Did President George W. Bush and his governing consortium know of the impending attack on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon and intentionally allow it to occur?  

This question seems almost unthinkable, yet it is 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.  The following narration is meant to enable the reader to understand the situation giving rise to the question.

A useful perspective is to compare the situation with that of the urban fire department, its symbol the polished brass pole: a team trained to get the big truck out the door in the shortest time possible.  Delay will be measured in terms of lives lost, or a small blaze becoming a disaster.  There is no more excuse for delay at 2:46 a.m. than at midday; no exception for Sundays or holidays.  Response is the essence of the firefighter's ideal, under which the firefighter may not know whether his objective is a hotel full of people trapped in upper floors, or a false alarm.  His response is the same.  The alarm is given.  He goes.  

Switch the equipment and you have the air defense team at an air base in the U.S., which gets the alarm, and goes, ideally in two to three minutes.  Unnecessary delay may mean lives lost, or a small hazard becoming a disaster.

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 AA Flight 11 had been hijacked.  Receiving no reply to their radio messages, their procedure required notice to the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in Washington.  That agency then calls the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for the availability of aircraft, and having this, requests approval from the Defense Department.  With approval, NORAD tells the interceptors to take off.  Politics removed from this system, a fighter could be up after the "bogey" by 8:25.

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.  As the pair waited on the runway at 8:46 a.m. (8:20 plus 26 minutes), 153 miles to the south in New York City the target aircraft just then struck deep into the north tower of the World Trade Center.  Also before they arrived, the second tower was struck by UAL Flight 175, at 9:03, 43 minutes after recognition of the first hijacking, 20 minutes after the second.

Even going by the book, the Otis F-15's should have reached New York City ahead of both the hijacked aircraft.  The defense system failed.  The house burned to the ground, with great loss of life.

Pilots have the option of downing an aircraft, which is why they carry missiles.  It would have been a formidable decision to shoot down the first plane.  But not the second, its purpose clear.  However that may be, it is the crash of the third plane, Flight 77, that colors what happened before.

The Secret Service, and thus the President, would have learned of the first crash through an open line established routinely in case of emergency.  When President Bush came out of his hotel that morning on Longboat Key, Fla., a reporter asked if he had a comment about what had happened in New York.  He replied that he would have a statement later.  He then rode to the Emma E. Booker school in Sarasota, entering a second grade classroom at about 9 o'clock.  He did not mention the attack to anyone at the school.  

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.  It was 9:03.  Anyone watching knew then that the United States was under attack.  I said to my wife: "They'd better be on their toes in Washington."  Several military officers in the Pentagon were quoted later for the same thought at that moment, specifically about the building they were in.  One observed that it was the other most prominent symbol of U.S. money and power.  

Three minutes later, at 9:06, the following occurred:

  -- Andrew Card, the President's Chief of Staff, entered the classroom in Sarasota to quietly tell the President that a second plane had struck and that the nation was under attack.
  -- The Indianapolis FAA controller reported that a third plane, in Ohio, had gone off the screen and reversed its course, believed hijacked.
  -- The FAA took the extreme and highly unusual action of closing the air routes between Cleveland and Washington, because the Ohio plane, Flight 77 from Dulles, was headed back on the course it had taken from Washington.
  -- Secret Service men hustled Vice President Dick Cheney down to the Presidential Emergency Operating Center under the White House.  
  -- General Richard B. Myers, acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had just begun a discussion of terrorism with Senator Max Cleland at the Senator's office.

After Card's message, Bush returned his attention to the children as they read, complimenting them on their skill, until shortly before time for his speech at 9:25 on the subject of education.  From the podium in the school's media room, he instead announced an "apparent terrorist attack," saying he had to leave for Washington.  This was reported to be the first notice of the attack to the people at the school.  As an aide read the speech, TV commentator Barbara Olson was making a call from the hijacked aircraft in an attempt to reach her husband at the Justice Department.  Bush did not mention that aircraft, which would arrive in Washington in about ten minutes--a fact that should have been obvious to the Defense Department, knowing its location and airspeed.  It also should have been known to Bush, Cheney, and the Secret Service, in touch on the open line.

