September 28, 2001
"They also made it clear they wanted to get us up quickly, and they wanted to get us to a high altitude, because there had been a specific threat made to Air Force One. ... A declaration that Air Force One was a target, and said in a way that they called it credible. ... So they wanted to get us up quickly. They also wanted to get us up with fighter air cover."
-- White House senior counselor Karl Rove, quoted by Nicholas Lemann in the Sept. 28 New Yorker.
"We have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets of these attacks."
-- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Sept. 12 briefing.
"Q : "[It was] yesterday reported that some of the people in the Pentagon were a little bit skeptical about your comments yesterday that the White House and Air Force One were attacked -- were targets of attack, given that the plane had come from the south. What do you --"
Fleischer : "Who are these people ?"
Q : "Well, I don't know. They weren't my sources, so -- "(Cross talk.)
Fleischer : "No. There's -- I wouldn't have said it if it wasn't true."
Q : "Can you confirm the substance of that threat that was telephoned in ... that Air Force One is next and using code words?"
: "Yes, I can. That's correct."
-- White House "press gaggle" with Ari Fleischer, Sept.13.
Vice President Cheney : "The president was on Air Force One. We received a threat to Air Force One -- came through the Secret Service ..."
Tim Russert : "A credible threat to Air Force One. You're convinced of that."
Vice President Cheney
: "I'm convinced of that. Now, you know, it may have been phoned in by a crank, but in the midst of what was going on, there was no way to know that. I think it was a credible threat, enough for the Secret Service to bring it to me."
-- NBC's Meet the Press, Sept. 16.
"Finally, there is this postscript to the puzzle of how someone presumed to be a terrorist was able to call in a threat against Air Force One using a secret code name for the president's plane. Well, as it turns out, that simply never happened. Sources say White House staffers apparently misunderstood comments made by their security
-- CBS News reporter Jim Stewart on the Sept. 25 CBS Evening News.
"[Administration officials have] been unsuccessful in trying to track down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain they were told of a telephone threat Sept. 11 and kept Bush away from Washington for hours because of it."
-- Sept. 25 AP report, quoted in the Sept. 27 Washington
September 21, 2001
The hijacked plane that smashed into the Pentagon (news - web sites) changed course without threatening the White House or Capitol, according to a radar track of its flight path.
Though the White House and Capitol were evacuated, and some lawmakers speculated that one of those buildings was the eventual target of American Airlines Flight 77, the radar track shows the plane veering away from Washington before making a sharp turn and crashing into the Pentagon, a government source said.
The plane, with 64 people on board, had taken off from Dulles International Airport en route to Los Angeles. It was hijacked in mid-flight and turned back east. The transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to follow the flight, was turned off.
But a radar track shows the plane continuing to head toward Washington but veering away before entering the restricted air space in the nation's capital. The plane's average speed was an unusually fast 460 miles an hour.
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer saw it a different way.
``That is not the radar data that we have seen,'' Fleischer said, adding, ``The plane was headed toward the White House.''
Details of the radar track were first reported Friday in The Washington Post.
October 5, 2001
The Bush administration told an outrageous lie that the president was a target of terrorists -- and Americans deserve an explanation.
Falsehoods uttered at the White House press lectern always matter, if only because they injure the reputation of the presidency, but some are more important than others. Under the present administration, which vowed to restore "honor and integrity" to Washington, the credibility of the people who speak for George W. Bush has decayed, week by week, beginning with their promotion last winter of bogus accusations against their predecessors.
That ugly episode, however, wasn't nearly as troubling as what now appears to have been the promulgation by the nation's highest officials of a false story about the events of Sept. 11.
For two weeks following the terror attack, White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, presidential assistant Karl Rove and press secretary Ari Fleischer, repeatedly insisted that a "credible threat" -- involving code-word confirmation -- had convinced the Secret Service that terrorists were trying to hit Air Force One and the White House. Only when those assertions were shot down by CBS News and the Associated Press did the spinners back down, claiming that it had all been a "misunderstanding" by staffers, with little elaboration.
