"We’re the Only Plane in the Sky"
September 9, 2016 7:09 AM   Subscribe

"We’re the Only Plane in the Sky"
Where was the president in the eight hours after the Sept. 11 attacks? The strange, harrowing journey of Air Force One, as told by the people who were on board.
posted by kirkaracha (71 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating to read.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


[Intelligence Analyst] Mike Morell: When Tenet explained that he had evidence pointing to Al Qaeda, the president turned around and looked at me—his look clearly said, “What the fuck happened here?” You were supposed to tell me first.

Was "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" not a big enough hint?
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2016 [20 favorites]


This was an excellent and enlightening read.
posted by corb at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


The lack of communications is pretty disturbing. I mean, I know they were never completely out of touch, but the "can you hear me now?" nature of those calls to Cheney dropping out like a cell phone in an elevator in 2008 is not reassuring.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 AM on September 9, 2016


This was a difficult read for me, as a New Yorker. I try to understand the events from this perspective at the same time that I remember what happened to Kevin Cosgrove and thousands like him, and it's really tough.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:56 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Then he said, “You have my authorization.” Then he listens for a while longer. He closes off the conversation. He turns to us and says that he’s just authorized the shoot-down of hijacked airliners.
Meanwhile, the aircraft they sent up to intercept the other hijacked planes didn't have any weapons.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:56 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


So President Bush already had some inkling that he'd have to say something about what was going on in NYC, but no idea of the magnitude until he was told in the classroom?
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:00 AM on September 9, 2016


This is the only time I've ever heard this detail:

We were standing at the door to the classroom, when Deb Loewer [from the White House Situation Room staff] came up and said, simply, “Sir, it appears that a twin-engine prop plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.”

Is Andy Card misspeaking? Deb Loewer as a Commander in the Navy (later an Admiral) has never been previously reported as to downplay the incident at the time.
posted by readery at 8:07 AM on September 9, 2016


Is Andy Card misspeaking?

I don't think so. The initial reports were all over the place.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:09 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


I had lots of sympathy for Bush and Rove, et al until later in the story when I remembered what misery we were put through solely on their account thanks to the Iraq misadventure. I was (and remain) not incredibly angry about the bin Laden memo. Bureaucracy is hard, and I have no trouble believing the message was lost or not understood.

It's what happened later that enrages me to this day. I'm merely annoyed by the grave irresponsibility of the news media and the various government apparatuses that saw shadows in every goddamned corner that day. The article made quite clear the communication troubles were limited to commercial networks, so why in the fuck weren't they using the billions of dollars in military communications satellites we had at the time instead? That I have little sympathy for.
posted by wierdo at 8:16 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


Was "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" not a big enough hint?

Well, that and the actual previous attack on the WTC.

This was a fascinating bit of detail:

Ari Fleischer: Back in 2001, no one had iPhones or BlackBerrys. I had this high-tech pager on my belt—it was two-way, in that you could send back one of like 14 preprogrammed responses. For the day, it was pretty fancy-fancy stuff. As we were driving to the first stop for the day, I got a page from Brian Bravo, who put together the White House news clips.

Brian Bravo, press assistant, White House: My job was to just scour the news—TV, the AP wire, Bloomberg. I just spent my time at the desk [in the White House], feeding the news all day to the White House staff. I actually had a buddy in New York who called me. He worked in a tall office tower and had seen the first plane hit. It was word-of-mouth intel, but then I started to see TV starting to cover it. To get to the pagers they used back then on the road, I’d have to parse any story down to a few short words. I just said, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” At that point, no one knew what it meant.


So, no Hollywood White House situation room with a big screen where someone barks "zoom in" and a spy satellite feed of Manhattan is enlarged. They were literally watching the news.

That morning, a friend of mine was off work and impulsively popped in the first of a couple VHS tapes (yes, one of those) and recorded the whole day's CNN broadcast.

It's fascinating and horrifying to see in hindsight - and because it's so unscripted, confused and chaotic, it still feels very, very raw.

But from the accounts in the article, it appears that people around POTUS and the White House were being briefed in large part by that coverage.

