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“There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaida and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001]
“I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong [about his conclusion that there ‘is no indication of resumed nuclear activities’ ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past…. We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” [Meet the Press, 9/14/2003; New Republic, 6/30/2003 ]
“What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.” [New York Times, 8/26/2002]
“[B]ased on intelligence that?s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… There?s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t?s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it?s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We?ve intercepted that. We don?t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he?s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.… We are trying very hard not be unilateralist, We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003]
“[Saddam Hussein] is pressing forward with weapons of mass destruction—weapons he’s already used in his war against Iran and against his own people…. As we destroy the terrorist networks and hunt down the killers, we must simultaneously confront the regime that is developing weapons for the sole purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale.” [White House, 12/2/2002]
“He’s had years to get good at it and we believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei [the director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] frankly is wrong.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003]
“With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story… the Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it.” [Democracy Now!, 9/16/2003; Washington Post, 9/29/2003]
“In terms of the question what is there now, we know for example that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we’re quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We’ve found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it’s not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2004; Washington Post, 1/23/2004]
“Any suggestion that we did not exhaust all alternatives before we got to that point, I think, is inaccurate.” [MSNBC, 6/14/2005]
The Secret Service calls for the immediate evacuation of Vice President Dick Cheney from his office after learning that a suspicious aircraft is flying toward the White House. Air traffic controllers informed the Secret Service that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House at around 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but the aircraft then turned away from the White House and so, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Secret Service made no attempt to evacuate Cheney from his office at that time. Now, however, the Secret Service learns that the aircraft is “beginning to circle back.” This news prompts it to order “the immediate evacuation of the vice president.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Someone at the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House passes on the details of the suspicious aircraft to Special Agent James Scott, the “on-duty shift whip” for Cheney’s Secret Service detail, and the shift agents with him in the West Wing of the White House, where Cheney’s office is located. The agents hear the “broadcast alert” over their radios, telling them, “Unidentified aircraft coming toward the White House.” (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001; United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 ) Some or possibly all of the agents will immediately go into Cheney’s office, and hurry the vice president out of there and down toward the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a bunker below the White House (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman 2008, pp. 114-116) However, a number of accounts will indicate that Cheney was evacuated from his office earlier on, at around 9:03 a.m., when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002)
A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)
A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. (CNN 9/11/2001)
Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” (Washington Post 9/5/2002)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245)
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. (Office of Medical History 9/2004, pp. 11) Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. (Thomas Crosbie Media 9/11/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” (Airline Industry Information 9/11/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. (Cheney 9/16/2001) The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. (Borger et al. 9/12/2001) New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. (Safire 9/13/2001)
The District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, receives a call from the Secret Service at its White House Joint Operations Center (JOC), requesting armed fighter jets over the capital.
JOC Calls DC Air National Guard - Major Daniel Caine is the supervisor of flying with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews, and is currently at the operations desk, where a Secret Service agent recently called him and asked if the DCANG could launch fighters. The agent then told Caine to stand by and said someone else would call (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Now the phone rings, and Caine answers it. The caller, from the JOC, asks for armed fighter jets over Washington. Caine is unsure how the JOC has got the operations desk phone number. He will later speculate that it got it from Secret Service agent Kenneth Beauchamp, who he’d contacted earlier on (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Caine Possibly Hears Cheney in Background - The name of the caller is unstated. However, Caine believes he can hear Vice President Dick Cheney’s voice in the background. He will tell author Lesley Filson: “I could hear plain as day the vice president talking in the background. That’s basically where we got the execute order. It was ‘VFR [visual flight rules] direct.’” He will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he “thought, but would not swear to it, that he heard the vice president’s voice in the background.”
Caine Learns of Pentagon Attack - Around this time, Caine learns that the Pentagon has been hit. Even though the Pentagon is just 10 miles from Andrews Air Force Base, he will later recall that he only learns of the attack from news reports, and “no other source.” The result of learning this, according to Caine, is that “the intensity level increased even more.” (Filson 2003, pp. 76, 78; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 )
Commander Arrives, Takes over Call - At some point during Caine’s call with the JOC, apparently soon after the Pentagon attack, Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, finally arrives at the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, where Caine and his colleagues are (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (The 121st Fighter Squadron is part of the 113th Wing of the DCANG.) At this time, Caine has a phone to each ear. He passes the phone with the call from the JOC to Wherley, saying, “Boss… here, you take this one!” He passes the other to Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the 113th Wing. Caine has decided he is going to fly, and so Thompson will be replacing him as the unit’s supervisor of flying. Caine then goes to join the other pilots that are suiting up, ready to take off in their jets. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 78-79; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 ; Spencer 2008, pp. 184) Caine will take off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney is taken by the Secret Service from his office to an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House around this time, according to some accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office about half an hour earlier. (United States Secret Service 11/17/2001 ; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes 2007, pp. 333, 335) Cheney, who is in his office in the West Wing of the White House, is aware of the two plane crashes in New York and realizes this is a terrorist attack. He is now “watching developments on the television,” he will later recall, and starting “to get organized to figure out what to do.” (Cheney 9/16/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 330-331) The Secret Service was informed that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House at around 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Concern about this aircraft prompted it to order the evacuation of Cheney “just before 9:36,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Armed Agents Enter Cheney's Office - Four or five Secret Service agents carrying submachine guns therefore enter Cheney’s office, according to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. One of them, Special Agent James Scott, pushes through the group of government officials who are gathered around Cheney (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the vice president, “Sir, we need to move you—now.” Cheney nods, indicating that he will respond to the agent in a moment, and then turns to say something to another person. But Scott brings down the flat of his hand sharply on Cheney’s desk and commands, ”Now!” (Gellman 2008, pp. 114-115)
Cheney Propelled out of His Office - Scott then puts his hand on Cheney’s shoulder, grabs the vice president by the back of his belt, and moves him out the door. (Hayes 2007, pp. 333) Cheney will comment that Secret Service agents “practice this, I’m sure, because… whether you wanted to move or not, you’re going. They don’t exactly pick you up and carry you. It’s more like they propel you forward.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) As the Secret Service agents take Cheney through his outer office, the vice president manages to grab the latest issue of The Economist off a table. “I’m always carrying something in case I get hung up someplace,” he will explain. “I’ve got to have something to read.” (Thomas 12/30/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 333) Carrying the magazine but nothing more, Cheney is hurried down the hallway, past the Oval Office, and down into the basement of the White House. (Cheney 11/19/2001)
Other Officials Left in Cheney's Office - The officials who were with Cheney are left in his office. Mary Matalin, one of Cheney’s senior advisers, will recall: “[S]peechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, ‘What are we, chopped liver?’ I think I actually said that.” (National Review 9/8/2011) Cheney will arrive in the underground tunnel leading to the PEOC about a minute after he leaves his office (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There he will learn that the Pentagon has been hit and talk over the phone with the president (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) before heading into the PEOC (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) However, according to some accounts, Cheney was evacuated from his office a significant time earlier on, around 9:03 a.m., when the second plane crashed in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2)
Vice President Dick Cheney, after being evacuated from his office, stops in an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, where he learns about the attack on the Pentagon and talks over the phone with President Bush. Secret Service agents hurried Cheney out of his office in the West Wing of the White House at around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman 2008, pp. 114-116) (However, other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office earlier on, at around 9:03 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) ) The Secret Service agents then rushed the vice president along the hallway, through some locked doors, and down some stairs into an underground tunnel. “It’s a small corridor,” Cheney will later describe. “There is a door at each end, a fairly heavy door. It’s obviously a place of refuge… a shelter for the president or, in this case, the vice president.” (Cheney 11/19/2001)
Agents Take Up Positions on Staircase - Cheney arrives in the tunnel about a minute after leaving his office. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335) He will recall that when he reaches the bottom of the stairs, he “watched as Secret Service agents positioned themselves at the top, middle, and bottom of the staircase, creating layers of defense in case the White House itself should be invaded.” One of the agents, James Scott, gives out “additional firearms, flashlights, and gas masks” to his colleagues. Scott tells Cheney that he’d evacuated him from his office because he’d heard over his radio that “an inbound, unidentified aircraft” was flying toward the White House (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Cheney Asks to Talk to the President - Moments later, Scott receives another report over his radio. He passes on what he is told to Cheney, saying, “Sir, the plane headed for us just hit the Pentagon.” Cheney will comment, “Now I knew for certain that Washington as well as New York was under attack, and that meant that President Bush, who had been at an elementary school in Florida, had to stay away.” (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 1-2) Cheney and the Secret Service agents with him therefore stop in an area of the tunnel where there is a bench to sit on and a secure phone, and Cheney says he wants to speak to the president. It takes some time for his call to get connected, however, and so he will speak to Bush at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335) There is also a television in the tunnel, on which Cheney will see the coverage of the burning Pentagon after the building has been hit (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). The vice president will be joined in the tunnel by his wife, Lynne Cheney, at around 9:55 a.m. (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Cheneys will enter the PEOC shortly before 10:00 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 12/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
According to one account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is given the go-ahead to authorize Air Force jets to shoot down threatening aircraft around this time. In late 2003, Clarke will recall to ABC News that, minutes earlier, he’d picked up the phone in the White House Situation Room and called Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. He’d told him: “We have fighters aloft now. We need authority to shoot down hostile aircraft.” (Koppel 11/29/2003) This call appears to be one Clarke also describes in his 2004 book Against all Enemies, though in that account he will describe having made his request to Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, rather than directly to Cheney. According to that account, the call occurred shortly before Clarke learns of the Pentagon attack, so roughly around 9:36 (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 6-7) Clarke describes to ABC News, “I thought that would take forever to get that [shootdown] authority.” But, “The vice president got on the phone to the president, got back to me, I would say within two minutes, and said, ‘Do it.’” (Koppel 11/29/2003) If correct, this would mean the president authorizes military fighters to shoot down threatening aircraft at around 9:37-9:38. However, around this time, the president and vice president are reportedly having difficulty communicating with each other, while Bush heads from the Booker Elementary School to the Sarasota airport (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Shenon and Marquis 6/18/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Furthermore, this account contradicts several others. In his 2004 book, Clarke will describe being told to inform the Pentagon it has shootdown authorization slightly later, some time between 9:45 and 9:56 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8) According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives the shootdown authorization in a phone call with Cheney shortly after 9:56 (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) The 9/11 Commission will say he gives it in a call at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)
Government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House are frustrated at technical problems they have with the televisions in the center, which mean they are unable to get audio from both the TV broadcast channels and the videoconferencing system at the same time. (Rice 11/1/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001) Two large television screens are built into a wall of the PEOC conference room, and, according to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, for most of the day one of them is tuned to CNN and the other to the Fox News Channel. Hayes will write, “Watching the uninterrupted news coverage not only provided new and timely information; it also allowed officials in the shelter [i.e. the PEOC] to understand, as they designed their public response, what exactly the American people were seeing.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 337, 342)
Officials Have Problems with Television and Video Conference Audio - But, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will later recall, the “only frustration” among those in the PEOC is “that we kept having trouble getting the TV to work.… [W]e were having trouble with the, some of the video link.” Therefore, “if you were trying to do the video conference, you had trouble doing TV.” (Rice 11/1/2001) The “video conference” Rice refers to is presumably the White House video teleconference being conducted by counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) Anna Perez, Rice’s communications counselor, will add, “[Y]ou couldn’t do the SVTS [secure video teleconference system] at the same time you could do the CNN.” (Rice 11/1/2001) Eric Edelman, a member of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, will recall: “[T]he video conference that Dick Clarke was chairing was going on.… [W]e could see that, so that was on the screen, we could follow that. Not always with audio… sometimes with audio, sometimes not.” (Edelman 10/25/2001) According to Hayes, however, the problem is in fact that “[a]lthough the two televisions on the wall could be tuned to different channels, they could get audio from only one.” Consequently, “On several occasions, the officials could see notices of ‘breaking news’ without being able to hear the details of those updates.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 342)
'Everybody' in PEOC Frustrated by TV Problem - Rice will recall that the problem with the televisions is “kind of frustrating to everybody.” (Rice 11/1/2001) One unnamed official will recall that Cheney, who is in the PEOC for much of the day, is “cranked up” about the problem and repeatedly demands that it be fixed. (Hayes 2007, pp. 342) Mary Matalin, a counselor to Cheney, will recall, “You can have sound on one or the other [i.e. the TV broadcasts or the video teleconference], and [Cheney] found that technically imperfect.” (CNN 9/11/2002; CNN 9/14/2002) According to Newsweek, this is the only thing that causes Cheney’s composure to break and leads to him showing any irritation while he is in the PEOC. (Thomas 12/30/2001)
Accounts Conflict over Whether Problem Is Fixed - It is unclear whether this technical problem with the televisions gets fixed. According to Perez, PEOC personnel are able to fix it. “It took them a little while, but they did get it together. They got it right,” she will say. (Rice 11/1/2001) But according to Hayes, the problem remains unfixed. (Hayes 2007, pp. 342) Clarke will later give a different account of the problem with getting audio from television broadcasts and the video conference simultaneously. He will write that when he goes down to the PEOC sometime around midday (see (Shortly Before 12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Army Major Mike Fenzel complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference because Mrs. Cheney [Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president] keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 18)
NORAD briefs the NMCC teleconference on the possible hijacking of Delta Flight 1989. Four minutes later, a representative from the White House bunker containing Vice President Cheney asks if there are any indications of other hijacked planes. Captain Charles Leidig, temporarily in charge of the NMCC, mentions the Delta Flight and comments, “that would be the fourth possible hijack.” Flight 1989 is in the same general Ohio region as Flight 93, but NORAD doesn’t scramble fighters toward either plane at this time. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
