Dick Cheney at the PEOC
The 9/11 Commission Report contains many disputed timelines, for everything from the moment that NORAD first launched fighters to the crash time of Flight 93, but few have given rise to quite so much controversy as its account of Dick Cheney's whereabouts during the attacks.
The Commission on Cheney
(We've snipped this to discussions relating to Cheney and the timeline up to around 10 am as that's the main topic here, but there's more afterwards. If you've not read chapter one (and all the footnotes) in full then make sure you do that and confirm our details for yourself.)
At 9:03 Cheney was in his office.
At some point between 9:15 and 9:30 he called Bush.
At just before 9:36 he was evacuated from his office.
At 9:37 he arrived in a "tunnel" leading to the PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Centre, also described as the "bunker" or the "shelter").
While in the tunnel, Cheney spent some time talking to Bush. This call was ongoing at 9:55.
The Commission conclude: "There is conflicting evidence about when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room. We have concluded, from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room shortly before 10:00,perhaps at 9:58."
Despite the talk of "conflicting evidence", one point is clear: this timeline doesn't have Cheney in the bunker until virtually the exact time that the Pentagon was hit. So why is it, ask some 9/11 researchers, that other accounts place him already in the PEOC by 9:20?
Media on Cheney
The idea that Cheney was evacuated soon after the second WTC impact originated with several media reports.
This seems clear enough, but in the first two stories at least, there are signs of problems with the timeline. Both say that Cheney was moved at somewhere around 9:03 to 9:05, told on the way to the PEOC that a plane was bearing down on Washington, and that was the reason for his evacuation, yet the NORAD tapes and 9/11 Commission wouldn't show any such alert until after 9:20 (the Phantom flight 11), and Flight 77 was still hundreds of miles away. So why would Cheney have been evacuated at around 9:03-9:10?
It makes little sense, and the first story at least suggest another explanation. It tells us that on being informed of the approaching aircraft "Cheney promptly called the president in Florida, who had just boarded Air Force One". But Bush wouldn't board Air Force One until around 9:43, some 40 minutes after the second WTC impact and more than 5 minutes after the Pentagon was hit. So if he was evacuated because of an approaching plane, and "promptly called the President" afterwards, then this now matches with the 9/11 Commission account rather than an evacuation soon after 9:03: it looks like the "at that moment" is a simple mistake.
The lack of sourcing is another problem for these stories. Where have these timelines come from? We've no idea.
And although those defending the early evacuation time like to pretend they reflected a universal view, this isn't the case at all. Even though the New York Times published two pieces appearing to support an early evacuation on September 13 and 16, for instance, an article on the 15th says Cheney wasn't evacuated until 9:30 or after:
And here's what the New York Times was saying in October 2001:
You could, of course, argue that the initial stories were correct (even though some are self-contradictory, and there are others that disagreed), and the later ones fed by disinformation, a part of a cover-up. But in order to make that stick, you'll need to have some evidence. That's why 9/11 researchers generally place more weight on sourced eye-witness accounts that, they believe, also support the idea that Cheney was in the PEOC by 9:20.
David Ray Griffin on Cheney
Griffin cites four accounts in support of a 9:20 (or earlier) arrival time.
Norman Mineta said he arrived at the PEOC around 9:20, and on arrival found that Cheney "had been engaged in an ongoing exchange", meaning Cheney "must have been in the PEOC for several minutes before Mineta’s 9:20 arrival".
We'll consider each of these accounts in turn.
Mineta has said, for instance:
This makes sense in terms of the 9/11 Commission account; the Security Service became concerned by reports of an incoming plane and ordered "the immediate evacuation of the Vice President just before 9:36", then Clarke tells us the White House was evacuated minutes later.
There are several other issues with Mineta's story that cast significant doubt on his timeline. He didn't arrive at the White House until after the FAA joined Richard Clarke's teleconference, for instance, which the 9/11 Commission Report puts at 9:40. And a report said Mineta was only informed of the 9:45 grounding of all planes in US airspace after the fact, when he called in from the White House. Read more on those, and other issues here.
Looking at what Clarke actually wrote can help clarify these points, though.
On the meeting beginning "shortly after 9:03", for instance, Clarke said:
The meeting continues:
Rice is mentioned here as "walking in behind" Clarke. He talks about arriving himself in the preceding paragraph, which is presumably why Griffin says she left Cheney's office with him, but that is at best a speculative interpretation of the text. Clarke does not clearly say anything of the kind.
It's also worth keeping in mind that there are many reasons to dispute Clarke's accuracy.
The 9/11 Commission reports logs showing that the teleconference didn't begin until 9:25, for instance, and may not have been "fully underway" before 9:37 before the Pentagon was hit.
