Wednesday, July 11, 2012


by James Bamford,

April 2002
Used copies in good condition available at Amazon for one penny.

Completely Bogus As Far As My Areas of Expertise Goes.


"This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards. The fate of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud remains uncertain two days after he was attacked in his home in northern Afghanistan. Massoud's followers insist that the assassination attempt failed and that he is still alive. But there's widespread speculation that he died from his wounds. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports."

On the second floor of a handsome brick house on Fort Meade's Butler Avenue, a clock radio, as usual, turned National Public Radio on at 5:45 A.M. Lieutenant General Michael v: Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency, slowly adjusted his eyes to the early morning twilight. It was September 11, 2001, a Tuesday in early autumn. The sultry air of summer had turned crisp and dry, and yellow school buses again were prowling suburban streets like aged tigers.

"This is not the first time that Ahmed Shah Massoud's enemies have tried to kill him," said Michael Sullivan from Islamabad, Pakistan, as the broadcast continued. "A spokesman said there have been numerous attempts by the Taliban to assassinate the charismatic commander in the past few years. . Opposition spokesmen say Massoud was seriously injured when two suicide bombers posing as journalists detonated a bomb hidden in their TV camera during an interview with Massoud on Sunday.... Opposition spokesmen have accused the Taliban of being behind the suicide bombing and hint that Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden may also be involved. The assassins, they say, are Arabs who had come from the Taliban-controlled capitol, Kabul."

Suicide bombing, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban. If Michael Hayden was listening, it was not a good way to start the morning. Long one of NSA's chief targets, bin Laden had been eluding the agency's eavesdroppers since 1998, when an American missile attack on his compound in Afghanistan made him think twice about using satellite communications. Until then, his voice had been heard frequently within the agency's thick, copper-lined walls. For highly cleared visitors from other intelligence agencies, officials would even play recordings of bin Laden chatting with his mother in Syria.

In 1996, bin Laden was planning to move his headquarters from Sudan to remote Afghanistan, where communications would be a serious problem. But his man in London, Khalid al-Fawwaz, had a solution. "To solve the problem of communication," he wrote to bin Laden that year, "it is indispensable to buy the satellite phone." Bin Laden agreed, and al-Fawwaz, who would later be charged with conspiring with bin Laden to murder American citizens abroad (as of this writing, he is awaiting extradition from England), turned to a student at the University of Missouri at Columbia, Ziyad Khalil. Khalil had become a spokesman for the rights of Muslim students at the university, and he agreed to help al- Fawwaz purchase the $7,500 satellite phone, although there is no evidence that he knew he was procuring it on behalf of bin Laden. After doing some research, Khalil then bought the phone from a firm on New York's Long Island.

Another break for bin Laden came on the evening of April 3, 1996, when a powerful Atlas rocket slipped gracefully into the sky from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 36A. Sitting atop the spacecraft, beneath a protective clam-shell sheath, was the first of a new generation of Inmarsat communications satellites on its way to geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles over the Indian Ocean. The satellite, owned by the International Maritime Satellite Organization, would be used largely by ships at sea as well as people in isolated parts of the world, such as oil explorers.

Over the next two years, the phone was used for hundreds of calls to London, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Sudan. Bin Laden's telephone number -- 00873682505331 -- also turned up in the private phone books and date planners of terrorists in Egypt and Kenya. It was even used, say investigators, to disseminate bin Laden's February 1998 fatwah that declared American civilians should he killed. From 1996 through 1998, Khalil ordered more than 2,000 minutes of telephone airtime for bin Laden's phone.

Eventually the phone was also used by bin Laden and his top lieu tenants to orchestrate the bombings of the two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. In October 1997, Ibrahim Eidarous, currently awaiting extradition from England as part of the embassy bombing conspiracy, sent word from London to Afghanistan asking Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's right-hand man, to call 956375892. This was a mobile phone in London belonging to yet another alleged embassy bombing coconspirator, Abdel Bary, who is also awaiting extradition from London. The following day, bin Laden's satellite phone was used to make several calls to that phone number in London.

But even though NSA had the capability to intercept many conversations to and from bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda -- including some of those allegedly involved in the bombing of the American embassies in East Africa -- the information was not enough to prevent the attacks.

Many of the calls were intercepted by Britain's GCHQ at their listening post at Morwenstow, near Bude, in Cornwall. There, close to the endless whitecaps of the Celtic Sea, nearly a dozen dishes pick up signals from commercial satellites such as Inmarsat and INTELSAT. The intercepted phone calls, faxes, Internet, and data transfers are then forwarded to GCHQ's sprawling headquarters in Cheltenham. Once filtered and analyzed, they would be forwarded to NSA over secure, encrypted communications links.
Other calls to and from bin Laden were picked up thousands of miles to the south of Afghanistan, at a listening post run by Australia's Defense Signals Division located at Geraldton, a scruffy port on the Indian Ocean about 210 miles north of Perth. Situated in the westernmost part of the country, Geraldton was built in 1994 to eavesdrop on commercial satellites over the Indian Ocean.

Eventually, following President Clinton's 1998 American cruise missile attack on bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan, and the realization that his location could be betrayed by signals from the satellite phone, he stopped using the instrument. Now when one calls his number, all they hear is a recording stating he is "not logged on or not in the dialed ocean region."

Since 1998, bin Laden communicates only through messengers who make calls for him from distant locations. Nevertheless, these are also occasionally intercepted. One such call, picked up by NSA early in September 2001, was from a bin Laden associate to bin Laden's wife in Syria, advising her to return to Afghanistan. At the time, it was filed away when instead it should have been one more clue, one more reason for director Hayden to worry on the morning of September 11.


About 6:50, as General Hayden was pulling his Volvo into a parking spot near the entrance to OPS 2B, many other NSA employees were arriving at Crypto City. Thousands lived just a few miles away in Laurel, Maryland, long the company town. On September 11, as on most mornings, they slowly snaked their way through the city on US Route 1, passing gritty strip malls selling doughnuts and pizza, and cheap motels with parking lots of aging cars and tractorless cabs. One of those was the Valencia Motel, a tired, eighty-unit structure of brick, Formstone, and tan siding. A garish, mustard- olored sign announced the place to weary travelers.

In an irony of tragic proportions, as many early morning NSA employees passed the motel, some off to continue their hunt for terrorists; they crossed paths with bin Laden's men as they embarked on the worst attack against America in history. Had an NSA worker looked over at the right time that morning, they might have seen five men emerge from Room 343 and climb into a blue, four-door Toyota Corolla with California tags. They were Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi on their way to Washington's Dulles International Airport.

In the days leading up to the September 11 attacks, a great deal of the planning took place right under NSA's giant ear, in the agency's bedroom community of Laurel.

Toris Proctor, an unemployed twenty-two-year-old, thought his next-door neighbors at the Valencia Motel were gay-and unfriendly. Five men were sharing a room with two double beds, a living room, and kitchenette. "The gay dudes," he called them. "If you say 'Hello,' it's like talking to a brick wall." They had checked in at the beginning of September and used a credit card to pay the $508 for a one-week stay. "We saw them every day," said Charmain Mungo, another resident. "They were always in and out. If one left, they all left."

Another resident, Gail North, who also worked at the motel as a housekeeper, said the men forbade her from entering the room to change the towels. Instead, they opened the door a crack, passed the dirty items through, and took clean bathroom supplies in exchange. "We saw them every day," she said, "but they wouldn't talk to anybody. We live like one big family here. Even though it is a motel, some of us have been here for over a year. It's like a neighborhood." The men kept to themselves as they walked across the street for pizza or brought a load of dirty clothes to the Sunshine Laundry. "He used the dryer in the back," said Robert Currence, the night manager. "It was weird. He would look at you without speaking."

During one of his visits to the hijackers in Laurel, Mohamed Atta used a supermarket and a Mail Boxes Etc. store in the town to transfer as much as $10,000 -- excess funds not spent on the terrorist operations -- to the United Arab Emirates. At nearby Freeway Airport in Bowie, Hani Hanjour took flying lessons, going aloft with instructors three times in August. Although he had a pilot's license, he needed to be certified because he wanted to rent a plane. But after supervising Hanjour on a series of oblongs above the airport and Chesapeake Bay, the instructors refused to pass him because of his poor skills.

Seeking to stay fit, the five men bought memberships to Gold's Gym a few miles down the road in Greenbelt beginning September 2. There they joined the 600 to 1,000 other people, likely including NSA employees, who worked out each day. "They blended in pretty well," said Gene LaMott, the president and chief executive of the international fitness chain. According to LaMott, the men were quiet and generally worked out in groups, often on the weight-training and resistance machines.

