911 Blogger
Feb. 4, 2018

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had a crucial role to play in the military’s response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and yet he did nothing to help protect his country until the attacks were over and it was too late for him to make a difference to the outcome of the crisis.

As the second-highest-ranking official in the Department of Defense, Wolfowitz surely had critical duties to perform and should have promptly taken action when America came under attack. Furthermore, since he was at the Pentagon when the attacks occurred, he was in a good location to help the military respond to them. And yet he appears to have reacted to the catastrophic events with indifference.

He continued with a previously scheduled meeting after he learned about the crashes at the World Trade Center. Even when the Pentagon was attacked, 34 minutes after the second crash at the World Trade Center occurred, he initially made no effort to help the military respond to the crisis, even though more attacks could have been imminent, which he should have been trying to prevent.

Astonishingly, Wolfowitz has claimed that when he felt the Pentagon shake and heard a thud when it was hit, he did not realize an attack had taken place there. Instead, he said, he thought there had been an earthquake.

He only became involved in the military’s response to the crisis when, after initially being evacuated from the building, he went to the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC). But it appears that by the time he reached the center the attacks would have ended and so any actions he took would have been inconsequential.

The indifference exhibited by the deputy secretary of defense when he learned of the attacks and his failure to take action when he should have been doing everything in his power to help protect America are quite chilling. And yet Wolfowitz has never had to explain his lack of response to the crisis on September 11. We therefore now need to look closely at his actions that day and contemplate why he behaved as he did.

It is plausible that Wolfowitz’s inaction was simply due to incompetence. However, statements Wolfowitz made in the years following 9/11 indicate that he actually felt the attacks were beneficial for the United States. We surely must consider, therefore, the disturbing possibility that he may have known in advance what was going to happen on September 11 and wanted the attacks to succeed. Consequently, when the attacks occurred, he deliberately avoided doing anything that might help stop them before all the intended targets were hit.


Paul Wolfowitz was attending a meeting in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s private dining room at the Pentagon when the attacks began on September 11. The meeting, which had commenced at 8:00 a.m., was attended by a number of members of Congress and various military officials, and was intended to discuss defense budget proposals. [1]

Shortly before it ended, Rumsfeld was given a note, which informed him that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. (This plane was American Airlines Flight 11, which hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.) Rumsfeld has commented that he assumed at the time that the incident was an accident. [2] Therefore, the secretary of defense and those with him “went on with our breakfast.” [3]

None of the meeting’s participants appear to have diverted from their schedules after the meeting ended, at around 9:00 a.m. “We all went on with the day’s business,” Secretary of the Army Thomas White recalled. [4] “We all proceeded back to our offices,” Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, said. [5]

Wolfowitz went to his office, just a short walk away from Rumsfeld’s office, where he was due to attend a routine meeting. It is unclear whether he was alerted to what had happened in New York during the meeting in Rumsfeld’s private dining room. He was certainly informed about the incident, though, after he entered his office. Someone there mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The television was turned on and, Wolfowitz described, those in the office “started seeing the scenes of what was taking place up in New York.” [6]

Even though the cause of the crash was unclear at that time, we might reasonably expect Wolfowitz to have taken a close interest in what had happened right away. While the crash may have turned out to have been an accident, he surely should have considered it possible that the incident was a terrorist attack and have acted accordingly.

In fact, Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, noted, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way.” [7] And yet the deputy secretary of defense made no attempt to take action in response to the crash. “Like so many other people, I didn’t quite believe what was really happening,” he has remarked. [8]


Wolfowitz and those with him then saw the second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center live on television, at 9:03 a.m. “We started seeing the shots of the second plane hitting,” Wolfowitz recalled.

It was then clear that America was under attack. And yet Wolfowitz still did nothing in response to the crisis. “I sat here thinking that something terrible was going on in New York,” he recalled. “But,” he commented, “it was up there, not here.” He therefore continued his meeting as if nothing unusual had happened. “There didn’t seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was,” he said. Wolfowitz and those with him apparently carried on with the meeting until 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was attacked.

Although his office was on the opposite side of the Pentagon to where the attack occurred, the deputy secretary of defense felt the building shake when it was hit and, he recalled, heard “a dull, thud-like noise.” And yet Wolfowitz has claimed that, despite presumably having realized earlier on that America was under attack, it did not occur to him that the noise and the shaking were the result of the Pentagon being struck. Remarkably, he said, he initially thought they were caused by an earthquake. “I didn’t put two and two together,” he commented. “My first reaction was an earthquake,” he said.

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