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Three men hijack a commercial airliner and threaten to crash it into a nuclear plant, and authorities also fear they might crash it into President Richard Nixon’s winter home in Florida. (Graff 2011, pp. 43-47) The hijacking occurs on Southern Airways Flight 49, a DC-9 bound from Memphis, Tennessee, to Miami, Florida, with scheduled stops in Birmingham, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, and Orlando, Florida. (Koerner 6/19/2013) The plane has 27 passengers and four crew members on board. The hijackers—three men with criminal records—are Lewis Moore, Henry Jackson, and Melvin Cale. The aim of the hijacking, Moore will later say, is to bring attention to the brutality and racism of the Detroit Police Department. The ordeal, which lasts 29 hours, is, at the current time, “the most chilling domestic hijacking in US history,” according to national security historian Timothy Naftali. (Naftali 2005, pp. 61; Allen 6/6/2016)
Hijackers Demand a $10 Million Ransom - The hijackers manage to smuggle guns and grenades onto Flight 49 in a raincoat. (Koerner 6/19/2013) The plane takes off from Memphis at 5:05 p.m. on November 10. The hijackers seize control of it at 7:22 p.m., during the second leg of the flight. One of them enters the cockpit carrying a revolver and with an arm around the neck of a flight attendant. He tells the pilot, William Haas, “Head north, Captain, this is a hijacking.” (Detroit Free Press 11/12/1972; Graff 2011, pp. 43) The hijackers demand $10 million to release the plane. (Naftali 2005, pp. 61) Haas transmits a hijack code to air traffic controllers who, in response, begin the well-known and widely used procedures for dealing with a hijacking. They notify the FBI in Washington, DC, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s special hijacking command post.
Airline Is Told of the Hijackers' Ransom Demand - The plane lands in Jackson, Mississippi, at 8:10 p.m. to be refueled and then takes off at 8:36 p.m., heading for Detroit, Michigan, where the hijackers intend to settle their complaints with city officials. At around 10:30 p.m., while the plane is circling over Detroit, the FBI notifies the city’s mayor and Southern Airways of the hijackers’ ransom demand. At 12:05 a.m. on November 11, the plane leaves the Detroit area due to bad weather and heads for Cleveland, Ohio, where it lands and is refueled. It takes off from Cleveland at 1:38 a.m. and heads for Toronto, Canada.
Hijackers Threaten to Crash the Plane into a Nuclear Facility - While it is on the ground in Toronto, the hijackers learn that Southern Airways has only gathered $500,000 in ransom money. They refuse to take this and release the passengers. Consequently, after being refueled, the plane takes off at 6:15 a.m. and flies back to the US. It heads for Knoxville, Tennessee. As it is ascending, the hijackers tell controllers that unless their demands are met, they will crash Flight 49 into the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, near Knoxville. (Detroit Free Press 11/12/1972; Graff 2011, pp. 43-45) Jackson says: “We’re tired of all this bull. No more foolin’ around. We’re taking this f_cker to Oak Ridge and dive it into a nuclear reactor.” (Burleson 2007, pp. 66) By this time, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Atomic Energy Commission are all involved in dealing with the crisis. (Graff 2011, pp. 45) Meanwhile, key personnel at Oak Ridge discuss the possible outcomes of Flight 49 crashing into their facility. At the bare minimum, they all agree, the impact could rupture the protective shell and result in a massive release of radioactivity; the worst possibility is a core meltdown. (Burleson 2007, pp. 66-67)
White House Official Talks to the Hijackers - The plane diverts to Lexington, Kentucky, to be refueled and, by 11:00 a.m., is again over Oak Ridge. The hijackers are then connected to the White House. John Ehrlichman, the president’s top domestic aide, comes on the radio and Jackson tells him, “I’m up over Oak Ridge, where I’ll either throw a grenade or I’ll put this plane down nose first.” He says he and the other hijackers want a letter signed by the president stating that their ransom money is a grant from the government and they won’t be prosecuted. Ehrlichman says it will take some time to fulfil their request.
Hijackers Receive the Ransom Money - The hijackers then direct the plane to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it lands at 1:30 p.m. It is refueled and the hijackers are given the ransom money, along with food and other supplies. Southern Airways has only been able to put together $2 million, but the airline is assuming—correctly, as it turns out—that the hijackers will lack the time to count the money and realize it is much less than the amount they demanded. The plane leaves Chattanooga at 2:35 p.m. and heads to Cuba, where many hijackers fled during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Authorities Fear the Plane May Be Crashed into the President's Winter Home - As Flight 49 is flying south over Florida, authorities become concerned that the hijackers might crash it into the president’s retreat in Key Biscayne, where Nixon is currently staying. Military officials contact Florida’s Homestead Air Reserve Base and fighter jets there are placed on alert as a precaution. Fortunately, no incident occurs and Flight 49 lands in Havana at 4:49 p.m. However, to the surprise of the hijackers, the Cubans are unhappy about the plane’s arrival and soldiers surround the aircraft after it touches down. José Abrantes, President Fidel Castro’s head of security, explains to the hijackers the nation’s discomfort about the situation. Therefore, after being refueled, Flight 49 leaves Havana and heads back to the US.
FBI Agents Shoot the Plane's Tires - It lands at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando at 9:17 p.m. By now, Robert Gebhardt, assistant director of the FBI’s investigative division, has given the order to disable the plane when it is next on the ground. Consequently, after it lands, FBI agents start shooting at its tires. The hijackers, realizing what is happening, order Haas to start the plane’s engines. In the panic that follows, Jackson threatens Harold Johnson, the co-pilot, and shoots him in the arm in front of the terrified passengers. The hijackers give the order to take off and, despite now having two flat tires, the plane is able to get off the ground. Jackson then orders Haas to fly to Cuba again. The damaged plane makes an emergency landing in Havana at 12:32 a.m. on November 12. (Detroit Free Press 11/12/1972; Graff 2011, pp. 45-52) Cuban soldiers then arrest the hijackers and seize the ransom money, so it can be returned to Southern Airways. (Koerner 6/19/2013)
New Security Measures Will Be Introduced in response to the Hijacking - The catastrophic incident will lead to increased security in the aviation industry. Within two months, mandatory screening of all passengers and carry-on luggage will be introduced. The Justice Department will sign an agreement with the Department of Defense, making military assistance available to the FBI in the event of a terrorist emergency. Other measures will be considered but not introduced, such as armoring cockpit doors, allowing pilots to carry weapons, and centralizing airport security nationwide under a single agency. (Naftali 2005, pp. 66-67; Graff 2011, pp. 53) “No one understands the impact that this flight and this 30-hour ordeal had on the nation, and transforming everyone, from the White House to the FBI, to the way that we board an airplane every day,” Brendan Koerner, author of a book about aircraft hijackings, will comment in 2016. (Allen 6/6/2016) As a result of the hijacking of Flight 49, “the American public for the first time began to take the question of terrorism seriously and began to accept trade-offs of civil liberties in exchange for greater security,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will write. (Graff 2011, pp. 53-54)
In 1985, US Congress passes legislation requiring US economic sanctions on Pakistan unless the White House can certify that Pakistan has not embarked on a nuclear weapons program (see August 1985 and August 1985). The White House certifies this every year until 1990 (see 1987-1989). However, it is known all the time that Pakistan does have a continuing nuclear program. For instance, in 1983 a State Department memo said Pakistan clearly has a nuclear weapons program that relies on stolen European technology. Pakistan successfully builds a nuclear bomb in 1987 but does not test it to keep it a secret (see 1987). With the Soviet-Afghan war ending in 1989, the US no longer relies on Pakistan to contain the Soviet Union. So in 1990 the Pakistani nuclear program is finally recognized and sweeping sanctions are applied (see June 1989). (Gannon 2005) Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The certification process became farcical in the last years of the Reagan Administration, whose yearly certification—despite explicit American intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program—was seen as little more than a payoff to the Pakistani leadership for its support in Afghanistan.” (Hersh 3/29/1993) The government of Pakistan will keep their nuclear program a secret until they successfully test a nuclear weapon in 1998 (see May 28, 1998).
