PART 3: Sept. 13
Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Third in a series of eight articles.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., President Bush's limousine pulled into the White House driveway, stopping not far from the Oval Office. The president was returning from a visit to the burn unit of Washington Hospital Center, where he had had several emotional encounters with severe burn victims injured when a hijacked airliner hit the Pentagon two days before.
Before Bush could get out of the car, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who had walked outside to meet the limousine, put up his hands. "Mr. President," Card said, "sit back down for a minute. I've got to tell you something."
Card climbed into the back seat next to Bush and closed the door.
"We've got another threat on the White House," the chief of staff said. "We're taking it seriously."
Terrorists were believed to have targeted the White House on Sept. 11, and the fear was they would do it again. Card explained to the president that the CIA had just sent over a warning from a foreign intelligence service that Pakistani jihadists -- Muslim extremists -- were planning a direct attack on the White House.
"Why are you telling me in here?" snapped Bush, irritated that Card had unnecessarily risked a scene that could be observed by the press pool that was just down the driveway. "You could have waited until I got into the Oval Office."
Bush got out of the car, and he and Card walked directly to the Oval Office, where Secret Service Director Brian L. Stafford and the head of Bush's personal Secret Service detail were waiting for them.
"We need to evacuate you," Stafford said, explaining that the threat was credible and consistent with other intelligence that established an immediate danger. Stafford wanted to take Bush to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, the bunker beneath the White House complex where Vice President Cheney and other officials had been taken two days before.
"I'm not leaving," Bush said.
He told Secret Service officials that he wanted more information if they got it. For now, he wasn't going anywhere. "And by the way," he added, to no one in particular, "I'm hungry." He located Ferdinand Garcia, the Navy steward on duty in the West Wing. "Ferdie," he said, "I want a hamburger."
Card realized that Bush was a bit of a fatalist, believing you could take reasonable precautions and make decisions, but if something was going to happen you could only do so much. Prior to the attacks, Bush had been eating lighter -- fruit and other healthy foods -- in an attempt to lose weight.