Shortly after boarding Air Force One, President Bush speaks by phone with Vice President Dick Cheney for approximately 10 minutes. (Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) According to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney had reached the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House at 9:37 a.m. (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He and the Secret Service agents escorting him had paused in an area of the tunnel with a secure phone and a television. He’d then asked to speak to the president, but it had taken a while for his call to be connected. However, elsewhere in its final report, the Commission will indicate that Bush, not Cheney, makes this phone call, saying that after he’d boarded Air Force One, the president “called the vice president.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Cheney will later recall making “one phone call [to the president] from the tunnel. And basically I called to let him know that we [at the White House] were a target and I strongly urged him not to return to Washington right away, that he delay his return until we could find out what the hell was going on.” (Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 464) He will recall, “What I was immediately thinking about was sort of continuity of government.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) According to notes made by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, at about 9:45 a.m. Bush tells Cheney: “Sounds like we have a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We’re at war… somebody’s going to pay.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39 and 463; Fleischer 2005, pp. 141) Bush instructs Cheney to call the congressional leadership and give them a briefing. (Lemann 9/25/2001) (However, around this time, Capitol Hill is being evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001).) The 9/11 Commission will state that, according to “contemporaneous notes,” at 9:55 a.m. “the vice president [is] still on the phone with the president advising that three planes [are] missing and one had hit the Pentagon.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) In his book Against All Enemies, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will indicate that it is around the time this call occurs that he is informed that the president has authorized the military to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8) Yet various accounts of Bush and Cheney’s call will make no mention of the president and vice president discussing any orders or making any decisions. (Sammon 2002, pp. 101; Woodward 2002, pp. 16; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes 2007, pp. 335-336) Their call apparently ends around 9:56 a.m.-9:57 a.m., as, according to the 9/11 Commission, Cheney enters the PEOC “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) (However, some accounts will indicate that he enters the PEOC significantly earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After hanging up, Bush turns to the men who are with him at his desk: his chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, military aide Lieutenant Colonel Tom Gould, and Fleischer. He tells them: “That’s what we’re paid for, boys. We’re gonna take care of this. When we find out who did this, they’re not gonna like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 101; Woodward 2002, pp. 17) According to some accounts, shortly after finishing this call, the president and vice president will be back on the phone with each other (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who is third in line for the presidency, is evacuated from the US Capitol building and flown to a secret underground bunker in Virginia, where he remains until late in the afternoon. (Yang 9/11/2001; ABC News 9/15/2002) Around 9:48, the Capitol building had begun evacuating (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). At that time, Hastert was on the House floor. Two members of his security detail now enter the chamber and tell him, “We’re going to evacuate the Capitol, and you’re going to a secure location.” They take him out of the building and drive him hurriedly to Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles southeast of Washington. After he arrives there, Hastert is finally able to communicate with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Hastert had been trying to contact Cheney earlier on, but without success (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001.) Cheney tells Hastert: “There’s a real danger. I want you to go to a secure location.” (Hastert 2004, pp. 8-9) Hastert gets on a helicopter and is flown to the secret underground bunker at Mount Weather in Bluemont, Virginia, 48 miles outside Washington—about 20 minutes journey by air. (Schwartz 11/2001; ABC News 9/15/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 81) In the following hours, other top members of the House and Senate leaderships will join him there (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). (Yang 9/11/2001; Hastert 2004, pp. 10) Hastert remains at the secure facility for several hours, and will return to Washington late in the afternoon (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 9/11/2002) Hastert’s evacuation to Mount Weather is the result of “Continuity of Government” (COG) orders, which provide for evacuating the third and fourth in the line of presidential succession during a national emergency, in order to protect the nation’s constitutional leadership. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
President Bush and his staff have difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are traveling on Air Force One, after the plane takes off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush had problems calling his colleagues at the White House while he was being driven to the airport, after leaving the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
Air Force One Should Have 'Outstanding Communications' - He ought to have more success after he boards Air Force One, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since the plane has state-of-the-art communications systems. (Inside the White House 9/1998; Hardesty 2003, pp. 167) Its capabilities are “just as good as the communications from the Oval Office in terms of [the president] being able to call, in a secure way, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the generals that might have to fight a war, or the vice president or… the national security adviser,” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment. The plane has the “capacity to have… outstanding communications,” he will say. (Card 8/12/2002)
Communications Systems Are 'All Jammed' - However, Bush and his staff have great difficulty sending and receiving information about the day’s events while they are on Air Force One. (Donnelly 9/22/2002) The “multiple [communications] systems—commercial and terrestrial systems” on the plane are “all jammed,” according to Master Sergeant Dana Lark, superintendent of communications. Lark actually wonders, “Did someone sabotage our comms?” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Has Problems Communicating with Vice President Cheney - Bush finds that his calls are successful only intermittently. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Attempts are made to establish an open line with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are at the White House, but the line keeps dropping. (Bush 2010, pp. 131) “It was absolutely stunning, standing next to the president as he was talking to the vice president, then holding the phone off his ear because it cut off,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will comment. (Graff 9/9/2016) At one point, Bush pounds his desk in frustration and shouts: “This is inexcusable. Get me the vice president.” (Kohn 9/11/2002) He also has difficulty reaching his wife, Laura, since the line keeps dropping when he tries to call her. He eventually talks to her shortly before 11:45 a.m., when Air Force One is approaching Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 132)
Officials in Washington Are Unable to Call the Plane - Some key individuals in Washington are unsuccessful when they try calling Air Force One. Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the White House Situation Room, is unable to contact the plane while it is flying from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base, even when he tries calling its satellite phone (see 9:54 a.m.-11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/16/2004) And White House counselor Karen Hughes is unable to reach the president when she tries calling him while he is airborne (see (Between 10:31 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; NBC 4/4/2004)
Bush Has His First Teleconference Hours after Leaving Sarasota - As a result of his problems communicating from the plane, Bush will hold his first teleconference with his principal advisers at around 3:15 p.m. (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—more than five hours after he takes off from Sarasota—after he arrives at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where there is sophisticated communications equipment (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Weisul 11/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) By that time, the communication problems will apparently have started to ease. Lark will recall that as Air Force One is flying to Offutt, “some of the commercial systems finally began to become available” and she actually receives a call from her chief. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Good Communications Are 'Critical' for the President - Bush’s communication problems may have a significant impact on the government’s ability to respond to the terrorist attacks. Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will explain why the president’s ability to communicate during a crisis is so important, saying, “In the case of any kind of attack in the United States, what you’re supposed to do is get the president off the ground and Air Force One then becomes the command center.” Once he is airborne, the president is “commanding the forces of the United States from the air,” Kean will say. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) “The president literally can’t function in his constitutional role unless he can communicate, so [good communications are] absolutely critical,” Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will similarly comment. (Bates 10/2002) The president “is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given,” Kean will note. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will claim that the communication problems have only a limited impact. “[F]or the most part I believe the president had the ability to do what was necessary to be in control and have command of his forces, and talk with his national security structure,” he will say. (White House 8/29/2002)
Communications Systems Are Supposedly 'Saturated' - Lark will learn at a later date that the communication problems occur because, she will say, “the commercial systems were all just saturated.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Rosenker will similarly suggest that the problems may be partly due to the fact that communications from Air Force One “have to get through a regular telephone network,” and when there is a crisis, the increased volume of communications “jam and overuse the structure.” (White House 8/29/2002) On top of their problems making and receiving calls, Bush and his staffers have difficulty monitoring the television coverage of the attacks while they are airborne, because the reception on the plane is poor and intermittent (see (9:54 a.m.-6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Donnelly 9/22/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, joins her husband in an underground tunnel that leads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Cheney 11/9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Cheney has been driven to the White House by her Secret Service agents after they evacuated her from a hair salon in Washington, DC (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (United States Secret Service 10/1/2001) As they were making their way through the White House, Cheney and the Secret Service agent accompanying her ran into I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, and Libby then joined them as they headed toward the PEOC (see 9:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). In the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, Cheney, the Secret Service agent, and Libby find the vice president. (Libby 11/14/2001) Vice President 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 President Bush (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) He is on the phone with Bush when his wife reaches him. (Cheney 9/11/2001; Cheney 11/9/2001) Dick and Lynne Cheney will enter the PEOC at around 9:58 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
Air Force One takes off and quickly gains altitude. One passenger later says, “It was like a rocket. For a good ten minutes, the plane was going almost straight up.” (CBS 9/11/2002) Once the plane reaches cruising altitude, it flies in circles. Journalists on board sense this because the television reception for a local station generally remains good. “Apparently Bush, Cheney, and the Secret Service argue over the safety of Bush coming back to Washington.” (Tapper 9/12/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) For much of the day Bush is plagued by connectivity problems in trying to call Cheney and others. He is forced to use an ordinary cell phone instead of his secure phone. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
President Bush talks on the phone to Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any plane that might be under the control of hijackers. “I said, ‘You bet,’” Bush later recalls. “We had a little discussion, but not much.” (Weisman 9/16/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Kohn 9/2/2003) Bush recalls that this isn’t a difficult decision for him to make, “once I realized there was a protocol… because again, I now realized we’re under attack. This is a war.” According to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, this call between Bush and Cheney takes place shortly after 9:56, when Air Force One took off from the Sarasota airport. (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Consistent with this, Bush and Cheney will tell the 9/11 Commission that Bush gives the shootdown authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the 9/11 Commission will say the authorization is given in a later call, at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) Bush later indicates that he doesn’t make any major decisions about how to respond to the attacks until after boarding Air Force One, which fits with these accounts of him approving shootdown authorization after take off. (Bush 12/4/2001; Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) But according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the authorization is given earlier, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56 (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Koppel 11/29/2003; Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
Douglas Cochrane, Vice President Dick Cheney’s military aide, joins Cheney in an underground tunnel that leads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House and is told that an aircraft hit the Pentagon. After Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., Cochrane went from the White House to his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, to fetch a special briefcase that holds the codes necessary to initiate a nuclear attack (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). When he arrived back at the White House, he saw Cheney being evacuated from his office by his Secret Service agents (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Cochrane tried to follow Cheney as he was being escorted to the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, but the door to the tunnel was shut behind the vice president. Cochrane said, “Open the door,” but agents there said they could not do this. He therefore had to take another route to get to the tunnel. Cochrane now joins Cheney. He finds that Lynne Cheney, the vice president’s wife, has joined Cheney in the tunnel (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the group around the vice president is getting ready to head to the PEOC. While Cochrane is in the tunnel, a Secret Service agent tells him, “They just got the Pentagon.” Cochrane will later comment that before receiving this notification, he had been unaware that an aircraft was approaching Washington, DC. He will go with Cheney and the group accompanying the vice president into the PEOC (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and stay in the PEOC for the rest of the day. (9/11 Commission 4/16/2004)
In the lobby of Building 7 of the WTC, EMS Division Chief John Peruggia is in discussion with Fire Department Captain Richard Rotanz and a representative from the Department of Buildings. As Peruggia later describes, “It was brought to my attention, it was believed that the structural damage that was suffered to the [Twin] Towers was quite significant and they were very confident that the building’s stability was compromised and they felt that the North Tower was in danger of a near imminent collapse.” Peruggia grabs EMT Richard Zarrillo and tells him to pass on the message “that the buildings have been compromised, we need to evacuate, they’re going to collapse.” Zarrillo heads out to the fire command post, situated in front of 3 World Financial, the American Express Building, where he relays this message to several senior firefighters. He says, “OEM says the buildings are going to collapse; we need to get out.” (OEM is the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, which has its headquarters in WTC 7.) Fire Chief Pete Ganci’s response is, “who the f___ told you that?” Seconds later, they hear the noise of the South Tower as it collapses. (Turi 10/23/2001; Peruggia 10/25/2001; Zarrillo 10/25/2001; Fortis 11/9/2001) Others also appear to have been aware of the imminent danger. Fire Chief Joseph Pfeifer, who is at the command post in the lobby of the North Tower, says, “Right before the South Tower collapsed, I noticed a lot of people just left the lobby, and I heard we had a crew of all different people, high-level people in government, everybody was gone, almost like they had information that we didn’t have.” He says some of them are moving to a new command post across the street. (Pfeifer 10/23/2001; Firehouse Magazine 4/2002; Dwyer and Flynn 2005, pp. 214) Mayor Giuliani also says he receives a prior warning of the first collapse, while at his temporary headquarters at 75 Barclay Street (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Vice President Dick Cheney, accompanied by his wife, enters the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the East Wing of the White House, after being evacuated from his office by the Secret Service. (Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40) Secret Service agents hurried Cheney out of his office in the West Wing of the White House at around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from there at around 9:03 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman 2008, pp. 115) Cheney paused in an underground tunnel leading to the PEOC (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), where he talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and was joined by his wife, Lynne Cheney, after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
Cheney and Wife Go into Conference Room - After he finishes his call with the president, the vice president goes with his wife into the PEOC. (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 2) They pass through a small communications studio and then turn left into a larger conference room. (Gellman 2008, pp. 116) There is “conflicting evidence” about when Cheney arrives in the conference room, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The 9/11 Commission will conclude, however, that he enters it “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
Cheney Now in a Position to 'Receive Reports' and 'Make Decisions' - In the middle of the conference room, according to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “is a rectangular wood table, long enough to seat 16 people comfortably. At several places around the table, drawers contain a white telephone for secure communications. A second row of chairs along the wall provides room for support staff.” The vice president takes his place at the center of the table. (Hayes 2007, pp. 337-338) Cheney will describe: “On the wall across from me were two large television screens and a camera for videoconferencing. A side wall contained another video camera and two more TV screens.” (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 2) He will comment that in the conference room, he is “in a position to be able to see all the stuff coming in, receive reports, and then make decisions in terms of acting with it.” (Cheney 9/16/2001)
Cheney Starts 'Working the Problem' - Cheney will recall that shortly after he enters the conference room, he watches the first World Trade Center tower collapsing on television (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, he will say, he “plugged in and start[ed] working the phones and working the problem.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) A short time after he enters the PEOC, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney will talk over the phone with the president (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40)
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)
In the conference room of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and their aides watch the South Tower collapsing on television. (Thomas 12/31/2001) Cheney will later say that the WTC coming down “was a shock to everybody—it certainly was to me.” (PBS 9/9/2002) However, if he is indeed shocked, this is not how Cheney appears to others in the room. One witness who is present will later recall that, as the South Tower collapses, there is “a groan in the room that I won’t forget, ever. It seemed like one groan from everyone.” However, Cheney makes no sound, but closes his eyes for a long, slow blink. The witness says, “I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) According to Mary Matalin, a counselor to the vice president, Cheney says nothing in response to the collapse, but “he emoted in a way that he emotes, which was to stop.” (CNN 9/11/2002; CNN 9/11/2002) When he is told that a casualty estimate ranges well into the thousands, the vice president reportedly just nods grimly. (Thomas 12/31/2001) According to the Washington Post, three people who are present say they see no sign now or later “of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney.” What they see is “extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of ‘first responders,’ Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.” He will promptly begin assembling the legal team that subsequently assists him in expanding presidential power (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
