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February 25, 2021

New 9/11 Timeline Entries: Richard Myers’s Actions During the Attacks, Pre-9/11 Warnings About Al-Qaeda, and More


A large number of entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons. The majority of these deal with events that took place on September 11, 2001, with a particular focus on the actions of General Richard B. Myers, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States when the terrorist attacks occurred; others describe notable incidents that occurred before 9/11, such as warnings issued by key individuals about the threat posed by al-Qaeda and discussions within government agencies about killing Osama bin Laden.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers Learned of the Attacks on the World Trade Center

Many new timeline entries provide details of the response of Myers to the 9/11 attacks. Myers was at the time vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was out of the country for most of the day of September 11 and so Myers stood in for him as acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers was on Capitol Hill, about to go into a 9 o’clock meeting with Senator Max Cleland, when he learned of the first crash at the World Trade Center from seeing it reported on television. He went ahead with the meeting and, he has recalled, learned of the second crash at the WTC when someone came in and passed on the news of what had happened.

In response to the second crash, General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, called Colonel Matthew Klimow, Myers’s executive assistant, at the Pentagon and said he urgently wanted to talk to Myers. Klimow then called Myers and let him know that NORAD needed to speak to him. Eberhart reached Myers while he was on Capitol Hill, and updated him on what was happening and the actions NORAD was taking in response to the attacks.

Myers subsequently headed back to the Pentagon and, as he was setting out, was informed that the Pentagon had just been attacked. Klimow, meanwhile, received a call from Shelton’s plane, which was flying the chairman to Europe, and during the call passed on the news of the Pentagon attack.

While Myers was on the road, he called Klimow and was given an update on what had happened at the Pentagon. After his car reached the Pentagon, he joined Klimow at the River Entrance and the two men then headed to the National Military Command Center (NMCC).

Myers Responded to the Attacks from the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center

They reached the NMCC at around 9:58 a.m. and Myers started participating in a conference call being conducted from there. However, he soon decided to leave the center to search for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but was unable to find him. Apparently shortly after returning to the NMCC, he asked Klimow to check that a special military plane called the National Airborne Operations Center had been launched in response to the attacks.

Myers talked to Eberhart for the second time that morning after he reached the NMCC and the two men discussed “rules of engagement” for American fighter jets launched in response to the attacks, but they subsequently took no action to ensure the rules they established were passed on to the pilots of the fighters. Furthermore, during the call, Myers failed to pass on the important information that Vice President Dick Cheney had authorized the military to shoot down suspicious aircraft.

After Rumsfeld arrived in the NMCC, at around 10:30 a.m., he and Myers continued work on the rules of engagement that the vice chairman had established with Eberhart. Then, at 11:00 a.m., the two men, along with several more senior officials at the Pentagon, participated in a secure video teleconference with other government agencies where the main issue discussed was the rules of engagement for fighters. As Myers and Rumsfeld left the conference room following the teleconference, the secretary of defense suddenly asked those in the NMCC what else they thought the terrorists could do and Myers immediately suggested the possibility of them committing an attack involving nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Myers subsequently instructed Klimow to contact General Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the US Central Command, who was away in Europe, and tell him to return to the US and start considering how the military should respond to the terrorist attacks.

Myers and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Relocated to the Executive Support Center

There had been concerns about the deteriorating air quality while Myers, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues were participating in the secure video teleconference, and an air quality expert subsequently warned that the oxygen level in the NMCC was dangerously low. This led Myers, Rumsfeld, and their entourage to leave the NMCC shortly after midday and relocate to the Executive Support Center (ESC), a secure communications hub on the third floor of the Pentagon.

Shortly after they arrived at the ESC, Myers gave Rumsfeld an update during which he mentioned that he had received the final recommended rules of engagement for fighters from Eberhart, and Rumsfeld then approved these rules. But written rules of engagement were apparently only circulated by the Department of Defense at 1:45 p.m., hours after the terrorist attacks ended.

Additionally, at some point after Myers, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues arrived at the ESC, an Army officer who had witnessed the Pentagon attack spoke to them about what he’d seen and confirmed that the Pentagon had been hit by an American Airlines plane. Rumsfeld also called Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defense minister, and requested that the Russian military stand down an exercise it had been conducting near Alaska.

Around 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Myers and Rumsfeld went outside to inspect the site of the Pentagon attack and observed the damage to the building. Rumsfeld subsequently visited the crash site again, accompanied by a number of aides and also Senators Carl Levin and John Warner, whom he had invited to visit the Pentagon. And at 5:25 p.m., he announced to his colleagues that, despite the unprecedented attack there, the Pentagon would open as usual the following day and he wanted everyone to report for work.

At 6:30 p.m., Myers participated in a secure video teleconference held by the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council during which the committee’s members discussed how the US should respond to the terrorist attacks. Then at 10:30 p.m., the vice chairman held a “war council” meeting with the senior directors of the Joint Staff, where “planning for future action” was discussed.

Local Police Secured the Pentagon Site

A few entries describe events that took place at the Pentagon on September 11, which Myers was not involved with. Members of the Arlington County Police Department arrived at the Pentagon minutes after it was attacked and promptly started securing the perimeter of the Pentagon Reservation. And yet, despite the extensive security measures that were implemented, a crew apparently made up of illegal immigrants was later allowed by the Secret Service to enter the Pentagon site to help clean up debris, even though its members had no identification with them.

Additionally, at some point after Chief Edward Plaugher of the Arlington County Fire Department reached the Pentagon following the attack there, he told a senior military official that he thought the NMCC was unsafe and needed to be evacuated, but the official refused his advice.

FBI and CIA Experts Gave Warnings Before 9/11 About the Threat Posed by Bin Laden

Most of the other entries describe events that took place before 9/11, which dealt with concerns regarding the threat that al-Qaeda and the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden, were believed to pose to the US, and the fear that a major terrorist attacks was going to take place.

In late 1999, John O’Neill, the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda, told a group of CIA officials of his concern that an attack was imminent and the terrorist group was going to try to bring down the WTC. In July 2001, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, told other senior CIA officials that he thought bin Laden was comparable to Adolf Hitler before World War II and the threat posed by al-Qaeda would be significantly reduced if he was killed. Around the same time, Cofer Black, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, told a visiting group from the Middle East that a major attack against US interests was going to occur.

A few days later, Blee went to Black with evidence that had been compiled suggesting al-Qaeda would attack the US in the near future, and the two men then presented this evidence to CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet was so unsettled that he immediately went to the White House with his two colleagues, and they showed the information to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials there.

Warnings about the terrorist threat were also made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Putin met George W. Bush at a summit in June 2001, he warned the US president about Islamic extremists who he said could cause a “major catastrophe.” And just two days before 9/11, he phoned Bush and told him Russia believed a terrorist event that had been “long in preparation” could be imminent.

Fear of al-Qaeda led to discussions about assassinating the group’s leader. Around late June 2001, the CIA held two exercises at its headquarters where the issues around killing bin Laden with an armed drone aircraft were considered. A short time later, a meeting was held at CIA headquarters during which A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director, asked representatives from various agencies if they thought a man in a video should be assassinated, based on evidence that he was bin Laden.

Finally, an entry describes how a major sovereign wealth fund bought a huge amount of two-year Treasury notes on September 10, 2001, which significantly increased in value in response to the attacks the following day, thereby making the buyer millions.

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