China begins to supply the M-11 missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, to Pakistan. However, the Chinese had apparently started supplying missile technology to the Pakistanis some time before this (see June 23, 1983 and 1989). The US has been tracking Pakistani-Chinese missile deals and the White House becomes aware of these transactions, but no action is taken. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment on the rationale for the inaction, “Despite overwhelming evidence from satellite overheads, human intelligence, and reconnaissance aircraft, Washington held back from intervening, fearing an impasse at a time when the White House was trying to better relations with Beijing, with an eye to the rapidly expanding power of the Chinese consumer who, it was hoped, would be allowed to purchase imported US goods.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 257)
Ptech is a Boston computer company connected to a number of individuals suspected of ties to officially designated terrorist organizations (see 1994). These alleged ties will be of particular concern because of Ptech’s potential access to classified government secrets. Ptech specializes in what is called enterprise architecture. It is the design and layout for an organization’s computer networks. John Zachman, considered the father of enterprise architecture, later will say that Ptech could collect crucial information from the organizations and agencies with which it works. “You would know where the access points are, you’d know how to get in, you would know where the weaknesses are, you’d know how to destroy it.” Another computer expert will say, “The software they put on your system could be collecting every key stroke that you type while you are on the computer. It could be establishing a connection to the outside terrorist organization through all of your security measures.” (WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002) In late 1996, an article notes that Ptech is doing work for DARPA, a Defense Department agency responsible for developing new military technology. (Corbin 9/1/1996) In 1997, Ptech gains government approval to market its services to “all legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government.” Beginning that year, Ptech will begin working for many government agencies, eventually including the White House, Congress, Army, Navy, Air Force, NATO, FAA, FBI, US Postal Service, Secret Service, the Naval Air Systems Command, IRS, and the nuclear-weapons program of the Department of Energy. For instance, Ptech will help build “the Military Information Architecture Framework, a software tool used by the Department of Defense to link data networks from various military computer systems and databases.” Ptech will be raided by US investigators in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002), but not shut down. (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; CNN 12/6/2002; Hosenball 12/6/2002; Ranalli 12/7/2002) A former director of intelligence at the Department of Energy later will say he would not be surprised if an al-Qaeda front company managed to infiltrate the department’s nuclear programs. (Verton 12/9/2002) Ptech will continue to work with many of these agencies even after 9/11. After a Customs Department raid of Ptech’s offices in late 2002, their software will be declared safe of malicious code. But one article will note, “What no one knows at this point is how much sensitive government information Ptech gained access to while it worked in several government agencies.” (WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002)
Rita Katz, a researcher at The Investigative Project on Terrorism, discovers a book called The Arab Volunteers in Afghanistan. Published in Arabic in 1991, the book is very obscure. The 9/11 Commission will later say the book contains “a particularly useful insight into the evolution of al-Qaeda—written by an early bin Laden associate, Adel Batterjee, under a pseudonym.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 467) Katz discovers that Batterjee was close acquaintances with Osama bin Laden and that the book describes bin Laden’s career and that of many others during the 1980s war in Afghanistan in great detail. She will later call the book “practically the ‘Who’s Who of al-Qaeda’” because so many people described in it went on to become important al-Qaeda figures. The book discusses:
Adel Batterjee, the author of the book and a Saudi millionaire. He helped found the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The US will declare him a terrorism financier in 2004.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi multimillionaire. The US will designate him a terrorism financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Enaam Arnaout. He runs the US headquarters of BIF from 1993 until late 2001, when the US will shut BIF down.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen. He is a founding member of al-Qaeda and worked in the US for BIF until 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. He is tied to the Bojinka plot and numerous militant charity fronts.
Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (the book mentions him by his alias, Abu Talha). Considered al-Qaeda’s main financier of cells in Europe, he will be arrested a few months after 9/11 (see April 23, 2002).
Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 468)
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings who will be arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998). (Devon and Mitre 10/28/2002)
Katz says that “many, many others” are mentioned. “Many others mentioned in the book decorate the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ lists.… There was nothing like [the] book to put everything in order, organize loose bits of information, and clear parts that were obscure to me (and to everyone else.)” Katz has connections in the US government, so she calls the White House and tries to convey the importance of the book’s information. She repeatedly sends them translations of important sections. However, she sees very little interest in the book. After 9/11, she will get a call from the Justice Department, finally expressing interest. Katz will later comment, “The government took interest in the book only after 9/11, two years after I’d first discovered it and offered it to them. No wonder that government agents told me I knew more about al-Qaeda than they did.”
White House staffers are prohibited from using BlackBerry e-mail pagers, but this rule will hinder them on September 11, when phone systems suffer serious problems but BlackBerrys work normally. At some point after George W. Bush takes over as president (see January 20, 2001) but before September 11, the new administration makes “a judgment call… that people in the White House could not use a BlackBerry,” according to Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations. The BlackBerry is a handheld device used mainly for sending and receiving short e-mail messages. (Romero 9/20/2001; Schwartz 12/9/2008) The decision against using BlackBerrys is reportedly made for security reasons. “The security agencies had decided they were too vulnerable,” Hagin will later say. (Bentley 2/12/2009)
White House Staffers Have Trouble Communicating on 9/11 - However, on September 11, while BlackBerrys continue to work normally, many people will have difficulty making phone calls. (Romero 9/20/2001) White House staffers will be badly affected by the communication problems. Hagin will describe: “On September 11, 2001, when we had so much trouble in the executive branch communicating during the emergency, when commercial phones and cell phones went down to a large extent because the system overloaded, there was a lot of difficulty at the White House because the president was in Florida, I was in New York City, and everyone else was in Washington. With everyone spread so thinly, we had trouble figuring out who was okay, the status of things, and so on.” (Brenner 2/3/2009)
Rove Is the Only White House Staff Member with a BlackBerry - Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, will be the only member of the White House staff with a BlackBerry on September 11. Rove will write that, while he is traveling with the president on Air Force One that day, because all the phones are tied up, several other White House staff members “took turns using my BlackBerry to queue up e-mails to their families that would be sent when we passed over a cell network.” (Rove 2010, pp. 257-258; Wlkie 3/17/2010)
BlackBerrys Permitted after 9/11 - The White House will reverse its decision to prohibit BlackBerrys after September 11. According to Hagin, “In the weeks that followed [9/11], when talking to some of our friends on [Capitol Hill], we found that they had stayed in pretty good touch through BlackBerry technology.” Therefore, Hagin will say: “I made the decision that we couldn’t operate without [BlackBerrys]. We bought 200, then 400, and finally about 600.” (Schwartz 12/9/2008; Brenner 2/3/2009)
BlackBerry Works Well on 9/11 due to Simplicity of Its Network - The reason why, unlike phones, BlackBerrys work as usual on September 11, according to the New York Times, is that instead of relying on “cellular telephone systems or the local telephone network, which were damaged and inundated with traffic, the BlackBerry functions on a data system that held up remarkably well. The network not only escaped damage but also avoided bottlenecks because of its relative simplicity.” The BlackBerry network “in a way resembles the on-ramp of a freeway. It transmits data in small packets of information that can simply wait for a small amount of space on the system to be freed up to be sent or received.” (Romero 9/20/2001)
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB), entitled “Sunni Terrorist Threat Growing,” is sent to top White House officials. It indicates a heightened threat of Sunni extremist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, against US facilities and personnel. (Bin Laden is the most wanted Sunni extremist by this time.) The briefing states this is considered the most significant spike in threat reporting since the Millennium. The SEIB is usually released one day after the corresponding President Daily Briefing is given to the president and contains similar content (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Based on this warning, a terrorist threat advisory will be shared throughout the US intelligence community on March 30, and the FBI will send out a warning to its field offices in April (see April 13, 2001). (US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 )
