From the History Commons Groups blog:
A large number of entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons, the majority of which provide new details about the events of September 11, 2001.
WHITE HOUSE STAFFERS WERE PREPARING FOR THE CONGRESSIONAL PICNIC
Many new timeline entries describe events at the White House on September 11. Early that morning, Neil Bush, a younger brother of President Bush, was at the White House after spending the previous night there. When the terrorist attacks began, many staffers were busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic, which was scheduled to take place on the South Lawn that evening. After the second attack on the World Trade Center occurred, a few staffers took the time to move all the picnic tables off the lawn and even continued with this task after the White House was evacuated.
Meanwhile, shortly after 9:30 a.m., while the attacks were still underway, an official at the White House told CNN it was being assumed that Osama bin Laden was behind the plane crashes at the WTC. After most White House personnel evacuated from the building, at 9:45 a.m., those who remained in the White House Situation Room requested protective gear, but when someone arrived with gas masks for them, they found there were too few to go around. One official in the Situation Room suggested activating the Emergency Alert System so as to send out a message to the American public, but no one with him knew what the message could state and so the proposal was rejected.
Sometime after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was attacked, the US Park Police worked with the Secret Service and the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police to shut down the area around the White House. And, remarkably, some staffers were still in the White House long after the building was evacuated, unaware of the attacks that had taken place that morning.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE AND HIS DEPUTY CONTINUED WITH ROUTINE MEETINGS AFTER LEARNING OF THE ATTACKS
Several new entries examine the actions of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who were both at the Pentagon when the attacks occurred. Wolfowitz saw the second crash at the WTC live on television, at 9:03 a.m., but took no action in response to it and instead continued with a routine meeting in his office. When the Pentagon was hit, he was initially evacuated from the building, but a short time later he returned to it and went to the National Military Command Center.
Rumsfeld, meanwhile, went ahead with his daily intelligence briefing, even though his CIA briefer urged him to cancel it so as to respond to the crisis. He continued with the briefing, even though an aide had alerted him to the second crash and he’d realized the crash was “more than an accident.” Two other aides came to his office and urged him to cancel his schedule so he could respond to the attacks on the WTC, but he refused to do so because if he did, he said, “the terrorists have won.”
SENIOR ARMY OFFICER ASSISTED PEOPLE NEAR THE PENTAGON CRASH SITE
A few entries describe the actions of General John Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army, who was also at the Pentagon that morning. After he learned a plane had crashed into the WTC, Keane instructed his operations officer to bring the Army Operations Center (AOC) at the Pentagon up to full manning.
Shortly before the Pentagon was attacked, he talked on the phone with his operations officer about a suspicious plane that was approaching Washington and the two men discussed evacuating buildings in the capital, including the Pentagon. They were still talking to each other when the Pentagon was hit and Keane then told his operations officer to inform Army facilities around the world about the attack. Keane did not subsequently go straight to the AOC to respond to the crisis, however, and instead first went toward the crash site to help people find their way out of the building.
HIJACKERS RESPONDED TO PASSENGERS TRYING TO RETAKE CONTROL OF FLIGHT 93
Numerous timeline entries describe what apparently happened in the cockpit of Flight 93–the fourth plane to be hijacked–based on the plane’s cockpit voice recording. Between 9:32 a.m. and 9:37 a.m., a woman presumed to be one of the flight attendants was ordered around by the hijackers and then apparently killed by them. Subsequently, one of the hijackers suggested that the plane’s original pilot be brought back into the cockpit, although this never happened. A hijacker then suggested that the plane’s fire axe be held up to the peephole in the cockpit door, mistakenly thinking the passengers would see it and be scared by it.
Beginning at 9:57 a.m., the cockpit voice recorder picked up the sounds of passengers apparently trying to get into the cockpit to retake control of the plane. In response to their actions, a hijacker suggested crashing the plane into the ground. The passengers continued their struggle until 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
A woman saw the plane crashing behind some trees, about 1,500 yards from her home, and then became the first of around 20 local residents who called 9-1-1 to report the incident. Soon after the plane went down, dozens of “souvenir hunters” arrived at the crash site and tried removing debris from there.
PASSENGER CALLED HIS MOTHER FROM FLIGHT 93
Several entries relate to the phone call passenger Mark Bingham made to his mother from Flight 93. Bingham first tried to call his mother at 9:36 a.m., but a family friend who answered the phone found the line was dead. A minute later, he tried calling again and this time was successful, being able to tell his mother that his plane had been hijacked.