Or barely even that - and this is what makes grandiose conspiracy theories both laughable and contemptible, and raises all sorts of questions around "What if it had been even worse?":

Master Sgt. Dana Lark: There were two TV tuners, worldwide television tuners [at my workspace on Air Force One]. They were like old-school rabbit ears—UHF and VHF frequencies. We didn’t have the ability to tune into CNN, Fox, or anything else. It was the Today Show, the strongest signal that day, and they’re showing pictures [of the Towers], smoke billowing out. I saw the second airplane strike. I said, “Oh shit.” I just dropped everything and ran downstairs to get Colonel Tillman: “You’ve got to come see this.”

The guy in charge of communications aboard Air Force One and the guy in charge of flying Air Force One, respectively, were watching the Today Show to piece together what was happening.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:23 AM on September 9, 2016 [17 favorites]


The president said, “We won’t let a thug bring this country down.”

.... Yeah... about that... *sigh*

I miss the USA of 2000. Every day.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:30 AM on September 9, 2016 [30 favorites]


I had lots of sympathy for Bush and Rove, et al until later in the story when I remembered what misery we were put through solely on their account thanks to the Iraq misadventure.

I'm usually not one for conspiracy theories, but I remember with crystal clarity that in the weeks before Bush started calling for war with Iraq, there was increasing talk about Cheney's refusal to disclose documents connected to his involvement with his involvement with the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), in the wake of the Enron scandal. Cheney claimed executive privilege absolved him of the need to disclose the documents, and finally the Supreme Court ruled that no it didn't - and that was about the time that Bush suddenly started talking about WMD's in Iraq and how we had to go to war there.

I maintain that the Iraq War had absolutely not a fucking thing to do with 9/11, but instead was a Wag-the-Dog designed to distract us from Cheney's involvement with Enron, coupled with Bush's Daddy Issues. Those men embroiled us in a war to save their own hides, and they exploited the worst day of my life to distract people into going along with it, and I will never forgive them for it.

And I've forgiven Osama Bin Laden, so that's saying something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on September 9, 2016 [41 favorites]


I have sympathy for them in the moment, but what happened before and after is on them.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:39 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


the idea that the incident involved a small plane seems to have been almost self-generating, perhaps because that's all people could imagine as possible when they heard that a plane had crashed into WTC
posted by thelonius at 8:59 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


and what the fuck exactly are "Daddy issues", anyway?
posted by thelonius at 8:59 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


A great read. It's revealing, in its way, although it doesn't disturb my core belief that we'll never really know the full story (not to get all tin-hatty about it). It's strange to learn that the confusion we ordinary people experienced went all the way up to the highest levels of government. It's not supposed to work that way -- fog of war, sure, but there are entire branches of government which do nothing but prepare for moments like these, or work to avoid them, and this confusion and disconnect was the result?
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:00 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Daddy issues"

The resolution authorizing military force in Iraq citing an assassination attempt against the first President Bush?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


has never been previously reported as to downplay the incident at the time.

I remember hearing on the radio that it was a twin-prop, likely from Teterboro (airport, just across the river in N.J.)

As for conspiracy theories mine runs along a collusion of Silverstein and Cheney. The news was so full of Silverstein winning the lease from the PortAuthority and then insuring the whole thing for A Billion dollars...

This was a great read and the absence of any 'definitive' understanding of what was going on is, particularly, sobering.
Also I have to mention that Cheney is likely guilty and is also likely a horrible man and I would be happy to never hear his name ever mentioned ever again. Or Bushes. Those guys are like the architects of so much personal misery they should have horrible gastric distress at least for the rest of their lives. And parking tickets every day. In fact, warrants for un-paid parking tickets and then have to show up at the DMV in person. And then, they should have Time-Warner Cable and trouble with the reception and then decide they want to switch. And poorly fitting shoes. Should I go on? I will go on, I can't go on...
posted by From Bklyn at 9:08 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is indeed a fascinating account of that awful day, but I was stopped dead in my tracks about 1/4 through the article by this quotation from Andy Card, the Chief of Staff:
"When you pick a president, you want to pick a president who can handle the unexpected."
My immediate thought after that: America, wake the fuck up, we cannot allow Donald Trump to win this election.
posted by jeremias at 9:09 AM on September 9, 2016 [28 favorites]


this confusion and disconnect was the result

This confusion and disconnect was the result in places that were inaccessible to secure lines. It notes that Bush got the full story at that time on the STU-III, but then he got in the plane which had less good communication.