And Clarke reports that the FAA were "frantically looking" for Norman Mineta, yet Mineta tells us Garvey was in his office after 9:03, and called to pass on information about Delta Air Lines before he left for the White House. So we're supposed to believe Garvey left his office, returned to the FAA (a short distance down the street), was briefed on the situation, heard about Delta Air Lines, called Mineta's office in order to pass the situation, then "lost" Mineta, began frantically looking for him, finally joining Clarke's teleconference and explaining this situation, all in seven minutes?
However, we've already seen one or two reasons why the 9:10 start time is implausible. The 9/11 Commission say the teleconference began at 9:25, may not have been fully underway at 9:37, and wasn't joined by the FAA until 9:40. Cheney was, according to the report, evacuated at 9:36. If Rice knew Cheney had just left his office, then she could have been with Clarke at 9:45, and made the above comments without contradicting the 9/11 Commission's version of events.
By way of support, the Commission refers to a "White House transcript, Rice interview with Evan Thomas, Nov. 1, 2001, p. 388 (Rice viewed television footage of Pentagon ablaze in Situation Room)". We've been unable to find that transcript, however Rice has given at least one other interview that's very clear about the sequence of events:
Rice says she was in the Situation Room for some minutes after 9:37, and says she was only told about Cheney's evacuation after the Pentagon had been hit. No support for an early arrival at the PEOC here.
It could be argued that because Clarke says Mineta should both come to the Situation Room, and join the President, then these suggestions were delivered at separate times: Mineta calls in, Clarke asks him to come to the Situation Room, Mineta arrives and does so, Clarke suggests he joins Cheney. However, that's just one interpretation.
It's also possible that Clarke delivered both suggestions over the phone. He may have said, for instance, "please come to the Situation Room first and I'll brief you on what's going on, but after that I think it's best if you join the Vice President".
Even if the "I suggested he join the Vice President" line was delivered in person, it's unsafe to assume when this happened chronologically. Mineta tells us that he spent "four or five" minutes talking to Clarke in the Situation Room, for instance, yet Clarke doesn't mention this at all. This means there could be something like 5 to 10 minutes between Mineta calling in from his car, and then leaving for the PEOC. If we are to take Clarke's account in strict chronological order, then that implies nothing else worthy of reporting happened within that 5 or 10 minutes. But isn't it possible that, say, Mineta called, then Cressey arrived, then Clarke talked to the JCS, some other things happened, then Mineta arrived and they talked? And Clarke simply folded his Mineta comments into a single paragraph because it was neater, and their conversation wasn't a significant event?
Whatever your view, it's clear that deriving Mineta's arrival time from Clarke's text requires a degree of interpretation. Clarke does tell us that Mineta wasn't present when the teleconference began, however, which makes that an important time to establish. Check our page on this issue if you haven't already done so.
However, the original account appears to be a little more ambiguous. Cooperative Research sources the same claim to this story:
The "according to Bohrer" line here could simply be referring to the "two or three agents" coming in, and not the time at all. A reporter may cover a news story like this, for instance:
Has Jane Smith definitively said the incident occurred before 9 a.m.? No. That's one possible interpretation, but another is the reporter provided the time from other information, and all that came from Jane Smith was the account of "two masked gunmen".
Of course even if the time comes from the reporter, there's still the question of why he said that. But it's worth noting that there's a possible contradiction later, when it seems to be implied that Rice was told "there may be a plane headed for the White House" soon after Cheney's evacuation. We've seen no explanation of which plane might have caused such an alert "shortly after 9", but it does match the 9/11 Commission's account of alarm over the approaching Flight 77 after 9:30.
This story makes unsatisfactory evidence, then, and isn't nearly as compelling as if we had Bohrer specifying the time himself, in a clear quote. We need additional information. And as it turns out, there is more available. This story appears to have been taken from interviews given for a full ABC News anniversary special on September 2002, where Bohrer and others recall what happened on the day, and the transcript is very illuminating:
In the programme neither Bohrer not anyone else says Cheney was evacuated "shortly after 9:00". What actually happens is that Charles Gibson talks about Bush leaving the school at around 9:34, then says "at that moment, in the White House", and moves on to the security service evacuating Cheney. The 9/11 Commission would later state that Cheney was evacuated at 9:36, so the program matches that account very closely: it certainly doesn't contradict it.
As the program continues, however, it's a different story:
Bohrer, as with other witnesses, talks of "a PEOC staffer who would keep coming in with updates on Flight 93's progress towards DC": he places the updates after the Pentagon was hit, not before. Were there two events? Or is Mineta's account simply incorrect?
With regard to the Cheney evacuation time, however, we can see that Bohrer doesn't say it occurred "shortly after" 9:00. The programme transcript agrees with the 9/11 Commission in putting this after 9:34.
