Of the many lies told by Bush administration officials in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, few were larger than the assertion of Vice President Cheney — who history will show is probably the biggest and boldest liar to hold high office in the U.S. — that Air Force fighter jet pilots in hot pursuit of the hijacked airliners were poised to carry out an order from President Bush to shoot them down.

In fact, no such order was readied and one was belatedly given by Cheney himself after all four aircraft had crashed. In fact, a mere four fighters — one of them unarmed — had been scrambled. In fact, military commanders did not know of the identities of three of the four airliners until after they had been crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a farm field in Western Pennsylvania. In fact, the fighters pursued an aircraft out in the Atlantic that was not connected to the attacks.

In fairness to air traffic controllers and military commanders, a mere nine minutes elapsed from the time controller radars locked onto the first airliner and it crashed into the south tower, but the vice president nevertheless spun an elaborate yarn that was repeatedly embellished on in the days after the attacks to create the illusion that an administration that had long known about the possibility of them but had been preoccupied elsewhere, had done everything possible to prevent them once the “surprise” attacks were underway.

The outlines of this enormous lie have been known for years and some audio of the conversations of confused and then alarmed controllers has been made public. But this week the entirety of the 9/11 Commission findings on this aspect of the attacks, as well as all of the recordings, is being published for the first time by the Rutgers Law Review. Sections of it are available online at The New York Times.

That’s right, a bunch of law students and not the news media has finally provided a complete and unvarnished real-time account. In fact, as noted here, the news media for the most part has been disinterested in getting to the bottom of the major unanswered questions about the seminal event of the new millennium and because of that was complicitous in the elaborate, many tentacled Bush administration cover-up of its failings.

The account in the law review of efforts by controllers at the New York air traffic control center to locate the second airliner headed into the WTC is harrowing:

“Hey, can you look out your window right now?” the caller said.

“Yeah,” a radar control manager said.

“Can you, can you see a guy at about 4,000 feet, about 5 east of the airport right now, looks like he’s —”

“Yeah, I see him,” the manager said.

“Do you see that guy, look, is he descending into the building also?” the caller asked.

“He’s descending really quick too, yeah,” the manager said. “Forty-five hundred right now, he just dropped 800 feet in like, like one, one sweep.”

“What kind of airplane is that, can you guys tell?”

“I don’t know, I’ll read it out in a minute,” the manager said.

There was no time to read it out, and in the background people can be heard shouting: “Another one just hit the building. Wow. Another one just hit it hard. Another one just hit the World Trade.”

* * * * *
Although the Rutgers Law Review does not address ancillary questions, release of the entirety of the 9/11 Commission files on this aspect of the attacks begs a very big question: In the years leading up to September 11, 2001, there had been between 70 and 110 “successful” interceptions per year following distress or other calls, successful in that the aircraft was intercepted and its intentions identified.

Why not on 9/11?

In the instance of the four hijacked airliners, there were breakdowns in both the air traffic control and air defense system pretty much from top to bottom, as well as an arguably belated response from the White House. Which increases the magnitude of Cheney’s lies.

Regarding air defense system failures, an August 2006 Vanity Fair article is by far the best.

Shaun Mullen
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Copyright 2011 The Moderate Voice
  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Interesting and very disappointing, Shaun.

    Another lie by the one-word-man that will be glossed over in his “In My Time.”

  • superdestroyer:

    There are innumerable — and I mean hundreds if not thousands — of references online to Cheney saying that President Bush had ordered fighter jets to intercept the hijacked airliners, while in fact Cheney himself belatedly issued that order after all four airliners had crashed.

    Among the documentation for this are handwritten Secret Service logs from the morning of 9/11/01.

  • I am no fan of “deficits don’t matter Cheney” but in a crisis situation which no one had faced before you can expect many missteps by the powers that be. Cheney trying to rehab his image is expected. This particular lie is small ball stuff. The real lie was the invasion of Iraq to have our army next to the world’s suppliers of oil.

  • Allen

    The first thing I thought when I realized that these were attacks, was; “Good Grief we are at war”.

    I was in Oahu, and, before the sun came up I was looking out my hotel window watching the entire Navy fleet put to sea out of Pearl, and there was NO air traffic but ANG F-15’s coming out of the airport. So you figure out the time difference. I don’t know who gave what orders or when, but the military must have got orders pretty darn quick because they were darn sure acting on them.

    Without the Airlines operating, I was stuck in Hawaii for days on the bosses dime, it was horrible…I could barely take the pressure.

  • Allen:

    Thank you for the reminiscence.

    My own feeling was one of overwhelming helplessness as I had retired just six weeks earlier from a 34-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor and I felt like a fireman who wanted to answer the alarm but had no pole to slide down.

    My love and I were getting ready to sell her late parents’ house in northernmost New Jersey not far from the George Washington Bridge and the sights and sounds of fighter jets scrambling overhead was unnerving.

    But the biggest shock was crossing the GW and looking down river, as we had done many many times. Even at that distance the World Trade Center towers still dominated the Manhattan skyline . . . and they were gone. Gone!

    Almost as shocking was driving out to Minnesota a few days later and there being no commercial air traffic. Many houses, barns and overpasses on the interstates were festooned with American flags.

    The huge events of our lives have a habit of appearing rather differently a few years on. In the case of 9/11, the events of that day themselves are pretty much as they played out on that incredibly beautifully sunny day, but the back story that I have devoted myself to in a couple of posts this week and many in previous years has cast a very different and very dark light on the failure of leadership before, during and after the attacks (read Iraq war) of this once great nation.

  • Allen


    After 9/11 we gave Bush and the Republicans anything and everything they wanted. They used it to take political advantage and that is inexcusable. They increased debt way beyond what was required, then dumped the whole mess on the Democrats whom are trying to help out our own people. The Republicans did this to give corporate advantage over working people. They just ignore the unemployed altogether. Soon you will be hearing from the Republicans that working people must accept lower pay for longer hours to save the economy because, “we cannot compete with foreign labor”. Mark my words.

    I view super nationalism with skepticism. The national togetherness behaviors embraced when we were under threat was refreshing, invigorating, exhilarating, but all the time it reminded me of my years in Europe discussing WWII with older Germans and Austrians. It disturbs me that they said the same kinds of things. I love my country but I will not be lured into becoming what those people were just because it feels good.