May 25, 2017
911 Blogger

Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense, proceeded as normal with his daily intelligence briefing at the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001, despite learning that a second aircraft had hit the World Trade Center and America was clearly under attack. Even when the Pentagon was attacked, over 30 minutes later, he still did nothing to assist the military’s response to the crisis and instead hurried outside to the crash site, simply to inspect the damage and help carry a stretcher. By the time that he became involved in defending his country, the terrorist attacks were over.

Rumsfeld, as secretary of defense, had important responsibilities that day. And yet he repeatedly ignored the appeals of colleagues when they tried to get him involved with the military’s response to the attacks. Remarkably, he rejected the advice of two aides to abandon his usual activities because, he told them, if he did so, “the terrorists have won.”

Some government and military officials, as well as journalists, have criticized Rumsfeld for effectively deserting his post at such a critical time, when he should have been focused on preventing possible further attacks. These commentators have made clear how unusual and unacceptable his actions were.

In light of what is known about the defense secretary’s actions on September 11, we need to consider whether Rumsfeld’s behavior while the 9/11 attacks were taking place was simply due to negligence and recklessness or the result of something more disturbing. Might Rumsfeld perhaps have known in advance what was going to happen on September 11?

If he had foreknowledge of 9/11, he would presumably have known he could get away with abandoning his responsibilities as secretary of defense while America was under attack. And if he knew what the targets would be, he would have known that the area of the building where his office was located would not be hit when the Pentagon was attacked, which meant it was safe for him to continue with his intelligence briefing. He would also have known there would be no second attack on the Pentagon and so he could safely go to the crash site after the building was hit.

Official investigations have failed to thoroughly probe Rumsfeld’s actions on September 11 and the media have never inquired why the secretary of defense acted so inappropriately in response to the terrorist attacks. It is important, therefore, that we now closely examine what Rumsfeld did that day.

RUMSFELD THOUGHT THE FIRST CRASH WAS A ‘TRAGIC ACCIDENT’

Donald Rumsfeld was hosting a breakfast meeting in his private dining room at the Pentagon, attended by several members of Congress, when the first hijacked plane–American Airlines Flight 11–crashed into the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m. on September 11. [1]

He learned of the crash shortly after it occurred when Larry Di Rita, his special assistant, sent him a note telling him what had happened. [2] Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, his senior military assistant, received the note and passed the message on to him while he was in the meeting. He assumed the incident was a “tragic accident,” he has recalled, and took no action in response to the news. His meeting apparently therefore continued until 9:00 a.m., when it was scheduled to end. [3]

He then went to his office for his intelligence briefing. [4] Giambastiani turned on the television and he then started watching the coverage of the burning World Trade Center. [5]

RUMSFELD WENT AHEAD WITH HIS INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING, DESPITE KNOWING AMERICA WAS UNDER ATTACK

Rumsfeld received a daily intelligence briefing, similar to the one provided to the president each morning. [6] The briefing on September 11 was scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and was going to be delivered by DeNeige (“Denny”) Watson, an analyst with the CIA. [7]

Watson learned of the first crash at the World Trade Center when she arrived at the Pentagon that morning and saw people watching the coverage of it on television. She learned of the second crash, and presumably realized that America was under attack, before she went in to brief Rumsfeld, seeing the incident live on television, at 9:03 a.m., in the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office. She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters and asked what people there knew about what was going on. She was told there were 50 airborne planes still unaccounted for.

In light of what was happening, Watson apparently expected Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he could focus on responding to the crisis. As she was about to go into his office, she “declined to even open her briefcase to pull out the PDB [President’s Daily Brief], figuring it had been overtaken by events,” author David Priess described. The secretary of defense, though, was determined to go ahead with the briefing.

Inside Rumsfeld’s office, Watson relayed what she had been told by the CIA’s operations center. And yet, while this information surely indicated that more attacks might be imminent, Rumsfeld just nodded his head and started flipping through the copy of the PDB she had brought with her. [8]

RUMSFELD WAS DETERMINED TO STICK TO HIS SCHEDULE

Around this time, while he was receiving the briefing, Rumsfeld was told about the second crash by Edmund Giambastiani. “Someone came in and said that another plane had hit a different tower of the World Trade Center,” Rumsfeld recalled. [9] “I went in and informed the secretary [of the second crash],” Giambastiani said. [10] At that point, “it became clear that it was more than an accident,” Rumsfeld commented. [11] “We knew there was a problem here,” Giambastiani stated. [12] All the same, Rumsfeld continued with the briefing as if nothing unusual had happened.

Minutes after Watson entered the office, two of Rumsfeld’s aides came in: Victoria Clarke, Rumsfeld’s spokeswoman, and Larry Di Rita.

Clarke had been in her office at the Pentagon when she learned of the first crash from seeing the coverage of it on television. She’d called Di Rita to discuss the incident and, as the two were talking, they saw United Airlines Flight 175–the second hijacked plane–crashing into the World Trade Center live on their TVs. Realizing this was “clearly a terrorist attack of some kind,” Clarke headed to Di Rita’s office, down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office.

On the way, she made some notes about what needed to be done in response to the crisis, such as contacting the president, the vice president, and the director of the CIA. She and Di Rita then went together to Rumsfeld’s office to discuss “the kinds of things [Rumsfeld] needed to do in response to this,” Clarke recalled. [13] Upon entering the office, they told Rumsfeld what they knew about the terrorist attacks and that the crisis management process was starting up. [14]

Clarke and Di Rita wanted Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule, presumably so he could focus on responding to the attacks. “Sir, I think your entire schedule is going to be different today,” Di Rita said. [15] But Rumsfeld refused to change his plans. [16]

He told them to go to the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), which was well equipped to deal with crisis, and said he would join them later. At that time, he “wanted to make a few phone calls,” Clarke recalled. The two aides therefore left the office and headed to the ESC. [17] Rumsfeld, meanwhile, went back to skimming through the PDB. [18]

Read more