President Bush, after having trouble making a telephone call, instructs Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, to fix the problem and ensure that he is able to make calls at any time, but the issue will not have resolved by September 11, when Bush experiences significant communication problems. While he is being driven through Washington, DC, in his limousine, Bush tries to make a phone call but is unable to get a signal and hears only static. When he arrives at the White House, he calls Hagin over to discuss the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Hagin is a little known but influential member of the White House staff who, according to Politico, “manages everything around the president and the presidency except politics and policy.” (Allen 7/3/2008; Abramowitz 7/4/2008) Bush tells him the president should be able to call anyone at any time. “He essentially said to me, ‘We need to fix this and fix it quickly,’” Hagin will later recall. Bush adds, “What would we do if something really serious happened and this didn’t work?” (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Presumably as part of Hagin’s effort to resolve the problem, in the spring of 2001, the White House commissions the Department of Defense to study a communications upgrade. (Yellin 12/20/2006) However, Hagin’s task will not have been completed by September 11. On that day, Bush and other senior government officials will experience serious communication problems (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001; (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001; and (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Ambinder 4/11/2011) But the 9/11 attacks, according to the Associated Press, “spurred on the effort to modernize White House communications.” Hagin subsequently “took the White House’s cell phone technology digital, upgraded the systems in the president’s cars, and moved staffers to the BlackBerry wireless communicator, while not freeing them from carrying pagers as well.” (Associated Press 8/22/2003) According to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he fix to the presidential communications was one of the first things that was done after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
On April 19, 2001, the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke discusses recent reports that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is planning an attack. The next day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Planning Multiple Operations” is sent to top White House officials. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. Since SEIBs are usually based on previous days’ President Daily Briefings, President Bush probably learned about this report on April 19 (see January 20-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 2 )
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) about Osama bin Laden sent to top White House officials on May 3, 2001, is entitled, “Bin Laden Public Profile May Presage Attack.” Apparently it suggests that recent public comments by bin Laden could be hinting at future attacks, but details of what exactly he said or did to cause this warning have not be made public. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. Since SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), President Bush was probably informed about this warning on May 2. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 2 )
On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. (US Congress 9/18/2002; Priest and Eggen 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535) There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot.” It warns of a possible hostage plot against the US abroad to force to release of prisoners being held in the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). The report notes operatives might hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy overseas. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this information. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256, 533; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 2 ) This report leads to an FAA warning to airlines noting the potential for “an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256)
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials on May 26, 2001, is entitled, “Bin Laden Network’s Plans Advancing.” Further details are unknown. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. SEIBs are typically summaries of the previous days’ President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning on May 25. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 2 )
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” is sent to top White House officials. The details of this brief are not known. It is probable President Bush received this warning since SEIBs are usually rehashes of the previous days’ President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001). Also on this day a CIA cable is distributed with the title, “Possible Threat of Imminent Attack from Sunni Extremists.” The cable warns that there is a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534)
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden and Associates Making Near-Term Threats.” It reports that multiple attacks are expected over the coming days, including a “severe blow” against US and Israeli “interests” during the next two weeks. SEIBs usually contain the same information as the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush received this warning. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ) CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 3 )
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). (Woodward 10/1/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 151)
CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 9) On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
By mid-July 2001, new intelligence indicates that the new al-Qaeda attack has been delayed, maybe for as long as two months, but not abandoned. So on this day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Plans Delayed but Not Abandoned.” On July 25, a similar SEIB will be titled, “One Bin Laden Operation Delayed, Others Ongoing.” The SEIB is usually released one day after the corresponding President Daily Briefing and contains similar content (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush receives this information. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534) After 9/11, it will be discovered that in fact the 9/11 attack was originally planned to take place in the early summer but was delayed (see May-July 2001).
A National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call is established to allow government agencies in the Washington, DC, area to quickly share information regarding the ongoing events, but the call reportedly contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/13/2004; Brewin 6/1/2009) The NOIWON call is convened by the CIA sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m., according to FAA chronologies. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ) According to an officer at the Pentagon, the White House Situation Room is taking the lead at the time he answers the NOIWON call. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004)
FAA Participates in Call - At the FAA headquarters in Washington, the NOIWON call is answered by Bart Merkley, one of two officers on duty in the ACI Watch—a small, 24-hour intelligence facility located on the building’s third floor. (9/11 Commission 7/13/2004) Merkley stays on the call for its entire duration. He passes onto it information he has learned from the Tactical Net—a teleconference established by the operations center at FAA headquarters at 8:50 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004)
NMCC Participates in Call - At the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, the initial call on the NOIWON line is answered by Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant deputy director for operations. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) Subsequently, Brigadier General Norman Seip will take over the line and remain on it for most of the day. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, this is because the “White House Situation Room insisted on having a flag officer on an open line” with it. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 )
NOIWON Call of Little Use - The NOIWON call apparently contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. Darrel Smith, who is working alongside Merkley in the ACI Watch at FAA headquarters, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he “does not remember any useful or significant information coming as a result of the NOIWON call.” (9/11 Commission 7/13/2004) Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC throughout the attacks, will tell the Commission that he “recalled no situational awareness that came from the NOIWON call.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Gardner will say he “doesn’t remember specifically what was discussed” on the call. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) FAA records will state, “It is believed that the [Department of Defense] received information” concerning the attacks over the NOIWON call, but the FAA “holds no records of that communication.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001)
Call Delays Establishing of NMCC's Conference - Furthermore, the NOIWON call delays the Pentagon’s response to the attacks. The NMCC’s usual first action in response to a crisis is to establish a “significant event conference” in order to gather and disseminate information from government agencies, and discuss what actions should be taken. However, the NOIWON call reportedly intervenes with the preparations for such a conference call. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “The NMCC abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The significant event conference will therefore only commence at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
No Recording of Call - The NOIWON is described as “a dedicated secure telephone system with a conferencing capability for the rapid exchange and sharing of high interest and time-sensitive information between Washington-area operations centers.” (Brewin 6/1/2009) During breaking crises it is used by the major national security watch centers around Washington, including the NMCC and the National Military Joint Intelligence Center at the Pentagon, the State Department Operations Center, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the CIA’s operations center, the NSA’s operations center, and the White House Situation Room. (Radi 3/1997 ) The 9/11 Commission will later request a transcript of the NOIWON call conducted on this day, but despite “multiple searches,” no recording of it will be found. (9/11 Commission 8/22/2003; Stephen A. Cambone 10/14/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004)
Officers at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon have serious problems trying to connect the FAA to the conference calls they convene in response to the terrorist attacks. (US Department of Defense 9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The NMCC commences a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information relating to the crisis from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, this is upgraded to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission Report, operators at the NMCC work “feverishly to include the FAA” in the conference, but they have “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers.” (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
NMCC Unable to Connect to FAA - The FAA is not on the NMCC’s established checklist of parties to call for either a significant event conference or an air threat conference. Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, therefore has to ask Staff Sergeant Val Harrison to add the FAA to the air threat conference. Harrison tries contacting the operations center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but has difficulty getting through. She finally asks the White House switchboard to help her connect the call to the FAA, but even after a line has been established it is repeatedly lost. (US Department of Defense 9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) According to Leidig, the FAA is only “intermittently in,” and “[m]ost of the time they were not in the conference.”
