The Path to 9/11
That fateful morning, Bush was visiting the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. The moment he learned of the attacks is a matter of deep dispute. CIA chief George Tenet was informed of the first crash almost immediately and is reported to have remarked to his breakfast companion, former Senator David Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” But the President’s aides maintain that he was not told about the attack for more than fifteen minutes, well after viewers saw the first building engulfed in smoke on CNN, and even after he interrupted his schedule to take a call from Condoleezza Rice upon leaving his limousine, after the first crash took place.
The various accounts offered by the White House are almost all inconsistent with one another. On December 4, 2001, Bush was asked, “How did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack?” Bush replied, “I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower–the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and I said, well, there’s one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident. But I was whisked off there. I didn’t have much time to think about it.” Bush repeated the same story on January 5, 2002, stating, “First of all, when we walked into the classroom, I had seen this plane fly into the first building. There was a TV set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot error, and I was amazed that anybody could make such a terrible mistake….”
This is false. Nobody saw the jetliner crash into the first tower on television until a videotape surfaced a day later. What’s more, Bush’s memory not only contradicts every media report of that morning, it also contradicts what he said on the day of the attack. In his speech to the nation that evening, Bush said, “Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans.” Again, this statement has never been satisfactorily explained. No one besides Bush has ever spoken of these “emergency plans,” and the mere idea of their implementation is contradicted by Bush’s claim that at the time, he believed the crash to have been a case of pilot error.
Other contradictions abound. Bush told an interviewer that Chief of Staff Andrew Card had been the first person to let him know of the crash. Card was saying, Bush explained, “‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing: You’re going to meet so-and-so, such-and-such.’ Then Andy Card said, ‘By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.'” Ari Fleischer repeated this story, claiming that Card had told Bush about the crash “as the President finished shaking hands in a hallway of school officials.” But other sources, including Bob Woodward’s allegedly authoritative account, have Karl Rove telling Bush the news.
What we do know is that Bush continued to read to the children and pose for the cameras long after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Secret Service and Canada’s Strategic Command were all aware that three jetliners had been hijacked. The President’s entourage hung around a full fifty minutes after CNN broadcast the news of the first crash. Half an hour after the first plane hit, Bush told the children, “Hoo! These are great readers. Very impressive! Thank you all so very much for showing me your reading skills. I bet they practice, too. Don’t you? Reading more than they watch TV? Anybody do that? Read more than you watch TV? [Hands go up] Oh that’s great! Very good. Very important to practice! Thanks for having me. I’m very impressed.”