According to the 9/11 Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is told that the Air Force is trying to establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, then calls President Bush on Air Force One to discuss the rules of engagement for this CAP. Cheney later tells the 9/11 Commission that he’d felt “it did no good to establish the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert.” He recalls that “the president signed off on that concept.” Bush will recall this phone call and emphasize to the 9/11 Commission that, during it, he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in the PEOC with Cheney, will tell the Commission she recalls hearing Cheney inform the president: “Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.” Then she hears Cheney say, “Yes sir.” However, as the Commission will later note, “Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete” (see (Mid 2004)). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) Reportedly, some members of the Commission’s staff will not believe this call between Bush and Cheney ever took place. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Cheney phones Bush at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, it is in fact during that call that Bush authorizes the military to shoot down threatening aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41)
According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 220-221; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Vice President Cheney and other leaders now in the White House bunker begin receiving reports from the Secret Service of a presumably hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington. The Secret Service is getting this information about Flight 93 through links to the FAA. However, they are looking at a projected path, not an actual radar return, so they do not realize that the plane crashes minutes later. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
At some unspecified time, apparently relatively soon after Flight 93 crashed, Vice President Dick Cheney calls CIA Director George Tenet and asks him if he is anticipating any further attacks. Tenet replies, “No. My judgment is that they’re done for the day.” Tenet will later explain his reasoning behind this judgment: “There was a lull in the action, and to me that was telling.… I had no data to go on. But the pattern of spectacular multiple attacks within a very tight attack window was consistent with what we knew of al-Qaeda’s modus operandi based on the East African embassy attacks and others. Events happened within a strict timeline, and then they were done.” Yet at 10 a.m., Tenet had wanted the CIA headquarters evacuated, following reports that several airplanes were not responding to communications and were perhaps heading toward Washington. A large number of the CIA’s workforce had therefore been sent home (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 164 and 167) And according to recordings of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) later obtained by Vanity Fair magazine, “inside NEADS there was no sense that the attack was over with the crash of United 93; instead, the alarms go on and on. False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon” (see 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). (Bronner 8/1/2006) Tenet and his staff will return to the CIA headquarters building at around 1 p.m. after having earlier evacuated to the CIA’s printing plant nearby. By that time, Tenet will say, “The danger was over for the day, in our estimation.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 168)
President Bush is told that Flight 93 crashed a few minutes after it happened, but the exact timing of this notice is unclear. Because of Vice President Cheney’s earlier order, he asks, “Did we shoot it down or did it crash?” Several hours later, he is assured that it crashed. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
The Secret Service, viewing projected path information about Flight 93, rather than actual radar returns, does not realize that Flight 93 has already crashed. Based on this erroneous information, a military aide tells Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the White House bunker that the plane is 80 miles away from Washington. Cheney is asked for authority to engage the plane, and he quickly provides it. The aide returns a few minutes later and says the plane is 60 miles out. Cheney again gives authorization to engage. A few minutes later and presumably after the flight has crashed or been shot down, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten suggests Cheney contact President Bush to confirm the engage order. Bolten later tells the 9/11 Commission that he had not heard any prior discussion on the topic with Bush, and wanted to make sure Bush knew. Apparently, Cheney calls Bush and obtains confirmation (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, there is controversy over whether Bush approved a shootdown before this incident or whether Cheney gave himself the authority to make the decision on the spot. As Newsweek notes, it is a moot point in one sense, since the decision was made on false data and there is no plane to shoot down. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004)
A lieutenant colonel at the White House repeatedly relays to the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that fighter jets are cleared to engage an inbound aircraft if they can verify that the aircraft is hijacked. The lieutenant colonel notifies the NMCC of the authorization over the air threat conference call (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, said at sometime between 10:10 and 10:15 that fighters could engage an aircraft that was reportedly approaching Washington (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it is only when Cheney calls President Bush at 10:18 a.m. that Bush confirms the shootdown order (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). The shootdown order will be received by NORAD, and then, at 10:31 a.m., sent out to its three air defense sectors in the continental US (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41-42; Spencer 2008, pp. 240)
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 ) 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)
In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465) Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” (Rove 9/11/2002) But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 102; Woodward 2002, pp. 17-18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Koppel 11/29/2003; Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
Those inside the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that an aircraft is down in Pennsylvania. (This turns out to be Flight 93.) Many of the people in the PEOC wonder whether military fighters shot it down. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41) National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later claims that, like her, Vice President Dick Cheney initially thinks, “it must have been shot down by the fighters.” (Hayes 2007, pp. 339) However, Eric Edelman—Cheney’s national security adviser, who is also in the PEOC—will later recall: “The vice president was a little bit ahead of us.… He said, sort of softly, and to nobody in particular, ‘I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.’” (CNN 9/11/2002; CNN 9/14/2002) Yet the Pentagon does not confirm that Flight 93 was not shot down until after midday (see (Shortly After 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Thomas 12/31/2001) And the phone calls from Flight 93 that indicated a passenger revolt took place are only reported later on. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
An anonymous phone call is received at the White House in which the caller says Air Force One, the president’s plane, will be the next terrorist target and uses code words indicating they have inside information about government procedures. (Cheney 9/11/2001; Safire 9/13/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 18) Air Force One is currently flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with President Bush on board (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The White House receives a call from an anonymous individual, warning that the next target of the terrorist attacks will be Air Force One. The caller refers to the plane as “Angel.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling 2010, pp. 60-61) “Angel” is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. (Williams 2004, pp. 81; McCullagh 11/25/2009) An unnamed “high White House official” will later say the use of “American code words” shows the caller has “knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible.” (Safire 9/13/2001)
Government Officials Told about Threat - News of the threatening call is promptly passed on to government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—a bunker below the White House—and reported on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling 2010, pp. 60-61) Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in the PEOC, will comment that the news “reinforced the notion here… that the government has been targeted and that we need to be extra careful about making certain we protected the continuity of government, secured the president, secured the presidency.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) According to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is also in the PEOC, “The talk among the principals in the room quickly determined that the use of a code word implied that the threat to Air Force One and the president could well be from someone with access to [the president’s] inner circle—possibly someone who was near the president at that very moment.” (Darling 2010, pp. 61)
Accounts Conflict over Who Receives Call - It is unclear who at the White House answers the call in which the threat against Air Force One is made. The call is received by the White House switchboard, according to some accounts. (Sammon 2002, pp. 106; Fleischer 2005, pp. 141-142) Other accounts will indicate it is received by the White House Situation Room. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Darling 2010, pp. 60-61) Eric Edelman, a member of Cheney’s staff who is in the PEOC, will say the call is received by the Secret Service. (Edelman 10/25/2001) But two Secret Service agents who are on duty today will deny “that their agency played any role in receiving or passing on a threat to the presidential jet,” according to the Wall Street Journal. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) However, a Secret Service pager message will be sent at 10:32 a.m., which states that the “JOC”—the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House—has received an “anonymous call” reporting that “Angel is [a] target.” (McCullagh 11/25/2009)
Military Officer Passes on Details of Threat - Officials in the PEOC reportedly learn about the threat to Air Force One from a military officer working in the center. Although Cheney will say the threat “came through the Secret Service,” he will say later this year that he is unsure who passed the details of it to those in the PEOC. (Cheney 9/16/2001; Cheney 11/19/2001) An official in Cheney’s office will say in 2004 that Cheney was informed of the threat by “a uniformed military person” manning the PEOC, although Cheney and his staff are unaware who that individual was. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say that those in the PEOC are told about the threat by a “communicator,” meaning one of the military officers who works in the PEOC, and is responsible for “establishing phone lines and video lines, and staying in touch with the National Military Command Center” at the Pentagon. (Rice 11/1/2001) The military officer Rice is referring to may be Darling. Darling will recall that he answers a call from the White House Situation Room about the threat to Air Force One and then passes on the information he receives to Rice, telling her, “Ma’am, the [Situation Room] reports that they have a credible source in the Sarasota, Florida, area that claims Angel is the next target.” Rice immediately passes on the news to Cheney, according to Darling. (Darling 2010, pp. 60-61) Cheney will subsequently call Bush and tell him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Kohn 9/11/2002)
Reason for 'Bogus' Threat Unclear - The threat will be determined to be “almost surely bogus,” according to Newsweek. (Thomas 12/30/2001) The Secret Service’s intelligence division tracked down the origin of this threat,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “and, during the day, determined that it had originated in a misunderstanding by a watch officer in the White House Situation Room.” Although the 9/11 Commission will say it found the intelligence division’s “witnesses on this point to be credible,” Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, will dispute this account. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) By the end of 2001, White House officials will say they still do not know where the threat came from. (Thomas 12/30/2001) Darling will write in 2010, “To this day, it has never been determined why either the ‘credible source’ or Situation Room personnel used that code word [i.e. ‘Angel’] in their report to the PEOC.” (Darling 2010, pp. 62) “The best we can tell,” Rice will say, is that “there was a call that talked about events—something happening to the president on the ground in Florida. And that somehow got interpreted as Air Force One.” She will say that the fact the caller knew the code name for Air Force One is “why we still continue to suspect it wasn’t a crank call.” (Rice 11/1/2001) However, former Secret Service officials will say the code name wasn’t an official secret, but instead “a radio shorthand designation that had been made public well before 2001.” (Paltrow 3/22/2004 )
Vice President Cheney and others in the White House bunker are given a report of another airplane heading toward Washington. Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, later states, “We learn that a plane is five miles out and has dropped below 500 feet and can’t be found; it’s missing.” Believing they only have a minute or two before the plane crashes into Washington, Cheney orders fighters to engage the plane, saying, “Take it out.” However, reports that this is another hijacking are mistaken. It is learned later that day that a Medevac helicopter five miles away was mistaken for a hijacked plane. (Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
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; Kohn 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. (Cheney 11/19/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Cheney Tells Bush about a '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 Is Told of the Threat and Asks for a Guard at the Cockpit Door - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is told about the threat. (Kohn 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.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 ) “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. Will Chandler, the chief of security, is therefore summoned to the front of the plane and stands watch at the base of the stairs leading to the cockpit. No one is then allowed up these stairs. Secret Service agents double-check the identity of everyone on the plane, while the crew reviews the emergency evacuation plan. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
Threat Influences the 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). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Knoller 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). (Card 8/12/2002; Card 8/16/2002; Card 8/16/2002)
Vice President Dick Cheney tries to bring Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld up to date over the National Military Command Center’s (NMCC) conference call (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), as Rumsfeld arrived at the NMCC just minutes earlier (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Cheney explains that he has given authorization for hijacked planes to be shot down and that this has been passed on to the fighter pilots. Rumsfeld asks, “So we’ve got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instructions at the present time?” Cheney replies: “That is correct. And it’s my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out.” Then Rumsfeld says: “We can’t confirm that. We’re told that one aircraft is down but we do not have a pilot report that they did it.” Cheney is incorrect about his authorization having reached the pilots (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney calls President Bush, who is on Air Force One, and urges him not to return to Washington, DC. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, wants Bush to instead go to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, according to the New York Times. This is because Cheney “knew from his days as secretary of defense” that Offutt has “an extraordinarily sophisticated Strategic Command communications center.” (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Cheney tells Bush that he and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice both think Washington is “no longer safe enough for his return.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109) Cheney says, “There’s still a threat to Washington.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will describe: “Signals intelligence and all kinds of reports were flooding in. Given what had happened—four hijackings—it wasn’t prudent to come back.” Cheney says he is worried that “the terrorists might be trying to decapitate the government, to kill its leaders,” and Bush agrees with him. Cheney says they have “a responsibility to preserve the government, its continuity of leadership.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, will recall that around this time—presumably just after the call from Cheney—Bush tells others on the plane “that the vice president didn’t think it was safe for us to return to Washington until we could get a handle on how many hijacked planes there were. All planes flying in the continental United States had been ordered to land, but it wasn’t clear that all had done so.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 142) According to some reports, Air Force One is traveling north toward Washington at the time of Cheney’s call, and shortly afterwards it changes course and heads west toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will state that Air Force One turned west at around 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and began heading toward Barksdale about 10 minutes later (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)
Around this time (roughly), the FAA tells the White House that it still cannot account for three planes in addition to the four that have crashed. It takes the FAA another hour and a half to account for these three aircraft. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Vice President Cheney later says, “That’s what we started working off of, that list of six, and we could account for two of them in New York. The third one we didn’t know what had happened to. It turned out it had hit the Pentagon, but the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter and then later a private jet.” (Gerstenzang and Richter 9/17/2001) Amongst false rumors during the day are reports of a bomb aboard a United Airlines jet that just landed in Rockford, Illinois. “Another plane disappears from radar and might have crashed in Kentucky. The reports are so serious that [FAA head Jane] Garvey notifies the White House that there has been another crash. Only later does she learn the reports are erroneous.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002)
The US military’s defense readiness condition is raised from Defcon 5, the lowest possible level, to Defcon 3, an intermediate level that requires a heightened alert status for US armed forces worldwide, and which is the highest the defense readiness condition has been for 28 years. (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 131; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 338)
Rumsfeld Recommends Raising Defcon - The decision to go to Defcon 3 is reportedly made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) Rumsfeld will later recall that after he arrives at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he talks with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and “[w]e discussed and I recommended raising the defense condition level from five to three.” (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004)
Teleconference Participants Told to 'Hold Off' on Defcon 3 - Rumsfeld directs that the US military go to Defcon 3. At 10:43 a.m., it is announced on the air threat conference call that the secretary of defense “has directed that we go to Defcon 3 and be prepared to go to [Defcon] 2.” However, a minute later, Rumsfeld talks to Vice President Dick Cheney on the conference call, and Cheney says he will have to run the decision to go to Defcon 3 by the president, “and let him make the call.” Therefore, at 10:45 a.m., those on the conference call are told to “hold off on Defcon 3.”