NMCC Establishes Non-Secure Line with FAA - Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, has to set up an unclassified line with the FAA, because the agency’s only STU-III secure phone is tied up. This unclassified line is separate to the conference call, which is on a special, classified phone circuit. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, because it isn’t in the NMCC’s conference, the FAA “couldn’t go secure and so we couldn’t get first-hand information from them.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001)
Connection Problems 'Hampered Information Flow' - Leidig is frustrated at being unable to keep the FAA in the conference. Sometimes questions are asked of the agency, but it is no longer on the line and so the NMCC has to redial it. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that the connection problems, which occur “throughout the morning… hampered information flow to some degree,” because the NMCC is “getting information in a more roundabout way from FAA. Sometimes it would come from a local commander to NORAD back to us, or sometimes it would come on an open line” with the FAA operations center, rather than over the conference. Leidig will add that if the FAA “had been in the same conference that was being directed by the National Military Command Center, the information flow would have went directly to NORAD because [NORAD was] in that conference.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
FAA Employee Joins Conference - According to Harrison, the NMCC is not presently aware of the existence of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, and also does not realize that there is a military liaison at the FAA operations center. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) However, at 10:17 a.m., FAA representative Rayford Brooks, who is at the agency’s Command Center, finally joins the air threat conference (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), although accounts indicate there are problems keeping him connected after that time. (9/11 Commission 4/15/2004; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37, 463)
'Compatibility Issues' Supposedly Cause Connection Problems - The FAA keeps getting cut off the NMCC conference because of “technical problems,” according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) Leidig will tell the Commission it is his understanding that there were some “compatibility issues” between the FAA’s secure phone and the secure phones in the NMCC, and these caused the FAA to keep dropping out of the conference, although he is unaware of the technical aspects of the problem. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
Government buildings in Washington, DC, are not evacuated prior to the attack on the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. As CNN will later describe, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the FAA’s warning to the military of a hijacked aircraft apparently heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” (Plante 9/16/2001) Although a slow evacuation of the White House begins at around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), it is not until 9:45 a.m. that the Secret Service orders people to run from there (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002) Other government buildings, including the Capitol (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Supreme Court, will not be evacuated until between 9:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. (US News and World Report 9/14/2001; US Department of State 8/15/2002) Robert Bonner, who was recently nominated as Commissioner of Customs, will estimate that he was evacuated from the Treasury Department at “about 9:35 a.m.” (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004; Bonner 9/20/2004) But other accounts will say the Treasury Department was not evacuated until after the Pentagon attack. (Crutsinger 9/11/2001; Reuters 9/11/2001; Dam 9/11/2002) Furthermore, journalist and author Robert Draper will describe, even after the State and Treasury Departments have been evacuated, “no agents thought to take charge of the Commerce Department, which housed 5,000 employees.” (Draper 2007, pp. 143) According to CNN, prior to the Pentagon attack: “[N]either the FAA, NORAD, nor any other federal government organ made any effort to evacuate the buildings in Washington. Officials at the Pentagon said that no mechanism existed within the US government to notify various departments and agencies under such circumstances [as occur today].” (Plante 9/16/2001)
Firefighter Timothy Brown, a supervisor at New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), tries calling the White House and other agencies in Washington, DC, about getting fighter jets to protect New York, but is unable to reach them. (Brown 6/30/2002 ; Brown 10/7/2015) Brown headed to the Fire Department’s command post in the lobby of the North Tower after the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). After arriving there, he discussed the need to have fighters over New York with senior officials. (Brown 1/15/2002; Brown 1/31/2003)
Firefighter Heard about an Additional Suspicious Aircraft - After the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), personnel in the OEM’s Emergency Operations Center contacted the FAA and requested “air security” over New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow 9/2003, pp. 16 ) Brown went to the lobby of the South Tower to help open a command post. (Brown 6/30/2002 ; Brown 10/7/2015) While there, he will later recall, he heard over his radio that another suspicious aircraft was heading toward New York and that “we should be prepared to get hit again” (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Firefighter Asks to Be Connected to the White House - At some point, he decides to try and call Washington, to make sure that New York will be getting air cover. (Brown 1/31/2003) He goes to the phones in the southeast corner of the South Tower’s lobby and tries to find one that works. Eventually he finds one that has a dial tone. (Brown 1/15/2002; Brown 6/30/2002 ) He dials zero and then talks to the operator. (Brown 10/7/2015) He tells her New York is under terrorist attack and he needs to talk to the White House to make sure the city has air cover.
Operator Cannot Reach Agencies in Washington - The operator tries hard to reach the White House. “She tried many different ways to get me through, many different offices in the White House,” Brown will recall. However, she is unable to get through, since the phones in Washington are overwhelmed. “Apparently [operators] had been getting a volume of phone calls similar to mine, of people trying to get through to federal agencies, trying to get help,” Brown will comment. (Brown 6/30/2002 ) Brown then learns from the operator about the attack on the Pentagon, which occurred at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). After failing to reach the White House, he says to her, “Well then get me the Pentagon” and she replies that the Pentagon has been attacked. “That’s the first time we knew it, knew that it was also under attack,” he will recall. (Brown 10/7/2015) He also asks the operator to try and connect him to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has its headquarters in Washington, but she is unable to reach it.
Firefighter Talks to the State Emergency Management Office - Finally, she is able to connect him to the New York State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) in Albany. (Brown 6/30/2002 ) He asks the person there for assistance and is told the office already knows about the problem and is in the process of getting help from the military. (Brown 1/31/2003) They say fighters will be coming to protect New York as fast as they possibly can. (Brown 10/7/2015) Brown feels “pretty comfortable” with this response, he will say. (Brown 1/31/2003) After the call ends, he returns to the command post. (Brown 6/30/2002 ) Fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24) However, numerous witnesses on the ground there will recall only noticing fighters overhead after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
At some point after the White House is ordered to evacuate and while Air Force One is preparing to take off in Florida, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activates the Continuity of Government (COG) plan. The coordinator for Continuity of Government has joined Clarke in the White House Situation Room. Clarke asks, “How do I activate COG?” Recalling this conversation, he will later comment, “In the exercises we had done, the person playing the president had always given that order.” But the coordinator replies, “You tell me to do it.” Soon after, Clarke instructs him, “Go.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
First Time COG Plan Activated - The Continuity of Government plan, which dates back to the Reagan administration, had originally prepared to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. This is apparently the first time it has ever been put into effect. Clarke will recall, “Every federal agency was ordered… to activate an alternative command post, an alternative headquarters outside of Washington, DC, and to staff it as soon as possible.” Cabinet officers are dispatched around the country, and people in Congress are taken to alternative locations.
