The conversation was sobering to hear. Every kind of communication that day was challenged. Even the president talking to the Situation Room was challenged.
40 Lingering Questions About The 9/11 Attacks
The communications network did not hold up. Dana Lark : All the comms that we would normally have, some of them are no longer available. I started to have tunnel vision: What the hell is going on? Did someone sabotage our comms? It was all the same systems the airplane pilots were using at the same time, talking to their dispatchers. Mark Tillman : We started having to use the military satellites, which we would only use in time of war.
The training and the thinking of the military and the Secret Service is just so profoundly different, but that was the psychology and mood that took hold aboard Air Force One. Scott Crogg : It was very somber [at the air base]. We got these cryptic messages from Southeast Air Defense Sector.
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I asked maintenance to put live missiles and arm up the guns. Then the plane hit the Pentagon, and it was about our seats of government. That was a big deal to me. It was time to hunker down and get some good weaponry. We put a cop at the base of the stairs. No one was allowed upstairs. Then he stayed up there, providing security at the cockpit stairs. That got us thinking: Is there an insider threat? You train for nuclear war, then you get into something like that.
All the money they pumped into us for training, that worked. We gotta get the president back. Talking to him, I was confident we were safer in the air than we were anywhere on the ground. Mark Tillman : I took us up to 45, feet.
I figured I wanted to be above all the other air traffic, especially since everyone was descending to land. A lot of people were too nervous to sit down. Karl Rove : There was acrimony. But as we made it across the Florida peninsula, they [Andy Card and Tom Gould] kept raising objections [about returning to Washington]. At one point, Cheney and Rumsfeld called [and advised against returning to Washington]. Ari Fleischer : Andy took the side of the Secret Service.
You preserve the office of the president.
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It was pretty straightforward. Dave Wilkinson : He fought with us tooth and nail all day to go back to Washington.
9/11: Lingering Questions
We basically refused to take him back. The way we look at is that by federal law, the Secret Service has to protect the president. The wishes of that person that day are secondary to what the law expects of us. He was visibly frustrated and very angry. I was just a few feet away, and it felt like he was looking through me. It was really intense. He just turned away in anger. The news would frustratingly come in and go out. So I was not aware of the punishing coverage that the president was receiving for not returning to Washington.
That was our tiny window into the outside world. We just had two lines—one for the president and one for the mil aide. We were never out of touch entirely. Gordon Johndroe : [Putin] was important—all these military systems were all put in place for nuclear alerts. Ari Fleischer : Putin was fantastic that day. He was a different Vladimir Putin in America could have had no better ally on September 11 th than Russia and Putin. Ellen Eckert : We were watching that second plane hit on a replay. Sonya Ross : Khue Bui [one of the photographers] was crouched in front of me and we were talking about our families, people we knew in New York.
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The room was really silent. Andy Card, Ari, and Dan Bartlett were there. Dan had a friend who worked in the Towers. He was very emotional. Everyone peeled off one by one and the president just stood there, alone, watching the cloud expand. Dana Lark : There were times when the emotion would just well up.
Just that sick feeling, that sorrow. It was the overwhelming stress, like when a friend or family member is dying. I want a long runway, a secure place, good communications. They came back and said Barksdale AFB. We needed somewhere that had armored vehicles.
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He was really frustrated with me. It was controlled chaos. Andy Card : We were all thinking about the very credible idea that there was more to come. Is there a plane heading to Los Angeles? A plane headed for Chicago? Something on the train? Is there a truck bomb heading across the George Washington Bridge? We had lots of angst over the White House itself.