It’s the second anniversary of 9-11 and we still don’t have answers Did President George W. Bush and his governing consortium know of the impending attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon and intentionally allow to occur?

This question seems almost unthinkable, yet so obviously in need of an answer that it may as well be written across the sky. The report of the House and Senate intelligence committees does not address the question, which now belongs to the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States, chaired by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, to report by May 2004.

At 8:20 a.m. on September 11, 2001, millions of Americans were watching morning television shows, as is their custom. At that moment the Federal Aviation Administration controllers at Boston had seen and heard enough to realize that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked. Receiving no reply to their radio messages, their official procedure is to give notice to the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in Washington, which then checks with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for availability of aircraft. Then with approval of the Defense Department, NORAD tells the interceptors to take off.

The system is comparable to that of an urban fire department, ready at all hours, trained to get the big truck out the door in the least time possible — any delay measured in terms of lives lost or a small blaze becoming an inferno.

A pair of F-15’s at Otis Air National Guard Base at Falmouth, Mass., were fueled and armed, the pilots already alerted by the Boston controller before their order came through channels. But 26 minutes later, as they waited on the runway at 8:46, Flight 11 tore into the north Trade Tower in New York City. As the two aircraft traveled the 175 miles toward New York at “full blower” (quote from the pilot), a second hijacked airliner dove into the south tower. This was at 9:03, 43 minutes after FAA recognition of the first hijacking, 20 minutes after the second.

An F-15 at “full blower” can do 1875 mph. If they went that fast for the whole trip, they would get there in six minutes; if they averaged a more realistic 1200 mph, in nine minutes. If they had been notified at 8:25 by NORAD, off by 8:30, they could easily have overtaken both flights well before they reached New York City.

Pilots have the option of downing an aircraft with missiles, which is why they are so armed. It would have been a formidable decision to shoot down the first plane, but not the second, UAL Flight 175, its purpose by then clear. However that may be, it is the crash of the third plane, AA Flight 77 into the Pentagon, that requires the entire sequence to be examined for criminal intent at the highest levels.

The Secret Service, and thus the President, would have learned of the first crash through an open line established routinely in case of emergency. At some time prior to President Bush’s arrival at the Emma E. Booker school in Sarasota, Fla., he was asked by a reporter if he had a comment about what had happened in New York. He replied that he would have a statement later. He entered a second grade classroom at about 9 o’clock. At this time, he also should have known about the second hijacking.

TV viewers learned of the second tower attack before the President did. On NBC, Matt Lauer interrupted “The Today Show” a few minutes before 9 o’clock for some “breaking news.” As we watched a live scene of the tower burning, a large airplane came across from the side of the screen, plunging into the south tower. At 9:03, anyone watching knew that the United States was under attack, and that the next likely target was Washington, D.C. Secret Service men instantly hustled Vice President Dick Cheney down to the Presidential Emergency Operating Center (PEOC) beneath the White House.

Three minutes later, at 9:06, Andrew Card, the President’s Chief of Staff, entered the classroom in Sarasota to quietly tell the President that a second plane (UAL Flight 175) had struck and that the nation was “under attack.” On the open line, Card should have known by then about the third plane, because the FAA controller at Indianapolis reported that at 8:56 Flight 77 had gone off the screen and reversed its course, believed hijacked. Air routes between Cleveland and Washington were closed at 9:06.

General Richard B. Myers, acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, missed out on the significant action. He didn’t even know the second tower had been hit until after Flight 77 had plowed into the Pentagon at 9:38. He was in Senator Max Cleland’s office on the Hill, discussing terrorism. Evidently no one called him or came in to tell him.

President Bush seemed unimpressed that he had any urgent duty in regard to this startling news, such as approval of the downing of passenger aircraft if all others consider that a decision above their grade. He went on listening to the second graders read, complimenting them on their skill, until time to leave for his scheduled speech at 9:25 in the school’s media room, on the subject of education. Instead, he announced an “apparent terrorist attack,” saying he had to leave for Washington.

