Return to Transcripts main page
9/11: What Really Happened?
Aired September 14, 2002 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of CNN PRESENTS: 9/11 WHAT REALLY HAPPENED.
The terror, the tragedy, the lingering questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: 9/11 was the largest intelligence failures in American history. There's no disputing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: September 11, a year after the day. Chilling new details, including what bin Laden knew and did as America came under attack. It's a CNN investigation of 9/11 and what really happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president said very simply, very calmly, we're at war. Get me the director of the FBI. Get me the vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My agent all of a sudden materialized beside me and said, "Sir, we have to leave now."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: A year later, it sounds in some ways like an absurd question. What really happened on September 11? What we know, of course, are the broad strokes. We know about the planes and the towers collapsing. We know the number of dead. We know a war was started. Those are the easy facts.
But the details of that day and the days that followed are far more complicated. Since September 11, CNN correspondents around the world have been reporting. They've been asking questions, sifting through information, listening to new accounts from al Qaeda's plans and warnings ignored to a presidency defined and to such a simple question as the lasting importance of saying good-bye.
And while this reporting will go on for years to come, we now believe we have a much clearer picture of 9/11, what really happened.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): October 31, 1999, Egypt Air flight 990 takes off from New York's Kennedy Airport. There are 217 people on board. Thirty minutes later, off the coast of Massachusetts, the plane disappears from radar.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I lost contact with a Boeing 767 in my airspace...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Egypt Air?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I mean, we lost radar, we lost everything.
BOETTCHER: Everyone on board dies. Accident or act of terror? Within days, as the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are recovered, another possibility emerges. Investigators analyzing the cockpit voice recorder say this man, the relief co-pilot, Gamal Batuti (ph) waits until he is the only one in the cockpit before he removes the plane from the autopilot and points it toward the ocean.
JIM HALL, FMR. NTSB CHMN.: You hear the cockpit door close.
BOETTCHER: Jim Hall was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board at the time.
HALL: Some seconds after that, there is the Arabic phrase, "I rely on God" that is uttered, which was eventually uttered 11 times. And then seconds after that is uttered, then there is a disconnect of the autopilot and the plane starts into a dive.
BOETTCHER: The pilot, who had been in the bathroom, rushed back to the cockpit but was too late to prevent the tragedy. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was the relief co-pilot's flight control inputs. I asked the former chairman as to whether he thought it was a suicide.
So it was a pure case of suicide?
HALL: Well, it would be.
BOETTCHER: The suicide scenario was worldwide news by mid November of 1999. And in Afghanistan, someone was watching. This man, Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda's military commander, in charge of planning al Qaeda operations around the world. CNN has learned that after September 11, Atef boasted he got the idea for 9/11 from the Egypt Air crash. That's according to interrogations from captured al Qaeda fighters.
(on camera): If that's the case, what may have struck Mohammed Atef was just how easy it would be for a pilot to turn its aircraft into a suicide weapon. That would have filled in a crucial link for al Qaeda, which had been toying with the idea of airborne attack for many years. Rohan Guneratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda," helps chart the evolution of the 9/11 plan.
ROHAN GUNERATNA, AUTHOR, INSIDE AL QAEDA: It is very possible that Mohammed Atef conceptualized this plan from the Egypt Air incident. But also it is possible that al Qaeda got this knowledge from looking at the Algerian plan to crash dive a plane onto the Eiffel Tower.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): That was in 1994, after a group of Algerian terrorists hijacked a plane. But French commandos stormed the plane before it could take off and be flown into the heart of Paris. The same year, an al Qaeda cell in the Philippines, led by Ramzi Yousef, the man who planned the first World Trade Center attacks in 1993 was planning to blow up passenger planes over the Pacific Ocean. After the cell was busted a year later, this man, Abdul Hakim Mourad told his Philippine interrogators of another plan where "he will board any American commercial aircraft, control its cockpit, and dive it at the CIA headquarters."
GUNARATNA: The operation could not be staged because of the arrest. But the very idea survived. That is why we are seeing that -- the doctrine of al Qaeda states very clearly, that they have a doctrine of losing and learning. That is, you may lose this time, but you will learn from that mistake and you will carry it out again.