About a mile north of the Valencia on US Route 1 is another seedy motel the hijackers used, the Pin-Del. On August 27, Ziad Jarrah entered the motel office. Scattered on a table near the desk were an assortment of Jehovah's Witness publications with such titles as "Is there really a devil?" and "When someone you love dies." He paid $132 with a Visa card for a three-night stay but checked out at 6:20 P.M. the next night and received a $44 refund. Less then a week later, on September 1, another suspected hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, paid $42.90 in cash for a one-night stay at the Pin-Del.

The planning completed, the leftover money returned to associates in the Middle East, and their muscles toned up, Hani Hanjour and his four associates were ready to begin. About the same time that General Hayden was starting his morning round of briefings, the hijackers were arriving at Washington's Dulles International Airport. In their pockets were one- ay tickets on American Airlines Flight 77 to Los Angeles. At the ticket counter, an agent thought it a bit odd that two of the men, brothers Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi, were holding first-class tickets -- 2,400 each -- but were waiting in the coach line. "Oil money," he thought.

At Newark airport, Ziad Jarrah joined associates at the boarding gate for United Airlines Flight 93 bound for San Francisco. Still other members of the cells, including Mohamed Atta, were arriving for flights in Boston.


"Good morning," said the captain to the air traffic controllers disappearing quickly below. "American eleven heavy with you passing through, ah, two thousand for three thousand." At 7:59 on September 11, American Airlines Flight 11 lifted off from Boston's Logan International Airport, knifing through the sparkling clear morning air at race car speed as it climbed from two to three thousand feet. Window seat passengers could clearly see the glint of sunlight reflecting off the gold dome of the State House high atop Beacon Hill. "Good morning," replied a controller at Boston departure radar. "Traffic ten o'clock, two miles, maneuvering."

It was early September and a good time to be traveling. The weather had broken and it was clear and cooler in the Northeast. The thunderstorms of summer were past, as was the hectic Labor Day holiday. And the eleventh was a Tuesday, statistically one of the least busy travel days of the week. For the eighty-one passengers aboard Flight 11, less than half full, it meant empty middle seats in which to stretch out for the long trip to Los Angeles. Normally capable of carrying up to 269 passengers, the twin-engine Boeing 767 -- a modern marvel made up of 3.1 million parts -- was one of the long-haul workhorses for American Airlines. Sloshing around in the wings and other cavities was up to 23,980 gallons of highly explosive fuel -- enough to fill the tanks of 1,200 minivans.

"We have him in sight," replied the pilot. At fifty-two, John Ogonowski had been flying for half of his life, first in the Air Force at the end of the Vietnam War and beginning in 1979 with American. Earlier that morning he had left the tranquility of his 150-acre farm in the northern Massachusetts town of Dracut. A sweeping expanse of fields and fruit trees, dotted with farm machinery and stone walls, it was where the found-faced Ogonowski, a fourth-generation farmer, found peace. Down from the clouds, he spent his time laboriously plowing and harrowing the soil. "When his hands were dirty and his pants were filthy, he was always pretty happy," said his brother: James.

As the plane passed over the small Massachusetts town of Gardner, about forty-five miles west of Boston, the smell of coffee was starting to drift through the cabin. Flight attendants were just beginning to prepare the breakfasts of omelets, sausages, and fruit cups. Seated in business class, in seat 8D, Mohamed Atta, a clean-shaven thirty-three-year-old Egyptian in casual clothes, did not bother lowering his food tray. He had already eaten his last meal. Instead, he pulled his small black shoulder bag from under the seat in front of him, withdrew a plastic knife and a box cutter, and stepped into the aisle. At that same moment, as if choreographed, four other men assigned to Row 8 also rose and headed toward the front of the plane.

John Ogonowski again heard the crackle of a traffic controller in his earphones. Sitting in front of a twenty-seven-inch, high-resolution Sony TV console, the controller could see Flight 11's key information -- its altitude, direction, and identifying number. "AAL eleven, your traffic is at, uh, two o'clock, twenty miles Southwestbound, MD eighty," he said, alerting Ogonowski to a McDonald Douglas MD-80 nearby.

''AAL eleven, roger," said the captain, adding, "Twenty right, AAL eleven."
At that very moment, 8:13 A.M., the move was on. Atta and his men quickly grabbed a flight attendant, likely put the cool gray edge of a box cutter to her throat, and forced her to admit them to the cockpit. "Don't do anything foolish," one of the men yelled in English. "You're not going to get hurt." But, likely within minutes, the two pilots were killed and Atta took over the left seat.

Sixteen seconds later, unaware of the horror then taking place in the blood-splattered cockpit, the Boston controller again radioed Flight 11. ''AAL eleven. Now climb maintain FL three fifty," he said, giving the pilot permission to climb from 29,000 to 35,000 feet. Hearing nothing, he repeated the message ten seconds later, again eleven seconds later, and once more fifteen seconds later at 8: 14:23, but still with no reply. Then, suddenly, in an electronic blink, the critical information on Flight 11 disappeared from his screen, indicating that the plane's transponder had been turned off.

Two hundred miles to the south, at Washington's Dulles International Airport, American Airlines Flight 77 was preparing for takeoff to Los Angeles. "American seventy-seven, Dulles tower," said the controller at 8:16 A.M. "Runway three zero taxi into position and hold. You'll be hold ing for landing traffic one left and for spacing wake turbulence spacing behind the DC-ten." Among the sixty-four people on board was Barbara Olson, a cable-TV talk-show regular who turned bashing the Clintons into a professional blood sport. Her husband was Theodore Olson, the Bush administration's solicitor general. Also on board were Hani Hanjour and his four associates.

As American Airlines Flight 77 nosed into the crystal clear sky, Danielle O'Brien, an air traffic controller in the Dulles tower, passed them on to another controller at a different frequency. "American seventy-seven contact Washington center one two zero point six five," she said. Then she added, "Good luck." Later she thought how odd that was. "1 usually say 'good day' as I ask an aircraft to switch to another frequency. Or 'have a nice flight.' But never 'good luck.'"

By 8:15, the air traffic controller in Boston was becoming greatly concerned. Despite his numerous calls, there was only silence from American Airlines Flight 11. "AAL eleven, if you hear Boston center, ident please or acknowledge," repeated the controller, his voice rising. Then, at 8:24, frightening words poured from his earphones. "We have some planes," said a voice. "Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport." It was a message, likely from Mohamed Atta, intended for his passengers but relayed accidentally to the Boston center.

"And, uh, who's trying to call me here?" said the controller. "AAL eleven, are you trying to call?"

Then another troubling message. "Okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet." And finally, at a second before 8:34, came one more. "Nobody move please," said the voice, "we are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves." Six minutes later, at 8:40, the worried controller notified the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Responsible for defending the country against airborne attack, NORAD had become a Cold War relic. Outdated, unable to think outside the box, it had been transformed into little more than a weed-watching agency for the drug war. Protecting the country from hostile attack were fourteen aged fighters at seven bases, none near Washington, D.C., or New York City, long the two prime targets for terrorists.

The hijack warning was received at NORAD's North East Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York. There, at the Mission Crew Control Desk, men and women in blue uniforms huddled intently over rows of green glowing screens. The transponder on Flight 11, they were told, was no longer working. Also, the Los Angeles-bound plane had suddenly made an unexpected left turn toward New York City. And then there were the frightening transmissions.

Concern deepened when, just three minutes after the first, another alert of a possible hijacking came in from the FAA, this time for United Flight 175. Like American Airlines Flight 11, United Flight 175 was a Boeing 767 flying from Boston to Los Angeles. Sitting in the pilot's seat was Victor Saracini, a fifty-one-year-old Navy veteran from Pennsylvania who often took his guitar along with him on flights. Saracini had also heard the troubling messages from Flight 11 and notified New York Control in Rokonkoma, New York. "We heard a suspicious transmission on our departure from Boston," said Saracini. "Sounds like someone keyed the mike and said everyone stay in your seats." Now Saracini knew he had his own set of hijackers on board.

As a result of the two alerts, NORAD's Weapons Desk sent out a scramble order to Otis Air National Guard Base at Falmouth, Massachusetts. There, on a quiet Cape Cod marsh, a flock of seagulls suddenly began flapping toward the sky as a Klaxon let out a series of deafening blasts and red lights began flashing in the corner of the alert barns. Within minutes, two national guardsmen, one a commercial pilot on temporary duty and the other a full-time member of the guard, began racing toward their jets, "hot and cocked" on the tarmac. Crew chiefs quickly pulled protective covers from the two vintage F-15 Eagles, built in 1977. Chocks were yanked from the wheels and the heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles were armed. At 8:52 the F-15s were screaming down the tarmac.

