- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Minutes after terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, President Bush ordered military jets into the air around Washington with orders to shoot down any airliner that refused to turn away from the city, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said yesterday.
But the F-16 military jets were not in the air until two minutes before a hijacked passenger jet slammed into the Pentagon, and because they were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base near Norfolk, they could not stop the attack.
"We did, in effect, put a flying combat air patrol up over the city, F-16s with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time," Mr. Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Although the decision was made by the president, Mr. Cheney said, "I wholeheartedly concurred in the decision he made, that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort our pilots were authorized to take them out."
The decision came as a fourth hijacked airliner flew over Pennsylvania, possibly targeting the presidential retreat, Camp David. In addition, nearly 2,000 commercial planes were in the air at the time, and officials at that time believed that two of those might have been hijacked as well.
"We had reports that there were six airplanes that might have been hijacked, and that's what we started working off of that list of six, and we could account for two of them in New York. The third one we didn't know what had happened to," Mr. Cheney said.
"It turned out it had hit the Pentagon, but the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter and then later a private jet, and it was only after we got hold of some eyewitnesses that we knew it was an American Airlines flight," he said.
The vice president called the decision the "toughest" of the ordeal.
"People say that's a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens — civilians — captured by terrorists. Are you going to in fact shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board? We decided to do it. It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act if, in fact, they feel it's appropriate," he said.
In retrospect, Mr. Cheney said that shooting down a passenger plane would have been preferable to what actually happened.
"If we had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing it? I think absolutely we would have. Now, it turned out we did not have to execute on that authorization, but there were some — a few moments — when we thought we might, when planes were incoming and we didn't know whether or not they were a problem aircraft until they'd diverted and gone elsewhere."
Mr. Bush said yesterday he gave the order from Florida on Tuesday morning when he realized "we were under attack."
"I gave our military the orders necessary to protect Americans; do whatever it would take to protect Americans. And of course, that's difficult. Never in anybody's thought process about how to protect America did we ever think that the evil-doers would fly not one but four commercial aircraft into precious U.S. targets, never," said the president, who returned to the White House yesterday from Camp David.
Mr. Bush also said terrorists have "roused a mighty giant," pledging that his administration "will do what it takes" to defeat global terrorism.
"We've never seen this kind of evil before. But the evil-doers have never seen the American people in action before, either, and they're about to find out," he said.
The administration reiterated that dissident Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden is the "prime suspect" in masterminding Tuesday's assault.
The vice president yesterday also recounted the first few frenetic minutes of the attack, when he was in his office and Mr. Bush was in Florida at an education event. As Mr. Cheney was going over some paperwork with a staff member, his secretary buzzed in that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.
He was watching the television when another airliner hit the second tower, along with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and senior adviser Mary Matalin. Within minutes, Secret Service agents arrived and literally carried him from the room.
"You know, your feet touch the floor periodically, but they're bigger than I am, and they, of course, they have to move me very rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs, through some doors and down some more stairs into an underground facility under the White House, what's in effect a corridor locked at both ends," he said.
"And they did that because they'd received a report that an airplane was headed for the White House."
Mr. Cheney speculated that American Airlines Flight 77, which eventually crashed into the Pentagon, appeared to have targeted the White House but may have hit its secondary target because hijackers could not locate the president's home.
"I think it turned out to be tougher to see than they had anticipated. When you come in from the west, as American 77 did, unless you get up in altitude a ways, you can't see the White House because the Old Executive Office building is there [and] Treasury on the other side, and I'm speculating that the lack of ability to be able to acquire the visual aid may, in fact, have led them to go back," he said.
The vice president also said that the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania may have been targeting the Capitol. "My guess is — speculation — that the target probably would have been the Capitol building. It's big; it's easy to hit."
Once Mr. Cheney had been secured in the presidential emergency operations center under the White House, he told the president on a secure phone line to stay away from Washington.
"I said, 'Delay your return. We don't know what's going on here, but it looks like, you know, we've been targeted,'" the vice president said.
Mr. Bush left Sarasota, Fla., and flew to Air Force bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to the capital on the day of the terrorist attacks.
Mr. Cheney also said the United States is going to have to descend into the "mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business" of counterintelligence. "We're going to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. Indeed, to be able to penetrate these organizations, you need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said that fighting the shadowy network of terrorists will depend upon using military special operations forces, rather than more conventional methods such as bombers, tanks and warships.

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