On September 11, 2001, Richard A. Clarke was White House counterterrorism chief. In the first chapter of his best-selling book Against All Enemies, Clarke describes a video teleconference he held with top federal agency officials during the 9/11 attacks. Clarke includes a dramatic exchange with General Richard Myers, then Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regarding jet fighters being launched and Combat Air Patrol to be in place within 15 minutes. "It was now 9:28." 1
The trouble is, no such exchange with Myers took place, if we are to believe Myers himself. In a November 2001 interview with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), Myers stated that he was on Capitol Hill at the time of the attacks for a meeting with Senator Max Cleland. They knew the first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit before the meeting, but they "thought it was a small airplane or something like that." 2 Then, in the course of their meeting, the second tower was hit, but Myers shamelessly says, "Nobody informed us of that." 3 The Pentagon was hit (at 9:38, 10 minutes after Clarke claims that he and Myers were in studios talking air defense) just as Myers came out of his meeting with Cleland. Myers later changed his story about when he learned on Capitol Hill that the second tower had been hit, but even in his revised account he was not at the Pentagon when the latter was hit. 4
But there's more. Clarke also fabricates participation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the video teleconference, if we are to believe Rumsfeld himself about what he was doing during the attacks. But will Rummy set the record straight? Not if he can avoid it (and who's going to ask him about it?), for Clarke's story sure beats Rumsfeld's self-damning tale of inaction that rivals that of Myers.
Trouble is, Rumsfeld didn't rush into any studio at the Pentagon for a video teleconference after the two towers were hit. He apparently did nothing out of the ordinary. In his book Bush at War, Bob Woodward says, "Aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld had been proceeding with his daily intelligence briefing in his office" when the Pentagon was hit. 6 In an interview with Parade Magazine, Rumsfeld himself says, "I was sitting here (in his office) and the building was struck." 7 Rumsfeld told the 9/11 commission, "I was hosting a meeting for some Members of Congress. . . . Someone handed me a note that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. Later, I was in my office with a CIA briefer when I was told a second plane had hit the other tower. Shortly thereafter, at 9:38 AM, the Pentagon shook with an explosion of a then unknown origin. I went outside to see what had happened." 8
So no video teleconference for Rummy, no crisis meeting, after two hijacked planes hit the WTC. He has made it clear he was in his office, with a daily briefer, and when he felt something hit the building Rumsfeld was supposedly still so in the dark he had no idea what it might be. From ABC's "This Week":
Donaldson: On Tuesday I am told the FAA notified someone in the Pentagon that there was a rogue plane apparently headed toward Washington. But you didn't know it, am I correct?--until it hit.To add to Clarke's teleconference fantasy, when the Pentagon gets attacked Clarke tells the other participants, "I can still see Rumsfeld on the screen . . . so the whole building didn't get hit." And then this: "Rumsfeld said that smoke was getting into the Pentagon secure teleconferencing studio. . . . Rumsfeld moved to another studio in the Pentagon." 10
Rumsfeld: I was in the Pentagon and felt the shock of the attack, and -
Donaldson: What did you think it was?
Rumsfeld: A bomb? I had no idea. 9
So Clarke has Rumsfeld moving from studio to studio in the Pentagon, when Rumsfeld has stated that he was in his office with a CIA briefer till the building was hit, at which point he "went outside to see what had happened." And when he came back inside, Rumsfeld told Parade, "I came back in here, came into this office." 11 He confirms this in his commission testimony, saying that upon coming back in "I had one or more calls in my office, one of which I believe was with the President." 12 (He believes he talked to the President. Apparently he wasn't very impressed or it was simply a call of no consequence. President Bush, as we know, did not participate in Clarke's video teleconference either, since Bush was unavailable at the time, continuing to listen to schoolchildren read a pet goat story in Sarasota, Florida.) 13 It was after this forgettable talk with Bush that Rumsfeld sat in on Clarke's video teleconference, sometime after 10 o'clock, before joining Myers in the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC), where an air threat conference was in progress (the actual threat of course being over), shortly before 10:30. 14
1. Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), p. 5.
2. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), "Interview with General Richard B. Myers," October 17, 2001. (Text.) Clarke complains in his book that no one would listen to him about terrorism, and Myers's apparent density here may help explain why. In contrast to Myers's non-reaction to the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, CIA director George Tenet, when informed of the crash, said with surety, "This has bin Laden's fingerprints all over it.") ("Terror Hits the Towers," ABC News, September 14, 2001. Text.)