By then" however, they were already too late for Flight 11. Nevertheless, the fighter pilots still had a chance of catching up to United Flight 175. But distance and time were critical factors. Cape Cod was nearly two hundred miles from downtown Manhattan. Another Air National Guard base with F-16s was located at Atlantic City, New Jersey-and Flight 175 would pass within just four minutes of the base before turning north to New York City. But it did not have interceptors on alert. Time was also a problem. Rather than push their throttles to the max, bringing the fighters to their top speeds in excess of Mach 2, over 1,300 miles per hour, the pilots cruised toward New York at just under the speed of sound, around 700 miles per hour, This was apparently to avoid disturbing anyone below with a sonic boom.

At 8:41, around the same time that NORAD was receiving hijack alerts concerning the American and United flights out of Boston, another plane with hijackers aboard was roaring full throttle down a runway at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. After a forty-minute delay, United Flight 93 was on its way to San Francisco with a light load of passengers.

In the cockpit, pilot Jason Dahl, a NASCAR fan from Littleton, Colorado, gently pulled back on his controls to take the jet up to 35,000 feet. As the plane climbed, Mark Bingham, a publicist returning home from a meeting with high- technology clients, could feel the "pressure gently pushing him back into his cushy first-class seat, Sharing an armrest with him was another Bay Area resident, Tom Burnett, a healthcare executive. Behind the curtain in business class, Jeremy Glick, a sales manager for an Internet company, was seated in Row 11 and no doubt happy to finally get off the ground. Farther back, in the main cabin, Oracle software manager Todd Beamer was on his way to the company's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

In Washington at 8:41, during the penultimate moments before the most devastating surprise attack in American history, the country's vast intelligence machine was humming along on autopilot. George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, was enjoying a leisurely breakfast with an old friend in royal splendor at the St. Regis, a hotel built in the style of an Italian Renaissance palace. Surrounded by European antiques and rich damask draperies, he was chatting about families over omelets with David Boren. The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and now president of the University of Oklahoma, Boren had been Tenet's patron as the former Intelligence Committee staff director rose to the top of the spy world.

Two hundred miles north, American Airlines Flight 11 was tearing toward New York City. Huddling out of sight, a shaken flight attendant managed to telephone a fellow American Airlines employee at Logan Airport on her cell phone. Near rows 9 and to, she said in hushed tones, were several Middle Eastern-looking men, armed with knives, who had wounded other passengers and had commandeered the plane.

In Manhattan, forty-eight-year-old Steve McIntyre left his Upper West Side home a good half hour earlier than usual and was just arriving at the World Trade Center. The director of regulatory affairs for the American Bureau of Shipping, he had an office on the ninety-first floor of Tower One. For nearly a quarter of a century, since graduating from the University of Michigan's Naval Architecture School, he had worked for the company, which sets standards for maritime safety.

From his north-facing office, the entire city was laid out below him. Silver towers and glass walls radiated in the sun, and flat, tar-covered rooftops with stubby chimneys stretched to the horizon. The glare was so great that he had to close the blinds before sitting down at his computer. Until 1999, when ABS headquarters relocated to Houston, the company had more than 130 workers in Tower One. Now it had only twenty-two to handle local New York business. About half of them were then at work.

Nearly one hundred floors below, French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were shooting scenes for their documentary about a typical day in the life of a rookie New York fireman. At 8:43, as they were zooming their lenses in on men closing a sewer grate, they heard the sound of a low-flying plane. Curious, they pointed the camera almost straight up just as American Airlines Flight 11 streaked across the lens. It was headed directly toward Tower One of the World Trade Center.

Steve McIntyre was plowing through his e-mail when he heard what he thought was the roar of jet engines followed by a shadow crossing the blinds. In a nearby office, Claire McIntyre, no relation, was also checking her e-mail when she heard the same sound-the blast of a jet engine. Impossible, she thought. Then, to her horror, she looked up to see the wing and tail of a colossal plane coming right at her. "Oh my God, all my people," she thought. Screaming, she bolted from her office and raced into the hall to alert the rest of the staff. "Everyone, get out now," McIntyre yelled at the top of her voice. At the same moment, Steve McIntyre also realized it was a plane but had no idea of its size. "Oh, shit," he thought to himself. "Someone's lost control of a private Lear jet."

Far below on the street, the lens of Naudet's camera caught the fuselage of the massive Boeing 767, converted into a flying bomb, slicing directly into the building. For a fraction of a second, the event seemed almost graceful. The building simply swallowed up the plane, like a bullfrog catching a grasshopper in flight. But in the blink of an eye, when the nearly full fuel tanks were suddenly compressed like crushed soda cans, a massive fireball exploded and it was bedlam in hell.

The plane entered on the ninety-third floor, just two floors above the heads of Steve and Claire McIntyre, shaking the entire building as if an earthquake had struck. In the American Bureau of Shipping offices, an interior wall and ceiling collapsed and one employee had to be extricated from his cubicle. People began grabbing fire extinguishers while another person had the presence of mind to soak a fat roll of paper towels. Steve McIntyre left to check the fire exits.

Seconds after the blast, at 8:43:57, the cockpit crew aboard U.S. Air- ways Flight 583 heard Flight 11's eerie final gasp. "I just picked up an ELT on one twenty-one point five," the pilot told New York air traffic control, referring to an emergency locator transmitter and its frequency. "It was brief but it went off." The sound probably came from the black box aboard the doomed American Airlines flight in the second before it vaporized. "We picked up that ELT, too," reported a pilot on Delta Airlines Flight 2433, "but it's very faint."

Slowly it was beginning to dawn on New York Control just what had taken place. "Anybody know what that smoke is in lower Manhattan?" said another pilot flying over the area. "A lot of smoke in lower Manhattan is coming out of the top of the World Trade Center -- a major fire."

By now it had been eleven minutes since New York Control had heard from United Flight 175, and the controller again tried to regain contact. "UAL one seventy-five," he said, "do you read New York?" But, just as with Flight 11, there was only silence. Growing more and more concerned, he checked that his equipment was working correctly and asked whether other locations may have picked him up. "Do me a favor, see if UAL one seventy-five went back to your frequency," he asked a southern traffic control center. "He's not here," came the response.

After another minute of agonizing quiet, he expressed his suspicion. "We may have a hijack," he told a colleague. "I can't get hold of VAL one seventy-five at all right now and I don't know where he went to." "UAL one seventy-five, New York," he called again. But by then the hijackers were in full control. Near Albany, they made a U-turn back to the east and were at that moment screaming south toward Manhattan over the Hudson Valley at about 500 miles per hour-more than double the legal airspeed. The hijack pilot probably followed the Hudson River, like a thick line on a map, directly toward his target: Tower Two of the World Trade Center.

At the time American Airlines Flight 11 hit Tower One, the CNN program Live at Daybreak was carrying a report on a maternity-wear fashion show in New York. Then, at 8:49 anchor Carol Lin broke into a commercial. "This just in," she said. "You are looking at -- obviously a very disturbing live shot there -- that is the World Trade Center and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center."

CNN then switched to Sean Murton, the network's vice president of finance, who had observed the crash from the twenty-first floor of 5 Penn Plaza. "I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City," he said during a live telephone interview. "And it appears to have crashed into -- I don't know which tower it is -- but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers.... It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a seven thirty-seven, a large passenger commercial jet. It was teetering back and forth, wing tip to wing tip and it looks like it has crashed into probably twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center."

Fighting the blinding, choking, oily smoke, black as chimney soot, Steve McIntyre made his way out to the nearly impassable hallway and began looking for the emergency stairwells. The first one he tried was filled with water and debris. After locating the second emergency exit he found it dark and worse than the first. "Where the hell is the third fire stair?" he cursed. A few seconds later he found it, but in the rubble-filled darkness he slipped on a piece of gypsum board and fell, sliding down to the next landing and then bouncing down to another.

Throughout the building, terrorized occupants were dialing 911 on cell phones and pleading for help from fire rescue, which was sending every piece of emergency equipment in its inventory to the Trade Center. At 8:56 a man from the eighty-seventh floor yelled that his office was on fire and there were four other people with him.