Clarke Regularly Particiated in COG Exercises - Since the 1980s, Clarke has in fact been a regular participant in secret COG exercises that rehearsed this plan (see (1984-2004)). (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004) Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also participated (see 1981-1992). (Mann 3/2004) Kenneth Duberstein, formerly President Reagan’s White House chief of staff, who took part in the exercises as well, will recall: “I said to myself, as we proceeded through the day [of 9/11], ‘It’s working.’ All those days of patriotic duty were coming back and they were working.” According to ABC News, “If executive branch leaders and large numbers of congressmen had been killed in an attack on the United States, the plan could have gone further, officials suggest, perhaps even with non-elected leaders of the United States taking control and declaring martial law.” (ABC News 4/25/2004) According to a White House timeline of the events of 9/11, it is in fact Cheney that “orders implementation of Continuity of Government and Continuity of Operations procedures,” at 9:55 a.m., although, according to the Washington Post, Cheney only “officially implemented the emergency Continuity of Government orders,” rather than activating the plan. (White House 2001; 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 )
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sends a fax to the White House Situation Room, giving positive identification of the four hijacked aircraft involved in the morning’s attacks. However, two of the four flight numbers it provides are wrong. (Draper 2007, pp. 143) Yet, by late morning, American Airlines and United Airlines had already issued press releases confirming that the four planes that crashed were flights 11, 175, 77, and 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001, (11:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; United Airlines 9/11/2001; United Airlines 9/11/2001) Journalist and author Robert Draper will later comment that, while there is much heroism on September 11, the FAA’s erroneous fax is an example of how the day is also “marred by appalling haplessness.” (Draper 2007, pp. 143)
A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Rice 10/24/2001) It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002) NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002)
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” (Libby 11/14/2001) However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88) Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” (Libby 11/14/2001) Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Baker 3/31/2005) The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. (Code One Magazine 1/2002)
Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is tasked to come up with actions that can be taken immediately to strike back at al-Qaeda. According to Michael Scheuer, the first head of Alec Station, one of the most promising ideas considered is to ask other countries to raid Islamist charity fronts and seize computers and documents. Scheuer will later assert that the “suggested raids would have netted far more relevant data on how the [charity front-al-Qaeda link] worked than we ever had before.” However, he claims the White House rejects the idea because of concerns that it would offend Muslim popular opinion. (Scheuer 2008, pp. 306)
Before 9/11, US intelligence had collected a list of potential bombing targets in Afghanistan (see Late August 1998-2001). The list is said to include 20 to 25 major drug labs and other drug-related facilities. But according to a CIA source, when the list is turned over to the US military after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House refuse to order the bombing of any of the drug-related targets. This CIA source complains, “On the day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the [National Security Council] threw it out the window. We had tracked these [targets] for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But they refused.” This source believes that if the US had bombed those targets, “it would have slowed down drug production in Afghanistan for a year or more.” (Risen 2006, pp. 154) The US will continue to avoid taking action against drug operations in Afghanistan (see February 2002).
On the same day NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews former President Clinton, NBC executives receive phone calls from senior communications staffers at the White House about the interview. While these staffers do not explicitly ask NBC to refrain from showing the interview, they do complain that showing it will not be helpful to the war on terrorism. NBC shows the interview despite the calls. Ironically, in the interview Clinton merely says that he supports President Bush and urges the rest of the country to do so as well. (Tapper 9/27/2001)
In August 2008, the New York Daily News will report that after Robert Stevens is the first to die in the anthrax attacks on October 5, 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), White House officials repeatedly press FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove the attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda. According to an unnamed retired senior FBI official, Mueller was verbally “beaten up” during President Bush’s daily intelligence briefings for not producing proof linking the attacks to al-Qaeda. “They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” this FBI official will say. But within days, the FBI learned the anthrax was a difficult to make weapons-grade strain. “Very quickly, [experts at Fort Detrick, Maryland] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with. [Al-Qaeda] couldn’t go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.” But several days after this conclusion is reached, Bush and Cheney nonetheless make public statements suggesting al-Qaeda was the culprit (see October 15, 2001 and October 12, 2001). (Meek 8/2/2008)
The Canadian government overrides Bayer’s patent for the anthrax antibiotic Cipro and orders a million tablets of a generic version from another company. The US government says it is not considering a similar move. Patent lawyers and politicians state that adjusting Bayer’s patent to allow other companies to produce Cipro is perfectly legal and necessary. (Harmon and Pear 10/19/2001) The New York Times notes that the White House seems “so avidly to be siding with the rights of drug companies to make profits rather than with consumers worried about their access to the antibiotic Cipro,” and points out huge recent contributions by Bayer to Republicans. (Bumiller 10/21/2001)
In late 2001 or early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld creates Operation Copper Green, which is a “special access program” with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets.” especially al-Qaeda leaders (see Late 2001-Early 2002). According to a Pentagon counterterrorism consultant involved in the operation, the authorizations are “very calibrated” and vague in order to minimize political risk. “The CIA never got the exact language it wanted.” According to a high-level CIA official involved in the operation, the White House would hint to the CIA that the CIA should operate outside official guidelines to do what it wants to do. The CIA will later deny this, but CIA Director George Tenet will later acknowledge that there had been a struggle “to get clear guidance” in terms of how far to go during detainee interrogations. Slowly, official authorizations are expanded, and according to journalist Seymour Hersh, they turn “several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.” But Copper Green has top-level secrecy and runs outside normal bureaucracies and rules. According to Hersh, “In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office.” One CIA officer tells Hersh that the task-force teams “had full authority to whack—to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” meaning political assassination. The officer adds, “It was surrealistic what these guys were doing. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station.” (Hersh 6/17/2007) Another former intelligence official tells Hersh, “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” (Hersh 9/13/2004) The above-mentioned high-level CIA official will claim, “The dirt and secrets are in the back channel. All this open business—sitting in staff meetings, etc…, etc…—is the Potemkin Village stuff.” Over time, people with reservations about the program get weeded out. The official claims that by 2006, “the good guys… are gone.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz proposes that President Bush should declare Ramzi Yousef an “enemy combatant.” Yousef is already in the “Supermax” prison, the most secure prison in the US, after being sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing years before. But Wolfowitz contends that as an enemy combatant, heavy interrogation could get Yousef to admit he bombed the WTC on behalf of the Iraqi government. However, Wolfowitz’s proposal is strongly opposed by the FBI, which asserts that theories tying Yousef to the Iraqi government had been repeatedly investigated and debunked. Further, Yousef doesn’t meet any of the criteria the White House had laid out for designating enemy combatants. “At one point, the high-level discussions apparently prompted a top Bureau of Prisons official to make an unauthorized entry to Yousef’s [Supermax cell] to sound out his willingness to talk—a move that prompted strong protests to the Justice Department from the bomber’s lawyer…” The issue is debated until the start of the Iraq war, at which point apparently Wolfowitz loses interest. One lawyer involved in the discussions will later recall, “We talked it to death.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/21/2004)
Attorney General John Ashcroft says “I want to encourage…all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert.” The FBI warns of a threat from Yemeni or Saudi Arabian terrorists who may be planning an imminent attack. (CNN 2/12/2002) It is later revealed that the threat hadn’t been corroborated by other US intelligence agencies. In addition, the threat actually indicated a more likely attack in Yemen. This announcement was made the same day that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared before Congress. A week earlier, the White House had been ordered to refrain from destroying any documentation related to Enron. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
In 2007, former CIA official John Kiriakou will claim to have details about the interrogation of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Kiriakou was involved in the capture and early detention of Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), but claims he was transferred to another task before harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used on him (see Mid-May 2002 and After). (Kiriakou 12/10/2007 ) Kiriakou will claim that the activities of the interrogators were closely directly by superiors at CIA Headquarters back in the US. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him.’ Or, ‘I’m going to shake him.’ Or, ‘I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps, even though they’re minor steps, like the intention shake, or the open-handed belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations.… The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the [CIA] got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard. So it was extremely deliberate.” (Esposito and Ross 12/10/2007) Kiriakou also will say, “This isn’t something done willy-nilly. This isn’t something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he’s going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner. This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and the Justice Department” (see Mid-March 2002). (Reid 12/12/2007) In 2005, ABC News reported, “When properly used, the [CIA interrogation] techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program.” (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005) CIA Director George Tenet will similarly claim in a 2007 book that the interrogation of high-ranking prisoners like Zubaida “was conducted in a precisely monitored, measured way…” He will also say that “CIA officers came up with a series of interrogation techniques that would be carefully monitored at all times to ensure the safety of the prisoner. The [Bush] administration and the Department of Justice were fully briefed and approved the use of these tactics.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 242) Zubaida’s interrogations are videotaped at the time (see Spring-Late 2002), and CIA Director Michael Hayden will later claim this was done “meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the [interrogation] program in its early stages.” (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) The videotapes will later be destroyed under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).