Order to Raise Defcon Reinstated - But Rumsfeld believes raising the defense readiness condition is urgent. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554) There is therefore a “historical discussion about how the move to Defcon 3 went during previous crises, Cuba specifically [i.e. the Cuban missile crisis in 1962],” Captain Charles Leidig, who is also in the NMCC, will later recall. With their reference being “a book on the shelf,” according to Leidig, Myers is shown that he has “approval authority to go to Defcon 3.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) After consulting Defense Department directives, Rumsfeld concludes that he has the authority to issue the order to raise the defense readiness condition. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) Therefore, at 10:46 a.m., those on the air threat conference call are told: “Override last instructions. The vice chairman [i.e. Myers] is directing we go to Defcon 3.” A few minutes later, an announcement is made on the conference call, “Emergency action message released at 14:52 [Zulu time, i.e. 10:52 a.m. Eastern time], re: Defcon 3.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 2004)
Raising Defcon Is a 'Huge Move' - Rumsfeld will later agree with an interviewer that raising the defense readiness condition is “a very serious step for the nation.” (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) It was last raised to Defcon 3 during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Rumsfeld had been the United States ambassador to NATO. Regarding the decision to raise it, Myers tells Rumsfeld, “It’s a huge move, but it’s appropriate.” (Rumsfeld 1/9/2002; Paltrow 3/22/2004 ; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 338)
President Later Told of Decision - The decision to go to Defcon 3 will soon be communicated within NORAD (see 11:03 a.m.-11:12 a.m. September11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/3/2004 ) Rumsfeld will brief President Bush on the decision (see (11:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Bush 2010, pp. 133) Apparently around the time the defense readiness condition is raised, Rumsfeld and/or Myers also decide to raise the force protection condition of US military installations (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Myers 2009, pp. 153)
Defcon 3 Intended for Cold War - Some individuals will later be critical of the decision to raise the defense readiness condition at this time. John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will write that Defcon 3 is in fact “a Cold War-era designation, devised to respond to a nuclear threat.” (Farmer 2009, pp. 235) According to Farmer and other 9/11 Commission staffers, it is “suited more to a Cold War conflict than to al-Qaeda’s attack.” (et al. 9/7/2011 ) General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, will similarly say that Defcon 3 is “not intended for [events like] the attacks of 9/11 and thus could have complicated the response to the attacks.” He will say he does not think that raising the condition would have “done anything for us” within the continental United States. (9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 )
Defcons Are Phased Increases in Combat Readiness - The defense readiness condition is a “uniform system of progressive alert postures for use between the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of unified and specified commands, and for use by the [armed] services,” according to the Department of Defense. (US Department of Defense 11/8/2011 ) Defcons are phased increases in combat readiness and are graduated to match situations of varying military severity. They are numbered, from Defcon 5, which means “normal peacetime readiness,” down to Defcon 1, which means “maximum force readiness.” The current level, Defcon 3, represents an “increase in force readiness above normal readiness.” (Federation of American Scientists 4/29/1998) The defense readiness condition will remain at Defcon 3 until three days later, when it will be reduced one notch, to Defcon 4 (see September 14, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/30/2002)
President Bush is provided with a high level of security when he gets off Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and is promptly driven to a conference center on the base from where he makes a brief phone call. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 164; Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. and was immediately surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear, with their rifles drawn (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Martin 7/4/2004) Bush remained on board while a retractable set of stairs was lowered for him to leave the plane by.
Reporters Updated on President's Actions - A dark blue Dodge Caravan now pulls up next to these stairs, and a Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers take positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Dodge then pulls away, perhaps 40 feet back from the plane, and is swept inside and outside with dogs. Some members of the president’s staff come down the stairs from the plane. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer approaches the pool of reporters who have been traveling on Air Force One and who are waiting under the plane’s left wing for the president to disembark. Fleischer gives them a brief update on the president’s actions during the flight and adds: “You will see [the president] disembark here shortly. He will head inside and that’s all I’m going to indicate at this moment. You will have additional information shortly.” Fleischer then answers several questions from the reporters.
President Gets off Plane and into Minivan - Bush then descends from Air Force One. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 111) The Shreveport Secret Service office has been mobilized to oversee security arrangements while the president is at Barksdale. However, there is no presidential limousine waiting to drive Bush away from the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) Normally the president’s armored limousine would be flown in ahead of time on a military transport plane, but there has been no time to get it to Barksdale. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush instead gets into the Dodge Caravan, which is being guarded by a Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun on top. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) White House chief of staff Andrew Card gets in with him. The media and some of Bush’s staff, including his senior adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, get into an Air Force minibus. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Taken to Conference Center on Base - The Dodge then drives off at high speed. Bush will later recall that it “blasted off down the runway at what felt like 80 miles an hour. When the man behind the wheel started taking turns at that speed, I yelled, ‘Slow down, son, there are no terrorists on this base!’” (Bush 2010, pp. 132) The Humvee pulls out behind the Dodge, and the airman manning the machine gun on top cocks his weapon and puts a live round in the chamber. The minibus carrying the reporters follows moments later. (Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) The small motorcade drives to the Dougherty Conference Center, a two-story building on the base. At the stroke of noon, Bush and his aides enter the building. A car blocks the driveway and several armed soldiers stand guard while the president is inside. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Speaks to Vice President - Bush and his aides are met by Colonel Curtis Bedke, the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, apparently as they are entering the conference center. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 ; Freeman 10/2006 ) Inside, Bush picks up a telephone and speaks briefly with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush tells Keck he needs to get to a secure phone. Keck says there is one in his office, but this is in a different building on the base. (Freeman 10/2006 ) The pool of reporters waits in the parking lot outside the conference center for about 10 minutes while the president is inside. Bush and his staff finally come out at 12:11 p.m., to be taken to the 8th Air Force headquarters building (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
President Bush is taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, from where he calls government officials in New York and Washington, DC, prepares and records a speech to the nation, and watches television coverage of the terrorist attacks. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Associated Press 10/2/2001; Freeman 10/2006 ) After landing at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush was initially driven to a conference center on the base, where he made a brief phone call (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 164)
Bush Is Driven to the 8th Air Force Headquarters - Bush emerges from there at 12:11 p.m. accompanied by his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his military aide, some other aides, and several Secret Service agents. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112; Freeman 10/2006 ) He is then driven to “Building 245” on the base—the headquarters of the 8th Air Force—in a small motorcade that also includes the pool of reporters who have been traveling with him on Air Force One. Inside the building, they all can see a sheet of paper that has been taped to a door, with words written in large black type, “Defcon Delta”—the highest possible state of military alert. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush and his staff go to the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, where they get to work responding to the attacks. (Freeman 10/2006 )
Bush Prepares a Speech to the Nation - Bush and Card together draft a speech to the nation that the president is going to record at the base, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) However, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon, the speech is drafted by Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who is with the president at Barksdale, and edited by White House counselor Karen Hughes, who is back in Washington. (Sammon 2002, pp. 113) Once the speech is ready, Keck escorts Bush to the building’s conference room to be filmed delivering it. (Freeman 10/2006 ) The reporters traveling on Air Force One go to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building and are there when Bush records his speech at 12:36 p.m. (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Bush Watches TV, Makes Phone Calls - Bush watches the latest developments on a television in Keck’s office. After recording his speech, he sees the footage, shown on CNN, of the World Trade Center towers collapsing for the first time, according to Keck. He then tells Keck, “I don’t know who this is, but we’re going to find out and we’re going to go after them, and we’re not just going to slap them on the wrist.” Keck replies, “We’re with you.” There is a secure phone in Keck’s office, and, while he is at the base, Bush uses it to talk with Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House (see (12:11 p.m.-1:25 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (see 1:02 p.m. September 11, 2001), and Hughes. He also talks over the secure phone with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York Governor George Pataki, and New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Bush Is Informed of the Intelligence about the Attacks - Keck remains at Bush’s side for the entire time the president is in the 8th Air Force headquarters building. He works intently, monitoring base security and keeping up to date with the latest information from the 8th Air Force Command. He and his team keep Bush and his aides informed about the intelligence coming in via Air Force channels about the morning’s attacks and ongoing events. After nearly two hours at Barksdale, Bush and his entourage prepare to leave the base. Keck will accompany the president as he is driven back to Air Force One. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Freeman 10/2006 ; Graff 9/9/2016)
President Bush spends time arguing with his colleagues about where he should go next while he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and is advised to stay away from Washington, DC. (Langley 12/16/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 133) Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, about 25 minutes later, Bush was taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at the base (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The media are now asking about his whereabouts and why he has not returned to Washington. Bush is in fact keen to return to the capital. “I was worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged,” he will later write. “The American people needed to see their president in Washington,” he will comment.