Picking himself up from his long tumble, Steve McIntyre knew that he had found the only way out and, he headed back up to get the other employees. He noticed that very few people were passing him coming down. Above McIntyre's ninety-first floor, occupying floors 93 to 100, was the giant insurance, consulting, and financial firm, Marsh & McLennan. And above them, from 100 to 105, was Cantor Fitzgerald, a large bond dealer. One of the trade center's oldest tenants, it had gradually taken over five floors as it expanded. Finally, there was Windows on the World, the famous restaurant with its breathtaking views, on the 106th floor. Many of the people on those floors, where the plane hit and above, were trapped and would never get out.

Christopher Hanley, who worked for a division of Reuters on Sixth Avenue, was among 150 people attending a special breakfast conference at Windows on the World. At 8:57 he called fire rescue to tell them the room was filling with smoke and people could not get down the stairs. About the same time, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee called from the 103rd floor. As people were screaming in the background, he told the operator that he was trapped, could not breathe, and that the smoke was coming through the door.

Another Cantor Fitzgerald employee unable to make his way out was forty-five-year-old Ian Schneider. The son of a truck driver, balding with a thick, black, barbershop-quartet mustache, he worked as a senior managing director of the firm. Schneider, like many others, took the dangers of working in the high-profile building in stride. He had been there during the earlier bombing in 1993 and had gone back to work the next day. And he would hang pencils from the ceiling to see them sway. Minutes after the plane hit, he called his wife, Cheryl, at home in Short Hills, New Jersey, to say he was leaving the building. But this time it would be different: the stairways were blocked or destroyed. Schneider pulled out his cell phone and called fire rescue to tell them that he and many other people were trapped on the 105th floor and that smoke was filling the room.

Over at Tower Two, many people headed down the emergency stairwells soon after the crash, but after a few minutes, once it was determined that their tower was not affected, they were told that they could return to their offices, which many did. One of those in Tower Two was Sean Rooney, a fifty-year-old vice president for Aon, one of the numerous insurance and financial services firms that populated the twin towers. At the time of the attack on Tower One, his wife, Beverly Eckert, a vice president with GeneralCologne Re, was attending a conference in her Stamford, Connecticut, offices. Hearing of the explosion at the World Trade Center, she quickly went for her phone where she found a message from Rooney. "It's the other building," he said. "I'm all right. But what I'm seeing is horrible." Relieved, Eckert went back to her meeting.

When Steve McIntyre arrived at his office after finding an open emergency stairwell, the other employees were gathered in the reception area. Quickly they began making their way down. Despite the confusion, Claire McIntyre had managed to grab her pocketbook and flashlight. "The first two flights were dark," she recalled, "with no emergency lights, and water was pouring down the stairs. We could barely see and I put my flashlight on. Then the emergency lights came on, and water was still flowing down." But the slick, oil-covered debris was dangerous and colleague Emma "Georgia" Barnett slipped and fell down three flights of stairs. Nevertheless, she got back up but this time tripped over a hose, injuring her knee. Still, determined to survive, she continued down with the rest.

The skies had turned deadly. By 8:56 an air traffic controller in Indianapolis was becoming very worried. American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington to Los Angeles, the plane on which Barbara Olson and the hijackers from Laurel, Maryland, were flying, was not answering. "American seventy-seven, Indy," he kept repeating. The controller then called American Airlines operations to see if they could raise the crew. They also had no luck, so the controller asked a different operator to try again. "We, uh, we lost track control of the guy," said the Indianapolis controller. "He's in coast track but we haven't, we don't [know] where his target is and we can't get a hold of him. You guys tried him and no response. We have no radar contact and, uh, no communications with him so if you guys could try again." "We're doing it," said the American Airlines operator. But there would be only silence.

Among those watching the events unfold on television was John Carr, the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Shortly before nine his cell phone went off. "Hey, John, are you watching this on TV?" said one of his associates. "Yeah, I am," replied Carr. "That's American eleven," said the friend. Carr nearly dropped his coffee. "My God, what are you talking about?" he said. "That's American eleven that made that hole in the World Trade Center." Carr still could not believe it. "You're kidding me," he said. "No," replied his friend. "And there is another one that just turned south toward New York." Then, referring to United Flight 175, he added ominously, "We lost him, too."
At 9:02 on the ABC News program Good Morning America, correspondent Don Dahler in New York was giving hosts Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson an update on the Trade Center explosion as the camera focused on the twin towers. "It appears that there is more and more fire and smoke enveloping the very top of the building," he said, "and as fire crews are descending on this area it does not appear that there is any kind of an effort up there yet: Now remember -- Oh, my God!"

At that moment the image of a large commercial jetliner, tilted to one side, zoomed across the television screen and smashed into Tower Two, pushing desks, people, and file cabinets out the windows. Paper began to slowly rain down, sparkling in the sun like confetti. Then, a fraction of a second later, United Flight 175 exploded with the force of a fuel- ir bomb, sending superheated flames and dense, black smoke in all directions.

"My God!" repeated Sawyer, almost in a whisper. "That looks like a second plane," said Gibson flatly and with no emotion, as if describing a passing bus. "I just saw another plane coming in from the side. That was the second explosion -- you could see the plane come in, just on the right-hand side of the screen. So this looks like it is some kind of concerted effort to attack the World Trade Center that is under way in downtown New York."
Hearing of the second explosion, Beverly Eckert once more grabbed the phone to call her husband, Sean Rooney. Again, another message was waiting -- but it had come in prior to the most recent event. "Just letting you know I'll be here for a while," he said. "They've secured the building." After trying unsuccessfully to call him, she rushed home to Glenbrook. The two had been married for twenty-one years and had known each other since meeting in their native Buffalo in 1967. For Rooney, it was a long commute to the World Trade Center every day, but he greatly enjoyed playing carpenter, plumber, electrician, and mason at his home in Connecticut. Since buying the house fourteen years earlier, he had added cement steps by the front door, built a fireplace mantel in the living room, and laid marble floors in the master bathroom. He even cultivated an herb garden. Eckert especially liked the way her husband laughed -- and how it made his shoulders shake. But now she was very worried.

Soon after she reached their house, only about a mile away, the phone rang. It was Rooney telling her that he was trapped on the 105th floor of the burning Tower Two. He had tried to make it down the emergency stairwell, he said, but around the seventy-sixth floor the heat and smoke had become too intense, driving him back. Then he tried to escape to the observation deck just above his office, but the thick steel door was locked. He said he was now on the north side of the building, and Eckert said she would pass the information on to the rescue workers. Confused as to what was happening around him, Rooney asked his wife what she could see on the television. Eckert said there was fire on his side of the building, but it was many floors below. "The smoke is heavy," Rooney said. "I don't understand why the fire suppression isn't working."

"Maybe they can get a helicopter to you," said Eckert, desperately trying to get her husband to the roof and possible rescue. "Please try the door again. Pound on it. Maybe someone is on the other side and will hear you. Who is with you? " she asked. "I'm alone," said Rooney. "Some other people are in a conference room nearby." He then went back to the observation deck to try the door again.

The man charged with protecting the continental United States from a surprise attack was NORAD Major General Larry K. Arnold. Yet he himself was among the most surprised by the attack. He watched the deadly assaults unfold on his office television set. Then when United Flight 175 hit Tower Two, Arnold blinked. "I couldn't believe that that was actually happening," he said. NORAD's public relations officer was talking to his brother in Tower Two when the United 767 hit it. "Well, I better get out of here," the brother said quickly and then hung up. But he never made it out.

At the time of the impact, NORAD's two fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base were still seventy-one miles away- seven minutes' flying time.

Over in Tower One, Steve McIntyre and his fellow employees were still attempting to make their way down the crowded and rubble-strewn stairs. "We stopped at around the eighty-fifth floor to take stock and to calm each other," McIntyre recalled. "That was much better. We realized the fire was above us and that it was clear below. We just had to get down." His emotional state was "up and down like a yo-yo," he said. "We were completely encased in tunnels. And then we would open a door onto a floor and there would be guys fighting a fire, and then we would open another door and there would be people just milling around." As people or debris blocked their paths, they would zigzag across floors to other emergency stairwells. By the time they reached the sixties, Claire McIntyre was exhausted. "1 was thinking: 'How much more to go?'" she said.

By now it was about three minutes past nine. Both towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by large commercial airliners with thousands of people feared dead. One crash took place on live television. Another commercial jet bound for Los Angeles -- American Airlines Flight 77 was missing and may have been headed for still another target. Other flying bombs were possibly orbiting. NORAD had launched fighters to intercept and possibly shoot down one of the aircraft, requiring the president's permission. Frightened Americans across the country were transfixed in front of their televisions. Commentators were declaring that the United States was under massive airborne attack. Yet as America was suffering its worse assault in history, the president of the United States remained largely in the dark, knowing far less then the average couch potato watching Diane Sawyer.

