Air Defenses Faltered on 9/11, Panel Finds
Cheney's general shoot-down orders were issued to NORAD at 10:31 a.m., but clear instructions were never passed along to pilots in the air.
"In short," the report says, "while leaders in Washington believed the fighters circling above them had been instructed to 'take out' hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the Langley pilots were to 'ID type and tail.' "
The Langley pilots were also never told why they were scrambled or that hijacked commercial airliners were a threat, the commission's staff found.
At one point, Cheney mistakenly informed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld that U.S. fighters had shot down a couple of hijacked aircraft on his orders.
Bush, who was visiting an elementary school in Florida at the time of the hijackings, was first informed that something was amiss when senior adviser Karl Rove told him that a small, twin-engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, the report says.
"The president's reaction was that the incident must have been caused by pilot error," the report says.
Shortly afterward, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House, informed Bush that the plane was a commercial flight.
While Bush was seated in a classroom of second-graders, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. whispered to him, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack," the report says.
"The president told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis," the 29-page document continues. Bush saw the phones and pagers of reporters starting to ring as they stood behind the children in the classroom and "felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening," the report says.
It was after he had left the school that Bush told Cheney, "We're at war."
Faced with advice from Cheney and the Secret Service that he not return to Washington immediately, Bush reluctantly agreed to board Air Force One and fly to a destination that had not yet been determined.
"All witnesses agreed that the president strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go elsewhere," the report says.
Interviewed on CNN before today's hearing began, commission member John F. Lehman, a Republican former secretary of the Navy, said that "there was considerable breakdown in command and control" on Sept. 11 in the air defense effort.
"It's a picture of lack of preparation between the FAA and the Air Force," he said. But he said the question of whether better coordination would have saved lives is still an open one.
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