At 9:40 Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, 34 minutes after the report of its hijacking.  General Myers, still in Senator Cleland's office on the Hill, was not informed of the 9:03 crash or the 9:40 crash into the Pentagon until after he came out of the Senator's office.  At a Senate hearing two days later concerning his confirmation as chairman of the JCS, Myers testified that he then had called the President.  As a result of this call, four F-16's were sent up from Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles from Washington.  The first two arrived 15 minutes after the crash, unarmed, since Andrews was not a "ready" base.  

One can't help but contrast the heroic response of the New York City firemen with the seemingly lackadaisical procedure to launch air defense fighters, their pilots denied the chance to defend their country that day.  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 there were seven "ready" bases in the continental United States with a total of 14 aircraft ready to fly.  On the East Coast these bases were Otis (153 miles north of NYC), Langley (130 miles south of DC), and Tyndall, in Florida.  The F-16 can do 1650 mph, the F-15, 1875 mph.  >From takeoff, an F-16 at Langley can be over the Pentagon in seven minutes, assuming that the emergency is such as to justify the damage from sonic shock waves.

General Myers testified two days later that the planes from Andrews were the only planes sent up that day.  Dan Rather subsequently reported the earlier flight from Otis, and the flight of F-16's from Langley, which were scrambled at 9:24.  Ordered to "battle stations" at 9:09, they were not airborne until 9:30, arriving several minutes after the 9:40 strike on the Pentagon.  The Langley pilots had notice almost as soon as did the Secret Service and the Pentagon and could have been at the Pentagon as early as 9:20 had they received orders.  As it was, they were on hand, with orders to shoot, for Flight 93 had it not gone down in Pennsylvania.  An Andrews pilot ordered up without missiles contemplated bringing down the airliner "with one hand on the stick and one on the ejector button" by taking off a wing.

Interceptor pilots first rock their wings, meaning "follow me," then fire tracers ahead of the plane if it does not comply.  In all cases that day there should have been time for the NMCC to relieve the pilot of the decision whether to down the plane.  In all cases that day, no interceptor reached an aircraft before it crashed.

The agencies responsible for air defense of the United States, by 9:06 knew to a certainty that the nation was under terrorist attack--a time later confirmed by the President.  They also knew that a hijacked aircraft was heading straight for Washington.  Yet General Myers and President Bush did not confer until after the plane hit the Pentagon at 9:40, deciding then to order up jets.  This occurred more than an hour after the Defense Department learned of the first hijacking, more than half an hour after it knew a third hijacked plane was headed for Washington.

As the President sat conversing with the children, and as General Myers sat in conversation with Senator Cleland, and as the Langley pilots waited for orders, the employees at the Pentagon remained at their desks, ignorant of the terrorist-driven aircraft that would arrive to end their lives in half an hour.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the vital connector in the intercept authorization process, said that he was unaware that an aircraft was approaching the Pentagon, thinking the noise he heard when it hit must have been a bomb.  Photographs show him helping remove survivors.  Earlier, when an emergency meeting was called at the NMCC after the towers were struck, he sent the Assistant Secretary, remaining in his office on the east side of the Pentagon.  

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 urgings to his Secret Service men that he be returned to the White House, Bush seems to have been taken out of the loop.  From testimony before the National Commission, it appears that Cheney was calling the shots from there.  

The foregoing facts add up to a strange case, offering painful conclusions for the Kean-Hamilton Commission, if the subject is not blanked out as was the Saudi Arabian segment in the Congressional intelligence committee report.  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."

The administration has offered no explanation for the total failure of the interception response, nor has it issued reprimands for dereliction of duty.  Lacking these, and given the artificial behavior of the principals, one can most readily construe what occurred as consistent with prior knowledge of the events that were to occur.  The 9/11 attack was key to permit the sudden and drastic change in American policies, law, and traditions that we have witnessed, switching the United States onto a track leading to 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."  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 secrecy in the Congressional committee's report is the possibility that these relationships will suggest an intelligence connection superior to those of the CIA.

James R. Hanson, Upper Arlington, OH.  August 8, 2003