Donald Rumsfeld on 9/11: An enemy within

Donald Rumsfeld on 9/11: An enemy within
By Matthew Everett
Online Journal Contributing Writer

What was Rumsfeld doing on 9/11? He deserted his post. He disappeared. The country was under attack. Where was the guy who controls America’s defense? Out of touch! –A senior White House official

On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered its worst attack since Pearl Harbor. Yet, as evidence shows, the country was in many ways undefended for the entire duration of the assault. The Air Force was nowhere to be seen until it was too late. [1] The commander in chief of the armed forces, President George W. Bush, continued with a pre-planned photo op at a school in Florida, only leaving the place at 9:35, just before the time the Pentagon was struck. [2] The acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers was on Capitol Hill. Despite seeing the television reports of the World Trade Center after it was first hit, he continued with a scheduled meeting there, and supposedly was not notified when the second plane hit at 9:03. He therefore did not head back to the Pentagon until around the time it too was hit, and only joined the critical air threat conference call shortly before 10 a.m. By that time, the attacks were nearly over. [3]

Furthermore, new evidence shows that for the critical two hours in which the attacks occurred, the country was effectively without a secretary of defense. An analysis of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s actions on 9/11 reveals several occasions when he was alerted to the attacks that were taking place. Each time, if he were not already doing so, he should have leapt into action and assumed his responsibilities in coordinating a crisis response, and helping to protect the people of America. Yet, instead, his responses were consistent: He did nothing.

Donald Rumsfeld on 9/11

Donald Rumsfeld started the morning of 9/11 with an 8 o’clock breakfast meeting with several members of Congress, held in his private dining room at the Pentagon, to discuss the subject of missile defense. During this meeting, according to his own recollection, Rumsfeld warned that “sometime in the next two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve months there would be an event that would occur in the world that would be sufficiently shocking that it would remind people again how important it is to have a strong healthy defense department that contributes to — that underpins peace and stability in our world.” He was subsequently informed of the first attack in New York promptly after it happened. He says: “[S]omeone walked in and handed [me] a note that said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.” [4]

Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld, had sent this note. Although initial news reports had been unclear, with some of them suggesting the WTC might have been hit by just a small plane, according to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Torie Clarke: “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Yet after receiving Di Rita’s note, rather than initiating or joining any emergency response process, Rumsfeld continued as if this were just an ordinary day. As he later recounted: “[W]e adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” [5]

Inside her office in the Pentagon, Torie Clarke saw the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television. It was now obvious that the U.S. was under attack. As she later described: “[I]mmediately, the crisis management process started up.” Along with Larry Di Rita, she headed to Rumsfeld’s office. When they arrived there, Di Rita told the defense secretary: “Sir, I think your entire schedule is going to be different today.” By this time, the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC) was going into operation. Located down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office, the ESC comprises several conference rooms that are secure against electronic eavesdropping. It is, according to Clarke, “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” One would therefore have expected Rumsfeld to have gone straight there, or to the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located next door to it. Yet, as before, he continued as if this were an ordinary day. He told Clarke and Di Rita to go to the ESC and wait for him. “In the meantime, he would get his daily intelligence briefing, which was already scheduled for nine thirty.” Rumsfeld “wanted to make a few phone calls,” so he “stayed in his office.” [6]

What Donald Rumsfeld did in the next half-hour is unclear. Even in his prepared testimony to the 9/11 Commission, he said nothing about his actions during this crucial period leading up to the attack on the Pentagon. [7] But important new details of his response to the Pentagon strike itself have been revealed in the account of Aubrey Davis, an officer with the Pentagon police, who was assigned to be Rumsfeld’s personal bodyguard the morning of 9/11. This account appears in Andrew Cockburn’s recent biography, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.

From watching televised reports of events in New York, Davis had concluded that America was under attack and the Pentagon could be a target. Of his own initiative, he’d made his way to move the secretary of defense to a better-protected location. Just after 9:37 a.m., while Rumsfeld was in his office with his CIA briefer, Davis was standing outside his door. Then, he says, he heard “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” as the Pentagon was struck.