US intelligence determines that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has recently moved to a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and his militant group has set up a chemical weapons lab there. The lab, located near the town of Khurmal, allegedly produces ricin and cyanide. (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004) By early 2002, al-Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based on intelligence that he ran an important training camp in Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and had already unsuccessfully attempted plots against Israeli and European targets. CIA intelligence indicates al-Zarqawi is in the camp, along with many al-Qaeda fighters who had recently fled from US air strikes in Afghanistan. Additionally, there are preparations and training in the camp for new attacks on Western interests. (Paltrow 10/25/2004) The US military draws up plans to attack the site with cruise missiles, and the plans are sent to the White House. However, NBC News will later report that, “according to US government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.” (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004) Officials involved in the planning expect a swift decision, but are surprised when weeks go by without any response from the White House. Finally, information is somehow leaked to the media in Turkey that the US is considering targeting the camp, and intelligence shows that al-Zarqawi and his group flee the camp soon thereafter. (Paltrow 10/25/2004)
When a reporter asks White House spokesman Ari Fleischer whether the countries that helped North Korea with its nuclear weapons program risk being punished, Fleischer indicates they will not, provided they have changed their behavior. North Korea’s nuclear program was and is substantially assisted by Pakistan, now a US ally. Fleischer says: “Well, yes, since September 11th, many things that people may have done years before September 11th or some time before September 11th, have changed. September 11th changed the world and it changed many nations’ behaviors along with it. And don’t read that to be any type of acknowledgment of what may or may not be true. But September 11th did change the world.” Fleischer says that this does not mean the US will forgive and forget, but authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will give his remarks as an example of Bush administration officials no longer talking about nuclear proliferation. They will comment: “There was absolutely no mention of [CIA Director] George Tenet’s top-secret working group which had Pakistan’s relationship with North Korea and Libya in its sights (as well as all the other nuclear misdeeds committed by Pakistan). History had begun all over again, according to the administration, much as it had done in  when the Soviets rolled into Kabul.” (White House 10/18/2002; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 316)
US intelligence concludes that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is planning to use ricin in attacks on civilians in Europe. Several months earlier, the US had determined the location of his main training camp and chemical weapons lab, located in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and decided against attacking it with cruise missiles (see June 2002). (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004) By this time, al-Zarqawi is known to have masterminded the assassination of a senior American diplomat in Jordan the month before. Al-Zarqawi had his group had fled the camp several months before, but new intelligence indicates that he has reoccupied it. At the time, he is using a satellite telephone, and intercepts of his communications show that he is frequently calling from within the camp. (Paltrow 10/25/2004) In light of the new intelligence, the US military draws up a second attack plan on the camp, but the White House again decides against it. Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists.” (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004)
Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar produces a high-level report on the potential challenges US forces will experience in post-Hussein Iraq. Pillar’s paper argues that imposing democracy on Iraq will not be easy. He warns that the country may fracture along ethnic and religious lines and explode into violence. He also says that the US will not be able to finance reconstruction with Iraq’s oil revenue. The report is sent to the office of CIA Director George Tenet and forwarded to the White House and Pentagon. An administration official tells him that his paper is “too negative.” “You guys just don’t see the possibilities,” Pillar later recalls the official saying. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 198)
British police discover a ricin lab allegedly connected to a militant training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Six suspects are arrested in London. The US has known about the camp and its ties to chemical weapons production for months, and twice the US military has drawn up plans for a strike upon it, and twice the White House has decided against taking action (see June 2002 and November 2002). Based on these new developments in London, the US military draws up a third attack plan against the camp, but again the White House rejects taking action. (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004) Communications intercepts indicate that al-Zarqawi is still making calls on his satellite phone from within the camp. (Paltrow 10/25/2004) Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command at the time, will later say that the training camp “was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons.” (PBS Frontline 6/20/2006) However, in March 2003 shortly after the Iraq war begins, the camp will actually be hit by air strikes and not the land attack indicated by DeLong (see March 20, 2003). NBC News will later comment, “Military officials insist their case for attacking al-Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the [Bush] administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam [Hussein].” (Miklaszewski 3/2/2004) President Bush will secretly decide around early March 2003 not to attack the camp until the US invasion of Iraq is underway later that month (see Early March 2003).
White House official Harriet Miers is informed by CIA General Counsel Scott Muller that the CIA has made video recordings of detainee interrogations and is told that the CIA is considering destroying the tapes. She advises not to destroy them. (Karl 12/7/2007; Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA is canvassing opinion on whether the tapes can be destroyed, and it repeatedly asks Miers about what it should do with the videotapes (see November 2005), which are said to show questionable interrogation methods. These discussions are reportedly documented in a series of e-mails between the CIA and the White House. One person involved is CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo. Miers’ opinion is asked because the CIA apparently thinks its interrogation and detention program was “imposed” on it by the White House, so the decision about what to do with the tapes should be made “at a political level.” Miers continues to advise the CIA that the tapes should not be destroyed, but the CIA destroys them anyway in late 2005 (see November 2005). (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) It is unclear when this happens. One account says Miers is first consulted in 2003, another in 2005. Miers is deputy chief of staff to the President until early 2005, when she becomes White House Council. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The CIA also asks other White House officials for their opinions, but there are contradictory reports of their advice (see (2003-2004)).
In 2007, Newsweek will claim that still-classified portions of a CIA cable reveal that some White House officials wanted to mention an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in a speech President Bush was scheduled to give on March 14, 2003. But after learning of the proposed speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining why the CIA believed the meeting never took place. Accounts differ, but one source familiar with the cable will claim that the cable was “strident” and expressed dismay the White House would try to fit the dubious claim into Bush’s speech only days before the US begins a planned invasion of Iraq. There is no proof that Bush ever saw the cable and he ultimately does not mention the claim in his speech. A senior intelligence official at the time will later claim that the White House proposed on multiple occasions to mention the claim in speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney. While Bush never mentioned it, Cheney did on several occasions before the Iraq war began. For instance, in December 2001, Cheney claimed, “It’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service…” (see December 9, 2001). (Hosenball 9/13/2006)
Members of the 9/11 Commission are informed that the air threat conference call, initiated by the military in response to the attacks on September 11, was recorded. This call reportedly began at around 9:37 a.m. on 9/11. Throughout the day, numerous key officials had participated in it, including the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, plus senior officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Despite more than 18 months having passed since the attacks, Pentagon officials say they have not yet transcribed the tapes of the conference call. After the 9/11 Commission makes repeated requests, the Pentagon finally creates a classified transcript. On August 6, this is forwarded to the White House for an “executive-privilege review,” which is supposedly required because of Vice President Cheney’s participation in the call. The commission is then promised access to the 200-page transcript. However, the fact that it is not time coded may hinder the commission’s ability to outline an exact sequence of events, and commissioners say they may need to obtain the actual tapes recordings. Whether they are eventually allowed full or partial access to the tapes is unclear: The 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, will make numerous references to the “[Defense Department] transcript, Air Threat Conference Call.” It will only make one reference to “the tape… of the air threat conference call,” which it says was used to help reconstruct events in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). The report will state that all the times it gives for the air threat conference call are estimates, believed to be accurate within a three-minute margin of error. This would suggest it did not have full access to the tape recordings. (Ragavan and Mazzetti 8/31/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37 and 463-465) The recording of the air threat conference call is of particular significance, because the National Military Command Center (NMCC), which initiated the call, is—according to military instructions—the “focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to hijackings in US airspace. (US Department of Defense 6/1/2001 )
The 9/11 Commission begins to look for ways to get rid of one of its members, Democrat Max Cleland, who the other commissioners have come to dislike.
