clarified,” he will write, adding: “The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war.” In response to the news, he will recall, his “blood [is] boiling” and he thinks, “We [are] going to find out who did this and kick their ass.” (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Bush, though, is able to maintain his composure, according to Karl Rove, his senior adviser, who is with him in the limousine. “I was aghast at the news [of the attack on the Pentagon] and probably seemed anxious,” Rove will comment, but “he seemed preternaturally calm.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Accounts Will Conflict over Who Makes the Call - Bush will claim that he makes the call to Rice. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) Rice, though, will say that she makes it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file; Rice 9/11/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Bush will also state that he talks to Rice using the secure phone in his limousine. (Bush 2010, pp. 128) However, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the secure telephone lines are currently down and so he has to contact Washington, DC, using a borrowed cell phone (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)

Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other.Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other. [Source: Agence France-Presse]President Bush and his entourage arrive at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, and Bush hurriedly gets onto his plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004)
Limousine Stops Right by Air Force One - His limousine now speeds past the airport’s main entrance, goes north, and veers down a tiny road leading to the airport, ignoring a sign that states, “No Airport Access.” It then passes through a small, unmarked gate in a chain-link fence and races across the tarmac toward Air Force One. It swings around the plane’s tail and stops behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99) The motorcade arrives at the airport between 9:42 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Bush’s limousine reaches the airport at 9:43 a.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Sammon 10/8/2002)
Plane's Engines Are Already Running - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, started two of the plane’s four engines while Bush was on his way to the airport. White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment that he is “struck that the engines on Air Force One [are] running” when the motorcade reaches the airport, since this is “normally a protocol no-no.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) “Usually you don’t start the engine until the president is already on the plane,” he will say. (BBC 9/9/2011)
President Usually Takes His Time Saying Goodbye - Normally, when his motorcade arrives at Air Force One, the president “emerges from the limo, waves to the crowd behind barricades, thanks hosts who have accompanied him, and shakes hands with the airport personnel and guests who’ve come to see him off,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will write. The president then “walks alone up the steps to Air Force One at a leisurely pace, stopping to wave again to the people on the tarmac.” The other people in the motorcade usually only start to get on board once he is on the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Bush Hurries up the Stairs onto Air Force One - Today, though, the Secret Service wants to get the president onto Air Force One as quickly as possible. (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore walks briskly up the long mobile staircase behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Walsh 2003, pp. 207) He is “just trucking up the stairs” without his usual “Texas swagger,” Tillman will describe. (Graff 9/9/2016) He does find time, however, to pause at the doorway to wave to photographers before entering the plane. (Martin 7/4/2004) Once he is on board, he goes to his private cabin near the front of the aircraft. A Secret Service agent tells him, “Mr. President, we need you to get seated as soon as possible.” Bush then straps himself in, ready for takeoff. (Woodward 2002, pp. 16)
Chief of Staff Is Frustrated by the Passengers Delaying Takeoff - Meanwhile, everyone who is traveling on Air Force One apart from Bush and his senior staff boards the plane through its back stairs. But before doing so they are subjected to a strict security check (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Graff 9/9/2016) Card becomes frustrated that takeoff is being delayed due to the time it takes to get so many passengers onto the plane. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) Air Force One will take off unusually quickly once all the passengers are on board. (Keil 9/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) It usually takes another 15 minutes after everyone has boarded for the passengers to get seated, the doors to be closed, and the engines to power up, according to Rove. (Rove 2010, pp. 252) But today Air Force One will take off about 10 minutes after Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice briefly talks on the phone with President Bush and warns him against returning to Washington, DC, before she is escorted to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker below the White House. (Rice 11/1/2001; Rice 8/1/2002 pdf file; Rice 8/2/2002) Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, has just come into the White House Situation Room and told Rice she must go to the PEOC because a plane may be heading toward the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Rice 8/6/2002) But before she goes to the PEOC, Rice wants to talk to the president.
President Told that Washington Is 'under Attack' - Bush has now arrived at the Sarasota airport after leaving the Booker Elementary School (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) Rice calls him and says: “Mr. President, here’s what’s going on. The Pentagon has been hit.” He tells her, “I’m getting ready to come back [to Washington].” (Rice 9/11/2002) Bush is “very calm” as he talks, Rice will later recall. Franklin Miller, a senior national security official who “does defense policy” for Rice, is with the national security adviser. (Rice 10/24/2001; Rice 11/1/2001) He whispers to her, “Tell him that it may not be wise to come back here, because Washington is under attack.” (Rice 8/2/2002) Rice therefore tells Bush: “Sir, you can’t come back here. Washington’s under attack.” (Rice 9/11/2002)
Rice Is Being 'Pushed' to Go to the Bunker - The call between Bush and Rice is only short. Rice will say this is because she is “being pushed” by Truscott “to get off the phone and get out of the West Wing.” (Rice 8/2/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002) “I had people pulling at my arm, saying, ‘You have to go to the bunker,’” she will recall. (Rice 11/1/2001) After she has finished speaking to Bush, Rice heads toward the PEOC. She will enter it shortly before 10:00 a.m. (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice enters the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—the bunker below the White House—where she encounters Vice President Dick Cheney, and then heads into the PEOC. Rice has been escorted down from the White House Situation Room by Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, who told her she had to go to the PEOC (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; Rice 8/6/2002) Before she left the Situation Room, Rice briefly talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 8/2/2002; Rice 8/6/2002)
Rice Meets Cheney in Underground Tunnel - When Rice and Truscott enter the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, they encounter Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, along with one of Cheney’s Secret Service agents. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001) Cheney was being taken to the PEOC by his Secret Service agents (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001, but stopped in an area of the underground tunnel where there is a secure telephone, in order to speak to Bush (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Lynne Cheney joined him there after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Cheney is still on the phone with Bush when Truscott and Rice meet him. Truscott advises the group assembled in the tunnel to move on to the PEOC. (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001)
Rice Heads into the PEOC - Rice subsequently goes from the tunnel into the PEOC, although the exact time when she does so is unclear. She enters the PEOC “shortly after the vice president,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report, which will state that Cheney arrives in the PEOC at around 9:58 a.m. (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Rice must enter the PEOC before 9:59 a.m., since she is there at the time the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, as will be confirmed by a photo taken at that time (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas 12/30/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Rice Calls Relatives in Alabama - In the PEOC, Rice takes a seat next to Cheney. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii) The first thing she does after arriving, according to some accounts, is call her aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama, to tell them to inform her family that she is okay. (Rice 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002; Rice 8/2/2002; Sanger 9/11/2002) But other accounts will say she called them just before she headed out from the Situation Room. (Rice 11/1/2001; Rice 8/7/2002; Associated Press 9/9/2002; Bumiller 2007, pp. xiii)

Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” (Page 9/12/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 24-25)


Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike