Brian Weatherson writes:
Crooked Timber: September 11 - Immediate Response : Atrios links to this pretty good Wall Street journal article on the many conflicting accounts about the government’s immediate response to the September 11 attacks. Much of the confusion is probably due to the inevitable difficulty in remembering precise timelines, but I’d bet that at least some of the time some people are deliberately making things up.
One thing I didn’t know was that Cheney’s office is still sticking to the story that there was a credible threat to Air Force One that day. I thought that story had been officially inoperative for years now.
From the story:
Posted by DeLong at March 22, 2004 05:26 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Mr. Bush initially had ignored advice from Vice President Dick Cheney, calling while en route to a White House basement command center, that Washington appeared to be under attack and the president for his own safety should remain away, according to an official in the vice president's office. Once airborne, Mr. Bush spoke again on a secure phone with Mr. Cheney, who relayed a new message that changed the president's mind, White House officials later said. The vice president urged Mr. Bush to postpone his return because, Mr. Cheney said, the government had received a specific threat that Air Force One itself had been targeted by terrorists. Mr. Cheney emphasized that the threat included a reference to what he called the secret code word for the presidential jet, "Angel," Mr. Bartlett said in an interview.
In a press conference on Sept. 12, 2001, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the threat tipped the scales for Mr. Bush. The president reluctantly agreed to remain away from Washington "because the information that we had was real and credible about Air Force One," Mr. Fleischer said.
After a stop in Louisiana, the presidential jet flew to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Offutt's deep underground bunker gave the president a secure place to hold a video conference with officials in Washington. Shortly after 4 p.m., he decided to return to the capital, arriving at the White House just before 7 p.m.
Although in the days after Sept. 11, Mr. Cheney and other administration officials recounted that a threat had been received against Air Force One, Mr. Bartlett said in a recent interview that there hadn't been any actual threat. Word of a threat had resulted from confusion in the White House bunker, as multiple conversations went on simultaneously, he said. Many of these exchanges, he added, related to rumors that turned out to be false, such as reports of attacks on the president's ranch in Texas and the State Department. As for the Air Force One code name, Mr. Bartlett said, "Somebody was using the word 'angel,' " and "that got interpreted as a threat based on the word 'angel.' " (Former Secret Service officials said the code wasn't an official secret, but a radio shorthand designation that had been made public well before 2001.)
The vice president's office gave an account differing from Mr. Bartlett's, saying it still couldn't rule out that a threat to Air Force One actually had been made.
Days after the attacks, Mr. Cheney had said word of the threat had been passed to him by Secret Service agents. But in interviews, two former senior Secret Service agents on duty that day denied that their agency played any role in receiving or passing on a threat to the presidential jet.
An official in Mr. Cheney's office said in an interview that Mr. Cheney had been mistaken in saying the threat came to him via the Secret Service. The official said that instead, Mr. Cheney had received word of the threat from "a uniformed military person" manning the underground bunker. The official said the vice president and his staff don't know who the individual was. And the official said that he couldn't say definitively whether or not a threat had been made. "I'm not in a position to know the answer to that question," the official in the vice president's office said.