It's also worth noting that the "shortly after 9:00" interpretation of the ABC text story may be in conflict with Richard Clarke's account. He was three blocks away from the White House at 9:03, so we might reasonably speculate that he wouldn't reach Cheney's office until 9:06 at the very earliest, and perhaps a couple of minutes later. When Clarke arrived, though, he said Cheney and Rice were alone: no mention of Bohrer. They talk, he leaves, still Bohrer hasn't arrived. It might be 9:10 or later still, so if Bohrer isn't there now, then how can he know that Cheney is evacuated "shortly after" 9:00, and what, in this context, does "shortly after" actually mean?
Maybe, somewhere, there's video tape of Bohrer giving a time for the evacuation that would support the "shortly after 9:00" claim. Or perhaps someone can ask him to clarify the issue. Of course they should also check when Mineta arrived: it would be interesting to hear. But without further clarification, Bohrer's ABC testimony so far does not make any kind of a convincing case for placing Cheney in the PEOC before 9:20, and the programme itself clearly says he only arrived later.
How does Rice confirm an early evacuation, though? She ties the Secret Service warnings to concerns about a plane possibly heading for the White House, which is precisely what the Commission said happened with Flight 77 at around 9:36.
What's more, as we've seen above, the program already provided a time for the evacuation:
Bush left for the airport around 9:34/ 9:35, Gibson says "[a]t that moment, in the White House", and has Cheney and Bohrer describe the evacuation. Rice's comments came after this, and fit perfectly well with the 9/11 Commission account.
It could be that Dr Griffin, and the others using these accounts, are assuming the statements "You have to leave now for the bunker. The Vice President's already there. There may be a plane headed for the White House" means Cheney was in the PEOC before the Pentagon was hit. However, Cheney's description of the shelter before the PEOC as having "blast doors on each end" certainly also fits the definition of a bunker as far as we're concerned. We're not sure of the layout: could it even be described as a part of the PEOC?
This is becoming an argument over semantics, though. The reality is that Rice's statements here are entirely consistent with Cheney's account as reported by the 9/11 Commission. And the idea they confirm "that Cheney had gone down to the PEOC shortly after the second strike on the World Trade Center" appears to have no foundation at all.
Cheney and Tim Russert
This is an abbreviated version of the interview, though. Here's what Cheney actually said.
(We've snipped the interview at that point because we're only interested in explaining the timeline issue, however it's worth reading the full text if you haven't already done so.)
After the second WTC impact, then, Cheney says that Rice, Scooter Libby, Mary Matalin and others convened in his office. He then spoke to the President, which didn't happen until 9:15 according to the 9/11 Commission Report. After continuing to watch "developments on the television" for "several minutes", he was then evacuated by the Secret Service. This doesn't at all fit with being evacuated shortly after 9:00, or getting him to the PEOC before 9:20, but is entirely compatible with the 9/11 Commission report.
Cheney also tells us that the evacuation was because of the approaching Flight 77, again supporting a 9:36 time.
Next we hear that Cheney went into a shelter area, immediately before the PEOC: just as the 9/11 Commission reports. He tells us that "[t]he president was on Air Force One. We received a threat to Air Force One--came through the Secret Service..., and while in that shelter he told the President to stay away." If Bush was on Air Force One then this also gives us a timeframe:
This puts Bush at the airport by 9:42 at the earliest, and places Bush and Cheney speaking at 9:45. It's after the Pentagon was attacked, but Cheney is still in the shelter before the PEOC. Only after leaving the call was ended did Cheney move on: "Once I left that immediate shelter, after I talked to the president, urged him to stay away for now, well, I went down into what's call a PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, and there, I had Norm Mineta..."
It is true that Cheney said "when I arrived there within a short order, we had word the Pentagon's been hit", but of course even this doesn't necessarily mean he was there before the Pentagon attack. It would take time for news of the attack to reach them, and Cheney himself describes how the initial situation was confused: "the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter, and then later, a private jet, and it was only after we got ahold of some eyewitnesses that we knew it was an American Airlines flight".
There's confirmation of this initial confusion at Cooperative Research:
There would be other, later reports, too: the type of plane, identifying an American Airlines jet, discovering that it was the hijacked Flight 11. Arriving before any of these might lead someone to say "[W]hen I arrived there within a short order, we had word the Pentagon's been hit."
And a recently released Secret Service document appears to confirm something like this, saying that "the report of the Pentagon being hit by the suspicious aircraft was announced to the VP and NSA Rice after they arrived at the PEOC" (Source).
The simple fact is that the "short order" line does not necessarily put Cheney in the PEOC before 9:37, and is actually further evidence against the "shortly after 9:00" timeline suggested by some (if he'd arrived at the PEOC by 9:15, say, then Cheney would not have heard of the Pentagon being hit "within a short order"). And so, with the rest of his account also unambiguously ruling out an early arrival at the PEOC, this interview does not contradict the 9/11 Commission's evacuation timeline for Cheney.