Bush Is Advised to Stay Away from Washington - While he is at the base, Bush debates whether he should return to Washington with the Secret Service and Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Langley 12/16/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 133) These people advise him against going back. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) “The Secret Service agents felt it was still too uncertain,” he will recall, adding: “Dick [Cheney] and [National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House] agreed. They recommended that I go to the Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. It had secure housing space and reliable communications.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133) Meanwhile, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, spends time on the phone, seeking opinions from a number of trusted individuals. On the basis of these calls, he advises Bush that it would be reckless to return to Washington. (Langley 12/16/2001)
Secret Service Decides Where the President Goes - Despite Bush’s desire to return to the capital, the Secret Service has the power to determine where the president should go in a crisis, according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. “By federal law, the Secret Service has to protect the president,” he will say, adding: “The wishes of that person that day are secondary to what the law expects of us. Theoretically it’s not his call, it’s our call.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore acquiesces and a few minutes before 1:00 p.m., according to the London Daily Telegraph, agrees to fly to Offutt Air Force Base rather than going back to Washington. (Langley 12/16/2001) “I resigned myself to delaying my return once again,” he will comment. (Bush 2010, pp. 133) Bush “fought with us tooth and nail all day to go back to Washington,” Wilkinson will say, but the Secret Service “basically refused to take him back.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Is Frustrated at Being Unable to Return to the White House - After returning to Air Force One, but before the plane takes off, Bush gets on the phone to Cheney again and expresses his increasing frustration at being unable to return to the capital. He tells the vice president: “I can assure you I’d like to come home now. Tonight would be great.” Then, at 1:25 p.m., he turns to Card and Edward Marinzel, the head of his Secret Service detail, and says: “I want to go back home ASAP. I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside of Washington.” But Marinzel tells him, “Our people say it’s too unsteady still.” Bush replies, “Cheney says it’s not safe yet, as well.” Card then advises, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 118-119) Air Force One will take off from Barksdale Air Force Base and head to Offutt Air Force Base at 1:37 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Milbank and Allen 9/12/2001)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is informed that Vice President Dick Cheney wants him to come down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), located below the East Wing of the White House. Clarke heads down and, after being admitted by Cheney’s security detail, enters the PEOC. In addition to the vice president and his wife Lynne Cheney, the PEOC contains National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, and White House counselor Karen Hughes. Clarke can see the White House Situation on a screen. But Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference [that Clarke has been leading] because Mrs. Cheney keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN… and the vice president keeps hanging up the open line to you.” Clarke later describes that Lynne Cheney is, like her husband, “a right-wing ideologue,” and is offering her advice and opinions while in the PEOC. When Clarke asks the vice president if he needs anything, Cheney replies, “The [communications] in this place are terrible.” His calls to President Bush keep getting broken off. By the time Clarke heads back upstairs to the Situation Room, it is 12:30 p.m. (Clarke 2004, pp. 17-19)
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, wonders if the recent assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, was carried out as part of the preparations for today’s terrorist attacks on the United States and Cheney agrees when he suggests this possibility. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 41-42) Libby is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House with Cheney and other senior government officials. (Libby 11/14/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 18) While thinking about today’s attacks on the US, his mind turns to Massoud. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 41-42) Massoud was the commander of the Northern Alliance, the resistance group fighting Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist network they shelter. He was killed on September 9 by a bomb hidden in a video camera carried by two men who claimed they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). (Elliott 8/12/2002; Martin 9/9/2002) In light of this, it occurs to Libby that the “strongest fighting force battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban had lost its most important leader” just two days before America was attacked. “The United States had been deprived of an ally who could have been counted on to join in any military operation against [Osama] bin Laden and his cohort,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will later note. Libby wonders if Massoud’s murder was an “unlikely coincidence or perhaps more proof that bin Laden’s hand was behind the hijackings,” according to Eichenwald. He puts his thoughts down on a piece of paper, writing, “Did Massoud’s assassination pave the way for the attack in the United States?” and passes the note to Cheney. Cheney reads it, turns to Libby, and nods his head. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 41-42) The St. Petersburg Times will similarly observe that the assassination meant, “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent, and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught” that was likely to follow the 9/11 attacks. “As head of the Northern Alliance and an avowed enemy of the Taliban, Massoud would have been a key figure in any attempt by America to oust the regime and the terrorists it harbored,” the St. Petersburg Times will note. (Martin 9/9/2002)
In the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, numerous key officials are assembled, including Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and others. (Clarke 2004, pp. 18-19) A technician informs Libby that levels of carbon dioxide in the room have climbed too high. Libby remembers that excessive carbon dioxide can affect a person’s judgment, and arranges to have any non-essential personnel—comprising various lower-level aides—removed from the room. (Thomas 12/31/2001) According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, it is in fact David Addington, the vice president’s general counsel, who asks the lower-level officials to leave. (Hayes 2007, pp. 343)
Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Lott 2005, pp. 221-222) A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002)
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” (Lott 2005, pp. 221) Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 115-116)
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 2004, pp. 10; Lott 2005, pp. 221-222) It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. (CNN 9/12/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326)
At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)
Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctors receive the results of a blood test, which indicate that Cheney is at serious risk of a heart attack, but a subsequent blood test carried out in response to their concerns will show there is no danger and the vice president is in fine health. Cheney has struggled with coronary disease for decades. He has suffered four heart attacks, the most recent of which occurred in November 2000. (Baker and Bosman 10/16/2013; CBS 10/20/2013) He had a defibrillator implanted just over two months ago. (Sanger and Altman 7/1/2001) Early this morning, at the request of Dr. Lewis Hofmann, his White House physician, a nurse from the White House Medical Unit took a sample of his blood. This was sent to the lab at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, so the results of testing would be available by 5:00 p.m., when Dr. Jonathan Reiner, his cardiologist, is due to meet him.
Test Results Indicate 'a Medical Emergency' - The results turn out to be alarming. Sometime this afternoon, Reiner receives a call from Hofmann, who is with Cheney. Hofmann says that despite the day’s chaotic events, the blood sample made it to the lab and he has received the results of the testing. These show that Cheney’s potassium level is 6.9. A high blood concentration of potassium is called hyperkalemia and a level as high as 6.9 “is a medical emergency because it can lead to cardiac arrest,” Reiner will later explain. (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 187-188) “Potassium of 6.9 can kill you,” he will state. (CBS 10/20/2013)
Second Blood Test Will Show that Cheney's Health Is Fine - Incredulous, the cardiologist says there must be an error. Hofmann says he thought this too, but the lab has verified the result. Hofmann asks if Cheney’s defibrillator will protect the vice president but Reiner explains that if Cheney really is hyperkalemic, it will not. Reiner suggests to Hofmann that he take another sample of blood from the vice president this evening and repeat the potassium test tonight. Cheney, though, will refuse to give another sample today (see (Between 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001) and instead provides one early in the morning of September 12. Testing of this sample will reveal that the concern was unwarranted and Cheney’s potassium level is normal. Reiner will explain how he believes the false alarm came about, writing, “[U]ltimately we deduced that the high potassium was simply the result of the prolonged delay in processing the sample, which ensued following the evacuation of the White House.” (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 188-189, 193-194)
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Bush 2010, pp. 203-204) Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 17; Kessler 2006, pp. 136)
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. (CNN 9/11/2001; Burleigh 10/15/2001; Kessler 2006, pp. 136; Bush 2010, pp. 203) It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. (Bamford 8/23/2009) Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” (Bush 2010, pp. 203-204) President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205) Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002)
President Bush is reunited with his wife, Laura Bush, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, shortly after arriving back at the White House. (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205) Bush arrived at the White House at 6:54 p.m. (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) He headed to the Oval Office, where he read through a draft of the speech he is going to deliver to the nation later in the evening and modified a few lines. He then headed down to the PEOC, where the first lady was waiting for him. (Bush 2010, pp. 137-138) The first lady was taken to the PEOC after she was driven to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters, at around 6:30 p.m. (see 6:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush walks into the PEOC at 7:10 p.m. and hugs his wife. (Bush 2010, pp. 203-205) The first lady will later recall, “We were really glad to see each other, but also the enormity of what had happened in our country had really sunk in by then, and so we just comforted each other.” (Burleigh 10/15/2001) The president will describe: “We didn’t have a lot of time to talk, but we didn’t need to. Her hug was more powerful than any words.” Other senior government officials are in the PEOC, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who is there with his wife, Lynne Cheney. After their reunion, the president and the first lady “talked with the Cheneys a bit,” Laura Bush will recall. The president will subsequently head upstairs, practice his speech, and then go to the Oval Office to deliver it (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). The first lady will go to the White House residence (the first family’s living quarters). (Bush 2010, pp. 138; Bush 2010, pp. 204-205)
On the evening after the 9/11 attacks, some White House personnel, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, are given the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, and told to take it regularly. (Sobieraj 10/24/2001) An unnamed “high government official” also advises some reporters to take Cipro shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Judicial Watch will later sue the Bush administration to release documents showing who knew what and when, and why presidential staff were protected while senators, congresspeople, and others were not. (Associated Press 6/8/2002)
Vice President Dick Cheney refuses to have a blood sample taken, even though tests on a sample he gave this morning indicated that he is in danger of having a heart attack, and he says he will instead give a sample tomorrow morning. (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 188-189; Baker and Bosman 10/16/2013) Cheney has a long history of heart disease and has suffered four heart attacks. (Sanger and Altman 7/1/2001) Testing of a blood sample he gave this morning showed a potentially lethal level of potassium. If correct, this would mean he has a condition called hyperkalemia, which can lead to cardiac arrest. (Baker and Bosman 10/16/2013) Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Cheney’s cardiologist, asked Dr. Lewis Hofmann, Cheney’s White House physician, to arrange for the potassium test to be repeated tonight (see (Late Afternoon) September 11, 2001). Consequently, while he is accompanying Cheney as the vice president is being flown by helicopter to Camp David (see Shortly After 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001), Hofmann passes Cheney a note, informing him that he needs to provide another sample of blood. Cheney, though, refuses to do so. “Not tonight, Lew, you can have it in the morning,” he says. Whether he is aware of the results of the test on his blood sample from this morning and the possible danger he is in are unstated. (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 189) Reiner is seriously concerned about Cheney’s health. “I laid awake that night… watching the replays of the [Twin] Towers come down and now thinking that, ‘Oh great, the vice president’s gonna die tonight from hyperkalemia,’” he will later recall. (CBS 10/20/2013) Fortunately, testing of the blood sample that Cheney provides on the morning of September 12 will show that the vice president’s potassium level is normal and the earlier test results must have been erroneous. (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 193-194)
After attending President Bush’s meeting with his principal advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center beneath the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney heads back upstairs, accompanied by his wife Lynne Cheney and his two top aides, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and David Addington. They all head out onto the White House’s South Lawn and get onto Marine Two, the vice president’s helicopter, being joined on it by a military aide, a communications expert, three Secret Service agents, and Cheney’s doctor. They take off, in violation of long-standing protocol, according to which only the president takes off from the South Lawn. Only a few of the most senior White House officials are informed of their destination. About 30 minutes later they arrive at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, about 70 miles from the White House. Again going against tradition, Cheney and his family settle into the cabin usually reserved for the president, Aspen Lodge. Liz Cheney, the vice president’s eldest daughter, and her young family, joins them there. This is the first of many nights that Cheney spends in “secure, undisclosed locations” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001-2002). (Federation of American Scientists 10/2/2000; Hayes 2007, pp. 345-346) He will return to Washington the following morning for an 8 a.m. meeting at the White House (see September 12, 2001). (Woodward and Balz 1/28/2002)
After concluding a National Security Council meeting (see September 12, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with about six top principal cabinet members. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses the question, “Do we focus on bin Laden and al-Qaeda or terrorism more broadly?” Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US should focus on terrorism generally, but focus first on al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney brings up the issue of state sponsorship. “To the extent we define our task broadly, including those who support terrorism, then we get at states. And it’s easier to find them than it is to find bin Laden.” President Bush concludes, “Start with bin Laden, which Americans expect. And then if we succeed, we’ve struck a huge blow and can move forward.” He called the terrorism threat “a cancer” and adds, “We don’t want to define [it] too broadly for the average man to understand.” This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews some participants in the meeting. (Woodward 2002, pp. 43) The main alleged state sponsor that interests many top Bush officials is Iraq. For instance, five days later Bush will state he believes Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but that an attack on Iraq will have to wait (see September 17, 2001).
In the months following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney spends large portions of his time in what are referred to as “secure and undisclosed” locations. (CNN 3/1/2002) He is accompanied to these locations by those considered his “essential staff.” This includes his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Libby’s assistant, Jennifer Mayfield; Cheney’s personal secretary, Debbie Heiden; his personal aide, Brian McCormack; one of his military aides; and either his counsel, David Addington, or his staff secretary, Neil Patel.
