To fly into any of several
Air Defense Identification Zones surrounding the three
Washington-area airports, the pilots must request a
code number from the FAA for purposes of identification
and tracking; the plane made no such request. Fifteen
minutes after the craft was first spotted by air traffic
controllers flying along the perimeter of one such zones,
the plane turned towards an even more restricted area
above central Washington, at which point three jets
and a Black Hawk helicopter scrambled to intercept the
plane. At no point was the aircraft in contact with
air traffic controllers, and at first it even ignored
the jets and helicopter that surrounded it.
The White House will only admit that the plane was
within three miles of the White House, but many reports
from evacuating staffers place it much closer. Over
30,000 government personnel were evacuated, including
the Supreme Court Justices, Vice President Cheney, Laura
Bush, and Nancy Reagan, who happened to be visiting
the White House at the time. While the White House will
also not disclose how close the plane came to being
shot down, it seems extremely likely that the two men,
(who turned out to be simply two pilots who had gotten
lost while trying to fly from Pennsylvania to North
Carolina,) were mere seconds away from being fired on,
before they finally changed course and landed on a nearby
airstrip. Had the plane been aiming to crash into the
White House—which, as they were in no radio contact
with any other aircraft or aircraft towers, had to be
a working possibility in the minds of those trying to
stop it—it was a matter of seconds away from impact
before it turned.
And what, in the tense minutes of crisis (during which
Laura Bush was rushed out of the White House,) was the
President doing? Calmly finishing his workout routine.
As he rode his bicycle in Maryland, his Secret Service
detail was informed of the events in Washington, and
chose not to disturb his exercise. Bush didn’t
know that his wife was evacuated until 47 minutes afterwards.
More shockingly, that is apparently the accepted protocol
for such a crisis. I’m not generally one to be
an alarmist about terrorist threat, but I accept that
a plane, even such a small one, ignoring all attempts
to contact it and seeming to fly straight at the White
House, should be treated as a worst case scenario. It
is not outside the realm of possibility that such a
plane could be loaded with explosives—even a dirty
bomb or other nuclear device—and intending to
act as a suicide bomber. Evacuating all people in that
area was obviously the correct choice, and if the situation
had escalated further, appropriate measures would have
to be taken to try to eliminate the threat.
I would hope that those appropriate measures would
have an established protocol, and I will accept that
spelling out exactly what the government’s actions
would be in such a situation is something that shouldn’t
be done in the evening news.
It is incredible, however, or at least once would have
been, that the President isn’t even appraised
of what is going on. Again, I don’t expect—or
want—that Bush would be sitting with his finger
on the button to shoot a plane down. But the blithe
acceptance and acknowledgement that Bush doesn’t
even need to know about such crises until almost an
hour afterwards is absolutely bizarre.
Although Bush’s non-involvement has been mostly
ignored by the mainstream news, reporters did grill
Press Secretary Scott McClellan at his regular daily
briefing. Over and over, McClellan insisted that protocols
were followed and absolutely nothing was amiss about
keeping the President of the United States completely
out of the loop. One sample:
McClellan: He was briefed about the situation.
Q: After it happened.
McClellan: He was briefed about the situation, Ken.
And I think that he wants to make sure that the protocols
that are in place are followed. The protocols that were
in place were followed.
So that seems to be the official position of Bush and
the administration: as McClellan later said, “The
protocols that were put in place were followed, and
I think they were followed well.” That is in contrast
to Leon Panetta, President Clinton’s chief of
staff, who was quoted in the Washington Post saying,
“I don't think there is a legitimate excuse for
not telling the president of the United States about
that kind of potential emergency. It was serious that
it happened and it could have been even more serious….
That is something that just simply cannot happen again.”
Michael Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 9/11”
got a lot of mileage out of President Bush sitting in
a Florida classroom talking with elementary school students
for seven minutes after being told that two planes had
crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th.
I’ve read and heard a number of Republican apologists
insisting that Bush’s conduct should be excused,
that even the President shouldn’t be expected
to react perfectly and decisively to such a shocking
and unprecedented event.
But nearly four years later, the same decision is made—actually,
even worse, since this time the White House administration
decided not to even tell Bush what was going on. And
Bush apparently thinks that is wonderful protocol. I
suppose that’s one way of not letting Michael
Moore make another movie with a similar clip. But for
all the leadership ability and supposed trust of the
American people that Bush’s campaign talked up
throughout the presidential election last year, it seems
that Bush is content to be a vacuous poster child, devoid
of any actual responsibility.
Dara Purvis can be read each Monday, here at Raw
Story. You can also visit her online at www.darapurvis.com.