F-16 fighter jets over Washington, DC

The immediate response to the 9/11 attacks of dozens of the most senior U.S. Air Force officials at the Pentagon who were together in a meeting when the attacks began appears to have been far from what we might reasonably expect, considering the serious and unprecedented crisis the officials had to deal with and the Air Force’s key role in responding to it. Evidence suggests that after the first plane crash at the World Trade Center was reported on television on September 11, 2001, there was a delay of over 10 minutes before the officials’ meeting was interrupted and the officials were alerted to the incident. The subsequent response of the officials appears to have been slow and lacking urgency.

Even after they saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center live on television, the officials reportedly spent several minutes just watching the news coverage of the attacks and then continued with their routine meeting, instead of immediately halting what they were doing and getting involved with responding to the crisis. [1] Furthermore, when the meeting finally adjourned, instead of helping with the response to the attacks, the Air Force’s most senior uniformed officer initially took the time to go upstairs, simply to bring a colleague down from his office to the Pentagon’s basement. [2]

Some evidence suggests that the officials in the meeting may have failed to realize the seriousness of what was taking place when they learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and this was why they reacted so slowly. They could, perhaps, have mistakenly thought that what they were hearing about was a simulated scenario in a training exercise. Indeed, one of the officials has recalled that when they learned of the first crash, “At first we thought it was part of the briefing.” [3] The officials may therefore have felt it was unnecessary for them to respond immediately.

If the officials were indeed confused about whether the attacks were real or simulated, might their slow response have been the intended result of an attempt by some of the people who planned and perpetrated the attacks to paralyze America’s defenses, so as to ensure the attacks were successful? Might these planners–presumably rogue individuals within the U.S. military–have arranged what would happen on September 11 so that these key Air Force officials would initially fail to realize that a real-world crisis was taking place, which they needed to respond to immediately?

The tactics used to prevent these officials from responding quickly could have been part of an effort to ensure key individuals from various military and government agencies, who might have organized a successful response to the attacks, were “out of the loop”–unavailable or unable to respond–when the attacks took place.

The evidence currently available is limited and inconclusive. But the behavior of the Air Force’s leaders when the 9/11 attacks began certainly deserves further scrutiny.


At the time the World Trade Center towers were hit, around 40 senior Air Force officers were together in a room in the basement of the Pentagon, attending a staff meeting chaired by General John Jumper. This was Jumper’s first staff meeting since he took over as Air Force chief of staff five days earlier. [4]

The regular meeting, known as the “Ready Brief,” was where the highest levels of the military would be updated on worldwide issues. [5] The briefing on September 11, as was always the case on the second Tuesday of each month, was about “black world activities”–things that would not usually be in the news. That day, it happened to be on the subject of anti- and counterterrorism. It included descriptions of terrorist incidents, and the faces of terrorists were being shown on the presentation screen. (Whether Osama bin Laden–the man who supposedly ordered the 9/11 attacks–was among the terrorists depicted is unreported.) [6]

Jumper’s meeting was attended by “all the Air Force senior staff who are in the Pentagon,” one of the participants has recalled. [7] Participants included Colonel Jack Egginton, executive officer to the Air Force chief of staff; Tim Green, assistant executive to the Air Force chief of staff; Lieutenant General Lance Lord, assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force; Lee-Volker Cox, executive officer to the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force; Brigadier General Paul Kimmel, chief operating officer of the Air National Guard; Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Powell, deputy chief of the secretary of the Air Force’s action group; Brigadier General Robert Duignan, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve; Lieutenant General Paul Carlton, surgeon general of the Air Force; and Brigadier General Charles Baldwin, the Air Force’s deputy chief of chaplains. [8]

The officers at the meeting should presumably have been promptly alerted to the crisis taking place in U.S. airspace and should then have immediately become involved in the Air Force’s response to it. And yet it appears this did not happen.


To begin with, there seems to have been a delay of over 10 minutes before these key officials were alerted to the first crash at the World Trade Center, which occurred at 8:46 a.m. The officials should surely have been made aware of the crash promptly after it was first reported on television, at 8:49 a.m. Instead, reports have stated, they learned about it at around 9:00 a.m. [9]

At that time, about halfway through Jumper’s meeting, an officer entered and quietly spoke to Pierre Powell, who was briefing the others in the room, presumably telling him what had happened in New York. Powell then stopped the briefing and announced that the screen was going to switch to live coverage from CNN, because a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. [10] The large screen that had been showing briefing slides then switched to showing the CNN coverage of the burning North Tower of the World Trade Center. [11] “Right in the middle of the intelligence briefing, the big screens go black, they transfer from the intelligence briefing to live video feed from New York,” Lee-Volker Cox has described. [12]

The dozens of experienced Air Force officers in the room immediately realized the crash must have been something other than an accident, according to John Jumper. “There was a conference table full of airmen who looked at that dark blue sky on CNN, then looked at each other, and we knew right away that it wasn’t a navigation mistake,” Jumper recalled. [13] “Every airman in the room stiffened, because we knew exactly–instinctively–what was going on,” he commented. [14] And yet the meeting was not halted.

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