Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress, later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel, 2007, pp. 428]
A training exercise is scheduled to begin at a US intelligence agency located just over 20 miles from the Pentagon, based around the scenario of a small corporate jet plane experiencing a mechanical failure and crashing into a tower building there. The exercise, which has been planned for several months, is to take place at the headquarters of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in Chantilly, Virginia, four miles away from Washington Dulles International Airport and 24 miles from the Pentagon. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; United Press International, 8/22/2002] Its purpose is to test the agency’s employees’ ability to respond to a small aircraft crash. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003]
Simulated Plane Crash - The exercise is set to commence at 9:00 a.m., when its observers meet to be briefed. The observers and exercise role players are to move to their positions for the exercise 10 to 15 minutes later. The plane in the exercise scenario is a Learjet 35A with two pilots and four passengers on board, which takes off at 9:30 a.m. from Dulles Airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003] This is the airport Flight 77, which crashes into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., took off from earlier in the morning (see 8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-10] A minute after taking off, the Learjet is supposed to experience a mechanical failure. It then goes out of control, leading it to crash into one of the four towers at the NRO’s headquarters at around 9:32 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). No real plane is going to be used in the exercise, but some stairwells and exits at the NRO headquarters are to be closed off in order to simulate the damage from the crash, forcing employees to find other ways to evacuate the building. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003]
Scenario Created by War Gaming Division - The exercise scenario was imagined by the NRO’s internal war gaming division. [United Press International, 8/22/2002] The exercise is being run by John Fulton, the chief of this division, and his team at the CIA. [National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, 8/4/2002; National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, 8/6/2002]
Highly Secretive Agency - The NRO is an agency of the US Department of Defense. Its mission is “to ensure that the US has the technology and spaceborne and airborne assets needed to acquire intelligence worldwide.” [US Department of Defense, 9/18/1992] It operates many of the nation’s spy satellites. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] According to the New York Times, “It designs, builds, and operates spy satellites that photograph and overhear what other countries are up to.” [New York Times, 8/10/1994] The NRO employs some 3,000 people. These employees are drawn from the CIA and the military. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The New York Times has called the NRO “probably the most secretive of the intelligence agencies.” Until 1992, its existence was not even officially disclosed. [New York Times, 8/10/1994]
Exercise Canceled - According to NRO spokesman Art Haubold, the exercise will be called off “as soon as real world events began to unfold.” However, he does not give a specific time. All but the NRO’s most essential employees will then be sent home. [United Press International, 8/22/2002] Haubold will later comment, “It was just an incredible coincidence” that the exercise scenario “happened to involve an aircraft crashing into our facility.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002]
(9:03 am) September 11, 2001: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Receives His Intelligence Briefing, despite Being Aware of the Crisis
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] He assumed the crash was an accident. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335]
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 243] The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002]
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244] The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 336]
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439]
(9:05 am) September 11, 2001: National Security Adviser Rice Tries to Assemble National Security Team, but Cannot Reach Key Officials
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see 9:04 a.m. September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002] Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. [US President, 2/13/2001; Felix, 2002, pp. 226] However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. [US Department of the Treasury, 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury, 1/23/2002] And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. [CNN, 10/1/2001] Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. [PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1] She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-162]]) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii]
(9:29 am - 9:34 am) September 11, 2001: Pentagon Command Center Holds Significant Event Conference Call
The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006]
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004] But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003] Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004] He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see 10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. [US News and World Report, 8/31/2003] According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004] Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004] Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see 9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m. September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see 10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003]
(9:37 am) September 11, 2001: Flight 77 Crashes into Reinforced Section of the Pentagon, Killing 189
Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) [CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Washington Post, 11/21/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 431 and 449] Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” [US Department of Defense, 9/15/2001] “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 450]
(9:37 am) September 11, 2001: Langley Fighters Still Short of Washington; Where and Why Is Not Clear
Accounts differ as to how far from Washington the F-16 fighters scrambled from Langley are when Flight 77 crashes. The Langley, Virginia, base is 129 miles from Washington. NORAD originally claimed that, at the time of the crash, the fighters are 105 miles away, despite having taken off seven minutes earlier. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission claims that at 9:36 a.m., NEADS discovers that Flight 77 is only a few miles from the White House and is dismayed to find the fighters have headed east over the ocean. They are ordered to Washington immediately, but are still about 150 miles away. This is farther away than the base from which they took off. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The F-16 pilot codenamed Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom) offers a different explanation. As previously mentioned, he says they are flying toward New York, when they see a black column of smoke coming from Washington, about 30 or 40 miles to the west. He is then asked over the radio by NEADS if he can confirm the Pentagon is burning. He confirms it. He says that the mission of the Langley pilots at this time is clear: to keep all airplanes away from Washington. The F-16s are then ordered to set up a defensive perimeter above Washington. [Longman, 2002, pp. 76; Filson, 2003, pp. 66; New York Observer, 2/15/2004] The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/2000] Had the fighters traveled straight to Washington at 1,300 mph, they would have reached Washington at least one minute before Flight 77. Furthermore, at the time the Pentagon is hit, according to Craig Borgstrom, he and the other Langley pilots are hearing a lot of chatter over their radios, but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings. He says they are “all three on different frequencies… and [are] getting orders from a lot of different people.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66]