It's hard to imagine now, but so many people did not have cellphones. When they locked it down to Delta - I was in the military then - you literally were not allowed to travel, as in "drive to the grocery store", without someone with a cellphone, and that was a real barrier. Communications were much, much harder then, which is easy to forget.
posted by corb at 9:15 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


That morning, a friend of mine was off work and impulsively popped in the first of a couple VHS tapes (yes, one of those) and recorded the whole day's CNN broadcast.

Just a reminder that archive.org maintains a September 11 Television Archive.

(trigger warnings, etc. This is powerful stuff to watch even 15 years after the fact).
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2016 [24 favorites]


and what the fuck exactly are "Daddy issues", anyway?

The thing about the assassination attempt is one, but I was also thinking more gut-level - choose between

"My daddy wasn't able to take Saddam Hussein out, maybe if I finish the job for him he'll love me!"
or
"Saddam Hussein was mean to my daddy, he's not gonna get away with it!"

....But Cheney was the power behind that throne, and you know this.

However, every time I hear Cheney now I am reminded of my wish upon hearing about an outcome of his departure from office, something which I still kinda wish I saw.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I couldn't get through this article. It brought all of the anger and contempt for the Bush regime flooding back.

I will never, ever, ever get over being called a traitor by "conservatives" for opposing the Iraq War, for pointing out that the emperor had no clothes. Never.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:02 AM on September 9, 2016 [14 favorites]


The idea that the incident involved a small plane seems to have been almost self-generating, perhaps because that's all people could imagine as possible when they heard that a plane had crashed into WTC

I had stopped by my university library that morning and the first I heard of it was from the clerk behind the desk. I remember my first mental image was of a prop plane comically sticking out the side of the tower.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2016


There actually had been a prop or twin-engine plane that had hit one of the towers a few months prior, accidentally. It had been a foggy day and the dude just didn't pull up in time or something. That's what I assumed had happened again, when I saw the first headline on an AOL-type aggregate page. It wasn't til I clicked on it and couldn't get any of the news sites to load up that I knew it was much worse. CNN was jammed, Fox was jammed, NBC was jammed, every single news site I went to refused to load. That's when I knew it was bad. Finally I got something to come up on screen and by that time a small crowd had gathered around the breakroom TV downstairs.
posted by jhope71 at 10:15 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was told by one of my NCOs that a plane had hit the WTC when I came back in from a smoke break, and also asked, "What, like a Cessna?" She just shook her head and took me to the conference room. I saw the smoke billowing out and said, "This is an attack. We need to talk to higher."

Our higher HQ was at Fort Meade (we didn't do the NSA type stuff, they were just using the real estate). We didn't hear from them until Friday because they were low-priority for comms.
posted by Etrigan at 10:28 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


My father was an air traffic controller on 9/11, and he talks about how eerie it was watching displays that were nearly completely empty that day. Some emergency medical flights, a few military operations he isn't supposed to talk about, but other than that...just nothing, for the first and only time in his 30 year air traffic control career.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:49 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


No one has ever been able to convince me that if Al Gore had been president, 9/11 would have happened. Bush did not take the threat seriously; no one on the team took the previous administration's estimations seriously. Gore would have, and I believe he would have acted. I am sickened by Bush and Cheney, but I am also sickened by Gore's immediate caving in the 2000 "election." He gave up without a fight, and look where it led. A non-9/11 world (not to mention a world where climate change was taken seriously a decade earlier) would be so different in so many ways. I mourn for that alternate timeline as much as I mourn for the people whose bodies were in the ashes I had to walk through that day.
posted by rikschell at 10:56 AM on September 9, 2016 [24 favorites]


Even if 9/11 had happened on Al Gore's watch, there's no way he would have taken his attention from the people behind it and refocused on a totally unrelated and disastrous invasion of Iraq. The response would have been completely different, and he wouldn't have squandered the post-9/11 goodwill toward America like Bush did.

I am also sickened by Gore's immediate caving in the 2000 "election."