Accusations of Partisanship - According to author Philip Shenon, some of the Commission’s members feel that Cleland has been “so combative and harshly partisan in the Commission’s early private meetings—so angry at the mention of the names of [George W.] Bush or [Karl] Rove, so obsessed with what was happening in Iraq—that it threatened any hope of a unanimous final report.” Cleland’s stance is apparently influenced by his recent election defeat, which he blames on what he regards as a smear campaign led by Rove and Bush (see October 11, 2002 and After). Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Max Cleland is an extremely embittered individual, and all he wanted to do was ‘get’ the president.”
Appointment to Federal Agency - Therefore, Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman, and other commissioners begin to look for a way to remove Cleland from the investigation. However, these moves have to be conducted in secret, as Cleland is known to the victims’ family members as a harsh critic of the White House. If news of plans to remove him leaked, it would lead to a firestorm of criticism. Kean therefore calls Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who arranged Cleland’s position on the Commission. In July, Daschle will put Cleland forward as a Democratic member of the board of the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that helps US exports. The lucrative position would be markedly advantageous to Cleland, a severely injured war veteran with no stable source of income. Although the White House does not like Cleland, it will agree to appoint him to the board so that he can be removed from the Commission. However, this will not occur until December (see December 9, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 160-162)
The 9/11 Commission votes 6-4 not to subpoena Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). Four of the five Democratic commissioners vote in favor. The five Republicans vote against, as does Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who sometimes sides with the Republicans (see March 2003-July 2004 and January 27, 2003). The vote came up because the White House has been stonewalling the Commission on access to the PDBs for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, and Shortly Before October 26, 2003). The White House has just offered the Commission a deal in which Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Hamilton, as well as two staff members, could read a group of 20 significant PDBs, and one of these four could then read all the other PDBs. If he found anything significant, he could insist the other three read it as well. The Commission rejects this, but only obtains a slightly better deal in the end (see November 7, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 217-219)
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 218-219)
9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 222-224) The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).
The Washington Post reports, “A growing number of [9/11 Commission] members [have] concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist attacks.” As a result, the commission is asking Congress to vote on approving a several month extension to finish their report. “But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the presidential campaign.” (Eggen 1/19/2004) The White House will reverse its stance a month later (see February 5, 2004).
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006) Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. (Shenon 10/2/2006) Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 78)
Last-minute action by the 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow averts the filing of a subpoena on the White House over access by the Commission to information from Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). The Commission has already hired an outside counsel to deal with the subpoena and drafted its text (see January 2004).
Effort by Zelikow - However, Zelikow works practically nonstop for 48 hours to draft a 17-page, 7,000-word summary of what is in the documents. He knows that a lot of the information in the highly classified PDBs is also available in less classified documents, to which the White House cannot object the Commission having and referencing. Therefore, he summarises the contents of the PDBs, but sources what he writes to the less classified material.
Agreement - Exhausted by the arguments over the PDBs with the White House, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who has also read all the PDBs that need to be summarised, agrees that Zelikow’s summary can serve as the basis for a compromise with the White House. White House chief of staff Andrew Card pressures White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to accept it as well.
Victims' Families Angry - However, relatives of the attacks’ victims are angry. Author Philip Shenon will write, “Many of the 9/11 family groups were outraged by this new compromise; it was even clearer now that only Gorelick and their nemesis Zelikow would ever see the full library of PDBs; the other commissioners would see only an edited version of what Gorelick and Zelikow chose to show them.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 224-225)
In January 2004, the White House announced that it opposed giving the 9/11 Commission more time to complete its work (see January 19, 2004). But on this day, CNN reports, “After resisting the idea for months, the White House announced… its support for a request from the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks for more time to complete its work.” 9/11 victims’ relatives and some politicians had been pressuring the White House to support the deadline extension. (Bash and Yuille 2/5/2004)
The CIA sends a memo to top Bush administration officials informing them that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative being held in custody by the CIA, recanted his claim in January that Iraq provided training in poisons and gases to members of al-Qaeda (see September 2002). (Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Pincus 11/6/2005) The claim had been used in speeches by both President George Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003).
The Bush administration bows to growing pressure in the wake of former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see March 21, 2004) and agrees to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Commission in public and under oath. It also agrees that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can be interviewed in private by the whole Commission. However, according to the New York Times, “In exchange for her appearance, the [9/11 Commission] agreed not to seek testimony from other White House aides at public hearings, although it can continue to question them in private.” (Shenon and Bumiller 3/31/2004) There was some debate in the administration over whether Rice would testify or not. As she is national security adviser and there are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing, there are good grounds for Rice refusing to testify under the doctrine of executive privilege, and this argument is made in particular by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s counsel. However, Rice insists that she wants to testify. According to author Philip Shenon, she is “uncharacteristically frantic” over the issue. White House chief of staff Andy Card will say, “Condi desperately wanted to do it.” Shenon will write of the decision, which is made by President Bush: “The political pressure on the White House was too great, and Rice’s persuasive powers with the president were more than a match for Alberto Gonzales’s. Rice was as strong-willed as any member of the White house staff. Gonzales was strong-willed until the president told him otherwise.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 289-292) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The dirty little secret about the uproar over Clarke’s revelations were that many of them had been previously revealed by others, well before he published his book. But as the Bush administration knew better than anyone, perception was all, and perception began with images on television. Clarke had given the charges a human face.” The administration is sending Rice to testify publicly before the Commission, Rich will write, in part because she is the most telegenic of Bush’s top advisers, and has the best chance of “rebranding” the story with her face and testimony. (Rich 2006, pp. 119)
In a secret agreement with the White House, the 9/11 Commission obtains the right to question at least two top al-Qaeda leaders in US custody. The two men are believed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, two accused masterminds of the 2001 attacks. (Sullivan 5/12/2004) The results of the commission’s questioning of these suspects are published in a 9/11 Staff Statement released in June 2004. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) However, in an ironic twist, during a 9/11-related lawsuit hearing held in June, US authorities refuse to acknowledge whether or not they have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in custody. (Associated Press 4/23/2004; Yen 6/15/2004) Insurance companies representing 9/11 victims had requested that the US Justice Department serve a summons against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but a judge rules that the US government does not have to disclose whether it is holding alleged terrorists in custody. (Associated Press 4/23/2004; Yen 6/15/2004)
White House lawyers send an angry letter to the 9/11 Commission, which causes the Commission to water down its staff report account of Vice President Dick Cheney’s actions on September 11. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Members of the team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission examining the events of the morning of 9/11 believe that a key part of Cheney’s account, regarding the shootdown order, is false (see (Mid 2004)). (Shenon 2008, pp. 265) The Commission has found that Cheney issued the shootdown order, but he and President Bush have stated that this was only after the president had authorized the shooting down of threatening aircraft during a phone call between the two men. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) However, the Commission has found “no documentary evidence for this call.” Newsweek learns that “some on the Commission staff [are], in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president’s account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report.” Some staffers “flat out didn’t believe the call ever took place.” But when the early draft was circulated among the Bush administration, it provoked an angry reaction. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett will say, “We didn’t think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the Commission.” In a series of phone calls and a letter from its lawyers, the White House forcefully lobbies the Commission to change the language in its report. According to Newsweek, “Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the Commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton… agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report ‘was watered down,’ groused one staffer.” (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) The amended staff report will be presented days later, on June 17, at the final round of the Commission’s public hearings. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Stout 6/17/2004) Cheney will again be angry at how the Commission has dealt with the shootdown issue in its final report, and tries to get this report changed on the eve of its release (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 267)