The call broke off after less than three minutes and he tried reaching his mother twice more, but both attempts were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Bingham’s mother contacted the FBI to tell it about the call and she also tried calling her son on his cell phone, but had to leave messages on voicemail.
MILITARY ARRANGED FOR TANKERS TO SUPPORT ITS FIGHTER JETS
Numerous entries describe events at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). The “battle cab” at NEADS was, unusually, already manned when the attacks began because NEADS personnel were participating in a major training exercise that day. A number of trainees were also in the battle cab because they were going to observe a Russian military exercise taking place that week. Furthermore, due to the Russian exercise taking place, fighter jets that were on “alert”–ready for immediate takeoff if required–were carrying extra fuel and weapons, which meant their maximum speed was significantly reduced by the additional weight they carried.
At 9:04 a.m., NEADS contacted McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to see if it had any tankers available that could support the fighters that had taken off in response to the first hijacking that morning and was told the base had two tankers airborne, which were carrying plenty of fuel. About 10 minutes later, NEADS directed one or perhaps both of these tankers into military training airspace east of New Jersey, over the Atlantic Ocean.
Just after 9:30 a.m., NEADS redirected one of these aircraft to a different area of military training airspace, off the coast of Maryland. Minutes earlier, it had instructed a third tanker from McGuire that was in the training airspace east of New Jersey to remain where it was, presumably so it would be available to refuel fighters if necessary.
FEMA’S NEW YORK OFFICE HAD DIFFICULTIES RESPONDING TO THE ATTACKS
Several new entries describe actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In response to the attacks, the “Central Locator System” at FEMA headquarters began determining the locations of key government officials.
Meanwhile, personnel at FEMA’s Region II office in New York experienced communication problems following the attacks on the WTC and consequently an employee was instructed to go to the WTC site to liaise with officials there. Due to the South Tower collapsing, however, the employee went instead to the police headquarters, but, once there, he experienced various difficulties as he tried to respond to the attacks. At some time that day, a temporary Region II headquarters was established at an Army base in New Jersey, but the original Region II office in New York was back in operation by the following afternoon.
MILITARY PREPARED TO SEND DRONE AIRCRAFT TO AFGHANISTAN
Other entries describe how the US government started arranging to send remotely controlled Predator aircraft over Afghanistan while the attacks were still underway. Shortly before the Pentagon was hit, Colonel Bill Grimes, who headed a secretive Air Force program based in Ohio, received a call from Air Force headquarters in which he was asked what needed to be done to get three Predators, and whatever was needed to fly them over Afghanistan, ready to go.
Meanwhile, within an hour of the first attack on the WTC, Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the Air Combat Command, similarly received a call in which he was told the White House wanted to know how soon the Air Force could deploy Predators over Afghanistan. And two Air Force intelligence officers who were visiting Arizona were ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, as soon as possible to get the Predator ready to be used over Afghanistan.
On September 12, a cargo plane took off from a Navy base in California to transport three Predators to Washington, where they would be ready to be sent to Afghanistan.
REPORTERS WERE TOLD THE PRESIDENT HAD RECEIVED ‘NO WARNINGS’ OF THE ATTACKS
A few timeline entries describe miscellaneous other events from the day of 9/11. Senior officers at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska heard numerous reports throughout the day about serious terrorist activities, which turned out to be incorrect. At around midday, an AWACS plane took off from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which subsequently accompanied the president’s plane as it made its way back to Washington. And early that afternoon, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was on Air Force One with President Bush, told reporters on the plane that Bush had received “no warnings” of the terrorist attacks.
Finally, some new entries cover miscellaneous events that occurred in the years before 9/11. In 1974, an unemployed former tire salesman tried to hijack a commercial aircraft with the intent of crashing it into the White House but committed suicide when his attempt ran into difficulties. In 1989, renowned investigative reporter Jack Anderson warned in a television documentary that terrorists could crash a plane into a landmark building in Washington, such as the Pentagon or the White House.
In December 1998, NORAD conducted an exercise in which simulated missiles were injected into its radar systems, apparently in the same way that simulated information was injected onto its radar screens during an exercise on September 11. In 1999 or possibly earlier, award-winning playwright Tony Kushner wrote a play in which, presciently, Osama bin Laden was referred to and a character warned that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban was “coming to New York.”
And at some time in the months before 9/11, President Bush canceled plans to upgrade the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials went to respond to the attacks on September 11.
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