THE BLOG
09/15/2006 08:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Was Wolfowitz So Clueless On The Morning of 9/11?

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Despite the exhaustive work of the 9/11 Commission and its detailed final report, the number of oddities surrounding the events of 9/11, and particularly the government's botched attempt at defend a country under attack, remain numerous. One peculiarity I've always wondered about is why Paul Wolfowitz, then the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the number two person at the Pentagon, was so completely clueless the morning of the deadly attacks. As the events unfolded live on television and senior administration officials scrambled to make sense of the horrific events, Wolfowitz appeared to be in a haze. Or perhaps a cocoon. Now, as 9/11 remembrance week draws to a close, I thought it might worth examining the odd inaction by such a senior member of the administration. The same senior official who later played a central role in planning the disastrous war in Iraq. (And no, by raising questions about Wolfowitz I'm not signing off on any larger, 9/11 conspiracy theory.)

Here's how Wolfowitz, taken from a May 9, 2003 interview transcript, described his morning on that unforgettable day:

Wolfowitz: We were having a meeting in my office. Someone said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Then we turned on the television and we started seeing the shots of the second plane hitting, and this is the way I remember it. It's a little fuzzy.

Q: Right.

Wolfowitz: There didn't seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was. Then the whole building shook. I have to confess my first reaction was an earthquake. I didn't put the two things together in my mind. Rumsfeld did instantly. [Emphasis added.]

Unfortunately the interviewer, Sam Tanenhaus, then with Vanity Fair and now the editor of the New York Times Book Review, let the jaw-dropping exchange pass without comment and without any follow-up questions. Keep in mind the first 9/11 plane struck the World Trade Center at 8:46, the second at 9:03 and the third, which bombed the Pentagon, rained down at 9:37. Also keep in mind that after the second plane struck the WTC, even TV anchor people, let alone senior defense officers, who reaching the obvious conclusion; that the plane crashes were deliberate acts of terrorism. Yet incredibly, Wolfowitz, one of the most influential members of the Bush Defense team, decided there wasn't much to do about it immediately and continued on with a meeting.


According to 9/11 researcher Paul Thompson, here are a handful of events that unfolded between 9:03, when Wolfowitz saw the second plane hit the WTC, and 9:37 when his own Pentagon was struck. (Taken from Thompson's invaluable research tool, the Complete 9/11 Timeline):

(After 9:03 a.m.): Rice Learns of Second Attack; Goes to Basement Bunker

(After 9:03 a.m.): Secret Service Wants Fighters Scrambled from Andrews

(9:05 a.m.): Clarke, Cheney, and Rice Talk, Clarke's Recommendation to Evacuate White House Is Ignored

9:09 a.m.: NORAD Said to Order Langley Fighters to Battle Stations Alert

(9:10 a.m.): Rice and Cheney Apparently Go to White House Bunker

(9:18 a.m.): FAA Command Center Warns Flight Controllers Nationwide to Watch for Suspicious Aircraft

9:21 a.m.: All New York City Bridges and Tunnels Are Closed

(9:24 a.m.): Langley Fighters Are Ordered to Scramble; but One Pilot Claims the Order Is Only a Battle Stations Alert

(9:26 a.m.): Rookie FAA Manager Bans All Take Offs Nationwide, Including Most Military Flights? Mineta Asserts He Issues Order Minutes Later

(9:27 a.m.): Cheney Given Updates on Unidentified Flight 77 Heading Toward Washington

9:28 a.m.: CNN Reports US Officials Think Attacks Caused by Terrorists

9:29 a.m.: President Bush Makes a Scheduled Speech; Proclaims Terrorist Attack on Our Country

(9:29 a.m.): Pentagon Command Center Begins High Level Conference Call

9:30 a.m.: Langley Fighters Take Off Toward Washington; They Could Reach City in Six Minutes but Take Half an Hour

(9:30 a.m.): Clarke Asks Cheney's Bunker for Air Force One Fighter Escort and Shootdown Authorization; Neither Happen for Some Time

9:32 a.m.: Cheney Is Notified That Flight 77 Is Headed To Washington

(9:35 a.m.): Treasury Department Evacuates; Pentagon and Other Washington Department Do Not

9:37 a.m.: Flight 77 Crashes into Reinforced Section of the Pentagon

The bright side? I suppose we should be grateful ABC's "The Path to 9/11" didn't portray Wolfowitz as a man of action, barking out orders in a valiant effort to save the Pentagon.