BOETTCHER: One of the members of that cell, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, escaped to Afghanistan, and is now said by U.S. investigators, to have played an important role, along with Atef, in planning the 9/11 attacks.
Just a few weeks after the Egypt Air crash in December 1999, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked forced to fly to Afghanistan. The hijackers used box cutters, took members of the flight crew hostage. Forced their way into the cockpit, a seeming dry run for the September 11 attacks, but without the suicide mission.
GUNARATNA: Definitely they would have learned the use of box cutters from that particular incident.
BOETTCHER: On September 11, four planes are to be hijacked. One, believed intended for the White House crashes in a Pennsylvania field. But the others hit their targets and Osama bin Laden later brags that the plan succeeds beyond his wildest expectation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Any luck with Egypt Air?
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: No. Nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOETTCHER: It may be impossible to ever know whether Egypt Air flight 990 helped inspire the events of September 11. Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda's military commander, the man who could answer those questions is himself believed to be dead, killed in a U.S. attack last November.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): September 11 galvanized U.S. intelligence. At the National Security Agency, the nation's eavesdroppers, General Michael Hayden, the director, sent tens of thousands home for fear NSA headquarters could be a target. On a high floor of the headquarters building, linguists listening in on possible terrorists could not be spared. The windows were blacked out, sources say, so the team, many of them Arab- Americans, could defend their country non-stop day and night.
At the Central Intelligence Agency, where the counterterrorism center has grown so large, it has whimsical street names among the desks, intelligence officers camped out in their offices. Besides patriotism, what also galvanized some American intelligence officials was a nagging sense of doubt. Was there anything they could have done to stop the attacks of 9/11?
PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: It is indisputable but 9/11 was the largest intelligence failure in American history. There's no disputing it.
ENSOR: It was a failure, in part, of imagination and deduction over many years, going back to 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center. The attack that revealed that terrorists' big ambitions.
Then in 1995, Filipino authorities investigating the group around Ramzi Yousef, later sentenced for the Trade Center bombing, warned the FBI of Mideastern pilots training at U.S. flight schools.
PAUL BREMER, AMBASSADOR, TERRORISM EXPERT: I also talked about the possibility of crashing an airplane into the CIA headquarters. One has to say there must have been a bit of a failure of imagination somewhere in our intelligence community to sort of imagine that this could happen.
ENSOR: By the mid '90s, more and more evidence is pointing to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group, evidence of possible involvement in the attacks that drove U.S. troops out of Somalia in 1993. In 1996, Sudan offers to turn bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia for trial. But the Saudis do not want him. President Clinton does not push the matter.
Saddam throws bin Laden out. And he goes to Afghanistan.
When two U.S. embassies in Africa are bombed in 1998, evidence quickly points to bin Laden's al Qaeda group. In September 1999, an unclassified study done for the CIA predicts "suicide bombers belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, headquarters of the CIA, or the White House." December '99, Akmed Ressam is arrested at the Canadian border with a carload of bomb materials headed, he said, for Los Angeles Airport. He is later linked to al Qaeda. January 2000, U.S. intelligence gets wind of a terrorist summit planned in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at which a one legged al Qaeda suspect named Tofica Attash (ph) Khalad (ph) meets, among others, these two future hijackers, Khallid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.
CIA sends the FBI an e-mail about the two men, but fails to put them on the watch list to be kept out of the U.S. The FBI does nothing. And the two men fly to California.
ROBERT BAER, FMR. CIA OFFICER: As soon as they got -- arrived in the United States, they should have been put under surveillance, financials should have been done on them, their telephones should have been tapped to see if there was another network in place. And as it turns out, they were very sloppy. And they contacted other members of the cell. You could have put it all together at that point.
ENSOR: October 2000 comes the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, quickly linked to al Qaeda. In February 2001, more than seven months before the 9/11 attacks, the nation gets a warning from George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence. Bin Laden, he says, has declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a clear strategic warning, but few Americans even noticed. No senators asked any questions about terrorism on that day.