I don't see what else he could have done. Once SCOTUS speaks, it's over. The only alternative then is a coup--which (1) would have been even more disastrous than the Bush presidency and (2) Gore couldn't have pulled off, anyway. As much as it sucks, he did the best thing he could do for the stability of the country.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:03 AM on September 9, 2016 [23 favorites]


hear hear, rikschell. who knows if president gore could have prevented 9/11 but it seems pretty clear that his priorities would have been more in keeping with the threat of terrorism than whatever the fuck the priorities were of the bush administration.

also - you better believe that i expect my national security apparatus to protect me from threats even when it is difficult and/or unclear where the threat is coming from. remember comdi saying that they would have moved heaven and earth had they had actionable intelligence? guess what, condi? life isn't that neat and clean, your job is significantly harder than that, and you did a fucking piss-poor job of it. we all get to pay the price.

(still pissed.)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:03 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


September 11th still would have happened under a Gore administration. Most of the buildup happened under the Clinton administration, and no one on either side of the aisle seriously thought that hijackers would fly airliners into buildings.

But we definitely would have Marshall Planned the fuck out of Afghanistan and not half-assed it while we simultaneously half-assed Iraq.
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on September 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


I maintain that the Iraq War had absolutely not a fucking thing to do with 9/11, but instead was a Wag-the-Dog designed to distract us from Cheney's involvement with Enron, coupled with Bush's Daddy Issues. Those men embroiled us in a war to save their own hides, and they exploited the worst day of my life to distract people into going along with it, and I will never forgive them for it.

I mean, did anyone ever believe Iraq had anything to do with 9/11? I recall some weak attempts by the administration to link the two, but even the press had difficulty stomaching that line of reasoning. An invasion of Iraq was a done deal minutes after 9/11, the only question was finding a reason the press would lap up and the public...well, who cares about the public?

But, yeah, the real reason behind Iraq is a mystery, right? Cheney et al drew up plans for the invasion in the think tank, Project for a New American Century, in the late 90s. So it was a war in search of a cause.

Me? I think Iraq was an opportunity for a cabal of neocons to put their foreign policy theories into practice. That is, these guys invaded Iraq to show the world how smart they were.

Whoops.
posted by touchstone033 at 11:22 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Cool things I learned from reading this piece:
1. Putin was actually a decent human being at one point in time.
2. There wasn't a lot of trust established between the apolitical staff (i.e.: president's medical team, flight crew) and the political staff yet. And there were probably people around that felt a bit uneasy about the SCOTUS decision re: the 2000 election. That's gotta be an awkward work situation.
3. I don't feel so weird about school giving us minimal, sketchy details on 9/11/01 (We were high school seniors, dammit. Not first graders!), because people traveling with the president also didn't see much of the news.
posted by giraffe at 11:31 AM on September 9, 2016


I remember reading that the Clinton people were trying to tell the Bush transition team about all their Islamist terror concerns and that they were dismissive and only wanted to hear about Iraq
posted by thelonius at 11:31 AM on September 9, 2016


The lack of communications is pretty disturbing.

The part that puzzles me is that they finally blamed the problems with communication on Air Force One on their frequencies being flooded with chatter from dispatchers trying to get all the planes to check in and get to ground ASAP, and therefore they had "to use the military satellites, which we would only use in time of war." But it seems like the "we're at war!" realization happened before they even left the elementary school, so what took them so long?
posted by AndrewInDC at 11:50 AM on September 9, 2016


There actually had been a prop or twin-engine plane that had hit one of the towers a few months prior, accidentally.

A friend of my wife's worked in 4 WFC, and in late 2000 we got to see her office. She spoke about being able to wave at Cessna pilots heading along the Hudson.

I think Etrigan's right about the parallel universe with Gore in the White House: too many path dependencies, too many broken systems. I flew out of Boston in February 2001 and remembered thinking that the security setup was a horror show waiting to happen, particularly the way that some Platinum Club types travelling up front were able to show up at a gate at the last minute and berate the agents.

Iraq? Well, I think the national-interest conservative establishment was still configured to think in terms of state sponsors, the long-standing Big Bads of the Middle East, and not prepared to accept that strategic relationships with other states in the region to offset the Big Bads were radicalising forces within them.