Cockburn describes: “Fifteen or twenty seconds later, just as [Davis’s] radio crackled with a message, the door opened and Rumsfeld walked out, looking composed and wearing the jacket he normally discarded while in his office.” Cockburn told an interviewer: “I couldn’t discover what he was wearing inside his office that morning — but normally he would take off his suit jacket and put on a sort of like a vest, because he found it chilly in the office. So . . . I think he had time to change his clothes, put on his going-outside jacket, come out.” How could Rumsfeld have changed his clothes in the space of just 15 to 20 seconds? If he was already dressed to go outside when the Pentagon was hit, was this just a fortunate coincidence? Or is it possible that he knew in advance that the Pentagon was going to be attacked, and therefore had put on his jacket ready to respond when this happened?

As the defense secretary appeared, Davis repeated to him what he’d just heard on his radio: Reportedly, an airplane had hit a section of the Pentagon known as the Mall. Rumsfeld set off without a word and without informing any of his command staff where he was going, heading swiftly towards the Mall, with Davis and some colleagues trying to keep up behind him. Finding no sign of damage there, Davis told the secretary: “[N]ow we’re hearing it’s by the heliport,” which was the next side of the building.

Interfering with a crime scene

Despite Davis’s protestations that he should turn back, Rumsfeld continued onwards, and the group soon found its way outside, emerging close to the area of impact. Davis recalls: “There were the flames, and bits of metal all around. The secretary picked up one of the pieces of metal. I was telling him he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime scene when he looked at some inscription on it and said, ‘American Airlines.’ Then someone shouted, ‘Help, over here,’ and we ran over and helped push an injured person on a gurney over to the road.” [8]

It may sound hard to believe that Rumsfeld’s immediate response to the Pentagon attack was to rush to the crash site like this and help carry a stretcher, rather than staying inside to carry out his responsibilities as secretary of defense. Yet he was caught on camera doing so, and video footage is available proving the fact. [9]

He didn’t stay there for long, however. Though he was away from his office for around 20 minutes, as Cockburn points out: “Given the time it took to make their way down those Pentagon corridors — each side of the enormous building is the length of three football fields — Rumsfeld was actually at the crash site for only a fraction of that period.” [10]

When Rumsfeld dashed out to help at the crash scene, his intention was presumably to present an image to the public of an American hero, looking after the vulnerable and injured at a time of crisis. Perhaps this was why, just days later, his spokeswoman, Torie Clarke. made a point of informing an interviewer: “Secretary Rumsfeld was one of the first people out there after it happened.” No doubt hinting towards the actions of her boss, she’d continued: “There’s example after example of heroism, of people who helped at the crash site, trying to help victims and get people to ambulances.” [11] Yet Rumsfeld’s actions were not heroic at all. America was under attack. He was the secretary of defense. There could have been another plane heading for the Pentagon, perhaps intending a double-strike on the place, like what had just occurred at the World Trade Center. Or maybe a plane was on a crash course for another populated area. He had a crucial role to play in helping to protect his country. But by heading outside without informing his staff where he was going, he was unable to carry this out.

Breaking the chain of command

As we now know, Rumsfeld’s actions hindered the emergency response to the ongoing attacks. For the 20 minutes or so that he was gone from his office, other officials were desperately trying to contact him, but were unable to do so. Aubrey Davis was receiving frantic calls over his radio saying: “Where’s the secretary? Where’s the secretary?” Yet he was unable to answer these. As he recalls: “I kept saying, ‘We’ve got him,’ but the system was overloaded, everyone on the frequency was talking, everything jumbled, so I couldn’t get through and they went on asking.” [12]