At the time, George W. Bush was sitting on a stool in Sarasota, Florida, listening to a small class of second graders read him a story about a girl's pet goat. It was the day's routine photo-op, prepackaged propaganda for the press designed to demonstrate his concern for education. Just before entering the class, Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, informed the president of the devastating jet plane crash into Tower One. Nevertheless, Bush decided stay on message and go forward with the publicity event. Florida, after all, had been the most crucial battleground of the last election, and could be in the next.
About 9:06, four minutes after the attack on Tower Two, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card leaned over and whispered the brief message in the president's right ear. "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center," he said. "America is under attack." Almost immediately an expression of befuddlement passed across the president's face.
Then, having just been told that the country was under attack, the commander in chief appeared uninterested in further details. He never asked if there had been any additional threats, where the attacks were coming from, how to best protect the country from further attacks, or what was the current status of NORAD or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nor did he call for an immediate return to Washington. Instead, in the middle of a modern-day Pearl Harbor, he simply turned back to the matter at hand: the day's photo op. Precious minutes were ticking by, and many more lives were still at risk. "Really good readers, whew!" he told the class as the electronic flashes once again began to blink and the video cameras rolled. "These must be sixth graders!"

As President Bush continued with his reading lesson, life within the burning towers of the World Trade Center was becoming ever more desperate. At 9:06 the police helicopter radioed the message, "Unable to land on roof." As it pulled away from Tower One, the hundreds or thousands still trapped on the· upper floors saw their last hope disappear. Without someone to break open the locked doors to the roof, or pluck them from it, all they could do was hang out of windows trying to find some smoke-free air to breathe. Some flapped draperies to try to attract attention. The towers had now become sky-high chimneys.

Within minutes, people began jumping, preferring a quick death to burning alive or suffocating. "People falling out of building," said the pilot of the chopper. "Jumper," he added. And they just kept coming. "Several jumpers from the window [Windows on the World] at One World Trade Center." By 9:09 people were also beginning to throw themselves out of Tower Two. "People are jumping out the side of a large hole," said a caller to fire rescue. "Possibly no one catching them."

Like people trapped on a sinking ship seeking the highest point above the water, those in the twin towers, blocked from going down, were climbing up as high as they could go. But it would be a climb to nowhere. "One hundred twenty people trapped on the 106th floor," exclaimed a caller in Windows on the World at 9:19. "A lot of smoke.... Can't go down the stairs!" "Evacuation to the top floor of World Trade Center," said another caller a few seconds later. The problem was the same at Tower Two. "Hundred and fifth floor," a caller yelled. "People trapped! Open roof to gain access!" But, ironically, although some would make it to the roof through open doors, other doors were locked to keep potential jumpers, and simple spectators, off.

For more than half an hour, air traffic controllers in both Washington and Indianapolis had been searching madly for American Airlines Flight 77, which had taken off from Dulles Airport about 8:10. At 8:56 all contact was lost, "You guys never been able to raise him at all?" asked a radar operator at Indianapolis Control. "No," said the air traffic controller. "We called [the] company. They can't even get ahold of him so there's no, no, uh, no radio communications and' no radar." Finally, at 9:24, the FAA alerted officials at NORAD, who immediately sent out a scramble order to their Air National Guard unit at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia.

Four minutes later, Dulles tower air traffic control operator Danielle O'Brien spotted an unidentified blip on her radar screen. Although she didn't know it at the time, it was the missing Flight 77, Seventy minutes earlier she had bid farewell to the flight crew with her uncustomary "good luck." The alarmed controllers quickly called to warn their colleagues at Reagan National Airport, which was located close to downtown Washington. "Fast moving primary target," they said, indicating that a plane without a transponder was heading their way.

At the time, the plane was about twelve to fourteen miles southwest of Dulles and moving at lightning speed. Tom Howell, the controller next to O'Brien, glanced over at her screen and his eyes grew wide. "Oh my God!" he yelled. "It looks like he's headed to the White Housel We've got a target headed right for the White House!" At full throttle, American Airlines Flight 77 was traveling at about 500 miles per hour directly toward P-56, the prohibited air space surrounding the White House and the Capitol. Because of its speed and the way it maneuvered and turned, everyone in the radar room of Dulles Airport's tower assumed it was a military jet.

Among the passengers on Flight 77 were the hijackers from the Valencia Motel and Barbara Olson. Originally, Barbara Olson had planned to fly to Los Angeles on Monday, September to. But because her husband's birthday was on the 11th, she decided to leave the next morning so she could spend a little time with him on that day. After saying good-bye early in the morning, she called him at the Justice Department about .7:40, just before boarding her plane.

About an hour and a half later, Olson heard about the hijackings and quickly turned on his office television, worried that one of the planes might be Barbara's. But after a brief mental calculation, he figured her plane could not have gotten to New York that quickly.
Suddenly a secretary rushed in. "Barbara is on the phone," she said. Olson jumped for the receiver. "Our plane has been hijacked!" she said quickly, but then the phone went dead. Olson immediately called the command center at Justice and alerted them that there was yet another hijacked plane -- and that his wife was on it. He also said she was able to communicate, even though her first call had been cut off.

Minutes later Barbara called back. Speaking very quietly, she said the hijackers did not know she was making this call. All the passengers, she said, had been herded to the back by men who had used knives and box cutters to hijack the plane. The pilot had announced that the plane had been hijacked shortly after takeoff.

Ted Olson then told her about the two other planes that had flown into the World Trade Center. "I think she must have been partially in shock from the fact that she was on a hijacked plane," Olson recalled. "She absorbed the information."

"What shall 1 tell the pilot? What can 1 tell the pilot to do?" Barbara said, trying to remain calm. Olson asked if she could tell where the plane was. She said she could see houses and, after asking someone, said she thought the plane was heading northeast.
They then reassured each other that at least the plane was still up in the air, still flying. "It's going to come out okay," Olson told his wife, who agreed. But Ted Olson knew the situation was anything but all right. "I was pretty sure everything was not going to be okay," he recalled. "I, by this time, had made the calculation that these were suicidal persons, bent on destroying as much of America as they could." "I love you," Barbara said as they expressed their feelings for each other. Then the phone suddenly went dead again. While waiting for her to call back, Olson remained glued to the television. It was now about 9:30.

At that same moment, NORAD's three F-16s, each loaded with six missiles, were wheels up from Langley Air Force Base. It was the closest alert base to Washington, only 130 miles away. The pilots' job was somehow to find Flight 77 before it found its target and possibly shoot it down. But that would require the authorization of the president.

At 9:30, nearly half an hour after being told that the country was under attack, President Bush was still at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School, far from the madness in New York. Having finished his photo op with the second graders and been given a quick update on the state of the crisis, he strolled into the school's library. He had originally planned to give a speech promoting his education policies. Instead, still seemingly unaware of the magnitude of what was taking place, he told the children and teachers that he would have to leave. "I, unfortunately, will be going back to Washington," he said, because the country had suffered "an apparent terrorist attack."

With one brief exception, that was the last anyone would see of either the president or vice president until long after the crisis ended. Air Force One was not going to Washington. The commander in chief was headed for the safety of a bunker deep under Nebraska. At first, an administration spokesman said flying to Omaha was a result of a threat against Air Force One called into the White House. But later the administration was forced to admit that such an event never took place.

Within the tower at Dulles Airport, the tension was almost visible. The supervisor in the radar room began a countdown as the unknown plane got closer and closer to the White House. "He's twelve miles west," he said. "He's moving very fast .eastbound. Okay, guys, where is he now? ... Eleven miles west, ten miles west, nine miles west." About that point, the supervisor picked up the phone to the Secret Service office at the White House. "We have an unidentified, very fast- moving aircraft inbound toward your vicinity," he said. "Eight miles west. Seven miles west."

At the White House, Secret Service officers quickly rushed into Vice President Dick Cheney's office. "We have to move," said one agent. "We're moving now, sir; we're moving." Once out, they hustled him down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a special bombproof bunker under the East Wing of the building. The rest of the White House staff were told to get out and away from the building as quickly as possible. "All the way to H Street, please," one uniformed Secret Service officer yelled.

"Six miles," said the supervisor. "Five miles, four miles." He was just about to say three miles when the plane suddenly turned away. "In the room, it was almost a sense of relief," recalled traffic controller Danielle O'Brien. "This must be a fighter. This must be one of our guys sent in, scrambled to patrol our capital and to protect our president, and we sat back in our chairs and breathed for just a second. In the meantime, all the rest of the planes are still flying and we're taking care of everything else."