Staff Ordered to Maintain Secrecy - Cheney’s personnel are ordered not to mention the vice president’s name or title on the phone; his schedule is to go out only over secure fax or classified e-mail; and all members of his staff must always keep a packed bag ready at the office. According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, the “secure undisclosed location” the vice president goes to is usually Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, although there are other locations. (Hayes 2007, pp. 349)
Maintaining the 'Continuity of Government' - Cheney explains to PBS the reasoning behind his going to these locations: “[W]ith the possibility that the White House or the Capitol or other facilities here [in Washington] could be targeted in a terrorist attack… it’s not a good practice for the president and I to spend a lot of time together.… [I]t’s important from the standpoint of our responsibility to maintain the continuity of government to always see to it that nobody—no adversary or enemy would have the capacity of, in effect, decapitating the federal government by taking out the president and the vice president and other senior management, senior leadership.” (PBS 10/12/2001) Yet, despite the supposed danger, he still goes ahead with a pre-planned pheasant-hunting trip in early November (see (November 4-5, 2001)). Cheney’s time at the “secure and undisclosed” locations is part of “shadow government” procedures that are implemented following the 9/11 attacks (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 3/1/2002) In interviews, he never mentions that he had similarly gone away to undisclosed locations on a regular basis throughout the 1980s, during a series of Continuity of Government exercises (see 1981-1992). (Mann 2004, pp. 138-139 and 296; Mann 3/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 39-41; Woodward and Balz 1/28/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet 2007, pp. 165) Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. (Savage 2007, pp. 76-78) As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” (Savage 2007, pp. 84)
Bush administration officials give differing accounts about whether a threat was made against Air Force One, the president’s plane, on September 11. (Allen 9/27/2001; Noah 9/28/2001; Paltrow 3/22/2004 ) The White House reportedly received an anonymous phone call at around 10:30 a.m. on September 11 in which the caller said Air Force One would be the next terrorist target and used code words indicating they had inside information about government procedures (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney promptly phoned President Bush on Air Force One and told him about the threat (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Press Secretary Reveals Threat during News Briefing - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals the existence of the threat on September 12, after conferring with Cheney and White House counselor Karen Hughes about whether the administration should respond to criticisms of Bush’s failure to return to Washington, DC, immediately after the previous day’s attacks. Hughes advises Fleischer to mention the threat during his press briefing on this day. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Fleischer 2005, pp. 157) Fleischer therefore says in the briefing, “[W]e have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets of these attacks.” He says the threat against the president’s plane led to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and was one of the reasons why Bush did not head back to Washington right away in response to the attacks. (White House 9/12/2001)
Cheney Recalls 'Credible Threat' - On September 16, Cheney similarly tells NBC’s Meet the Press, “We received a threat to Air Force One,” and adds, “I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me.” (Cheney 9/16/2001) And later in the month, White House adviser Karl Rove, who was with Bush on Air Force One on September 11, recalls that those on the president’s plane were informed of “a specific threat made to Air Force One,” which was a “declaration that Air Force One was a target.” (Lemann 9/25/2001)
Unnamed Officials Doubt whether Threat Was Made - Other officials, however, contradict these accounts. Near the end of September, CBS News reports that the phone call in which the threat was reportedly made “simply never happened.” It says that, according to unnamed sources, “White House staffers apparently misunderstood comments made by their security detail.” (Noah 9/28/2001) And some unnamed Bush administration officials tell the Associated Press that “they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening Air Force One.” The officials say they “have been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat [on] September 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it.” (Fournier 9/26/2001) Fleischer will later recall that he learns, weeks after publicly revealing the existence of the supposed threat against Air Force One, “that the threat was unfounded.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) “I learned it was a mistake from the press,” he will say, “who had been tipped by someone who knew.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 158)
Threat Was 'Almost Surely Bogus' - At the start of November, when asked about the alleged call in which Air Force One was threatened, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says: “I don’t know if it was a crank call or a real threat. I don’t think we’re going to ever know.” (Rice 11/1/2001) And at the end of 2001, Newsweek reports that the reported threat to Air Force One has been determined to be “almost surely bogus,” although it adds, “White House officials say they do not know where it came from.” (Thomas 12/30/2001) White House spokesman Dan Bartlett says in 2004 that “there hadn’t been any actual threat” against Air Force One on September 11. Word of a threat, he says, “resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously.” Around the same time, however, Cheney’s office says it still cannot rule out that a threat to Air Force One was made. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 )
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). (Gellman 12/22/2005)
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” (Daschle 12/23/2005)
President Bush and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, hold a private meeting at the White House. Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, and Bandar’s aide Rihab Massoud also attend. (Woodward 2006, pp. 80) Bandar is so close to the Bush family that he is nicknamed “Bandar Bush.” Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) later will note that while little is known about what is discussed in the meeting, mere hours later, the first flights transporting Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family are in the air (see September 13, 2001). Over the next week, they will be taken to several gathering points, and then flown back to Saudi Arabia, apparently without first being properly interviewed by the FBI (see September 14-19, 2001). Graham will say, “Richard Clarke, then the White House’s counterterrorism tsar, told me that he was approached by someone in the White House seeking approval for the departures. He did not remember who made the request… The remaining question is where in the White House the request originated, and how.” Graham will imply that, ultimately, the request originated from this meeting between Bush and Bandar. (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 105-107) Others also will later suggest that it was Bandar who pushed for and helped arrange the flights. (Unger 10/2003; Baer 10/29/2003 ) Bob Woodward will mention in a 2006 book that during the meeting, Bush tells Bandar, “If we [capture] somebody and we can’t get them to cooperate, we’ll hand them over to you.” Woodward will later comment, “With these words, the president casually expressed what became the US government’s rendition policy-the shifting of terrorist suspects from country to country for interrogation.… Though the Saudis denied it, the CIA believe the Saudis tortured terrorist suspects to make them talk.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80)
Officials admit that two planes were near Flight 93 when it crashed, which matches numerous eyewitness accounts. For example, local man Dennis Decker says that immediately after hearing an explosion, “We looked up, we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out. If you were here to see it, you’d have no doubt. It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down… If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” (Pillets 9/14/2001) Later the same day, the military says it can “neither confirm nor deny” the nearby planes. (Gazarik and Acton 9/14/2001) Two days later, they claim there were two planes near, but that they were a military cargo plane and business jet, and neither had anything to do with the crash. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) Supposedly, the business jet was requested to fly low over the crash site to help rescuers find the crash site, 25 minutes after all aircraft in the US had been ordered to land. However, the story appears physically impossible since the FBI says this jet was at 37,000 feet and asked to descend to 5,000 feet. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) That would have taken many minutes for that kind of plane, and witnesses report seeing the plane flying very low even before the crash. (Pillets 9/14/2001) Another explanation of a farmer’s plane 45 minutes later is put forth, but that also does not fit the time at all. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz states: “We responded awfully quickly, I might say, on Tuesday [9/11], and, in fact, we were already tracking in on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I think it was the heroism of the passengers on board that brought it down. But the Air Force was in a position to do so if we had had to.” (Wolfowitz 9/14/2001) The next day, Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver, the director of the Air National Guard denies that any plane was scrambled after Flight 93. (Seattle Times 9/16/2001) That in turn contradicts what Vice President Cheney will say later. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
The US Congress adopts a joint resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that determines that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress also states that the “grave acts of violence” committed on the US “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to [its] national security and foreign policy.” (US Congress 9/14/2001) President Bush signs the resolution into law on September 18. (White House 9/18/2001) The passage of the AUMF served another purpose: to extend presidential power. While the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff intended the AUMF to define the conflict in narrow terms, and authorize the US to move militarily against al-Qaeda and its confederates, and the Taliban, Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, had a larger goal. Attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, says in 2005 that Cheney and Addington “really wanted [the AUMF defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power.” Addington helped draft a Justice Department opinion in late 2001, written by lawyer John Yoo (see Late September 2001), that asserted Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006)
President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” (Woodward 2002, pp. 74-78; Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 234) He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
A self-styled White House “war council” begins meeting shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to discuss the administration’s response to the attacks and the methods it will use (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The ad hoc group is composed of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, Pentagon chief counsel William J. Haynes, and the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington. According to Jack Goldsmith, who will become head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2003 (see October 6, 2003), the four believe that the administration’s biggest obstacle to responding properly to the 9/11 attacks is the body of domestic and international law that arose in the 1970s to constrain the president’s powers after the criminal excesses of Richard Nixon’s White House. Chief among these restraints is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978). Though Addington tends to dominate the meetings with his imposing physical presence and aggressive personality, Yoo is particularly useful to the group; the head of the OLC, Jay Bybee (whom Goldsmith will replace) has little experience with national security issues, and delegates much of the responsibility for that subject to Yoo, even giving him the authority to draft opinions that are binding on the entire executive branch. Yoo agrees wholeheartedly with Addington, Gonzales, and Cheney about the need for vastly broadened presidential powers. According to Goldsmith, Yoo is seen as a “godsend” for the White House because he is eager to draft legal opinions that would protect Bush and his senior officials from any possible war crimes charges. However, Yoo’s direct access to Gonzales angers Attorney General John Ashcroft, who feels that the “war council” is usurping legal and policy decision-making powers that are legally his own. (Rosen 9/9/2007) In 2009, Goldsmith will say, “[I]it was almost as if they [Cheney and Addington] were interested in expanding executive power for its own sake.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
President Bush and his top advisers meet at Camp David to discuss how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Attendees include: CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. (Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232) There is discussion on a paper submitted by the Defense Department submitted the day before depicting Iraq, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda as priority targets (see September 14, 2001).
Push to Attack Iraq - Rumsfeld has already suggested that the US should use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq (see 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). Now Wolfowitz pushes for regime change in Iraq, claiming that there is a 10 to 50 percent chance that Iraq was involved in the attacks. (Woodward 2002, pp. 83; Burrough et al. 5/2004; Smith 7/23/2004) Attacking Afghanistan is uncertain at best, Wolfowitz argues, with the likelihood that US troops will get mired in mountain fighting. In contrast, Iraq is, in author Bob Woodward’s words, “a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable.” According to Woodward, chief of staff Andrew Card believes that Wolfowitz is doing nothing more than “banging a drum” and is “not providing additional information or new arguments.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 83; Buchanan 3/24/2003) Powell will later recall that Wolfowitz argues that Iraq should be attacked because it is ultimately the source of the terrorist problem. Wolfowitz “was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 335) Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later recall that the discussion about possible Iraqi involvement in 9/11 “went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The [CIA] argued that that was not appropriate, not the right conclusion to draw at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell supports the CIA on this. Then, according to McLaughlin: “At the end of all this deliberation, the president says, ‘Thank you all very much. This has been a very good discussion. I’m going to think about all of this on Sunday, and I’ll call you together Monday [September 17] and tell you what I’ve concluded.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)
Focus on Afghanistan First - Bush will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that, in his own mind, he made the decision not to immediately attack Iraq in the morning on this day. He wants to focus on Afghanistan first. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 335) Wolfowitz will later recall in an interview with Vanity Fair: “On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when. There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about tactics and timing, the president clearly came down on the side of Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about strategy and what the larger goal was, it is at least clear with 20/20 hindsight that the president came down on the side of the larger goal.” (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) In his 2002 book Bush at War, Woodward will write, “Bush’s advisers wondered if they would ever find a way to end the talking and pull the trigger.” (Roberts 2008, pp. 106)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz create a secretive, ad hoc intelligence bureau within the Pentagon that they mockingly dub “The Cabal.” This small but influential group of neoconservatives is tasked with driving US foreign policy and intelligence reporting towards the goal of promoting the invasion of Iraq. To this end, the group—which later is folded into the slightly more official Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003)—gathers and interprets raw intelligence data for itself, refusing the participation of the experts in the CIA and DIA, and reporting, massaging, manipulating, and sometimes falsifying that information to suit their ends. (Hersh 5/12/2003) In October 2005, Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will say of the Cabal and the OSP (see October 2005), “What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.” (Alden 10/20/2005)
Vice President Cheney acknowledges that US intelligence officials received threat information during the summer of 2001 “that a big operation was planned” by terrorists, possibly striking the US. But he also says, “No specific threat involving really a domestic operation or involving what happened, obviously—the cities, airliner and so forth.” (Aita 9/12/2001)
Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire considered by the United States to be the prime suspect for the 9/11 attacks, issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he denies responsibility for those attacks. (CNN 9/17/2001; Harris 9/17/2001) In the statement, which is read out by an Al Jazeera announcer, bin Laden says: “The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons. I have been living in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.” The statement is signed “Sheik Osama bin Laden.” (Associated Press 9/16/2001; CNN 9/17/2001) President Bush dismisses bin Laden’s denial. Asked whether he believes it, Bush responds: “No question he is the prime suspect. No question about that.” (Bush 9/16/2001; Bowman, Matthews, and Gibson 9/17/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney says he has “no doubt that [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role” in the 9/11 attacks. (NBC 9/16/2001; Harris 9/17/2001) On this day, bin Laden also faxes a statement to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency, in which he denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). (Harding et al. 9/17/2001) Previously, on September 12, he denied any involvement, according to a close aide of his (see September 12, 2001). (Associated Press 9/13/2001) On September 13, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said bin Laden told them he had played no role in the attacks (see September 13, 2001). (Reuters 9/13/2001) But in mid-December 2001, the Pentagon will release a video which apparently shows bin Laden indicating his complicity (see Mid-November 2001). (BBC 12/14/2001; Fox News 12/14/2001) However, there will be questions about the authenticity of this film (see December 13, 2001). (Morris 12/15/2001)
In a television interview, Vice President Cheney is asked how the US will respond to the 9/11 attacks. He first replies that there will be a military response. But he adds an oblique comment indicating the secrecy in which he and the administration intend to operate after the 9/11 attacks: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” (Cheney 9/16/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 221) In 2006, former CIA official Gary Schroen will be asked about Cheney’s comment, and he replies: “My impression at the time was that the administration was trying to send a message, and certainly CIA leadership was trying to send a message, that the gloves were off. I think what [Cheney] was probably saying was, we’re going to do things like assassination operations; we were going to go into places and not try to capture these guys, but just kill them, and that… there would be a lot of people who would object to those kind of tactics.” (Schroen 1/20/2006) In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Many interpreted Cheney’s vague remarks to have been a reference to brutal interrogation techniques.” (Savage 2007, pp. 154)
Vice President Dick Cheney is asked on NBC’s Meet the Press if the US has evidence that Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists. Cheney responds: “There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaeda and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.” (Cheney 9/16/2001) When asked if the US has any evidence linking Hussein or any Iraqis to the attacks, Cheney replies, “No.” (NBC 9/16/2001)
Media coverage relating to an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy named Ahmed al-Ani took place in Prague, Czech Republic, has changed repeatedly over time:
September 18, 2001: It is first reported that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met in Prague, Czech Republic, with an Iraqi diplomat in April 2001. The name of the diplomat, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, is mentioned in follow up articles. (Gullo 9/18/2001; Lichtblau, Serrano, and Mcdonnell 9/19/2001; CNN 10/11/2001; Safire 11/19/2003)
October 20, 2001: The story is denied by some Czech officials (see October 16, 2001). (Tagliabue 10/20/2001)
October 26, 2001: The story is confirmed by the Czech interior minister (see October 26, 2001). (Tyler and Tagliabue 10/27/2001)
October 27, 2001: It is claimed Atta met with Iraqi agents four times in Prague, and was given a vial of antrax. Atta is alleged to have had further meetings with Iraqi agents in Germany, Spain, and Italy (see October 27, 2001). (McGrory 10/27/2001)
November 12, 2001: Conservative columnist William Safire calls the meeting an “undisputed fact” in a New York Times editorial (see November 12, 2001). (Safire 11/12/2001)
December 9, 2001: Vice President Cheney asserts that the existence of the meeting is “pretty well confirmed” (see December 9, 2001). (Washington Post 12/9/2001)
December 16, 2001: The identities of both al-Ani and Atta, alleged to have been at the meetings, are disputed by a Czech police chief (see December 16, 2001). (Hedges and Mcneil 12/16/2001; Hejma 12/16/2001)
January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. (Johnston 1/12/2002)
February 6, 2002: It is reported that senior US intelligence officials believe the meeting took place, but they believe it is not enough evidence to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks (see February 6, 2002). (Risen 2/6/2002)
March 15, 2002: Evidence that the meeting took place is considered between “slim” and “none.” (Ignatius 3/15/2002)
March 18, 2002: William Safire again strongly asserts that the meeting took place. (Safire 3/18/2002)
April 28-May 2, 2002: The meeting is largely discredited. For example, the Washington Post quotes FBI Director Mueller stating that, “We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts,” yet no evidence that Atta left the country was found. According to the Post, “[a]fter months of investigation, the Czechs [say] they [are] no longer certain that Atta was the person who met al-Ani, saying ‘he may be different from Atta.’” (Pincus 5/1/2002) Newsweek cites a US official who contends that, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information [Atta] was coming or going [to Prague] at that time” (see April 28, 2002). (Isikoff 4/28/2002; Pincus 5/1/2002; listed] 5/2/2002)
May 8, 2002: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. (Pitkin 5/8/2002)
May 9, 2002: William Safire refuses to give up the story, claiming a “protect-Saddam cabal” in the high levels of the US government is burying the evidence. (Safire 5/9/2002)
July 15, 2002: The head of Czech foreign intelligence states that reports of the meeting are unproved and implausible. (Swoger 7/15/2002)
August 2, 2002: With a war against Iraq growing more likely, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggests the meeting did happen, “despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI.” (Drogin, Richter, and McManus 8/2/2002)
August 19, 2002: Newsweek states: “The sole evidence for the alleged meeting is the uncorroborated claim of a Czech informant.” According to Newsweek, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is nonetheless pushing the FBI to have the meeting accepted as fact. (Isikoff 8/19/2002)
September 10, 2002: The Bush administration is no longer actively asserting that the meeting took place. (Priest 9/10/2002)
September 17, 2002: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “accept reports from Czech diplomats” that the meeting took place. (Diamond 9/17/2002)
September 23, 2002: Newsweek reports that the CIA is resisting Pentagon demands to obtain pictures of the alleged meeting from Iraqi exiles. One official says, “We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don’t make it up.” (Hosenball and Lipper 9/23/2002)
October 10, 2002: British officials deny the meeting ever took place (see October 4-10, 2002). (Huband 10/4/2002; Norton-Taylor 10/10/2002)
October 20, 2002: Czech officials, including President Vaclav Havel, emphatically deny that the meeting ever took place. It now appears Atta was not even in the Czech Republic during the month the meeting was supposed to have taken place. President Havel told Bush “quietly some time earlier this year” that the meeting did not happen (see Early 2002, probably May or later). (Walker 10/20/2002; Risen 10/21/2002)
December 8, 2002: Bush adviser Richard Perle continues to push the story, stating, “To the best of my knowledge that meeting took place.” (Simon 9/5/2002) He says this despite the fact that in October 2002, Czech officials told Perle in person that the meeting did not take place (see October 20, 2002).