One of the officials trying to contact Rumsfeld was Captain Charles Leidig, who was temporarily in charge of the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center. At 9:39 a.m., Leidig opened an air threat conference call, declaring: “An air attack against North America may be in progress.” The NMCC then requested that the secretary of defense be added to this conference. [13] Rumsfeld in fact had a vital role to play in coordinating the military response to an attack on the U.S. Andrew Cockburn explains: “Though most people assume that the chain of command runs from the president to the vice president, the cold war bequeathed a significant constitutional readjustment. In an age when an enemy attack might allow only a few minutes for detection and reaction, control of American military power became vested in the National Command Authority, which consists of the president and the secretary of defense. Collectively, the NCA is the ultimate source of military orders, uniquely empowered, among other things, to order the use of nuclear weapons. In time of war, therefore, Rumsfeld was effectively the president’s partner, the direct link to the fighting forces, and all orders had to go through him. Such orders were supposed to be transmitted from . . . the National Military Command Center.” Cockburn adds that the NMCC is “the operational center for any and every crisis, from nuclear war to hijacked airliners.” [14]

The secretary of defense’s specific responsibility in the event of an airplane hijacking was made clear in a July 1997 military instruction, which was slightly revised in June 2001. This stated: “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses as authorized by reference d, forward requests for DOD [Department of Defense] assistance to the secretary of defense for approval.” [15]

Yet Rumsfeld was out of the loop. A few minutes after the NMCC requested that he be added to the air threat conference, the defense secretary’s office reported back that he was nowhere to be found. As Cockburn concludes: “The chain of command was broken.” [16]

A senior White House official, who was in its Situation Room on 9/11, trying to coordinate an emergency response, has angrily condemned Rumsfeld’s actions at this time: “What was Rumsfeld doing on 9/11? He deserted his post. He disappeared. The country was under attack. Where was the guy who controls America’s defense? Out of touch! How long does it take for something bad to happen? No one knew what was happening. What if this had been the opening shot of a coordinated attack by a hostile power? Outrageous, to abandon your responsibilities and go off and do what you don’t need to be doing, grandstanding.” [17]

Rumsfeld’s actions after the Pentagon was hit were extraordinary. If 9/11 was indeed a surprise attack, as the U.S. government claims, then he could have been putting thousands of lives at risk. What if more planes had been on a crash course towards populated areas? In fact, emergency responders had to be evacuated from the Pentagon site at around 10:15 a.m., due to an incorrect report of another hijacked plane approaching Washington, D.C. [18] And according to Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings” continued “well into the afternoon” of 9/11. [19] So why did Rumsfeld abandon his post in the middle of the worst attack on the United States for 60 years? There is a simple and logical explanation. Though chilling in its implications, it needs to be seriously considered as a possibility: Donald Rumsfeld had foreknowledge of what would happen that morning, and therefore he knew that the Pentagon would not be hit again. Either people ‘in the know’ had informed him of what was going to happen beforehand, or else he knew because he had been a participant in the planning of the attacks.

Rumsfeld heads back inside

Rumsfeld left the crash site and was back in the Pentagon by “shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” He says he “had one or more calls in my office, one of which I believe was with the President.” [20] However, according to the 9/11 Commission: “No one can recall the content of this conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown authority was not discussed.” [21]

Then, at around 10:15, he finally entered the Executive Support Center. In it already were Stephen Cambone, his closest aide, Larry Di Rita, and Torie Clarke. He gave them their first confirmation that a plane had hit the building, saying: “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” He spent a short time at the ESC before moving on to the National Military Command Center next door at around 10:30. [22] Prior to this, even after he’d re-entered the Pentagon at 10 o’clock, those in the NMCC had apparently been unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts. Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalled: “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the National Military Command Center.” [23]

Once there, Rumsfeld’s priority was, according to the 9/11 Commission, “ensuring that the [military fighter] pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement,” so they “would have a better understanding of the circumstances under which an aircraft could be shot down.” Rumsfeld has explained that, “Throughout the course of the day,” along with acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, he “returned to further refine those rules.” Yet, as Cockburn points out, this was “an irrelevant exercise,” as Rumsfeld did not complete and issue his rules of engagement “until 1:00 p.m., hours after the last hijacker had died.” [24]

So here we have it: America was under attack, starting at 8:14 a.m. (the alleged takeover of Flight 11) and ending minutes after 10 a.m. (when Flight 93 supposedly crashed into a field in Pennsylvania). Yet the only thing we know the secretary of defense did in response, so as to protect the American people, was issue some instructions to fighter pilots — at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

An enemy within

Andrew Cockburn concludes that Donald Rumsfeld’s actions on 9/11, in particular his desertion of his post in order to be seen helping at the Pentagon crash site, “changed him from a half-forgotten twentieth-century political figure to America’s twenty-first-century warlord. On a day when the president was intermittently visible, only Rumsfeld, along with New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, gave the country an image of decisive, courageous leadership.” [25] Yet, as a closer analysis shows, Rumsfeld’s behavior that morning was sinister and highly suspicious. The fact that an individual in such a position of responsibility should have acted as Rumsfeld did at such a critical moment should be of concern to us all.