But then the plane suddenly turned back, completing a 360-degree loop. "He's turning back in!" O'Brien yelled. "He's turning back eastbound!" O'Brien's fellow traffic controller, Tom Howell began to yell to the supervisor. "Oh my God, John, he's coming back!"
"We lost radar contact with that aircraft," recalled O'Brien. "And we waited. And we waited. And your heart is just beating out of your chest, waiting to hear what's happened."
At that same moment, Catholic priest Father Stephen McGraw was in traffic so heavy it was almost at a standstill. He was on his way to a graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery but had mistakenly taken the Pentagon exit onto Washington Boulevard. 

Suddenly McGraw felt the teeth-rattling roar of a large aircraft only about twenty feet above. He looked out just as the plane clipped an overhead sign and then toppled a lamppost, injuring a taxi driver a few feet away. "It looked like a plane coming in for a landing," he said. "I mean, in the sense that it was controlled and sort of straight." A second later, at 9:37, American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the gray concrete wall of the Pentagon, hitting with such force that it penetrated four of the five concentric rings of corridors and offices surrounding the center court, long nicknamed Ground Zero.

"I saw it crash into the building," said McGraw. "There was an explosion and a loud noise, and I felt the impact. I remember seeing a fireball come out of two windows [of the Pentagon]. I saw an explosion of fire billowing through those two windows. I remember hearing a gasp or scream from one of the other cars near me. Almost a collective gasp it seemed."

Nearby in another car was Aydan Kizildrgli, a student from Turkey who was just learning English. "Did you see that?" he shouted to the next car. Traffic along the highway came immediately to a halt as people jumped out of their cars and began putting their cell phones to their ears. Stunned and dazed, Kizildrgli left his car on the road and began walking aimlessly for half an hour.

Minutes later, in the Dulles Airport tower, the words of an air traffic controller at Reagan National Airport came over the loudspeaker. "Dulles, hold all of our inbound traffic," said the voice. "The Pentagon's been hit." "I remember some folks gasping," recalled O'Brien. "I think 1 remember a couple of expletives." "It's just like a big pit in your stomach because you weren't able to do anything about it to stop it," said Tom Howell. "That's what I think hurt the most."

Twelve minutes after the crash, the three Air National Guard F -16s from Langley finally arrived. Too late to save the Pentagon, they were ordered to patrol the airspace over the White House. "A person came on the radio," said National Guard Major General Mike J. Haugen, "and identified himself as being with the Secret Service, and he said, 'I want you to protect the White House at all costs.'"

At the Justice Department, Ted Olson heard on television that an explosion had taken place at the Pentagon. Although no one identified the aircraft involved, he knew it was Flight 77 carrying his wife. "I did and 1 didn't want to," he recalled, "but 1 knew." Late that night, when he finally got to bed around 1 A.M., Olson found a note under his pillow that Barbara had left for his birthday. "I love you," she had written. "When you read this, I will be thinking of you and will be back on Friday."

As rescue workers began racing to the Pentagon, it was quickly becoming clear to air traffic controllers in Cleveland that yet another passenger jet -- a fourth -- was in the process of being hijacked. This time it was United Flight 93, which had taken off at 8:42 that morning from Newark International Airport en route to San Francisco. Shortly after nine, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, pilot Jason Dahl had heard a brief ping on his company computer. It was an electronic alert notifying him of a message from United's operations center near Chicago. In green letters on a black background came a warning to be careful of someone trying to break into the flight deck. Beware, cockpit intrusion, it said. Confirmed, typed one of the pilots, acknowledging the message.
At about 9:28, as the plane was flying near downtown Cleveland, Captain Dahl radioed Cleveland Control a cheerful greeting. "Good morning, Cleveland. United ninety-three with you at three-five-zero [35,000 feet]. Intermittent flight chop."

But back in the main cabin there was pandemonium. Three men who had tied red bandannas around their heads were taking over and herding the passengers to the back of the plane, near the galley. One of those passengers, Tom Burnett, managed to pick up a phone without being noticed. He quickly called his wife, Deena, in San Ramon, California, where she was preparing breakfast for the couple's three young daughters. "We're being hijacked!" he said. "They've knifed a guy, and there's a bomb on board! Call the authorities, Deena!"

Seconds later, the Cleveland controller heard the frightening sound of screaming in the cockpit. "Somebody call Cleveland?" he asked. There was no answer, just the muffled sounds of a struggle, followed by silence for about forty seconds. Then the Cleveland controller heard more struggling followed by someone frantically shouting, "Get out of here! Get out of here!" Finally, the microphone once again went dead.

Unsure of what he had actually heard, the controller called another nearby United flight to see if they might have picked up the broadcast. "United fifteen twenty-three," he said, "did you hear your company, did you hear some interference on the frequency here a couple of minutes ago -- screaming?" "Yes, I did," said a crew member of the United flight. "And we couldn't tell what it was either." The pilot of a small executive jet had also heard the commotion. "We did hear that yelling, too," he told the Cleveland controller.

"Any airline pilot with any experience, and I've had quite a bit," said veteran commercial pilot John Nance, "who sits up there strapped into a seat knows what happened here: two of my brethren being slashed to death. In the cockpit, I think what happened is the pilots had been subdued. I think their necks had been slashed. And they're strapped in, they've got no way of defending themselves. You can't turn around and fight. They're just sitting ducks."

Suddenly the microphone aboard United Flight 93 came to life again, but this time with a foreign-sounding voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, here it's the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb aboard." Startled, the Cleveland controller called back. "Say again slowly," he said. But silence returned to Flight 93.

In New York, the twin towers had become twin infernos. Nearly ten million square feet of vertical space was converted into burning torches.

Completed in 1974, the nearly 1,300-foot towers had become modern-day temples of wealth and commerce. Unencumbered by interior columns or load-bearing walls, they were tubes of metal and glass containing 200,000 tons of steel, 425,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 600,000 square feet of glass in 43,000 windows. The wide, file cabinet and desk-clogged floors on which the pools of jet fuel were burning were designed to hold tremendous weights. Made of reinforced concrete pads on metal decks supported by cross beams, each floor covered about an acre and weighed nearly 4.8 million pounds. Much of this weight was transferred to a series of exterior columns by a complex network of beams and slabs connecting to and spanning the distance between the columns.

But it was also made of flesh. Like an upright city, the towers housed 55,000 workers. On a typical day the buildings had about 90,000 visitors. The complex had its own subway station, and in place of taxis, nearly a hundred elevators whisked people from the seven-story entrance to the 107 floors of offices. Some people there made millions and had endless, heart-thumping views, while others hustled, toiled, and scraped by, never seeing much more than blank walls.

As in life, economic stratification is also often present in death. Those in the higher, more expensive offices stood less of a chance of surviving. With a stairwell in all four corners, the towers were designed to be evacuated in an hour. Although theoretically designed to sustain a hit from a Boeing 707, it is clear that the architects never anticipated that the towers would survive an attack by fuel-laden, wide-body jets. Those in the area of the direct hits and above were trapped, prevented from going down by the damage to the stairwells caused by the exploding fuselage and the fuel-filled wings. They could only go up, but that was where the searing heat and smoke were accumulating. Below the impact zone, the fuel not expended in the original explosion poured down on lower floors like flaming waterfalls.

The World Trade Center had become a place were life or death would be decided not by the laws of man but by the laws of physics, where massive steel columns would turn to liquid and solid blocks of reinforced concrete instantly revert to dust.

At 9:24, fire rescue received a call from a frightened man who said that the stairway had collapsed on the 105th floor of Tower Two. It would be an omen.

About 9:30, aboard United Flight 93, Tom Burnett again picked up his phone and called his wife. At that moment Deena was passing his message on to the FBI, but when she heard the call-waiting click, she switched to the other line. "They're in the cockpit now," said Burnett. Then, as the hijackers began vectoring toward Washington, he noticed the plane shifting course. "We're turning back to New York," he said. "No, we're heading south." Deena then connected him to the FBI on the other line.

Others also began calling loved ones. Back in the coach galley, flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband, Phil, in Greensboro, North Carolina. "Have you heard?" she said. "We've been hijacked." Passenger Jeremy Glick called his wife, Lyz, and she told him of the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center. "Is that where we're going, too?" he wondered out loud. But Lyz doubted it. There was nothing left to destroy. Then she questioned him about whether the hijackers were using machine ~s. "No machine guns, just knives," he said.

