So we know that before 10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush behaved very suspiciously. He remained in a Florida classroom reading with students while disaster unfolded.
We know the Secret Service did not take steps to protect the president during the most catastrophic attack ever on American soil. He stayed at the school against all protocol, and no one made any effort to get him out of there. He might have been a terrorist target but he just sat there, endangering an entire school full of children.
We know that Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Bush that America was under attack while he sat with the children, but didn’t say any more and didn’t wait for any response from Bush.
And Bush made no move to say anything to anyone. No instructions, no questions. He didn’t even ask who had attacked America. It seemed that he was more concerned about how The Pet Goat ended than on who was America’s latest foe.
It’s impossible to believe that errors or oversights were responsible for this unprecedented behaviour.
There were several different accounts about how Bush found out about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Bush claims he only found out when he arrived at Booker Elementary. But several other people in the motorcade seemed to have found out right after the plane hit the building.
According to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, she heard about the first plane hit sitting in her office right before 9 a.m. She phoned Bush and spoke to him when he arrived at the school. CNN had a report on TV at 8:48 but Rice only gets the news approximately 10 minutes later? Apparently the public knew about the disaster before the president and his closest advisors.
So what did Bush do after he left the school, sometime after 9:30 a.m.? He was taken directly to Air Force One, which took off with no fighter escort as would normally be the case, and should have been the case under the circumstances. It wasn’t the only time that day that fighters were not doing what they were supposed to be doing:
- No fighters provided an escort for Bush and Air Force One, although they did join the president’s plane some time later;
- No fighters stopped flights 11 and 175 from going wildly off course and flying into the World Trade Center;
- No fighters stopped Flight 77 from flying all over the northeast U.S. for 45 minutes after it was believed to be hijacked, and no fighters seemed to be able to stop this plane from flying into the Pentagon;
- And officially, no fighters stopped Flight 93 as it approached Washington before crashing in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The fact that debris was scattered over several miles suggests there’s more to this part of the story.
Sept. 11 was the second day of a military war exercise called Vigilant Guardian. This war game simulated planes being hijacked in the northeast U.S. It involved false inputs being inserted on the radar screens of military controllers at NEADS (Northeast Air Defense Sector). This had the effect of leaving the controllers confused about which blips were real and which were part of the exercise.
This was in turn part of a larger exercise called Global Guardian, which was being conducted at Offut Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska in co-operation with NORAD and with the participation of Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana.
So did the president fly back to the White House as you might expect? No, he flew to Barksdale AFB and later to Offut AFB.
The president’s motorcade heads for the airport, with the president experiencing communication problems on the way as he tried to reach the White House. He would experience more problems on Air Force One.
Vice-president Dick Cheney later claimed he had informed the president that there was a possible threat to Air Force One, but many would doubt that this account was true. But it did succeed in convincing Bush not to return to Washington right away. Barksdale was chosen instead.
There would be more false alarms of possible threats to Air Force One, which continue to keep the president away from the nation’s capital. Another would be threat to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Leaving Barksdale at 1:30 p.m., Air Force One flies to Offut AFB in Nebraska. By 2:50 p.m., Bush is in the command centre from which the exercise Global Guardian was being directed that same day.
Bush is apparently anxious to return to Washington despite advice from the Secret Service. There is a brief concern about a possible hijacking in Madrid but this turns out to be another false alarm. Once Bush hears this, he decides to fly back to Washington immediately, taking off at 4:33 p.m.
Incredibly, Air Force One doesn’t inform the fighters that have been escorting the president’s plane that they are leaving. The fighter pilots are eating snacks and hear the engine of Air Force One as it takes off. When the fighters got airborne, they were already 100 miles behind.
Later that evening the administration has already decided that Osama bin Laden is behind the attacks. According to journalist Bob Woodward, Bush would refer to the attacks as a “great opportunity” in a meeting with advisors.
A Washington Post story reported that Bush had written in his diary that night that “the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.”
That might be the most honest thing he ever said about 9/11.