3. AFRTS. Myers offered no explanation, and the 9/11 commission asked for none, when Myers appeared before the commission on March 24, 2004, even though 9/11 widow Mindy Kleinberg, in the commission's first public hearing a year before, pointedly asked who was accountable for Myers not being informed. ("Statement of Mindy Kleinberg to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States," March 31, 2003, p. 6. Text.) The commission's Family Steering Committee returned to this question in a statement dated June 14, 2004, three days before Myers was to reappear before the commission: "Why was Joint Chief of Staff, General Myers, not notified of the attacks until after the Pentagon was hit?" ("FSC Statement Regarding the Hearings of June 16th and 17th.") Again the commission did not seek an answer from Myers. But he changed his story in later accounts, saying that he was informed of the second plane strike during the meeting with Cleland (Richard B. Myers, Eyes on the Horizon [New York: Threshold Editions, 2009, p. 8; History Maker Series, June 29, 2006).
4. AFRTS. In his prepared statement before the 9/11 Commission on June 17, 2004, Myers said that he "received notification of the (WTC) attacks via a phone call from General Eberhart at NORAD when I was on Capitol Hill." But "In fact," Myers said under questioning (changing his story in the middle of his testimony), "the first call I got when I left Capitol Hill, after a meeting with Senator Cleland, was from General Eberhart saying, 'We've had these crashes and that we're going to take certain actions,' and it was shortly thereafter that the Pentagon was hit as we were on our way back to the Pentagon" (italics added) ("Statement of General Richard Myers," National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, June 17, 2004; testimony). But that version of events, under oath, contradicted not only his own prepared statement, but his previous sworn testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 13, 2001. "I was with Senator Cleland," Myers told the Senate at his confirmation hearing, when the Pentagon was attacked. Cleland, a member of the committee, confirmed this in remarks to Myers, included in the transcript of the hearing, about how fortunate they were to have been meeting on Capitol Hill instead of in the Pentagon, "because about the time you and I were having our visit," Cleland said, ". . . at just about that very moment, the Pentagon was being hit." To which Myers said, "Yes, sir." (Transcript.) As we have seen, this is the same story Myers told the AFRTS interviewer two months later. Finally, the 9/11 Commission, which interviewed Myers privately in February 2004, states flatly in its report that Myers "was on Capitol Hill when the Pentagon was struck," adding that "he saw smoke as his car made its way back to the building" (The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 463 n. 199).
5. Clarke, p. 3.
6. Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 22.
7. "Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Parade Magazine," October 12, 2001. Text.
8. "Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld", National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, March 23, 2004. Text (pdf). See also The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 37. In none of these statements does Rumsfeld make mention of what he told Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke after the WTC attacks, according to a Clarke interview the following Saturday. Clarke told WBZ of Boston that "a couple of us" went to Rumsfeld's office "to alert him" that a second plane had hit the WTC and that "the crisis management process" had been started up. "He wanted to make a few phone calls," Clarke said, so she and some other officials proceeded to the National Military Command Center without him. "He stayed in his office" ("Assistant Secretary Clarke Interview with WBZ Boston," Dept. of Defense News Transcript, September 15, 2001). The Secretary of Defense was not the only high-level Pentagon official who couldn't be pried from his office by any "crisis management process." Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in his office conducting a meeting when someone said that a plane had hit the WTC. They turned on the TV and saw the shots of the second plane hitting the towers. At least "this is the way I remember it," Wolfowitz told an interviewer. "It's a little fuzzy." Wolfowitz then stated, "There didn't seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was" (Vanity Fair interview, May 9, 2003).
9. "Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with ABC News This Week," September 16, 2001. Text. One of the many still unanswered questions asked by the 9/11 commission's Family Steering Committee: "Why did Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was in the Pentagon when it was struck, remain in his office despite knowing the country was under attack?" ("FSC Statement Regarding the Hearings of June 16th and 17th.") See also Gail Sheehy's article "Who's in Charge Here?".
10. Clarke, pp. 8-9.
11. Rumsfeld Interview with Parade. Text.
12. Testimony. Text. For a reference to phone calls supposedly made by Rumsfeld to unnamed parties between the WTC and Pentagon attacks, see note 8.