Todd Beamer managed to get through to an Airfone operator at the GTE Customer Center in Oakbrook, Illinois, and he described the tense situation. Hearing about the hijacking, the operator switched him to her supervisor, Lisa Jefferson. "He told me that there were three people taking over the flight'" she said. "Two of them have knives and they locked themselves in the cockpit. One had a bomb strapped around his waist with a red belt. He [Beamer] was sitting in the back of the plane, and he could see in the front of the plane there were two people down on the floor. He couldn't tell whether they were dead or alive." The two were likely the captain and first officer.

As word spread through the plane of the World Trade Center crashes, a number of the passengers began discussing taking matters into their own hands. One of those was Jeremy Glick, a six-foot one- inch, 220-pound former NCAA judo champion. He told his wife that he and several others were talking about "rushing the hijackers." Among the passengers were a former paratrooper, a brown belt in karate, a rock climber, and a former Scotland Yard prosecutor. One woman, a sky diver, had a note stuck to her refrigerator at home. "Get busy living," it said, "or get busy dying."

At about 9:45, Tom Burnett again checked in with his wife, Deena. Now she had even worse news. Sobbing, she told him of the plane that had crashed into the Pentagon. "My God!" he said. Deena added, "They seem to be taking planes and driving them into designated landmarks all over the East Coast. It's as if hell has been unleashed." The hijackers had claimed that they had a bomb on board. But Tom Burnett was now skeptical. "I think they're bluffing," he said. "We're going to do something," he said. "I've got to go."

Using everything they could muster as improvised weapons -- plastic knives, broken dishes, boiling water -- a number of passengers began rushing the cockpit, where the hijackers had, apparently, barricaded themselves in. With the angry mob on the other side of the door, they may have realized that they had waited too long to take over the plane. As Flight 93 began slowly making its way back toward the East Coast from Cleveland, the passengers had had time to organize.

In the cockpit there was frantic discussion of how to fight back. One of the hijackers suggested turning off the oxygen -- they themselves could breathe through their face masks. As the confusion increased, the plane began to wobble and then lose altitude.
Soon after, people for miles around could see a cloud of gray smoke rising above the trees and low-rise buildings of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This cloud, billowing from a fifty-foot crater, was all that remained of United Flight 93. One hundred and ten minutes after taking over American Airlines Flight 11, the terrorist attacks of September 11 at last came to an end amid the red barns, white churches, and copper pastures of rural Somerset County.

By 9:30, the situation in Tower Two had grown even more critical and the calls to fire rescue more desperate. At 9:36 a woman called from an elevator saying she and others were trapped inside. Another was from a woman named Melissa. The floor was very hot, she said. There were no available doors. She was going to die, she said, but first wanted to call her mother. Still another call transmitted only the sound of people crying.

The jet fuel had now been burning for more than half an hour, reaching temperatures exceeding the 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit needed to melt steel, the same kind of steel on which the floors sat.

People were continuing to jump out of windows in even greater numbers -- heart-wrenching attempts to shorten their suffering. "People still jumping off the tower," said a fire rescue report at 9:42. "A man waving a jacket," said another, followed a few seconds later by, "Man just jumped."

Among those who rushed to Tower Two was Captain James Grillo, a veteran of the New York City Fire Department. "It was terror, sheer terror," he said. "Bodies were falling out of the sky. They were jumping off the 105th floor, and they were landing all over the street and the sidewalk. I was trying to avoid looking up and watching it.... It was horrible. I saw dozens of people jumping."

Many of those jumping off the 105th floor worked for Ann, a worldwide insurance and risk management company. In Gaelic, "aon" means "oneness," and at the time, more than 170 of the company's employees were trapped together -- between the fire below and no escape above. At 9:38 Kevin Cosgrove, the company's forty-six-year-old vice president of claims, called fire rescue once again trying to get help. "Can't find staircase to get out!" he said. "People need help on 105th floor!"

In a nearby office, fellow Ann employee Sean Rooney had just returned from the last of several futile attempts to escape to the floor above. But as before, the door was locked, and there appeared. no way out. Now the smoke was becoming heavy and he passed out briefly on the way back. He touched the office window, and the glass was hot.

Back in his office, Rooney called his wife, Beverly Eckert. She could hear her husband was having tremendous difficulty breathing. "How bad is the smoke?" she asked. "Pretty bad," said Rooney. By now she knew there was little hope left. "Sean," she said with great sadness, "it doesn't seem to me that they are going to be able to get to you in time. I think we need to say good-bye." For the next few minutes, the two talked about their love and the happy years they had spent together. Eckert said she wished she was there with him. Rooney asked her to give his love to everyone. "I love you," he said.

The time was getting very short. At 9:47, in a nearby office, a woman called fire rescue with an ominous message. The floor underneath her, she said, was beginning to collapse.
Over the phone, Eckert suddenly heard an enormous explosion followed by a roaring sound. "It sounded like Niagara Falls," she recalled. "I knew without seeing that he was gone." With the phone cradled next to her heart, she walked into another room, and on the television she could see Tower Two collapsing -- the first tower to go down.

"I will always be grateful that 1 was able to be with him at the end and that we had a chance to say good-bye," Eckert said. "He was so calm. It helped me in those final moments. So many people missed the last phone call. So many are saying, 'If only I had a final chance to say good-bye.'"

It was nearly ten o'clock when the eleven exhausted, blackened, but alive employees of the American Bureau of Shipping at last reached the bottom of Tower One, having started down from the ninety-first floor nearly an hour before. "I was thinking, 'Okay, great, we're safe,'" recalled Steve McIntyre. "But outside I could see all this falling debris flying around. I thought, 'We've been coming down for an hour, what the hell is this?'"
McIntyre was helping a fellow employee named Ruth, who had sprained her ankle. Having made it to the lobby, the two managed to get across the plaza to an exit on the eastern side where there was an escalator up to Church Street. "We're okay," McIntyre said to Ruth. "We get up this escalator and we're okay."

"And then there was a big rumble and a huge roar," recalled McIntyre. "Everybody shouted 'run,' and then a huge wind came through there. I remember distinctly being lifted off my feet and blown down the hall, I don't know how far. Ruth was holding onto me, but we were ripped apart. I had no conception of what was happening. It went through my mind that a bomb had gone off in the subway. Then the plume came through and there was an opaque blackness. It was not an absence of light. It was opaque. My glasses were gone. I put my hand in front of my face and I couldn't see it. "I thought, 'A bomb has gone off and I'm going to die right here of smoke inhalation.' Then I realized that it wasn't smoke, that it was just very heavy air. There was all this stuff on the floor, but it was light stuff. I was coated in it, as if I'd been immersed in a vat of butter. And the exposed skin on my arm was all pocked from tiny glass shards, maybe a hundred of them. We must have been on the very edge of the blast field when Number Two came down." In the darkness, McIntyre ran into a glass storefront, but eventually he saw a flashlight beam and heard someone yelling, "Come to me." A short time later, McIntyre again saw daylight and freedom. Less than a half hour later, Tower One also collapsed.

At 9:55, almost the same moment that Tower Two collapsed, President Bush, his photo op now over, finally departed Sarasota, Florida, aboard AirForce One for the bunker in Nebraska.

In the hours and days following the attacks, NSA quickly began mobilizing nearly every man, woman, and machine to detect any further terrorist activities and to find Osama bin Laden and other members of his organization. Almost immediately after the incidents began, black-ninja- suited members of the Emergency Reaction Team, armed with Colt 9 mm submachine guns, took up posts around Crypto City. The number of bomb-sniffing dogs was also increased; the NSA Museum was shut down; and the Executive Protection Unit, the director's bodyguards, beefed up.

The National Security Operations Center (NSOC), which directs the agency's worldwide eavesdropping activities, was converted into a war room. Superfast CRITIC messages -- "critical intelligence" reports of the highest importance -- began going out to field stations around the world every time a new piece of the puzzle was discovered, such as the names of the hijackers obtained from the passenger manifest lists. These CRITICs were distributed almost instantly throughout the intelligence community over the agency's on-line National SIGINT File. "Whenever a new CRITIC appeared, officials were notified by a flashing message in the top left corner of their computer screen.

A crisis management team moved into Room 8020, the director's large conference room, an elaborate minitheater just down the hall from the General Hayden's office. Another group began meeting continuously in the NSOC conference room. Old intercept tapes were pulled out of storage and checked for clues that might have been missed. Every new piece of information was fed into the organization's massive computer database to see if there would be a hit.

Room 3E132, the Special Support Activity, became a hub of activity. The group provides cryptologic assistance to military commanders around the world. Units known as Cryptologic Service Groups (CSGs) bring NSA in microcosm to the national security community and forces in the field. Soon after the attacks, hundreds of NSA cryptologists supplemented the small CSG assigned to the U.S. Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Others CSGs were activated and eventually sent to liaise with the units in the Near and Middle East.

