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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

George W. Bush

Cover Stories of the People in Charge

Bush in Sarasota classroom
President Bush remained seated in a publicly known location for at least eight minutes after being informed that the country was under attack.

George W. Bush had important business to attend to on September 11th: reading a book, The Pet Goat, with second-graders in Emma T. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, ostensibly to promote his "education program". Before entering the classroom around 9:02 AM he was aware of the crash of Flight 11 into the North Tower. Later he said:

And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, 'There's one terrible pilot.' And I said, 'It must have been a horrible accident.' But I was whisked off there -- I didn't have much time to think about it." 1  

Since the only known footage of the North Tower impact was not played on TV until much later, his statement being true would mean that his Secret Service detail had access to video from a secret camera trained on the North Tower at the time of the first impact.

At 9:06, as Bush sat in front of the class, Andrew Card approached him whispered something into his ear, taking less than two seconds. He is supposed to have told Bush that a second plane hit the towers. Bush looked momentarily befuddled. He did not ask his staff for further details. He remained seated and read out loud with the kids for at least eight more minutes, not leaving the classroom until 9:16.

While still in the classroom, Ari Fleischer signaled him, according to Bill Sammon:

   "Let's clean that up," Mrs. Daniels said.
   The president noticed someone moving at the back of the room. It was
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, maneuvering to catch his attention
without alerting the press.  Mr. Fleischer was holding up a legal pad.
   Big block letters were scrawled on the cardboard backing: DON'T SAY
ANYTHING YET. The remarks drafted earlier would be woefully inadequate.

After leaving the classroom, Bush remained in the school to delivered a brief scheduled speech, starting at 9:29 AM. Then at around 9:33, his motorcade departed from the school en route to Sarasota Airport. 3  

A Big Red X

In all, the Commander-in-Chief remained at Booker Elementary School for at least 29 minutes after he was informed that the nation was under attack. Why didn't he interrupt his photo op to respond to this emergency? Did he lapse into a stupor because of shock? Even so, why did the Secret Service not immediately evacuate him to secure quarters, and why did he go on to give a speech at Booker, further publicizing his whereabouts?

The time and location of the President's classroom photo op and speech had been publicized in advance. By 9:03, it was obvious that the nation was under attack, and that the mode of the attack was to use jetliners to strike high-value targets. The failure of the Secret Service to remove the President from his publicized location for a half hour implies either that the Secret Service acted with extreme incompetence -- incompetence which has resulted in no demotions or repramands -- or that the Secret Service had the benefit of insider knowledge that the attack would not include the President.

approach to Sarasota-Bradenton Airport relative to Booker School
The final approach path to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport passes within one-half mile of Booker T. Elementary School. (graphic credit: Charles Reeves)

The danger to the President implied by the official account, in which the attack was a complete surprise, becomes even more obvious when one considers the location of Booker T. Elementary School. As shown by the illustration on the right, the school lies only slightly to the southwest of the final approach path to Sarasota-Bradenton Airport (SRQ). A jetliner targeting the school and its occupants would need to divert from a normal flight path just a few seconds before impact, affording no opportunity for countermeasures.

Reported Warnings

National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice later defended the administration's inaction in repelling the attack, claiming that she didn't "think anybody could have predicted that these people ... would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." To the contrary, a number of official statements and exercises showed that the administration had contemplated the use of jetliners as weapons. 4   5  

On August 6, 2001, Bush had received his classified intelligence briefing, or Presidential Daily Briefing, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The title was: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." 6  


1. President Bush Holds Town Hall Meeting, CNN, 12/4/01 [cached]
2. Suddenly, a Time to Lead, Washington Times, 10/7/02 [cached]
3. Clear the Skies, Carte Blanche Interactive,
4. '99 Report Warned Of Suicide Hijacking, CBS News, 5/17/02 [cached]
5. September 11 Should Have Been Stopped, GlobalPolicy.org, 3/25/04
6. Transcript: Bin Laden determined to strike in US, CNN.com, [cached]

page last modified: 2010-05-17