During the attacks of 9/11/2001, pretty much the entire top of the U.S. military chain of command found more pressing things to do than to give their full attention to the attacks. This was a serious dereliction of duty, especially on the part of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, given the regulation (CJCSI 3610.01A, discussed in the comments on my post Why we need a new investigation of 9/11 – first draft of a leaflet) requiring the Secretary of Defense to approve any intervention involving use of lethal force.
As even the 9/11 Commission Report says:
The FAA, the White House, and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences – at least before 10:00 – included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the hijackings.
Why were “the right officials” unavailable for so long?
Bush’s behavior was discussed in my earlier post Bush at Booker School on the morning of 9/11 and in comments there.
About Donald Rumsfeld, see the following two articles, the first of which is very well footnoted:
- Donald Rumsfeld on 9/11: An enemy within by Matthew Everett, Online Journal, May 30, 2007
- Who’s in Charge Here? by Gail Sheehy, Mother Jones, July 22, 2004
The first of these articles says:
Donald Rumsfeld started the morning of 9/11 with an 8 o’clock breakfast meeting with several members of Congress, held in his private dining room at the Pentagon, to discuss the subject of missile defense. During this meeting, according to his own recollection, Rumsfeld warned that “sometime in the next two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve months there would be an event that would occur in the world that would be sufficiently shocking that it would remind people again how important it is to have a strong healthy defense department that contributes to — that underpins peace and stability in our world.” He was subsequently informed of the first attack in New York promptly after it happened. He says: “[S]omeone walked in and handed [me] a note that said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.” 
Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld, had sent this note. Although initial news reports had been unclear, with some of them suggesting the WTC might have been hit by just a small plane, according to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Torie Clarke: “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Yet after receiving Di Rita’s note, rather than initiating or joining any emergency response process, Rumsfeld continued as if this were just an ordinary day. As he later recounted: “[W]e adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” 
Inside her office in the Pentagon, Torie Clarke saw the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television. It was now obvious that the U.S. was under attack. As she later described: “[I]mmediately, the crisis management process started up.” Along with Larry Di Rita, she headed to Rumsfeld’s office. When they arrived there, Di Rita told the defense secretary: “Sir, I think your entire schedule is going to be different today.” By this time, the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC) was going into operation. Located down the hallway from Rumsfeld’s office, the ESC comprises several conference rooms that are secure against electronic eavesdropping. It is, according to Clarke, “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” One would therefore have expected Rumsfeld to have gone straight there, or to the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located next door to it. Yet, as before, he continued as if this were an ordinary day. He told Clarke and Di Rita to go to the ESC and wait for him. “In the meantime, he would get his daily intelligence briefing, which was already scheduled for nine thirty.” Rumsfeld “wanted to make a few phone calls,” so he “stayed in his office.” 
Matthew Everett’s timeline here may be a bit inaccurate.
The account in the 9/11 Commission report would appear to indicate that the intelligence briefing began earlier than 9:30: “The Secretary was informed of the second strike in New York during the briefing; he resumed the briefing while awaiting more information.” The 9/11 Commission report doesn’t say exactly when he was informed about the second plane crash, but I think it’s reasonable to suppose that he would have been informed about it within no more than a few minutes after it happened.
I don’t necessarily trust the 9/11 Commission report to give an accurate timeline either, but it’s not clear to me where Everett gets his 9:30 time for the briefing. The sources for Everett’s footnote 6 are:
 Assistant Secretary Clarke Interview With WBZ Boston, WBZ Boston, September 15, 2001; Torie Clarke, Lipstick on a Pig, pp. 216-219; Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy. New York: Scribner, 2007, p. 5. The first chapter of this book, detailing Rumsfeld’s actions on 9/11, is available online
Neither of the two online sources give a 9:30 time for the intelligence briefing.
But then again, Rumsfeld has also claimed not to have been informed about the WTC crashes in a timely fashion at all. According to Rumsfeld’s Interview with Larry King, CNN, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001, he wasn’t informed even about the first plane hitting the WTC until only a little more than 15 minutes before the Pentagon was struck:
Rumsfeld: — […] And someone walked in and handed a note that said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. And we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing —
King: Right next door is your office.
Rumsfeld: — right next door here, and the whole building shook within 15 minutes.
If true, this would be exceedingly strange. Frankly I don’t believe it.
(Thanks to Jim Hoffman for calling attention to Rumsfeld’s interview with Larry King.)
Anyhow, Matthew Everett’s article goes on to say:
What Donald Rumsfeld did in the next half-hour is unclear. Even in his prepared testimony to the 9/11 Commission, he said nothing about his actions during this crucial period leading up to the attack on the Pentagon. 