Anyway: were pager networks more resilient in 2001 (under normal circumstances) than mobile? I know that the US evolved more slowly compared to Europe in that regard, so Ari Fleischer calling his two-way pager "fancy-fancy" feels a little like an overstatement. It doesn't sound like he was referring to secure networks.

What that piece shows most of all is that the protocols worked: the people who had been trained for that moment throughout their careers did their jobs, on the shortest imaginable notice, with conflicting reports buzzing around them and legitimate fears that they were targets. The Secret Service recognised that their job was to protect the president, not the person currently occupying the president's body.
posted by holgate at 11:57 AM on September 9, 2016


I was on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on 911 and I didn't really pay much attention to it - we were incredibly busy and, having grown up with the IRA bombing campaigns, I just dismissed the whole thing as an amplification of the usual terrorist tactics.
That evening there was an all hands meeting where we were informed that there would be no medevac flights for anyone injured and that anyone who had a problem with this was welcome to get on the next boat back to the beach.
I hadn't been in the US long and this was a useful introduction to the American workplace and it's priorities.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:00 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


it seems like the "we're at war!" realization happened before they even left the elementary school, so what took them so long?

I think that's implied in the piece: "all these military systems were all put in place for nuclear alerts." Switching to war-footing comms triggers alerts for those monitoring US war-footing comms, particularly Russia, and Bush had to make sure that Putin knew what was going on before any automatic escalation happened over there. (And Putin, according to Andy Card, was very good about it.)
posted by holgate at 12:01 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


WaPo: F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11.
Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:28 PM on September 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


9/11 was a tragedy but 9/12 was worse. That was the day our leaders decided to use 9/11 to further their agenda to get Saddam Hussein [per Richard Clarke memoirs]. Just 24 hours later. It just took 24 hours for those goddamn motherfuckers to start putting 9/11 to their advantage. So no, no sympathy at all.

Here's how I think it went down:

1. January 2001: Bush inaugurated. Iraq front and center on their agenda [O'Neil memoir]

2. Summer of 2001: White House learns of planned terrorism. They decide to let it happen and use it against Hussein.

3. September 2001: They are surprised by the magnitude of the attack, but have little choice but to follow their plan to use it.

4. October 2001: A little non-weaponized Anthrax in the mail firms up their support domestically.

You know the rest. All of it supports this story.
posted by BentFranklin at 12:31 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


When you pick a president, you want to pick a president who can handle the unexpected.
And not so much the guy who flies into a hissy fit over a when a tweet is mean to him.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:33 PM on September 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


Master Sgt. Dana Lark: We’re under attack. I was 35 years old. My military career and my perspective is, I’m thinking Cold War, the big bad Soviet bear. This was an extensive attack. Could this be a nation-state?

This really underscores how much 9/11 changed things. These days, "terrorism" is the go-to theory for any breaking news involving violence. Our entire national-security posture has pivoted to treat "terrorism" as the chief threat to the US. So much so, that "which nation did this?" (with no inkling that this might be terrorism) is a downright bizarre reaction to this news from a military officer (at least in hindsight).

I mean, none of us had any idea what was going on that morning. I'm not saying that this Sgt. should have known better. Just that I'd forgotten what an unprecedented, unexpected thing 9/11 was.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:38 PM on September 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age...."

Fuck off. Innocent of what? Starting wars? No, Vietnam. Attacks on US soil? No, World Trade Center 1993. Wars for oil? No, Gulf War One. Killing civilians? No, Vietnam again. Also Iraq, Bosnia etc. etc.
Also, the US military spends trillions over the years on offence and is staffed by people so catastrophically incompetent that it can't actually load the gun it has created.

Honestly, sometimes it's just like watching a car crash with people who aren't wearing seatbelts because "who cares man!", knowing that you can't do anything _but_ watch.
posted by Zack_Replica at 12:50 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


no one on either side of the aisle seriously thought that hijackers would fly airliners into buildings

Except for the part where there were plenty of examples of people anticipating planes flying into buildings, including the buildings that were attacked.

Report cites warnings before 9/11:
In 1998, U.S. intelligence had information that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosives-laden airplane into the World Trade Center, according to a joint inquiry of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
December 4, 1998 PDB: Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks

9/11 REPORT CITES MANY WARNINGS ABOUT HIJACKINGS:
In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.
The Pentagon Mass Casualty exercise in October 2000 simulated a plane crashing into the Pentagon.

