Red Alert! Where's the Captain?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, May 12, 2005; 12:09 PM

Yesterday, even as a goodly swath of official Washington was running panic-stricken into the streets, President Bush was riding his bike in the country, completely unaware of what was going on.

Aides reportedly decided that since he wasn't personally in danger, he didn't need to know.

But wouldn't the president want to know about a potential terrorist threat serious enough to evacuate major government buildings? And when he is clearly safe, doesn't he deserve the option to decide if he wants to lead the response?

The official White House line yesterday was that "protocols" established post-9/11 were being followed.

But what are those protocols? Are they wise? Do they really call for the president not to be bothered if he's personally not in danger? Is that what Bush wants?

After September 11, 2001, it was reasonable to assume that lessons had been learned, and that the next time there were signs of a possibly unfolding terrorist attack the president would be promptly and fully informed -- and would be ready to leap into action.

Bad assumption.

Follow-Up Questions

MSNBC took the lead in raising the issue last night.

Here's NBC's Norah O'Donnell talking to Keith Olbermann: "The president was on a bike ride today. We'd just gotten back from this European trip. The White House has now disclosed that even though the White House was evacuated, that Vice President Cheney was evacuated, that the president's wife and Nancy Reagan were brought to a secure bunker, that the president was not informed during his bike ride this was going on.

"The White House says the reason is because they were able to determine that the president was not in any danger, and they said that all of the different protocols were in place, it did not require the president's approval. And that's why the president was not informed until 12:50, after he had finished his bike ride.

"This is clearly going to be the subject of more discussion as the days go on, just as it was on September 11, when the president had not been -- did not know until after he had finished reading his book down in that Florida school. So clearly this is a subject of discussion."

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