Footnote 7 refers to “Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States” (PDF), 9/11 Commission, March 23, 2004. Here, Rumsfeld says the following about what he did on 9/11:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was hosting a meeting for some of Members of Congress. Ironically, in the course of the conversation, I stressed how important it was for our country to be adequately prepared for the unexpected. Someone handed me a note that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. Later, I was in my office with a CIA briefer when I was told a second plane had hit the other tower. Shortly thereafter, at 9:38 AM, the Pentagon shook with an explosion of a then unknown origin.
So, if he was informed about the second plane crash reasonably soon after it happened, then apparently he was with his intelligence briefer for the entire time period between the time the second plane hit WTC 2 (at 9:03 AM) and the time the Pentagon was struck (at 9:38 AM). But, during that time, did no one enter his office with urgent questions about what should be done about Flight 77 (or “Phantom Flight 11”)? None of the accounts I’ve seen so far mention any such urgent questions. Very strange.
Back to Everett’s article:
But important new details of his response to the Pentagon strike itself have been revealed in the account of Aubrey Davis, an officer with the Pentagon police, who was assigned to be Rumsfeld’s personal bodyguard the morning of 9/11. This account appears in Andrew Cockburn’s recent biography, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.
From watching televised reports of events in New York, Davis had concluded that America was under attack and the Pentagon could be a target. Of his own initiative, he’d made his way to move the secretary of defense to a better-protected location. Just after 9:37 a.m., while Rumsfeld was in his office with his CIA briefer, Davis was standing outside his door. Then, he says, he heard “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” as the Pentagon was struck.
Cockburn describes: “Fifteen or twenty seconds later, just as [Davis’s] radio crackled with a message, the door opened and Rumsfeld walked out, looking composed and wearing the jacket he normally discarded while in his office.” Cockburn told an interviewer: “I couldn’t discover what he was wearing inside his office that morning — but normally he would take off his suit jacket and put on a sort of like a vest, because he found it chilly in the office. So . . . I think he had time to change his clothes, put on his going-outside jacket, come out.” How could Rumsfeld have changed his clothes in the space of just 15 to 20 seconds? If he was already dressed to go outside when the Pentagon was hit, was this just a fortunate coincidence? Or is it possible that he knew in advance that the Pentagon was going to be attacked, and therefore had put on his jacket ready to respond when this happened?
15 to 20 seconds is indeed enough time to change a jacket. However, what Rumsfeld did next is indeed strange, and at the very least irresponsible. According to Everett:
As the defense secretary appeared, Davis repeated to him what he’d just heard on his radio: Reportedly, an airplane had hit a section of the Pentagon known as the Mall. Rumsfeld set off without a word and without informing any of his command staff where he was going, heading swiftly towards the Mall, with Davis and some colleagues trying to keep up behind him. Finding no sign of damage there, Davis told the secretary: “[N]ow we’re hearing it’s by the heliport,” which was the next side of the building.
Interfering with a crime scene
Despite Davis’s protestations that he should turn back, Rumsfeld continued onwards, and the group soon found its way outside, emerging close to the area of impact. Davis recalls: “There were the flames, and bits of metal all around. The secretary picked up one of the pieces of metal. I was telling him he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime scene when he looked at some inscription on it and said, ‘American Airlines.’ Then someone shouted, ‘Help, over here,’ and we ran over and helped push an injured person on a gurney over to the road.” 
It may sound hard to believe that Rumsfeld’s immediate response to the Pentagon attack was to rush to the crash site like this and help carry a stretcher, rather than staying inside to carry out his responsibilities as secretary of defense. Yet he was caught on camera doing so, and video footage is available proving the fact. 
He didn’t stay there for long, however. Though he was away from his office for around 20 minutes, as Cockburn points out: “Given the time it took to make their way down those Pentagon corridors — each side of the enormous building is the length of three football fields — Rumsfeld was actually at the crash site for only a fraction of that period.” 
When Rumsfeld dashed out to help at the crash scene, his intention was presumably to present an image to the public of an American hero, looking after the vulnerable and injured at a time of crisis. Perhaps this was why, just days later, his spokeswoman, Torie Clarke. made a point of informing an interviewer: “Secretary Rumsfeld was one of the first people out there after it happened.” No doubt hinting towards the actions of her boss, she’d continued: “There’s example after example of heroism, of people who helped at the crash site, trying to help victims and get people to ambulances.”  Yet Rumsfeld’s actions were not heroic at all. America was under attack. He was the secretary of defense. There could have been another plane heading for the Pentagon, perhaps intending a double-strike on the place, like what had just occurred at the World Trade Center. Or maybe a plane was on a crash course for another populated area. He had a crucial role to play in helping to protect his country. But by heading outside without informing his staff where he was going, he was unable to carry this out.