Notes

[1] Two F-15 fighter jets were reportedly launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts at 8:46 a.m. Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, they did not arrive over Manhattan until 9:25 a.m. See 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Authorized Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, pp. 20 and 24. In fact, the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses who were in Manhattan that morning suggest the F-15s did not arrive there until even later, some time after 10 a.m. See the following entry in Paul Thompson’s Complete 9/11 Timeline: Three F-16s were also ordered into the air from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:24 a.m. However, according to the 9/11 Commission, they headed east over the ocean instead of north, as originally instructed. They were therefore further away from the Pentagon when it was hit than they had been when they took off. See 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27.

[2] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 38-39.

[3] Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) Holds Hearing on Nomination of General Richard Myers to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 107th Cong., 1st sess., September 13, 2001. Interview: General Richard B. Myers Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff With Petty Officer Quinn Lyton, USN. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, October 17, 2001; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 38.

[4] Robert Burns, “Pentagon Attack Came Minutes After Rumsfeld Predicted: ‘There Will be Another Event.’” Associated Press, September 12, 2001; “Secretary Rumsfeld Interview With Larry King.” Larry King Live, CNN, December 5, 2001; Torie Clarke, Lipstick on a Pig: Winning in the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game. New York: Free Press, 2006, p. 218.

[5] “Secretary Rumsfeld Interview With Larry King”; Torie Clarke, Lipstick on a Pig, pp. 217-218.

[6] Assistant Secretary Clarke Interview With WBZ Boston, WBZ Boston, September 15, 2001; Torie Clarke, Lipstick on a Pig, pp. 216-219; Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy. New York: Scribner, 2007, p. 5. The first chapter of this book, detailing Rumsfeld’s actions on 9/11, is available online.

[7] “Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States.” 9/11 Commission, March 23, 2004.

[8] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, pp. 1-3; “Andrew Cockburn: Author, ‘Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.’” Q&A, C-SPAN, February 25, 2007; “Journalist and Author Andrew Cockburn on Donald Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.” Democracy Now! March 7, 2007.

[9] See, for example, CNN Tribute: America Remembers. CNN, August 20, 2002. Footage of Rumsfeld helping carry a stretcher, taken from this documentary, is available online.

[10] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, p. 3.

[11] Assistant Secretary Clarke Interview With KYW Philadelphia, KYW Radio, Philadelphia, September 15, 2001.

[12] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, p. 2; “Andrew Cockburn: Author, ‘Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.’”

[13] “Statement of Capt. Charles J. Leidig, Jr. Commandant of Midshipmen United States Naval Academy Before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.” 9/11 Commission, June 17, 2004. 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 37-38.

[14] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, pp. 4-5.

[15] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CJCSI 3610.01, Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects, Washington, D.C.: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 31, 1997. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CJCSI 3610.01A, Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects. Washington, D.C.: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, June 1, 2001.

[16] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, p. 5.

[17] Ibid. p. 4.

[18] Arlington County, Virginia, report, Titan Systems Corp., Arlington County: After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon. 2002, p. A-30.

[19] Michael Bronner, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes.” Vanity Fair, August 2006.

[20] “Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States.”

[21] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 43.

[22] Torie Clarke, Lipstick on a Pig, p. 221; Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, pp. 5-6.

[23] 9/11: Interviews by Peter Jennings. ABC News, September 11, 2002.

[24] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 44 and 465; “Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States”; Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, p. 7.

[25] Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld, p. 3.
Matthew Everett writes for the Center for Cooperative Research, and has also written major articles about 9/11 for the Journal of Psychohistory.

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