The March 2001 pilot of The Lone Gunmen featured terrorists crashing a hijacked airliner into the World Trade Center.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:14 PM on September 9, 2016 [12 favorites]


had "to use the military satellites, which we would only use in time of war." But it seems like the "we're at war!" realization happened before they even left the elementary school, so what took them so long

Mainly, I think, that a state of war has to be declared, so even knowing we're at war doesn't actually make us at war, in a weird way?
posted by corb at 1:41 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I will never, ever, ever get over being called a traitor by "conservatives" for opposing the Iraq War, for pointing out that the emperor had no clothes. Never.

Later, these same conservatives that said the office of president was one to be revered and respected, with-us-or-against-us, etc, conveniently threw that out the window when Obama took office.
posted by dr_dank at 1:46 PM on September 9, 2016 [12 favorites]


I will never, ever, ever get over being called a traitor by "conservatives" for opposing the Iraq War, for pointing out that the emperor had no clothes. Never.

I can remember the exact moment the last shred of that post-9/11 we-are-all-one-people feeling disintegrated: sitting on the couch at my in-laws in Berkeley, California, hearing Ann Coulter say on a cable news show, "we need to execute people like John Walker Lindh in order to physically intimidate liberals."

At that moment, it dawned on me that there were real nut-jobs out there who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to purge the country of leftism, and that their views would be carried on Fox News and were probably reflected in some corners the White House.

Which is a reason I get so unhinged when I hear any progressive say they're not voting for Clinton in the election. Do you not remember?
posted by touchstone033 at 2:13 PM on September 9, 2016 [17 favorites]


Three days after the attack, my then-boyfriend and I were sitting in a diner near Union Square and I said something about how I was afraid that "all the flag-waving is sooner or later going to turn into waving the flag at people."

Yep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


As soon as we landed, Mark Rosenker [director of the White House Military Office] and I went off the back stairs. There’s this guy who looks like General Buck Turgidson from Dr. Stranglove, big guy, all decked out in a bomber jacket. He was straight out of central casting. We said, “What do you need?” He said, “See those planes? Every one is loaded with nukes—tell me where you want ’em.” We look over and there are just rows of B-52s, wingtip to wingtip. I joked, “Gosh, don’t tell [the president!].”

Joked. Yeah, right.
posted by blurker at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2016


From the People Being Decent file: Gander, Newfoundland.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:25 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


I remember being a teenager in Louisiana outside of Barksdale. My friends and I saw air force one flyng overhead to the "undisclosed" location though rumors were spreading pretty quickly by then between all the military (highschool)
kids.

It was super surreal seeing the plane and knowing that the undisclosed location the president was at was litterally a few miles away.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:47 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Peter Aletheias: My father was an air traffic controller on 9/11...

I've wanted, on and off since that day, to read something from ATCs, or their coordinators, or whoever would know, about that morning's struggle. "Get all the planes down." You have so many planes congregating on so many flight paths with varying levels of fuel that need the nearest available runway they can land on stat. Ideally, I would imagine, while diverting away from the airspaces of large cities. "Multidimensional problem" is understating it.

And yet they did it. And there were no lines left by jet planes in the sky any more and it was so, so eerie.

They did their jobs so well; I have tremendous respect to them and would like to learn more about how they managed that. I have tremendous respect for everyone quoted in this piece as well who did their jobs perfectly in the face of what was unexpected and staggering to them.

That last sentence has qualifying phrases for multiple reasons, though.
posted by seyirci at 5:49 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


However, every time I hear Cheney now I am reminded of my wish upon hearing about an outcome of his departure from office, something which I still kinda wish I saw.

I know it will never happen, but I fantasize about that asshole being charged with war crimes and basic corruption charges. He deserves it more than anyone I can think of since the Vietnam era, but he will unfortunately die a free person.

And yet they did it. And there were no lines left by jet planes in the sky any more and it was so, so eerie.

I'll always remember how empty the sky was and the quiet. I think about it sometimes when I happen to look up and notice the contrails.