Breaking the chain of command
As we now know, Rumsfeld’s actions hindered the emergency response to the ongoing attacks. For the 20 minutes or so that he was gone from his office, other officials were desperately trying to contact him, but were unable to do so. Aubrey Davis was receiving frantic calls over his radio saying: “Where’s the secretary? Where’s the secretary?” Yet he was unable to answer these. As he recalls: “I kept saying, ‘We’ve got him,’ but the system was overloaded, everyone on the frequency was talking, everything jumbled, so I couldn’t get through and they went on asking.” 
One of the officials trying to contact Rumsfeld was Captain Charles Leidig, who was temporarily in charge of the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center. At 9:39 a.m., Leidig opened an air threat conference call, declaring: “An air attack against North America may be in progress.” The NMCC then requested that the secretary of defense be added to this conference.  Rumsfeld in fact had a vital role to play in coordinating the military response to an attack on the U.S. Andrew Cockburn explains: “Though most people assume that the chain of command runs from the president to the vice president, the cold war bequeathed a significant constitutional readjustment. In an age when an enemy attack might allow only a few minutes for detection and reaction, control of American military power became vested in the National Command Authority, which consists of the president and the secretary of defense. Collectively, the NCA is the ultimate source of military orders, uniquely empowered, among other things, to order the use of nuclear weapons. In time of war, therefore, Rumsfeld was effectively the president’s partner, the direct link to the fighting forces, and all orders had to go through him. Such orders were supposed to be transmitted from . . . the National Military Command Center.” Cockburn adds that the NMCC is “the operational center for any and every crisis, from nuclear war to hijacked airliners.” 
The secretary of defense’s specific responsibility in the event of an airplane hijacking was made clear in a July 1997 military instruction, which was slightly revised in June 2001. This stated: “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses as authorized by reference d, forward requests for DOD [Department of Defense] assistance to the secretary of defense for approval.” 
Yet Rumsfeld was out of the loop. A few minutes after the NMCC requested that he be added to the air threat conference, the defense secretary’s office reported back that he was nowhere to be found. As Cockburn concludes: “The chain of command was broken.” 
A senior White House official, who was in its Situation Room on 9/11, trying to coordinate an emergency response, has angrily condemned Rumsfeld’s actions at this time: “What was Rumsfeld doing on 9/11? He deserted his post. He disappeared. The country was under attack. Where was the guy who controls America’s defense? Out of touch! How long does it take for something bad to happen? No one knew what was happening. What if this had been the opening shot of a coordinated attack by a hostile power? Outrageous, to abandon your responsibilities and go off and do what you don’t need to be doing, grandstanding.” 
Rumsfeld himself, in his statement to the 9/11 commission (PDF), says the following:
I went outside to determine what had happened. I was not there long, apparently, because I am told I was
back in the Pentagon, with a crisis action team, by shortly before or after 10:00 AM. Upon my return from the crash site and before going to the Executive Support Center (ESC), I had one or
more calls in my office, one of which I believe was with the President. I left the ESC and went to the National Military Command Center where General Dick Myers, then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had just returned from Capitol Hill. We discussed and I recommended to the President raising the U.S. Defense Condition level from 5 to 3, and increasing the Force Protection level. We later requested that the Russians be notified of the change and suggested they stand down an exercise they were conducting, which they did.
A summary was provided of the forces available in the Persian Gulf/Arabian Gulf. They included: two aircraft carrier battle groups and more than 200 TLAM cruise missiles among other vessels in the area. In the National Military Command Center (NMCC), I joined the air threat telephone conference call in progress. One of my first conversations during the conference call was with the Vice President. He informed me of the President’s authorization to shoot down hostile aircraft coming toward Washington, D.C. My thoughts went to the pilots of the U.S. military aircraft that could be called upon to execute that order. I recalled an experience in 1975, while I was serving as White House Chief of Staff, when the ship Mayaguez was seized by pirates. During that incident, communications had been beamed into a room where President Ford and the rest of us could hear U.S. pilots as they weighed intercepting a boat moving from an island to the mainland — very likely with the crew of the Mayaguez as captives. I remember hearing the uncertainty in a pilot’s voice — a young man charged with making a grave decision about firing at or attempting to disable that boat to keep it from reaching the mainland. I find it useful to try to put myself in the shoes of others – whether a pilot, or a combatant commander. And I tried to put myself into the shoes of the pilots we were asking to be prepared to intercept civilian airliners, over American soil, filled with our neighbors, friends, and relatives — and possibly having to shoot down those planes — with row after row of their fellow Americans. It was clear they needed rules of engagement telling them what they should and should not do. They needed clarity. And there were no rules of engagement on the books for this first-time situation where civilian aircraft were seized and were being used as missiles. Indeed, it may well be the first time in history that U.S. armed forces in peacetime, have been ordered to fire on fellow Americans going about their lawful business. General Myers and I went to work to fashion appropriate rules of engagement. Throughout the course of the day, we returned to further refine those rules.