Another group that shifted into high gear was the Special Collection Service, the clandestine joint NSA-CIA organization that covertly travels around the world attempting to tap into difficult communications channels.

All over the world and in space, listening posts and satellites quickly shifted from their other targets and began concentrating on Afghanistan and the Middle East.
But despite the valiant human effort and the billions of dollars spent on high-flying hardware and super-complex software, for at least two years before the attacks and (as of this writing) three months after the attacks, NSA had no idea where Osama bin Laden and his key associates were -- or even if they were still in Afghanistan.

As tens of millions of communications continue to be vacuumed up by NSA every hour, the system has become overwhelmed as a result of too few analysts. "U.S. intelligence operates what is probably the largest information processing environment in the world," recalled former NSA director William O. Studeman. "Consider this: Just one intelligence collection system alone can generate a million inputs per half-hour." That enormous volume, according to John Millis, the former staff director of House Select Committee on Intelligence and a former CIA officer, is exactly the problem. "We don't come near to processing, analyzing, and disseminating the intelligence we collect right now," he said.
 "We're totally out of balance."

According to NSA's director, Lieutenant General Hayden, the problem is in the numbers. "Forty years ago there were five thousand standalone computers, no fax machines, and not one cellular phone. Today, there are over one hundred eighty million computers -- most of them networked. There are roughly fourteen million fax machines and forty million cell phones, and those numbers continue to grow. The telecommunications industry is making a one trillion-dollar investment to encircle the world in millions of miles of high bandwidth fiber-optic cable. They are aggressively investing in the future." Thus, adds Hayden, "Osama bin Laden has at his disposal the wealth of a three trillion-dollars-a-year telecommunications industry." At the same time, he said, "the National Security Agency is lagging behind."

The numbers only get worse. According to a 2001 Congressional report on NSA, the agency is "faced with profound 'needle-in-the haystack' challenges" as a result of "telephone service that has grown by approximately 18 percent annually since 1992," and the explosion in worldwide telephone service to some eighty-two billion minutes by 1997.
The problem of system overload went from bad to critical in February 2000 when NSA's entire computing system crashed for nearly four days. "NSA headquarters was brain dead," Hayden candidly admitted. "This was really bad." Then, not mincing words, he said, "NSA is in great peril," adding, "We're behind the curve in keeping up with the global telecommunications revolution. In the previous world order, our primary adversary was the Soviet Union. Technologically we had to keep pace with an oligarchic, resource-poor, technologically inferior, over-bureaucratized, slow-moving nation-state. Our adversary communications are now based upon the developmental cycle of a global industry that is literally moving at the speed of light ... cell phones, encryption, fiber-optic communications, digital communications."

Simply sending e-mail, Hayden discovered, was a major problem. It takes "an act of God," he said, to send an e-mail message to all of the agency's 38,000 employees because of NSA's sixty-eight separate e-mail systems. Nor can the three computers on his desk communicate with one another.

Even if the system could pick up and process all the critical communications, most of it would go unread for days or weeks, if at all, as a result of an enormous lack of specialists in many key. languages, including those used in Afghanistan. By September 10, the number of NSA language specialists expert in the Afghan languages -- Pashtun and Dari-was almost nonexistent. According to one senior intelligence official, they could be counted on one hand with fingers left over. "There's simply too much out there, and it's too hard to understand," said Hayden. Congressional analysts agreed. "NSA is," said a report issued in 2001, "not well positioned to analyze developments among the assortment of terrorist groups."

To deal with the growing language problems, Hayden turned to agency veteran Renee Meyer and appointed her the agency's first senior language authority.

According to Meyer, even though nearly half the world (47 percent) speaks English, there is a growing tendency for people to return to local languages. "Cultural pride has reemerged," said Meyer. "People use their 'own' languages, and there are all kinds of speakers." The number of languages being used around the world, she said, is enormous -- over 6,500 -- many of which are growing. Also, it takes a tremendous amount of time to train language analysts in many of these "low-density" languages, such as those used in Afghanistan. Simply to reach the minimum professional capability -- level 3 -- takes from three to eight years of study.

By the summer of 2001, the agency had at last put together a language database showing who in the agency speaks what languages and where in the world they are located. By the fall, Meyer said, she hoped to complete a Daily Language Readiness Indices -- a daily printout of the constantly changing database that would be placed on the director's desk every morning. Thus, in the event of a crisis, such as the attacks on September 11, the agency could identify and locate immediately everyone who speaks the critical languages of the area. When she was appointed to the new position Director Hayden told her she had until October 15, 2001 to fix the system. The terrorists of September 11, however, did not wait. "The bad guys are everywhere. The bad guys do not always speak English," she said. "We are not always ready for the bad guys."

Adding to the problems, the agency has become spread far too thinly. Largely as a result of politics, NSA has become burdened with thousands of targets that pose little immediate risk to the nation while drawing critical resources away from those, like bin Laden and Al Qaeda, that are truly dangerous and time sensitive. One of those targets in which far too many resources are spent is China. Since the end of the Cold War, a number of fire-breathing conservatives and China hawks have sought to turn it into a new Soviet Union. Among those is Robert Kagan, a former aide to State Department official Elliot Abrams. 

"The Chinese leadership views the world today in much the same way Kaiser Wilhelm II did a century ago," Kagan said in an address to the Foreign Relations Committee. Another is Michael Ledeen, a key player in the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. "So long as China remains a ruthless Communist dictatorship," he wrote in the Weekly Standard, "the inevitability of conflict must inform all our thinking and planning."

As a result of this new containment policy, fully endorsed by the Bush administration, millions of dollars and thousands of people are used for such things as daily, Cold War-style eavesdropping patrols throughout the area, such as the one that crash-landed on China's Hainan Island in the spring of 2001.

Another mission that draws valuable dollars, equipment, and personnel away from critical operations is the use of NSA in the endless drug war. According to NSA officials, the Drug Enforcement Administration is constantly pressuring the agency to provide it with ever-greater assistance and resources.

Yet even with the continued growth in targets and missions throughout the 1990s, from wars to drugs to terrorists, the agency's budget and personnel ranks were slashed by a third.

Shortly before he tragically killed himself in the summer of 2000, House Intelligence Committee staff director John Millis was asked about the readiness and capabilities of NSA and the other spy agencies. "I think," he said, "we're in big trouble."

For half a century, NSA had fought a war against a giant nation with fixed military bases, a sophisticated communications network, a stable chain of command, and a long history from which future intentions could be anticipated. Now that has all changed. Terrorists are stateless and constantly on the move, their organizational structures are always in flux, and the only thing that is predictable is that they will be unpredictable. And when they do communicate, their infrequent messages join with billions of other pieces of communication -- e-mail, cell phones, data transfers -- zapping around the world at the speed of light in a complex digital web of bits, bytes, and photons.

To succeed against the targets of the twenty-first century, the agency will have to undergo a metamorphosis, changing both its culture and technology.

More than eight decades. earlier, another metamorphosis took place. Walking into a twenty-five-foot vault in the old Munitions Building, William F. Friedman yanked on a dangling cord attached to an overhead lightbulb. Surrounding him was all that remained of what had been America's Black Chamber. Yet with just a few assistants, over the course of the next ten years he transformed the defunct Black Chamber into the Signal Intelligence Service, which succeeded against all odds in breaking the Japanese Purple code. This ended up shortening World War II and thus saving thousands of lives. That kind of heroic break-through is the challenge for NSA. But they do not have a decade.

Go to Next Page

September/October 2001
, Foreign Affairs, Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Book Review,
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, by James Bamford
Reviewed by By Eliot A. Cohen

This book updates Bamford's 1982 work The Puzzle Palace, reflecting his careful cultivation of sources at America's signal-intelligence agency. The National Security Agency has been increasingly opening its doors thanks to a more relaxed attitude toward dated secrets and perhaps the wish for some good publicity. Bamford has benefited from these intentions, but he also deserves credit for assiduous research in materials released under the Freedom of Information Act. The book offers much fascinating material about the signal intelligence game of measure and countermeasure during the Cold War, the use of lie detectors for internal security, and the relationship with friendly intelligence services. But Bamford takes a more paranoid turn when he discusses the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli aircraft during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Relying on tenuous evidence and shrugging off the improbability of such a politically insane decision, Bamford insists that the incident was altogether deliberate. And when he writes of Israel's "abominable human rights record," one has to wonder whether something more than conspiracy-mongering is at work. Ultra-secrecy can breed strange psychological phenomena, even among those who make a living by prying it apart.

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