Whatever anyone thinks of this president or his political legitimacy, there are few issues more fundamental in a constitutional democracy than the physical security of the head of state, especially when the nation is under attack. The tale of the supposed targeting of the president , the White House and Air Force One by terrorists is among the most serious fabrications ever promulgated by federal officials.
How serious? In addition to undermining public confidence in the White House during a national emergency, this spinning of the president's flight from Washington led New York Times columnist William Safire, among others, to demand an internal investigation that would determine whether an administration "mole" had revealed top-secret information to America's enemies.
That paranoid theme was immediately picked up in the foreign media, no doubt worrying allies and potential allies engaged in sensitive discussions with the United States.
Of course, Safire has long served as a reliable conduit for Republican disinformation, which may be why Rove and another unnamed "high official" selected him to publicize this particular fraud. On the day after the attack, the superhawk columnist had criticized Bush for flying away to an airbase in Nebraska rather than returning to Washington on the day of the attack, then hastened to confess his misjudgment on Sept. 13 after angry phone calls from the White House.
Based on those calls, he related the entire fable, complete with code words, transponders and a hijacked plane making a "360" turn away from the White House and toward the Pentagon. He even had a quote from the president, delivered via Rove, about "tinhorn terrorists keeping me out of Washington." The whole thing now has a distinct barnyard aroma, but three weeks later Safire has yet to correct his error-ridden account of what transpired "inside the bunker."
So much for the "insider" version, a genre regularly abused by this administration's propagandists. What remains most disturbing about this incident is how persistently the administration's highest officials pushed a pseudo-story, well after they must have known that it was wrong. Even if this campaign began as an honest mistake, that continuing effort to mislead was inexcusable .
On Sept. 16, the vice president said on NBC's "Meet the Press " that the Secret Service had informed him of a "credible threat" to Air Force One -- and that he remained convinced, five days later, that the threat had been credible. Cheney also suggested that American Airlines Flight 77 had been aimed at the White House and changed course to hit the Pentagon because of visibility problems, a notion directly contradicted by radar records showing the plane's trajectory.
That same Sunday morning after the attack, Rice showed up on Fox News to reinforce the story. She speculated that the code name supposedly cited in the terrorist warning might have "leaked a long time ago." Asked the astonished host Tony Snow, "How on earth would that happen?" Rice replied that she didn't know. "We're obviously looking very hard at the situation," she added.
Equally obvious is that any simple "misunderstanding" about the concerns of the Secret Service or the uttering of secret code words had been cleared up by then. Or was it? The White House has remained strangely silent about this fiasco ever since its original story was debunked by the AP and CBS News. Rove, Cheney and Rice aren't talking about it any more, while Fleischer has retreated behind incomprehensible non-denials. "I'm not going to comment on any particular threats coming toward the White House," he told reporters Sept. 27. Coming from an administration that was perfectly willing to discuss alleged threats to the White House when that served its interests, such bland demurrals just aren't good enough. The country needs to know exactly what happened at the highest level of government on that awful morning.
The question isn't whether Bush ought to have flown back to Washington immediately. He may well have had ample reason not to. The question is whether the officials in charge of national security and their spokespeople have been candid about one of their most crucial responsibilities. If the president cares at all about honor and integrity, he will demand that his aides either reveal the truth or tender their resignations.
November 1, 2001
If the U.S. assault against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were strictly a war of words, we might be in worse trouble than we'd like. Since President Bush vowed to "whip terrorism," we have been forced to backpedal verbally on an alarming number of occasions as events unfold. Here is a brief look at what's turning into a seven-course meal of crow :
Bluster : On Sept. 14, the President describes his anti-terrorist campaign as a "crusade" against "a new kind of evil."
Backpedal : On Sept. 18, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer retracts Bush's use of the word crusade. "To the degree that the word has any connotations that would upset any of our partners, or anybody else in the world, the president would regret if anything like that was conveyed. But the purpose of his conveying it is in the traditional English sense of the word. It's a broad cause." To the Muslim world, crusade conjures images of European Christians in medieval times warring on the heathen Middle East, a message that endangered Bush's goal of an Islamic coalition to back our military operation.
