Cheney Authorized Shooting Down Planes
Cheney would give the order to engage twice -- at news that United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was approaching Washington, and at what turned out to be a medevac helicopter, the commission determined. Neither aircraft was engaged.
About 9 a.m. that day, at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., it was Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, who first told him and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, though initially it was believed to be a small private plane, the commission reported.
Cheney, told by his assistant to turn on his television, was pondering "how the hell a plane could hit the World Trade Center" when he saw the second plane crash into the South Tower, the commission reported.
White House officials jumped into action, but the commission was skeptical about whether their efforts that morning had much effect. It said a video teleconference in the White House situation room, chaired by Richard A. Clarke, then head of counterterrorism at the White House, "had no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts."
Bush remained in the classroom for "five to seven minutes" after learning of the second crash as the children around him continued reading. He had his first conversation with Cheney at about 9:15. Those traveling with the president did not know other aircraft were missing, the commission reported.
Communications with Washington were so poor that Bush, who told the commission he was "deeply dissatisfied" with the technical problems, at one point resorted to using a cell phone on the way to Air Force One, according to commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton. Both said Bush's motorcade took a wrong turn on the way to the airport and had to reverse.
Bush and Cheney spoke again at 9:45, while Bush was on the tarmac aboard Air Force One. By that time, both towers of the World Trade Center were aflame and the Pentagon had been hit.
"Sounds like we have a minor war going on here," Bush told Cheney, according to the commission report. "I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war . . . somebody's going to pay."
Cheney joined the Secret Service and Card in urging Bush not to return to Washington. The two apparently were still on the phone, about 10 minutes later, as Air Force One took off from Florida without a destination. "The objective was to get up in the air -- as fast and as high as possible -- and then decide where to go," the commission report noted.
Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.
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