(9:38 am - 10:00 am) September 11, 2001: Rumsfeld Spends Brief Time at Pentagon Crash Scene and Helps Carry a Stretcher; Accounts Conflict over Details
Within seconds of the Pentagon being hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rushed out of his office and headed toward the crash scene (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Officer Aubrey Davis, who is currently accompanying Rumsfeld as his bodyguard, when they reach the site, “There were the flames, and bits of metal all around. The secretary picked up one of the pieces of metal. I was telling him he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime scene when he looked at some inscription on it and said, ‘American Airlines.‘” According to Rumsfeld, a person who’d seen the attack on the Pentagon informs him a plane had flown into it. Rumsfeld later recalls: “I saw people on the grass, and we just, we tried to put them in stretchers and then move them out across the grass towards the road and lifted them over a jersey wall so the people on that side could stick them into the ambulances. I was out there for a while, and then people started gathering, and we were able to get other people to do that, to hold IVs for people. There were people lying on the grass with clothes blown off and burns all over them.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-2] Versions of this story will appear elsewhere. [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Video footage confirms that Rumsfeld helps carry a stretcher at the crash scene. [CNN, 8/17/2002] One report will even describe him pulling budget analyst Paul Gonzales to safety from the burning wreckage. [Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001] However, Gonzales later offers his own detailed recollections of pulling other people to safety, which fail to involve Rumsfeld in any way. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say Rumsfeld is gone from the building for “about half an hour.” [WBZ Radio 1030 (Boston), 9/15/2001] A Pentagon spokesperson has Rumsfeld helping at the crash site for “15 minutes or so.” [Reuters, 9/11/2001] Another account will claim he loads the wounded onto stretchers for 15 minutes. [Scripps Howard News Service, 9/11/2001] However, considering the time it would have taken to walk to the crash site—each side of the enormous Pentagon is the length of three football fields—journalist Andrew Cockburn later concludes that Rumsfeld could only have been at the crash scene for a brief period. [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 3] Rumsfeld reportedly heads back into the Pentagon at the urging of a security agent, though in an interview soon after 9/11 he will claim the decision to go back inside was his own, saying, “I decided I should be in [the building] figuring out what to do, because your brain begins to connect things, and there were enough people there to worry about that.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] He tells the 9/11 Commission, “I was back in the Pentagon with a crisis action team shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” (see 10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] While Rumsfeld is at the crash scene, others are frantically trying to get in touch with him but are unable to do so (see 9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001).
(9:38 am) September 11, 2001: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Dashes toward Crash Site Seconds after Pentagon Is Hit
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heads for the crash site immediately after the Pentagon is hit. At the time of the attack, Rumsfeld is in his office proceeding with his regularly scheduled CIA briefing, despite being aware of the two attacks on the World Trade Center earlier on. Waiting outside his door is Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police, who is assigned to the defense secretary’s personal bodyguard and has come of his own initiative to move Rumsfeld to a better-protected location. According to Davis, there is “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” as the Pentagon is struck. Just 15 or 20 seconds later, Rumsfeld walks out of his door looking composed, having already put on the jacket he normally discards when in his office. Davis informs him there is a report of an airplane hitting a section of the Pentagon known as the Mall. Rumsfeld sets off without saying anything or informing any of his command staff where he is going, and heads swiftly toward the Mall. Davis accompanies him, as does Rumsfeld’s other security guard Gilbert Oldach, his communications officer, and the deputy director of security for the secretary’s office. Finding no sign of damage at the Mall, Davis tells Rumsfeld, ”[N]ow we’re hearing it’s by the heliport,” which is along the next side of the building. Despite Davis’s protests that he should head back, Rumsfeld continues onward, and they go outside near where the crash occurred. [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-2; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Democracy Now!, 3/7/2007] The Pentagon was hit on the opposite site of the huge building to Rumsfeld’s office. [Reuters, 9/11/2001] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say that Rumsfeld is “one of the first people” to arrive at the crash scene. [KYW Radio 1060 (Philadelphia), 9/15/2001] He spends a brief time there (see Between 9:38 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), before returning to the building by about 10:00 a.m., according to his own account (see 10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Rumsfeld will later justify his actions following the attack, saying, “I was going, which seemed to me perfectly logically, towards the scene of the accident to see what could be done and what had happened.” [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] As journalist Andrew Cockburn will point out, though, ”[T]he country was under attack and yet the secretary of defense disappears for 20 minutes.” [C-SPAN, 2/25/2007] John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, will criticize Rumsfeld for heading to the crash scene at this time. He will say: “One of my officers tried to stop him and he just brushed him off. I told [Rumsfeld’s] staff that he should not have done that. He is in the national command authority; he should not have gone to the scene.” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 10/19/2001] The numerous reports of Rumsfeld going outside to the crash scene are apparently contradicted by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. In his 2004 book Against All Enemies, Clarke will give the impression that Rumsfeld never leaves a video conference for very long after the Pentagon is hit, except to move from one secure teleconferencing studio to another elsewhere in the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-9] However, video footage confirms that Rumsfeld does indeed go to the crash site. [CNN, 8/17/2002]