This page was originally written as a response to David Ray Griffin's piece, and so focused on the accounts he highlighted. There are other statements worth mentioning, though, and so we'll add those here.
Karl Rove was with Bush in Florida on 9/11. He gave an interview to MSNBC a year later that included the following comment on what happened after Bush left the classroom at about 9:15:
Here we're being told that Cheney was evacuated at around 9:15 or so, contrary both to the 9/11 Commission evacuation timetable, and their mention of the Bush-Cheney call (they say this happened at 9:15).
However, Rove also says that Cheney was moved "because the plane was approaching the White House". But which plane? The 9/11 Commission said Cheney was evacuated due to the approaching Flight 77, however that alert wouldn't occur until 9:34 to 9:36. So is Rove referring to some other, covered-up alert, or has he simply mixed up his times?
There's a little support for the mixup theory in the fact that Bush left the Florida school at around the same time as Cheney says he was evacuated. If Bush tried to call the White House as the convoy pulled away, then there's a good chance that Cheney would have been on his way to the PEOC tunnel, and so they wouldn't have been able to speak. Maybe this is the incident to which Rove was referring. Certainly in an October 2001 interview Rove mentions no problems in reaching Cheney prior to Bush's statement:
In his first statement, Rove is telling us they got the director of the FBI, but not the vice president; in this one, he appears to be saying they got the vice president, but not the FBI director (at first, anyway).
Of course the real problem here is that Rove wasn't in the White House at the time. He didn't see Cheney being evacuated, and so his statement here has been derived from other information. If that came from a conversation with Cheney or another direct witness, where they discussed a very specific timetable of events, then it's plainly significant. But if Rove has simply surmised for himself that this was why he couldn't get Cheney, then his statement has much less value, and if he's just mistaken over the time then it has no importance at all.
More information is required before Rove's comments can properly be assessed, then. We'll look for other interviews he has given, along with others in the Presidential party, that may help to clarify the issue.
Dr Griffin kindly provides the URL so we can read the account for ourselves. And that's just as well, because it's not nearly as clear as he claims:
Here Cheney makes a call to Bush at 9:15 for an unspecified length of time, then speaks "with top aides", then is evacuated. This is not "shortly after the second tower was hit" at 9:03, and it seems most unlikely that it could put Cheney in the PEOC before 9:20.
It's not the most detailed of timelines, though, so we might benefit from researching this further. The article offers a clue in its reference to "an interview in the vice president's office", which suggests there's another programme that could tell us more. And sure enough, three days after this article was published, CNN aired something called "9/11: What Really Happened?" that included the Cheney quotes and a possible qualification:
Libby's comment isn't entirely clear, but is at least consistent with the 9/11 Commission's explanation: that the evacuation to the PEOC occurred due to a warning about the rapidly approaching Flight 77. And the programme still has a Bush-Cheney conversation that only begins at 9:15, followed by "urgent conversations with top aides" afterwards, that we would also say makes an early arrival time most unlikely. Certainly it didn't say that "Cheney was taken down to the PEOC shortly after the second tower was hit": Dr Griffin's claim is simply untrue.
He uses part of a Cheney interview, and fails to point out to his readers that this account clearly doesn't support an early arrival. His sole argument is that the words "when I arrived there within a short order, we had word the Pentagon's been hit" mean the Pentagon must have been hit after Cheney arrived, but as we've demonstrated, that simply isn't true.
Dr Griffin uses a summary of David Bohrer's ABC News comments to say that Cheney was evacuated shortly after 9:00, but look more closely and that doesn't stand up, either. Bohrer provides no time for the evacuation in the full programme transcript, which actually implies that Cheney wasn't moved from his office until after 9:34, just as the 9/11 Commission Report states.
Richard Clarke was said to imply "that Cheney was in the PEOC several minutes prior to 9:15". Clarke makes no mention of when Cheney left, though, and such calculations make considerable assumptions about his accuracy. And there's considerable reason to believe he's not very accurate at all, that his teleconference began long after the 9:10 claimed by Dr Griffin, and so calculations based on his timeline will be seriously flawed.
And of course there's Norman Mineta's account, which famously placed Cheney in the PEOC prior to 9:20. But we've seen there are several reasons to question that. For example, Mineta said the White House was being evacuated when he arrived; Clarke, along with virtually everyone else, says this only happened after the Pentagon was hit. And while Mineta has himself in action and talking to the FAA from soon after 9:20, another report says he didn't call them until nearer 10 o'clock. Read more here.
Check these stories in more detail, then, and they begin to fall apart. Not one of them is sufficiently reliable to make the case that Cheney reached the PEOC before 9:20, and the weight of evidence continues to show that the 9/11 Commission timeline for Cheney's evacuation is more accurate.