13. Allan Wood and Paul Thompson, "An Interesting Day: President Bush's Movements and Actions on 9/11." Center for Cooperative Research, May 9, 2003. Bush explained this behavior to the 9/11 commission by saying "his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis" (Report, p. 38). What about Vice President Dick Cheney? After both planes had hit the WTC, Cheney was escorted from his White House office to an East Wing bunker called the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). According to the eyewitness account of White House photographer David Bohrer, Cheney left his office just after 9:00 AM (ABC News, 9/14/02). This jibes with the 9/11 Commission testimony of Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who stated that he arrived at the PEOC about 9:20 AM and found Cheney there. Mineta testified that "a young man" came in and told Cheney, "The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out." When he said, "The plane is 10 miles out," the young man asked Cheney, "Do the orders still stand?" Cheney "whipped his neck around" and said, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?" The plane obviously being tracked was, as Mineta stated, "The flight that came into the Pentagon" (American Airlines Flight 77, impacting at 9:38 AM) (Testimony, May 23, 2003). Yet despite this Cabinet official's testimony, corroborated chronologically by Bohrer's account of when Cheney left his office, the 9/11 Commission Report, while admitting "conflicting evidence," concluded that the Secret Service escorted Cheney from his office over half an hour later, "just before 9:36," with Cheney arriving at the PEOC "shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58," having stopped in the tunnel to the bunker to place a phone call to Bush and watch the Pentagon smoking on TV. According to this scenario, it was United Flight 93 (or rather something that they thought was Flight 93), not Flight 77, that Cheney then tracked, with Condoleezza Rice, Joshua Bolten, and others present, beginning at 10:02. "Some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice President that the aircraft was 80 miles out" (Report, p. 41). Cheney authorized jet fighters, which were supposed to be on their way from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, to engage the inbound plane (authorization based ostensibly on his earlier phone conversation in the tunnel with Bush, though it is claimed that Cheney called Bush again at 10:18 to confirm). Cheney again said yes to the aide's request for authorization to engage when told the aircraft was "60 miles out." The fact is, Flight 93 had crashed at 10:03 at Shanksville, Pennsylania, 125 miles from Washington (Report, p. 30). Questions abound here, which include: why Cheney was promptly moved to safety by the Secret Service when Bush wasn't; why Cheney, as Mineta says he witnessed, was tracking Flight 77 in a White House bunker before 9:30, while Rumsfeld sat in his Pentagon office unaware of the aircraft's approach; and what exactly "the orders" were regarding Flight 77 as it was closing in, since the Langley fighters were not ordered scrambled by NORAD till 9:24, were not airborne till 9:30, and Cheney, if he was even aware of fighters being scrambled, had not yet spoken with Bush for authorization to order any aircraft shot down.
14. Report, p. 38. The day before the attacks, U.S. Army Brigadier General Montague Winfield asked that Navy Captain Charles J. Leidig, Jr. stand a portion of his duty as Deputy Director for Operations for the National Military Command Center on the following day. Leidig relieved Winfield at 8:30 a.m. on September 11, leaving Leidig (who had qualified to stand watch as Deputy Director only one month before) in charge of the NMCC during the 9/11 attacks ("Statement of Capt. Charles J. Leidig, Jr. before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks," June 17, 2004; text). Leidig presided over the late-starting air threat conference, and when asked by the 9/11 Commission why the NMCC never connected during the conference with Air Force One, Leidig replied, "I don't recall." Leidig also testified that due to "some compatibility issues" between the NMCC and FAA phone systems "we had difficulty throughout the morning getting (the FAA) in the conference and that hampered information flow to some degree" (transcript). As for Winfield, there is apparently no legitimate published report of his whereabouts during the 9/11 attacks. (The operative word is "legitimate," as CNN on September 4, 2002 broadcast a program called "The Pentagon Goes to War: National Military Command Center" in which Winfield was featured as having been present in the NMCC "hot seat" throughout the attacks, running the air threat conference with the White House, FAA, and NORAD. "Twenty hours after he went to work on September 11," reported CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, "Winfield went home" [transcript]. Capt. Leidig, the rookie who was actually in the NMCC hot seat during the attacks, was never mentioned in the broadcast.) Leidig testified that Winfield relieved him of command "right after we resolved what was going on with United 93," that is, after the last hijacked plane was down. Winfield, later promoted to the rank of Major General, became Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), and his biography on the JPAC website stated that he "was present (in the NMCC) as the General Officer in Charge during the terrorist attacks of 9/11." (There is a subtle change in the biography announcing his current position as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Cadet Command: "Winfield was the [NMCC] General Officer-in-Charge during the terrorist attacks of 9/11." This implies but does not say he was present.) Leidig, promoted in 2004 to the rank of Rear Admiral, now commands U.S. naval forces in the Marianas. His official online U.S. Navy Biography makes no mention of his service in the NMCC during the 9/11 attacks.
15. Report, p. 36.
See also United Flight 93 and the NetJet
Copyright 2004 by Ronald L. Ecker
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