July 9, 2003: Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed al-Ani is captured by US forces in Iraq. (Schmidt 7/9/2003)
July 10, 2003: In a story confirming al-Ani’s capture, ABC News cites US and British intelligence officials who have seen surveillance photos of al-Ani’s meetings in Prague, and who say that there is a man who looks somewhat like Atta, but is not Atta. (ABC News 7/10/2003)
September 14, 2003: Vice President Cheney repeats the claims that Atta met with al-Ani in Prague on NBC’s Meet the Press. He says “we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting” the meeting, but he also cites the when making the claim that Iraq officially supported al-Qaeda (see September 14, 2003 and September 14, 2003). (Milbank and Pincus 9/15/2003)
July 25, 2003: The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry makes public its conclusion that the meeting never took place (see January-July 2003).
December 13, 2003: It is reported that al-Ani told interrogators he did not meet Atta in Prague. (Priest and Kessler 9/29/2003; Reuters 12/13/2003)
February 24, 2004: CIA Director George Tenet says of the meeting: “We can’t prove that one way or another.” (Jehl 7/9/2004)
June 16, 2004: The 9/11 Commission concludes that the meeting never happened. They claim cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)
June 17, 2004: Vice President Cheney says no one has “been able to confirm” the Atta meeting in Prague or to “to knock it down” He calls reports suggesting that the 9/11 Commission has reached a contradictory conclusion “irresponsible,” even though the 9/11 Commission did conclude just that the day before (see June 17, 2004). (CNN 6/18/2004)
July 1, 2004: CIA Director Tenet says that the CIA is “increasingly skeptical” the meeting ever took place (see July 1, 2004). (Jehl 7/9/2004)
July 12, 2004: The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes the meeting never took place (see July 12, 2004).
March 29, 2006: Cheney says of the meeting: “And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
September 8, 2006: A bipartisan Senate report confirms that the meeting never took place (see September 8-10, 2006). (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 )
September 10, 2006: Cheney still breathes life into reports of the meeting, reversing position and refusing to deny that the meeting took place (see September 10, 2006). (Cheney 9/10/2006)
April 2007: In a new book, former CIA Director Tenet claims, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta” (see 2006). (Tenet 2007, pp. 355)
In a briefing with CIA Director George Tenet, President Bush tells Tenet, “I want to know about links between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda. The Vice President knows some things that might be helpful.” He then turns to Cheney, who is participating in the meeting through a secure video link. Unusual for a vice president, Cheney’s office has nearly a dozen national security staffers. Cheney tells Tenet that one of them has picked up a report that hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. This had already been reported in the press the day before (see September 18, 2001), but apparently Cheney has information about it that the CIA does not. Tenet promises to get to the bottom of it right away. (Suskind 2006, pp. 22-23) Two days later, Tenet will tell Bush that the report “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (US Department of Justice 9/25/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Inspectors General 7/10/2009)
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
During a National Security Council meeting attended by CIA Director Tenet, National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, Vice President Cheney and others, President Bush says of the 9/11 attacks, “Many believe Saddam [Hussein] is involved. That’s not an issue for now. If we catch him being involved, we’ll act. He probably was behind this in the end.” He also says, “What we do in Afghanistan is an important part of our effort. It’s important to be serious and that’ll be a signal to other countries about how serious we are on terror.” He mentions Syria and Iran as countries he wants to warn. This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who interviews many top officials at the meeting. (Woodward 2002, pp. 167) One week earlier, the CIA advised Bush that there was no link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. CIA Director Tenet also told Bush that the one alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attack “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).
Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” (Dao 10/1/2001) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)
President Bush briefly considers sealing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the escape of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but then decides against it. According to journalist Bob Woodward, a National Security Council (NSC) meeting held on this day is attended by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and others. Intelligence indicates that about 100 people per day are going from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Woodward will claim, “There was some talk of sealing the border.” But he adds the idea is immediately dismissed: “It seemed an impossible idea, not practical given the hundreds of miles of mountainous and rough terrain, some of the most formidable in the world. There were few roads. Getting from one point to another could only be done on foot, with mules, or on horseback.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 205) CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment, “There is no denying that closing that border was a hard job, but if the NSC did not believe that the best military in the world could close the border and trap bin Laden, why did it decide that the task could be safely allotted to the poorly armed and trained and generally anti-US Pakistani forces?” (Scheuer 2008)
Vice President Dick Cheney suggests al-Qaeda could be behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Cheney tells PBS: “We know that [Osama bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons. We know that he’s trained people in his camps in Afghanistan. For example, we have copies of the manuals that they’ve actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances. So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it’s coincidence, but I must say I’m a skeptic.” He adds, “I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked.” (BBC 10/13/2001) A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 244) No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.
On October 18, 2001, an alarm in the White House situation room allegedly goes off, indicating that sensors have detected dangerous levels of WMD agents. Vice President Cheney and others in the situation room at the time are said to believe that they have been exposed. Due to the recent anthrax attacks, Cheney allegedly is convinced that he has been subjected to a lethal dose of anthrax. This is according to the 2008 book The Dark Side by journalist Jane Mayer. An anonymous former administration officer will tell Mayer, “They thought Cheney was already lethally infected.” However, it is soon discovered that the sensors had malfunctioned and there was no danger. But Mayer will claim that the incident contributed to Cheney’s paranoia and his desire to use hard-line tactics such as torture in combating terrorism. Mayer will say that, after the incident, “a sense of constant danger followed Cheney everywhere.” When he is not in one of his several “undisclosed locations” (usually underground bunkers), he travels with a doctor and a bag containing a gas mask and biochemical survival suit. (Mooney 7/14/2008)
Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005) Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). (Risen and Lichtblau 12/15/2005)
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005)
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.
Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan presents his subordinate, associate counsel Bradford Berenson, with a draft presidential order he has written establishing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. The draft order declares that President Bush is invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief to establish a system of military tribunals, sometimes called military commissions.
Commissions More 'Flexible' - In the White House’s view, military tribunals offer several advantages over either civilian court trials or military courts-martial, as is being discussed in the interagency working group on prosecuting terrorists at the State Department (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Civilian trials would be subject to public scrutiny and media spectacle, and would pose a problem of security risks. Military courts-martial are quite rigid in their procedures and rules of evidence. Military commissions, as envisioned by Flanigan and the two other White House lawyers who put together the scheme—Berenson and David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney—would offer more “flexibility” for the use of evidence gathered either under battlefield conditions or in interrogations, evidence that might not meet the standards of either a court-martial or a civilian trial. And, as author Charlie Savage will later note, “commissions enhanced presidential power by concentrating the process in the executive branch alone.”
A 'Relic' - Savage will explain: “Under normal trials, Congress defines a crime and sets the sentence for it; the executive branch investigates and prosecutes people who are accused of committing the crime; and the judicial branch runs the trial, decides whether to admit evidence, determines whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, and hears any appeal. With a military commission, all these powers were collapsed into the hands of the armed forces and, ultimately, their commander in chief. Although fairly common in nineteenth-century conflicts, military commissions were a relic: They had not been used by the United States since World War II.”
Support from Justice Department Lawyer - Their work will be bolstered when Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin issues a secret memo declaring that the president has the inherent authority to order military commissions (see November 6, 2001). Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington never inform the interagency working group of their own work, although they made use of the working group’s research. Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington cite Philbin’s memo as the definitive word on the president’s authority. When President Bush announces the order establishing the commissions (see November 13, 2001), the order abruptly short-circuits the interagency working group and renders its work irrelevant. (Savage 2007, pp. 134-135)
In the months following 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney is frequently moved away to undisclosed locations, supposedly for security reasons (see September 12, 2001-2002). He will tell CBS News, “[W]e feel it’s important, especially when the threat level goes up, to keep the president or myself separated.” He suggests there is a risk that terrorists could “take out the entire leadership of our government.” (Cheney 11/14/2001) Yet, in spite of this supposed threat, Cheney goes ahead with a pheasant-hunting trip at the Paul Nelson Farm in South Dakota. He goes to this private retreat each year with friends, and on this occasion is joined by his daughter Mary. The trip had been planned before January this year, and the party has the entire facility to itself. (Associated Press 11/5/2001; Kamen 11/19/2001; Hayes 2007, pp. 363) CBS News’s Gloria Borger later questions Cheney about this trip, saying, “The American people are on a terror alert. You’re at an undisclosed location. Then the other week we learned that you went on a hunting trip. So did the Secret Service give you the all clear and say it’s fine to do that?” Cheney replies, “Well, the key thing here was I was away from the president. I wasn’t in the same location he was. We could not have both been eliminated at the same time by a terrorist attack.” (Cheney 11/14/2001)
An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 222-223; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Vice President Cheney leads a meeting at the White House to put the finishing touches on a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001). The meeting includes Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and several White House lawyers, but leaves out senior officials of the State Department and the National Security Council. Cheney has decided to tell neither National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice nor Secretary of State Colin Powell about the order until it has already been signed. Cheney has also told no one in the interagency working group ostensibly formulating the administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorists (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Ashcroft angrily dissents from Cheney’s plan to give the White House sole authority over the commissions, and invokes his authority as the nation’s top law enforcement official to demand that the Justice Department be given a say in the decision. Cheney overrules Ashcroft’s objections. He will discuss the draft with President Bush over lunch a few days later (see November 11-13, 2001). (Golden 10/24/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 138)
At a private lunch meeting, Vice President Cheney presents President Bush with a four-page memo, written in strict secrecy by lawyer John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see November 6-10, 2001), and a draft executive order that establishes military commissions for the trial of suspected terrorists (see November 10, 2001). The legal brief mandates that foreign terrorism suspects held in US custody have no access to any courts whatsoever, civil, criminal, military, domestic, or foreign. They can be detained indefinitely without charges. If they are to be tried, they can be tried in closed “military commissions.” (White House 11/13/2001; Savage 2007, pp. 138; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Military Commissions Suitable to 'Unitary Executive' Agenda - According to author Craig Unger, military commissions are a key element of Cheney’s drive towards a “unitary executive,” the accretion of governmental powers to the presidency at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. Federal trials for terror suspects would put them under all the legal procedures provided under the US judicial system, an unacceptable alternative. Military courts-martial would give them the rights granted by the Geneva Conventions. Military commissions, however, are essentially tribunals operating outside of both civilian and military law. Defendants have few rights. Secret evidence can be admitted without being disclosed to the defendants. Hearsay and coerced testimony are admissible. Prisoners can be held indefinitely. (Unger 2007, pp. 221-222)
No Bureaucratic Footprints - After Bush peruses the memo and the draft order, Cheney takes them back with him to his office. After leaving Bush, Cheney takes extraordinary steps to ensure that no evidence of his involvement remains. The order passes from Cheney to his chief counsel David Addington, and then to associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson. At Berenson, the provenance of the order breaks, as no one tells him of its origin. Berenson rushes the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart Bowen with instructions to prepare it for signature immediately, without advance distribution to Bush’s top advisers. Bowen objects, saying that he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever sidestepping the strict procedures governing coordination and review. Bowen relents only after being subjected to what he will later recall as “rapid, urgent persuasion” that Bush is standing by to sign and that the order is too sensitive to delay. Berenson will later say he understood that “someone had briefed” Bush “and gone over it” already. “I don’t know who that was.” When it is returned to Bush’s office later in the day, Bush signs it immediately (see November 13, 2001). Virtually no one else has seen the text of the memo. The Cheney/Yoo proposal has become a military order from the commander in chief.