I flew out of Boston in February 2001 and remembered thinking that the security setup was a horror show waiting to happen, particularly the way that some Platinum Club types travelling up front were able to show up at a gate at the last minute and berate the agents.

I was never a platinum club person, but I remember talking my way on with things I shouldn't have been able to bring on board more than a few times. Weird unmarked bottles of stuff? No problem. Tools? Same thing. Knives? Never an issue.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:19 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember when Cheney was his own branch of government, and not part of the Executive Branch.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:30 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Kirkaracha - yup, that was the exact controversy I was talking about, where after the Supreme Court finally said "you are NOT a Fourth branch of Government you giant puswart," that's when the White House started saying, "hey, look over there, was that Saddam behind that tree?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:57 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


We read a story about the Vietnam war in my 7th grade English class today, and for context we watched the Crash Course US History video on the Cold War in Asia. As they started asking questions ("What's communism? Why did we fight a war halfway around the world? Wait, what's communism again? And WHY did we care about that?), I realised the only context they would really understand was the way terrorism functions now. They weren't even born for at least two years after 9/11. They can't believe there was a time when YouTube didn't exist, let alone a world without smartphones and wifi and Pokemon Go. And while it's a radical simplification that would probably seriously bother my History professors, the fear of communism is not dissimilar from our fear of terrorism now.

I just spent the last few hours watching the Archive.org news stories from that morning (thanks for that link!), and I remember distinctly running home from my job on the university paint crew to tell my boyfriend and his roommates what happened. It was two weeks before my sophomore year in college in Seattle. We were working an overtime shift that started at 5:30 am and we all listened to the radio as we painted. Watching the news footage was eerily similar to the radio broadcast of the events. I remember all the false rumours and speculation and the feeling of utter helplessness. I also remember people being evacuated from the Space Needle and other places that could be "targets." Then there was a girl whose Russian boyfriend was also on the paint crew, and he couldn't understand our tears, or how afraid we were. They got into a multi-day fight (it wasn't the first or last time that happened!) because he kept saying that lots of places were used to terrorism, and it wasn't that big of a deal. It was a tough day, but their fighting was at least a distraction from the emotion of the constant news reports.

Reading TFA was also strange. I do remember the speculation about where Bush was and why he wasn't making a statement, and this article was fascinating from that perspective, though like others, I'd love to hear more from Air Traffic Controllers who worked that day.

I'm glad my students don't have the image of the towers being hit, then going down in a plume of smoke, burned into their retinas as I do. But they would hardly recognise the world that existed then in a way that seems out of proportion for the span of time.

I also very clearly remember the day I drove through Seattle to tons of newly hoisted flags on nearly every house. It scared me then; it still does...to say nothing of the gigantic Tea Party flag my parents hang in front of their house. And a world where President Trump is an actual thing...I just can't.

I think I may show my students some of the news broadcasts from that day. It really was a different world.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:00 AM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


A non-9/11 world (not to mention a world where climate change was taken seriously a decade earlier) would be so different in so many ways.

I've been wondering lately if and how much the ratcheting up of open and not so open tensions between US and Saudi Arabia and other regions in the Middle East might actually be related to climate change--Saudi Arabia in particular is a region already seeing effects and likely to see bigger ones. If it's true the terrorists meant to target our way of life, as advertised, maybe there's some not quite fully conscious self-protection in the mix. It might explain why, officially, Saudi Arabia wasn't party to the attacks but may have played a more clandestine/unofficial role in facilitating the attacks. I'm curious about the attitudes toward warming in the middle east. Did the populations there accept the reality of the threat sooner than our conservative politicians were willing to admit it was real, obscuring one very rational explanation for why Saudi Arabia and others might justifiably be invested in bringing "our way of life" to an end, even as they depend on fueling it as a base for their own political and economic power...
posted by saulgoodman at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2016


Ari Fleischer: Back in 2001, no one had iPhones or BlackBerrys.
That one hit me, because at the time I had a Blackberry. (Actually a RIM with custom code, but essentially an 850)
But then again, I was a nobody, so he might have been right.
Still, surprising that I had better communication technology than the White House staff.

The other thing that totally surprised me is that I had never heard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, despite having been in the OEOB a hundred times. I left town 3-4 weeks before 9/11.