Bluster : On Sept. 19, The Pentagon names its Afghanistan initiative "Operation Infinite Justice."
Backpedal : On Sept. 25, The Pentagon renames its Afghanistan initiative "Operation Enduring Freedom," recognizing that Muslims feel that "infinite" justice can only be meted out by Allah.
Bluster : On Sept. 18, Bush -- who after all is the son of the president who told Americans "Read my lips, no new taxes " -- vows that Osama bin Laden will be delivered "dead or alive."
Backpedal : On Oct. 24, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a USA Today interview reverses field, saying that capturing bin Laden might not happen: "It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money, he's got a lot of people who support him, and I just don't know whether we'll be successful."
Backpedal : On Oct. 25, at the next day's press conference, Rumsfeld backpedals on the backpedaling: "I think we're going to get him. How about that?"
Bluster : On Oct. 14, the commander of the USS Enterprise says, "We're sort of in a cleanup mode right now." The same day U.S. intelligence reports more than a thousand defectors have joined the Northern Alliance, and there is a debate in Washington about the makeup of the government that would soon replace the Taliban regime in Kabul.
Backpedal : On Oct. 24, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he is surprised by the vigor of the Taliban resistance; predicts it will take "a long, long battle" to overcome the regime.
Bluster : On Sept. 28, Bush pushes the cowboy button he so likes to press. He says, "Make no mistake about it. We're in hot pursuit of terrorists."
Backpedal : On Oct. 26, apparently chastened, he pushes the Job button, when he says, "The American people are going to have to be patient."
Bluster : On Oct. 22, Rumsfeld gets cavalier about the Afghan bombing. "We're not running out of targets. Afghanistan is," he says.
Backpedal : In an Oct. 23 address at Whiteman Air Force base, where Stealth bombers are about to depart on missions to Afghanistan, Rumsfeld amends himself with this : "Your mission is difficult. Our enemies live in caves and shadows. These folks are pros. They're clever."
Bluster : On Oct. 22, Rumsfeld confidently declares that Taliban reports of an Afghan hospital being hit by our bombers are false. Says he: "We have absolutely no evidence at all that would suggest that is correct. I'm sure it's not."
Backpedal : On Oct. 23, after a United Nations worker corroborates the Taliban claim, Pentagon chief spokeswoman Victoria Clarke confirms that an Afghan military hospital has been hit. "We have no idea of the casualties," she says.
Bluster : On Oct. 13, after the first outbreaks of anthrax appear in Florida and New York, but before poisoned letters start turning up in Washington, D.C., Bush says in a radio address, "I understand that many Americans are feeling uneasy, but all Americans should be assured : We are taking strong precautions, we are vigilant, we are determined."
More bluster : On Oct. 18, after 31 cases of anthrax exposure are discovered on Capitol Hill but no one moves to systematically test Washington postal workers, Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge declares : "The American people can have confidence that their government is working around the clock to protect them." And Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate's only physician, observes, "Things are under control. The system is working."
Backpedal : On Oct. 22, after two Washington postal workers die from anthrax, Postmaster General John Potter orders testing and says : "We are all dealing with new experiences, we're all dealing with new situations." On Oct. 26, after more cases surface, Ridge says, "We don't have all the answers."
Bluster : On Oct. 16, when U.S. warplanes mistakenly bomb a Red Cross warehouse facility in Kabul, the Pentagon says it "did not know the Red Cross was using one or more of the warehouses."
Backpedal : On Oct. 25, when it is learned that U.S. warplanes have again bombed the same site, Rumsfeld says : "There are instances where there are unintended consequences of this conflict and ordinance ends up where it should not."
Remains to be seen : On Oct. 28, after CIA-supported Afghan rebel Abdul Haq is killed by the Taliban without receiving the protection he was reportedly promised, after U.S. bombs reportedly kill 13 more Afghan civilians, including children, and after Pakistani radicals seem to be pouring into Afghanistan to help the Taliban, Rumsfeld declares : "It's not a quagmire."`