The Los Angeles Times reports that US officials claim, “Despite its fervent denials, Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States that has long attempted to recruit US officials as spies and to procure classified documents….” In turn, US agents have long monitored Israeli diplomats and agents in the US. An intelligence official who had recently left government says, “There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States.… Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States.… The denials are laughable.” The Times adds, “Current and former officials involved with Israel at the White House, CIA, State Department, and in Congress had similar appraisals, although not all were as harsh in their assessments.” Officials note that Israel is considered a very close ally and is frequently given highly classified information. But it is also noted that US and Israeli intelligence agencies do not completely trust each other. (Drogin and Miller 9/3/2004)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s non-partisan research arm, issues a report criticizing the government’s sharing of counterterrorism information. Despite more than four years of legislation and executive orders, there has been little progress since 9/11 in sharing information among federal agencies and thousands of nonfederal partners. Deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have repeatedly not been met. The responsibility for the task has also repeatedly shifted since 9/11—from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to the Director of National Intelligence. In January 2006, the program manager in charge of improving information sharing between agencies resigned after complaining of inadequate budget and staffing. The GAO report notes that there is a lack of “government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information…” For instance, there are at least 56 different secrecy classifications in use, with different agencies using different terms or sometimes the same terms with widely different meanings. State and local first responders claim they are often left in the dark or overwhelmed with identical information from multiple federal sources. (DeYoung 4/19/2006)
According to an ABC News report in September 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden bans the use of waterboarding some time in 2006, with the approval of the White House. It is not known when exactly the technique is banned that year, but presumably it takes place after Hayden becomes CIA director (see May 5, 2006) and in response to the Supreme Court decision mandating that terror suspects must be given treatment consistent with the Geneva Conventions (see July 12, 2006). Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning and is usually referred to as torture. Allegedly, the CIA last used waterboarding in 2003 on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and “It is believed that waterboarding was used on fewer than five ‘high-value’ terrorist subjects” (see May 2002-2003). John Sifton of Human Rights Watch later says the ban “a good thing, but the fact remains that the entire [CIA interrogation] program is illegal.” (Ross, Esposito, and Raddatz 9/14/2007) Over a year before Hayden’s decision, Justice Department official Daniel Levin had himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to help him determine if waterboarding was indeed torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005). Levin intended to issue a memo condemning the practice as beyond the bounds of the law, but was forced out of the Justice Department before he could make that ruling.
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” (Miller 5/20/2007)
The US administration leaks the news that it has obtained an advance copy of a new video from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, damaging an intelligence operation by the SITE Institute. SITE, a private organization involved in the fight against international terrorism, obtains an advance copy of the video through an intelligence operation that had been ongoing for years (see September 7 and 11, 2007) and provides the copy to the White House. SITE founder Rita Katz sends White House representatives Fred Fielding and Joel Bagnal an e-mail saying that there is a need for secrecy and the video should not be distributed, but within twenty minutes of this government defense and intelligence agencies begin downloading the video from SITE. The video leaks from the administration to the news media within a few hours, tipping al-Qaeda off to the security breach. SITE’s activities are described as “tremendously helpful” by some intelligence officials, but Katz says that due to the leak, “Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless.” However, officials say that US agencies do not rely solely on outside contractors for such information, and Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, comments, “We have individuals in the right places dealing with all these issues, across all 16 intelligence agencies.” (Warrick 10/9/2007) The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announces an inquiry into the leak, but Feinstein says, “we don’t think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center,” which also received a copy of the video from SITE. (Warrick 10/10/2007)
The White House protests about a sub-heading in a New York Times story on the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations, and the New York Times admits the subheading was misleading and prints a correction. The subheading is “White House role was wider than it said” (in discussions about what to do with the tapes), but White House spokesperson Dana Perino complains. She issues a statement saying that the subheading is “pernicious and troubling,” as it indicates a conscious effort to mislead by the White House, which has not actually yet officially described its role in the tapes’ destruction except to say that President Bush thinks he was not informed. Even though it corrects the subheading, the paper notes that the White House “had not challenged the content of our story.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007; Shane 12/20/2007; Abramowitz and Warrick 12/20/2007)
A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. (Knoller 12/19/2007; Hunt 12/19/2007; Gerstenzang 12/20/2007)
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley is forced to resign from his position under pressure from the White House following his criticism of the treatment of whistleblower Bradley Manning (see March 12, 2011). According to CNN, White House officials are “furious” about Crowley’s statement that the treatment of Manning is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” In his resignation statement, Crowley attributes his resignation to the media coverage of his remarks: “Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation.” However, CNN adds, “Crowley has told friends that he is deeply concerned that mistreatment of Manning could undermine the legitimate prosecution of the young private.” In addition, Crowley thinks he has the administration’s best interests at heart because “he thinks any mistreatment of Manning could be damaging around the world to President Obama, who has tried to end the perception that the United States tortures prisoners.” (Henry 3/13/2011)
The US government selectively releases videos of Osama bin Laden found in the raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). ABC News reports, “The US government is running a full-court press to prevent Osama bin Laden from becoming a hallowed martyr by using what are essentially out-takes of videos made by bin Laden to paint him instead as a vain, pathetic old man, experts said today.” Excerpts from five videos are made public. The one that attracts the most attention shows bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hidehout, wrapped in a blanket and watching videos of himself on television. He is seen using a remote control to frequently change channels. Author Lawrence Wright comments, “[This is] just a guy who wants to be seen, who wants to be known. [It’s] very pathetic in a way.” (Ross 5/9/2011)
A journalist and activist sues to overturn provisions in a US defense spending bill that authorize indefinite military detention, including of US citizens, who are accused of being associated with groups engaged in hostilities with the United States (see December 15, 2011, December 31, 2011). The indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA caused considerable controversy from the time they were first proposed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, and his attorneys, Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, file the suit seeking an injunction barring enforcement of section 1021 (formerly known as 1031) of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), alleging it is unconstitutional because it infringes on Hedges’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are named as defendants in the initial complaint, individually and in their official capacities. (Hedges 1/16/2012) Six other writers and activists will later join Hedges as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, “US Day of Rage,” Kai Wargalla, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is also a member of parliament in Iceland. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), John Boehner (R-OH), and Eric Cantor (R-VA), will be added as defendants, in their official capacities. (Final Complaint: Hedges v. Obama 2/23/2012 ) The plaintiffs, their attorneys, and two supporting organizations, RevolutionTruth and Demand Progress, will establish a Web site to provide news and information related to the case, including legal documents. (StopNDAA.org 2/10/2012) The Lawfare Blog will also post a number of court documents related to the case, including some not available at StopNDAA.org, such as the declarations of Wargalla, O’Brien, and Jónsdóttir. (Wakeman 4/4/2012) Journalist and activist Naomi Wolf will file an affidavit supporting the lawsuit. (Wolf 3/28/2012) The judge in the case, Katherine B. Forrest, will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the contested section, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012).
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). (Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order 5/25/2012)
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
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