Great article.
posted by MtDewd at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


September 11th still would have happened under a Gore administration. Most of the buildup happened under the Clinton administration, and no one on either side of the aisle seriously thought that hijackers would fly airliners into buildings.

Having read stuff like The Looming Tower, I'm not so sure.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:18 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only "reasonably" good thing is that ain't nobody gonna hijack an airliner and expect the passengers to not resist. A steep price to pay for that, though.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:45 PM on September 10, 2016


Also, how the fuck does a 747-200 fly at mach 0.94? Holy hell, they had to slow down to keep the F-16's from running out of fuel.

The Air Force One planes must be the hot rods of their type.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:50 PM on September 10, 2016


Star Tribune: Aboard Air Force One on 9/11: ‘It felt like the Earth had shifted on its axis’ by Judy Keen. "Judy Keen was the only newspaper reporter on Air Force One on Sept. 11, 2001. She was a White House correspondent for USA Today and is now a Star Tribune editor."
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:37 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


the idea that the incident involved a small plane seems to have been almost self-generating, perhaps because that's all people could imagine as possible when they heard that a plane had crashed into WTC

There's an historical precedent, which at least some people were aware of: In 1945, a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building--then the tallest building in the world--between the 78th and 80th floors. it caused the death of three crewmen and 11 people in the building.
posted by bcarter3 at 10:41 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Here's a cutaway layout of part of Air Force One to help visualize movement in the aircraft.
posted by bryon at 4:06 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


That one hit me, because at the time I had a Blackberry. (Actually a RIM with custom code, but essentially an 850)

Yeah, I had a (non-GSM, which is why it's interesting) Nokia 8260 phone that did two way text messaging at the time. It was only a couple of months old, though. It didn't even have T9! The networks had supported it since they went digital, but most phones were receive-only, so there weren't a lot of people to text. (Basically the few GSM users, as GSM was only in a few cities in the US at the time and the five Sprint users who had their WAP-based messaging system) Most people got kinda freaked out the first time they got a message seemingly from nowhere.
posted by wierdo at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fascinating article. A few stray thoughts:

- Andy Card really likes the phrase "fog of war". Uses it 3 times, the doctor uses it once. It's appropriate for the situation, I just picture an editor trying to find a way to prevent the repetition while still including the best bits of Card's interview.
- The non-political staff were so much better off because they had a process to follow, to throw themselves into. I love how when their usual process wasn't possible they went, righto, what the goal of that process and how can we achieve it using the time and resources we actually have. Everyone else had to spend a lot of time sitting around with no communication tools and nothing to do but worry.
- Nothing in this changes my mind about Bush, Cheney, Rove or their flunkies. They showed no greater skills or deeper emotions than anyone else would have on that day. I thought this might humanise Bush a bit, but ::shrug::
- It's not a 'Texas swagger' if you're not from Texas. It's just swagger.
- When I first heard the news I pictured a Cessna type plane too. At the time it was more plausible; these days I'd immediately picture a passenger jet.
- In context, I guess "clear in a million" days are those most favourable for flying? I googled but didn't get anything except this article.
posted by harriet vane at 1:22 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, and: the assistant press secretary says Bush's Barksdale statement to the public is lost to history, but then the AP reporter and the stenographer said they recorded it. Does he mean lost to memory, rather than history?
posted by harriet vane at 1:34 AM on September 12, 2016


At the time it was more plausible;

Knowing how narrow and parochial American news media is/was, I'm not surprised.

I don't suppose this would have been given much US airtime six years earlier:
Air France Flight 8969 was an Air France flight that was hijacked on 24 December 1994 by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) at Houari Boumedienne Airport, Algiers, Algeria, where the terrorists murdered three passengers, with the intention to blow up the plane over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When the aircraft reached Marseille, the GIGN, a counter-terror unit of the French National Gendarmerie, stormed the plane and killed all four hijackers.
Wiki
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:50 AM on September 12, 2016


Well, Australian media, but not much difference at the time regarding European news.
posted by harriet vane at 3:40 AM on September 12, 2016


In 1945, a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building--
That was the first thing I thought of when I started hearing the reports on the radio.
posted by MtDewd at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2016


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