Dodging Proper Channels - The government has had an interagency working group, headed by Pierre Prosper, the ambassador at large for war crimes, working on the same question (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). But Cheney and Addington have refused to have any contact with Prosper’s group; one of Cheney’s team later says, “The interagency [group] was just constipated.” Cheney leapfrogged over Prosper’s group with their own proposal, performing an adroit bureaucratic move that puts their proposal in place without any oversight whatsoever, and cutting Prosper’s group entirely out of the process. When the news of the order is broadcast on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell demands, “What the hell just happened?” An angry Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, sends an aide to find out. Virtually no one, even witnesses to the presidential signing, know that Cheney promulgated the order. In 2007, Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker will call the episode “a defining moment in Cheney’s tenure” as vice president. Cheney has little Constitutional power, but his deft behind-the-scenes manuevering and skilled bureaucratic gamesmanship enable him to pull off coups like this one, often leaving even the highest White House officials none the wiser. “[H]e has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert,” the reporters write. (White House 11/13/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 221-222; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Quiet Contravening of US Law - Six years later, Unger will observe that few inside or outside Washington realize that Cheney has, within a matter of days, contravened and discarded two centuries of American law. He has given the president, in the words of former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, “the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes [and] the authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely… a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XIV’s execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille.” (Unger 2007, pp. 223-224)
In a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce, Vice President Cheney tells his audience that terror suspects do not deserve to be treated as prisoners of war. Cheney is laying the groundwork for the general acceptance of President Bush’s order that terror suspects are to be denied access to the US judicial system (see November 13, 2001). Asked about Bush’s proposed military tribunals for dealing with charges against suspected terrorists, Cheney says that according to Bush’s order, he and he alone will decide whether a suspect is tried in a military tribunal. Cheney continues: “Now some people say, ‘Well, gee, that’s a dramatic departure from traditional jurisprudence in the United States.’ It is, but there’s precedents for it.… The basic proposition here is that somebody who comes into the United States of America illegally, who conducts a terrorist operation killing thousands of innocent Americans, men, women, and children, is not a lawful combatant. They don’t deserve to be treated as a prisoner of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process. This—they will have a fair trial, but it’ll be under the procedures of a military tribunal and rules and regulations to be established in connection with that. We think it’s the appropriate way to go. We think it’s—guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.” (Cheney 11/14/2001) Many in the administration are disturbed at Cheney’s remarks, as Bush has not yet publicly made this decision (see November 13, 2001). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
President Bush’s order to establish military tribunals, or commissions, to try suspected terrorists (see November 13, 2001) is defended by Vice President Cheney, who tells reporters that the suspects subjected to such tribunals “don’t deserve to be treated as prisoners of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards we use for an American citizen.” Law professor Douglas Kmiec agrees. “This is the answer for what we’re dealing with: unlawful belligerents who do not come within our constitutional structure,” he says. “The president’s order is not extraordinary when one places it in the context of historic military campaigns.” Civil libertarians and administration critics disagree. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says military commissions are based on the “thinnest legal precedents” and would “antagonize our allies and alienate the many legal immigrants in this country.” Law professor Anne-Marie Slaughter notes: “President Bush has said this is a war to bring terrorists to justice. So the real question is, what’s justice? That requires a fair trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that is not the aim of a military tribunal.” A better option, she says, would be convening an international war crimes tribunal. And law professor Joshua Rosenkranz says: “There is a natural temptation to hunker down whenever we are in crisis. But there is a danger that this hysteria-driven effort to protect to ourselves is weakening the foundations of our democracy.” (Biskupic and Willing 11/15/2001)
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arranges for Christopher DeMuth, president of the neoconservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to create a group to strategize about the war on terrorism. The group DeMuth creates is called Bletchley II, named after a team of strategists in World War II. The dozen members of this secret group include:
Bernard Lewis, a professor arguing that the US is facing a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world.
Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek editor and columnist.
Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary.
Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
James Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime.
Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert.
Steve Herbits, a close consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to journalist Bob Woodward, the group comes to quick agreement after just two days of discussions and a report is made from their conclusions. They agree it will take two generations for the US to defeat radical Islam. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the keys to the problems of the Middle East, but the problems there are too intractable. Iran is similarly difficult. But Iraq is weak and vulnerable. DeMuth will later comment: “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam [Hussein] was inevitable. He was a gathering threat - the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That is the key to transform the region. Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly pleased with their report. So is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who finds it “very, very persuasive.” It is said to have a strong impact on President Bush as well. Woodward later notes the group’s conclusions are “straight from the neoconservative playbook.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 83-85)
According to author Ron Suskind, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton briefs President Bush and Vice President Cheney about the looming battle in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where about 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban are settling in. He points out the region is very mountainous, with many tunnels and escape routes. Bush asks about the passages to Pakistan that the Pakistani government has agreed to block (see November 2001). Using a map, Crumpton shows “the area on the Pakistani side of the line [is] a lawless, tribal region that [Pakistan has] little control over. In any event, satellite images showed that [Pakistan’s] promised troops hadn’t arrived, and seemed unlikely to appear soon.” Crumpton adds that the Afghan forces in the region allied to the US are “tired and cold and, many of them are far from home.” They were battered from fighting in the south against Taliban forces, and “they’re just not invested in getting bin Laden.” He tells Bush that “we’re going to lose our prey if we’re not careful” and strongly recommends the US marines being sent to Kandahar (see November 26, 2001) get immediately redirected to Tora Bora instead. Cheney says nothing. Bush presses Crumpton for more information. “How bad off are these Afghani forces, really? Are they up to the job?” Crumpton replies, “Definitely not, Mr. President. Definitely not.” However, the Pentagon is not voicing the same concerns to Bush. The marines are not redirected to seal off the passes. (Suskind 2006, pp. 58-59)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizes the creation of a “special-access program,” or SAP, with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets in the Bush administration’s war on terror.” The operation, known as “Copper Green,” is approved by Condoleezza Rice and known to President Bush. A SAP is an ultra secret project, the contents of which are known by very few officials. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” a former senior intelligence official tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. The SAP is brought up occasionally within the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president and members of which are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Powell. The former intelligence official tells Hersh, “There was a periodic briefing to the National Security Council giving updates on results, but not on the methods.” He also says he believes NSC members know about the process by which these results are acquired. This official claims that fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were “completely read into the program.” Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone is generally in charge of running such operations. Motive for the SAP comes from an initial freeze in the results obtained by US agents from their hunt for al-Qaeda. Friendly foreign intelligence services on the other hand, from countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia, which employ more aggressive tactics on prisoners, are giving up much better information by the end of 2001. By authorizing the SAP, Rumsfeld, according to Hersh, desires to adopt these tactics and thus increase intelligence results. “Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a stand-up group to hit quickly,” the former intelligence official tells Hersh. The program’s operatives were recruited from among Delta Force, Navy Seals, and CIA’s paramilitary experts. They are permitted to carry out “instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret CIA detention centers scattered around the world.” Information obtained through the program is sent to the Pentagon in real-time. The former intelligence official tells Hersh: “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” The operation, according to Seymour Hersh, “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation.” (Hersh 5/24/2004; Hersh 9/13/2004) Both the Defense Department and CIA deny the existence of Copper Green. One Pentagon spokesman says of Hersh’s article about it, “This is the most hysterical piece of journalist malpractice I have ever observed.” (CNN 5/17/2004)
According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 74) But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).
Vice President Cheney says in an interview on Meet the Press, “Well, what we now have that’s developed [recently]… was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.” (Washington Post 12/9/2001) The CIA already believes the reports of Atta visiting Prague are incorrect (see December 2001).
Vice President Cheney says on Fox News, “I never say anything is inevitable, but if I were Saddam Hussein, I’d be thinking very carefully about the future and I’d be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.” (Kirk 6/20/2006)
Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, wins a 10-year no-bid contract to provide the Pentagon with support services in Iraq—everything from fighting oil-well fires to building military bases to feeding and housing soldiers. Vice President Dick Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton. When he was defense secretary under George H. W. Bush, Cheney had pushed to outsource many of the military’s logistical and support functions to private contractors, part of what Vanity Fair will later term “a broader effort to transfer government functions of all kinds to the private sector.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004) However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).
Vice President Dick Cheney asks that his daily intelligence briefer from the CIA be replaced. An unnamed former CIA official later explains to Vanity Fair magazine: “One briefer annoyed Cheney and he asked that she be replaced. He asked for a new briefer. That sent a chill through the whole process. It sent out the message to the analysts, ‘Be careful with some of this stuff. Be careful what you say.’” (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 242-244)
Vice President Dick Cheney tells the CIA not to brief Congress about an agency program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Two reasons will be given for withholding the information. One is that the program never becomes operational. (Shane 7/12/2009; Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) The other is that the agency already has legal authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders (see September 17, 2001). (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) According to the New York Times, Cheney’s instruction to keep the program secret suggests “that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.” (Shane 7/12/2009) The fact that the program is never briefed to Congress until it is cancelled in 2009 (see June 24, 2009) will cause controversy after it becomes public knowledge, and the House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether it was a breach of the law (see Before August 20, 2009). The law is apparently unclear on whether this program should be briefed, as it requires the president to make sure the House and Senate intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” However, such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.” House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) will later say that Congress would have approved of the program only in what the New York Times calls “the angry and panicky days after 9/11, on 9/12,” but not later, after fears and tempers had begun to cool. (Shane 7/12/2009)
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to battle the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s request for the records of his energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After) in the broadcast media (see July 26, 2001). On Fox News, he reiterates his insistence that he will not turn over any records from the task force unless compelled to do so by the courts, and says indignantly, “They’ve demanded of me that I give Henry Waxman [the California Democratic representative who originated the demand for task force records] a list of everybody I met with, of everything that was discussed, any advice that was revealed, notes and memos of these meetings.” Cheney is lying. The GAO only asked for the minutes from the meetings and the names of the participants (see July 31, 2001 and February 22, 2002), and soon the GAO will scale back its request to nothing more than the names and schedules of the participants and the meetings, not the contents of the meetings themselves. Four years later, when the court case has long been settled in Cheney’s favor (see February 7, 2003), Cheney will still mischaracterize the issue as an improper demand from Congress for an executive branch official to disclose the contents of private conversations and meetings, and therefore destroy “the ability of the president and the vice president to receive unvarnished advice.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein will call the argument “bogus, specious, [and] absurd.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 12-13) GAO officials call Cheney’s statement a “critical and highly material misrepresentation” of the facts. (York 2/20/2002)
Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. (Pincus and Priest 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 6/5/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 336; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 242) Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 4-5) According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” (McGovern 7/23/2003) In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 211; Unger 2007, pp. 262-263) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. (Borger 7/17/2003)
Vice President Dick Cheney makes an unusually personal plea to President Bush to redirect the US war on terror to focus on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Several of Bush’s senior aides have argued the point before, but until now the US strategy has been to root out al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Cheney argues that in 1991 he was part of the team that created what he now believes to be a flawed policy—leaving Hussein in power after the Gulf War—and now Bush can correct that error (see February 1991-1992). Cheney’s argument is very successful. “The reason that Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, ‘I’ve changed,’” a senior administration official will say. “‘I used to have the same position as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father—and here’s why it’s wrong.’” By late February or early March of 2002, Bush has swung to the position Cheney advocates, so much so that he interrupts a meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators to boast: “F_ck Saddam. We’re taking him out” (see (March 2002)). (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003) According to his 2008 book What Happened, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan isn’t sure why Cheney is so determined to invade Iraq. McClellan will state flatly that “some, like Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz were evidently pursuing their own agendas,” and will note that “[t]he most significant of their personal agendas was probably Cheney’s, given his closeness to the president and his influence over him.” Because of “Cheney’s personality and his penchant for secrecy,” McClellan believes his agenda “is the most likely to remain unknown.” Whether Cheney was driven to “finish the job he started as defense secretary in 1991,” when the US invaded Iraq but did not topple the Hussein regime (see January 16, 1991 and After), or whether he sought to “give America more influence over Iraq’s oil reserves,” McClellan is unsure. McClellan will write that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, should have stood up to the “forceful personalities” of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, “rather than deferring to them.” But, he will write, “my later experiences with Condi led me to believe that she was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences” of an invasion. Bush, McClellan will observe, is “intellectually incurious” and prone to make decisions based on instinct rather than “deep intellectual debate.” McClellan believes that Bush’s mistakes “could have been prevented had his beliefs been properly vetted and challenged by his top advisers. Bush’s top advisers, especially those on his national security team, allowed the president to be put in the position he is in today. His credibility has been shattered and his public standing seemingly irreparably damaged.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 145-146)
Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. (Golden 10/24/2004)
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).
John Bellinger, the White House’s chief national security counsel, sends his supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, what he thinks is a private memo with a blunt warning about the legality of the proposal to ignore the Geneva Conventions in interrogating terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). The proposal, Bellinger writes, will place Bush in direct breach of international law and threaten the most fundamental cooperation from allied governments. Faxes from other governments, even Britain, have been pouring into the State Department warning that they cannot turn over suspects to the US if the Bush administration withdraws from accepted legal norms. The Bellinger memo quickly finds its way into Vice President Cheney’s office, to Bellinger’s chagrin; Cheney is reportedly “concerned” about Belliger’s advice. Bellinger does not know until now that any documents prepared for Rice are always “routed outside the formal process” to Cheney. The reverse does not apply. Bellinger is unaware of just how systematically he is being cut out of the decision-making process. (Golden 10/24/2004; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
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