911 Blogger

General John M. “Jack” Keane was the most senior Army officer in the United States on September 11, 2001. Working at the Pentagon, he was ideally placed to respond promptly and effectively to the terrorist attacks that day. And yet he appears to have done alarmingly little while the attacks were underway.

The only action he has recalled taking after learning about the crashes at the World Trade Center was ordering that the Army Operations Center (AOC) at the Pentagon be brought up to full manning. He apparently did not order the activation of the Army’s Crisis Action Team (CAT), even though this was designed for dealing with emergencies like the one taking place at the time.

When the Pentagon was hit, more than 50 minutes after the attacks began, Keane initially spent time helping people get out of the building–a task that anyone could have performed–instead of carrying out his duties as head of the Army. He only went to the AOC, a facility that was ideally equipped for dealing with the crisis, when one of his staffers pointed out that he should “leave the recovery to other people” and go and “take command of the Army.”

We need to consider why Keane, despite being an experienced military man, apparently performed very poorly in response to the crisis on September 11. Was his inaction due to incompetence or was there a more sinister reason for it? Might he have been confused because he mistook actual events for simulations, as part of a training exercise? Might he even have been to some degree complicit in what happened and so his inaction was intended to help ensure that the military was unable to stop the attacks before the targets were hit?

Keane was one of a number of key officials who surely had essential duties to perform in coordinating the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks but failed to get properly involved in responding to the crisis until it was too late to make a difference to the outcome of the attacks. His actions on September 11, though, have so far avoided serious scrutiny. We therefore need to examine what he did, and what he failed to do, while the attacks were underway.

Jack Keane was vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army–the Army’s second-highest-ranking officer–from 1999 to 2003. On September 11, however, General Eric Shinseki, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, was out of the country attending the Pacific Armies Management Seminar, a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [1] This meant Keane was the highest-ranking Army officer in the U.S. that day and presumably served as the acting chief of staff of the Army while Shinseki was away. [2] He would therefore likely have been responsible for taking charge of the Army’s response to the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, and his actions would surely have had a significant impact on how effectively the Army performed.

The Army in fact had a unique and important role to play on September 11. As “executive agent” for the Department of Defense, it was responsible for coordinating with the Navy and the Air Force on “proposed action to support civilian authorities during emergencies involving mass casualties,” according to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack. [3] It was presumably, therefore, particularly important that Keane acted promptly and effectively in response to the attacks.


Keane was at the Pentagon–the headquarters of the Department of Defense–on the morning of September 11. This was probably an ideal location from which to respond to the 9/11 attacks. And yet descriptions of his actions indicate that his reaction to the crisis was far less adequate than we might reasonably expect.

He was in his office when the attacks began and was promptly alerted to the first crash at the World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and CNN started reporting the incident at 8:49 a.m. Apparently very shortly after this, a member of his staff ran into the room and said, “Sir, something terrible is going on in New York.” She turned on the television and Keane then saw the reports stating that a plane had hit the Trade Center.

Keane has recalled that, unlike many people, he realized right away that the incident was a terrorist attack. Noticing that it was a cloudless day, he thought, “Nobody could ever hit the World Trade Center on a day like that by accident.” He also remembered that the Trade Center had been the target of a terrorist attack before, with a bomb going off in the underground parking garage there in February 1993. Therefore, he has commented, “I knew instinctively it had to be a terrorist attack and said as much.”

In response to the event, he called General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s director of operations, readiness, and mobilization, who was also at the Pentagon that morning, and ordered him to bring the Army Operations Center up to full manning. [4] The AOC, located in the Pentagon basement, was normally staffed by 35 to 40 men, but during a crisis the number of people working there would be significantly increased. [5]

The AOC was “the Army’s command and control center,” Chiarelli has commented. [6] And yet, while Chiarelli headed to it after Keane called him, Keane remained in his office at that time. Even after he saw the second hijacked plane–United Airlines Flight 175–crashing into the World Trade Center on television, at 9:03 a.m., he stayed where he was.


At some point after the second attack in New York occurred but before 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit, Chiarelli called Keane from the AOC. He reported that the Operations Center was fully manned and alerted Keane to a suspicious aircraft that had been noticed flying toward Washington, DC.

He said he was monitoring Federal Aviation Administration communications and, Keane recalled, had learned that “a plane that took off from Washington, DC, had turned around in the vicinity of Ohio and approached DC from the south along I-95 before turning east, short of the city, and then south again.” (He was presumably referring to American Airlines Flight 77, the plane that supposedly crashed into the Pentagon.) “We were obviously aware then that there was a plane targeting Washington,” Keane has commented.

Keane and Chiarelli started discussing the procedures for evacuating buildings in the capital. But then the Pentagon was hit. Keane felt his office shake violently, even though it was located far from the crash site, and, he recalled, the office “immediately” began to fill with smoke. He alerted Chiarelli to the incident right away. “Pete, that plane [that was approaching Washington] just hit us,” he said.

Even then, however, Keane apparently issued no orders or did anything else to help protect America and prevent further attacks. Instead, he recalled, he told Chiarelli “to tell the U.S. Army around the world what happened [at the Pentagon] and that, given the status of the AOC, which was unharmed, we would still maintain command and control of the Army.”

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