Secretary Rumsfeld, photographed nobly aiding survivors, said he was completely surprised by the Pentagon attack. Had he gone downstairs to a meeting called by the NMCC almost an hour earlier, he would have had all the details. Sending the Assistant Secretary in his stead, he stayed in his office on the east side of the building talking with a House member and “making telephone calls” until 9:38 when he heard a sound that caused him to think the building had been hit by a bomb.

At a Senate hearing two days later concerning his confirmation as chairman of the JCS, General Myers testified that when he learned of the Pentagon crash, he had called the President, who by then had boarded Air Force One. They decided to have planes sent up from Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles from the Pentagon. The “ready” base for Washington was Langley AFB, 130 miles south; the planes from Andrews were not ready, arriving fifteen minutes after the crash, unarmed.

If the New York City firemen had responded as tardily as did the U.S. air defense system, they would have arrived after the second tower collapsed. Would someone have demanded to know why?

On 9/11 the “ready” bases on the East Coast were Otis (Mass.), Langley (Va.), and Tyndall (Fla.). A ready interceptors is able to be in the air and reach 30,000 feet in as little as two minutes from time of notice. From takeoff, an F-16 at Langley can be over D.C. in seven minutes.

General Myers seems not to have known that planes went up from Langley, testifying that the planes from Andrews were the only ones sent up that day. Dan Rather subsequently reported both the earlier flight from Otis, and the flight of F-16’s from Langley, which reportedly had been at “battle stations” since 9:09. They received a “scramble” order and were airborne at 9:30, arriving some minutes after the 9:38 strike on the Pentagon. The Langley pilots had notice of the Flight 77 hijacking almost as soon as did the Secret Service, and could have been at the Pentagon as early as 9:20 had they received orders. As it was, they were on hand to intercept Flight 93, with orders to shoot, had it not gone down in Pennsylvania. One of the Andrews pilots ordered up without missiles contemplated bringing down Flight 93 “with one hand on the stick and one on the ejector button,” by taking off a wing. According to an Andrews pilot, their orders came from the Secret Service at the White House, presumably from Cheney.

The question is not whether, realistically, the twin towers could have been saved by the radical tactic of downing passenger airliners. The question arises from the hokey unawareness of the leaders responsible for the nation’s defense. If they didn’t throw the fight, how else can this be explained? Interceptors were ready, their first duty only to go up and take a look. In all cases that day, according to official reports no interceptor reached an aircraft before it crashed.

As the President sat conversing with the children, as General Myers sat in conversation with Senator Cleland, as Secretary Rumsfeld, the vital connector in the intercept authorization process, stayed in his office ignorant of events, and as the Langley pilots waited for orders, the employees at the Pentagon remained at their desks — uninformed of the renegade aircraft that would arrive to end their lives in half an hour.

President Bush boarded Air Force One for a meandering flight ending at an air base in Louisiana, going from there to the underground control center of the Strategic Air Command at Omaha. Contrary to his wish to return to Washington expressed by him to Vice President Cheney, he seems to have been taken out of the loop.

A New York Times editorial July 9, “Wrestling for the Truth of 9/11,” said: “The Bush administration, long allergic to the idea of investigating the government’s failure to prevent the 9/11 terror attacks, is now doing its best to bury the national commission that was created to review Washington’s conduct.” This followed the suppression of the Saudi Arabian segment in the report of the Congressional intelligence committees. Because of George Bush Sr.’s personal and business connections with Osama bin Laden and the Saudis, one must wonder if the most compelling motive for that secrecy is the possibility that these relationships will suggest an intelligence connection superior to those of the CIA.

The 9/11 attack was crucial for the sudden and drastic change in American policies, law, and traditions, that overnight switched the United States onto a track leading toward a militarist state ruled in secrecy. Chairmen Kean and Hamilton in a July 9 statement wrote that “problems that have arisen so far with the Department of Defense are becoming particularly serious.”

James Hanson is a concerned citizen from Central Ohio

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