- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Minutes after a hijacked plane smashed into one of the World Trade Center towers yesterday morning, President Bush ordered a state of emergency, the military went into its highest state of alert and top congressional leaders were gathered on Capitol Hill for transport to a secret bunker in West Virginia.
At about the same time, Vice President Richard B. Cheney left his office in the Old Executive Office Building and made his way to the fortified command-and-control center deep within the White House.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials soon joined him.
"We have a federal emergency response plan, and at President Bush's direction we are implementing it," Bush senior adviser Karen Hughes said yesterday afternoon. "We began to implement it immediately after the first attack in New York this morning.
"We contacted American forces and embassies throughout the world and placed them on high alert. The United States Secret Service immediately secured the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House, and they are all safe. They have also secured members of the national security team, the president's Cabinet and senior staff."
First lady Laura Bush and presidential daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush also were taken to secure locations, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
While top White House officials argued some, including senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, forcefully to bring the president back to Washington in order to reassure Americans, Mr. Bush instead chose to fly in secret to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, leaving behind some aides in Florida.
Camp David, the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, was ruled out as a destination following rumors that terrorists planned to strike there, too. Unattributed reports said the hijacked United Airlines plane that crashed 80 miles from Pittsburgh had been targeting Camp David.
Before takeoff from Florida, Secret Service agents "swept" reporters flying on Air Force One and even checked White House staff and stenographers.
Air Force One flew from Sarasota, Fla., to Barksdale, but not directly. Reporters in the "pool" a rotating group of White House correspondents who travel with the president said the plane appeared to fly in circles for some time, then flew east to within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, then north, then west to the air base. None aboard was told where the plane was heading.
At one point, the president's plane ascended to 40,000 feet, higher than normal but out of the range of many planes. Air Force One was shadowed in flight by several military aircraft. Upon landing about noon, the plane was surrounded immediately by soldiers in full combat gear: green fatigues, flak jackets, helmets and drawn M-16s.
On the ground, reporters traveling with Mr. Bush were asked not to use their cellular phones so the calls could not be tracked back to the base to reveal the president's location. They also were told that in reports back to their news organizations, they could say only that Mr. Bush was at "an unidentified location in the United States."
At the base, a sign on the glass window of a door to a building where the president was briefed on the situation said in large black letters, "Def Con Delta" the highest state of military alert.
About 3 p.m., the president was whisked to the home of the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The command oversees the U.S. long-range nuclear arsenal and is designed to deal with threats such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction and biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
After 4 p.m., when Washington was little more than a ghost town, Mr. Bush took off for the nation's capital. Air Force One was flanked by two F-16 fighter jets and one F-15 during the flight.
Top congressional leaders, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Republican Whip Tom DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, returned to Washington after being taken to a secure government facility in northern West Virginia.


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