The claim that there were previously no such rules of engagement seems odd to me. After all, NORAD had previously had drills involving simulation of hijacked planes crashing into buildings. If there were no rules, how could the drills have been conducted?
Anyhow, most of Rumsfeld’s attention was then directed not toward the immediate crisis but toward a future military response:
I spent the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon in the NMCC and the ESC, participating in the
Air Threat Conference, talking to the President or Vice President, or giving guidance and thinking about the
way forward. During the course of the day, the President indicated he expected us to provide him with
robust options for military responses.
Rumsfeld then goes on to talk about preparations and guidelines concerning the invasion of Afghanistan and the “war on terror” in general.
Back to Everett’s article:
Rumsfeld’s actions after the Pentagon was hit were extraordinary. If 9/11 was indeed a surprise attack, as the U.S. government claims, then he could have been putting thousands of lives at risk. What if more planes had been on a crash course towards populated areas? In fact, emergency responders had to be evacuated from the Pentagon site at around 10:15 a.m., due to an incorrect report of another hijacked plane approaching Washington, D.C.  And according to Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings” continued “well into the afternoon” of 9/11.  So why did Rumsfeld abandon his post in the middle of the worst attack on the United States for 60 years? There is a simple and logical explanation. Though chilling in its implications, it needs to be seriously considered as a possibility: Donald Rumsfeld had foreknowledge of what would happen that morning, and therefore he knew that the Pentagon would not be hit again. Either people ‘in the know’ had informed him of what was going to happen beforehand, or else he knew because he had been a participant in the planning of the attacks.
Rumsfeld heads back inside
Rumsfeld left the crash site and was back in the Pentagon by “shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” He says he “had one or more calls in my office, one of which I believe was with the President.”  However, according to the 9/11 Commission: “No one can recall the content of this conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown authority was not discussed.” 
Very strange that that crucial topic would not have been discussed yet.
Then, at around 10:15, he finally entered the Executive Support Center. In it already were Stephen Cambone, his closest aide, Larry Di Rita, and Torie Clarke. He gave them their first confirmation that a plane had hit the building, saying: “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” He spent a short time at the ESC before moving on to the National Military Command Center next door at around 10:30.  Prior to this, even after he’d re-entered the Pentagon at 10 o’clock, those in the NMCC had apparently been unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts. Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalled: “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the National Military Command Center.” 
Once there, Rumsfeld’s priority was, according to the 9/11 Commission, “ensuring that the [military fighter] pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement,” so they “would have a better understanding of the circumstances under which an aircraft could be shot down.” Rumsfeld has explained that, “Throughout the course of the day,” along with acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, he “returned to further refine those rules.” Yet, as Cockburn points out, this was “an irrelevant exercise,” as Rumsfeld did not complete and issue his rules of engagement “until 1:00 p.m., hours after the last hijacker had died.” 
So here we have it: America was under attack, starting at 8:14 a.m. (the alleged takeover of Flight 11) and ending minutes after 10 a.m. (when Flight 93 supposedly crashed into a field in Pennsylvania). Yet the only thing we know the secretary of defense did in response, so as to protect the American people, was issue some instructions to fighter pilots — at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
Next in the chain of command, below Rumsfeld, was general Richard Myers, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On October 17, 2001, Myers said the following, in an interview on the Armed Forces Radio And Television Service (AFRTS), about the morning of 9/11:
I remember it was like watching a bad movie. I was on Capitol Hill. I was about ready to meet with Senator Cleland. I was meeting with him in preparation for my hearing, my confirmation hearing to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I remember before we walked in there was a TV that was playing and somebody has said, “An airplane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers.” They thought it was an airplane, and they thought it was a small airplane or something like that. So we walked in and we did the office call with Senator Cleland.
Sometime during that office call the second tower was hit. Nobody informed us of that. But when we came out, that was obvious. Then right at that time somebody said the Pentagon has been hit.
Strange that no one told him about the second plane, or about the hijacked planes known or suspected to be in the air.
Jim Hoffman says, without giving a source on this particular point:
On September 13th, Myers appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that confirmed his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin asked Myers if the FAA, FBI, or any other agency had contacted the Defense Department after the jets crashed into the Twin Towers and before the Pentagon was hit. Myers replied that he did not know the answer.
I found a transcript of this hearing on the Emperor’s Clothes site.