BOB KERREY, FMR. SENATOR: From the president on down, we would say that terrorism wasn't as big a threat as, in fact, as CIA was telling us it was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trouble was, the CIA did not have the kind of details only a human source inside al Qaeda could give.
BOB BLITZER, FMR. FBI OFFICIAL: Human sources are so important because they can give you tactical warning, not strategic warning, tactical. When, where, what time, who's involved.
ENSOR: In July, Kenneth Williams, an FBI agent in Phoenix, sends headquarters a five page memo saying many Middle Eastern men are taking flight training in Arizona, suggesting a nationwide investigation into whether it has something to do with terrorism.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: He made a recommendation that we initiate a program to look at flight schools that was received at headquarters. It was not acted on by September 11.
ENSOR: On August 6, President Bush receives a CIA briefing, which mentions the possibility that terrorists could hijack aircraft. No specifics. When revealed after the fact, the briefing puts the administration on the defensive.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There was no time. There was no place. There was no method of attack.
ENSOR: Then on August 17, Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested by the FBI in Minnesota. The charge, an immigration violation. The reason, fear his flight training might have evil intent. FBI Minnesota tries to get permission to search Moussaoui's laptop computer. It fails, turning Agent Colleen Rowley into a whistle-blower.
COLLEEN ROWLEY, FBI AGENT: We have a culture in the FBI that there's a certain pecking order. And it's pretty strong. And it's very rare that someone picks up the phone, calls a rank or two above themselves.
ENSOR: On September 10, the National Security Agency records two cryptic communications from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia. "Tomorrow is zero hour," says one. "The match begins tomorrow," says the other. The intercepts are not translated until two days later, September 12. By then, four hijacked planes had struck the two World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two weeks ago, there was an act of war declared on America. And no one could have possibly dreamed that it would come in the way it did.
ENSOR (on camera): Why did no one dream it could come the way it did? One reason, a lack of CIA agents inside al Qaeda. Another, an NSA drowning in intercepts, but short on translators. Then there were the communication failures, both within the FBI and throughout U.S. intelligence. And another weakness, some argue, not enough intelligence help from Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from and not enough from Germany, where they first gathered.
(voice-over): What needs to be done? For starters, CIA veterans say the U.S. must start spying inside allied countries, whatever the cost.
BAER: The Germans said we can't watch them. They're political refugees. And they didn't watch them for the most part. We could have done that independently. But I emphasize it over and over. We will get caught. And who pays the price shouldn't be the CIA. It should be the U.S. government.
ENSOR: Finally, from intelligence professionals, a warning, connecting the dots before an attack is extremely difficult, no matter how much intelligence U.S. spies and technologies can collect.
JOHN GANNON, FMR. CIA OFFICIAL: All I can tell you is that when you're dealing with a fire hose of information, you're constantly trying to connect, but you're also being forced to move forward. And the potential to miss is there.
ENSOR: So there were things that U.S. intelligence could have done that might have prevented 9/11. And there are things that may yet need to be done to prevent future attacks. (on camera): But intelligence officials warn Americans not to assume they can stop them all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still ahead, as American mourned, he rejoiced. What Osama bin Laden was doing on September 11 from those who were there.
But next, grieving families and the comfort of last good-byes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told her that I loved her. She said, "I love you, too, Dad." And she said, "But you have to do me a favor." I said, "What's that?" She said you have to call Sean and tell Sean where I am and what happened, and tell him that I love him."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH RIVAS, 9/11 VICTIM: He gave me kisses. And said, "OK, mama, I have to go. See you later. Pick me up at 4:00." And that was it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Elizabeth Rivas, the mother of six, went to the laundromat. The soap operas on TV were suddenly interrupted.
RIVAS: I saw everything. And I was calling him from the washing machine. I was calling him from my cell and nothing come up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sixteen minutes after the first plane hit, Moysep (ph) was somehow able to get a phone line out of the very top floor. It was 9:02 when his stepdaughter, Linda, answered.
RIVAS: So I called Linda. I said, "Linda, did Moysep (ph) call? Did Moysep (ph) call?" "Yes, mommy, he said not to worry. He's OK, mommy, not to worry. He's OK." You know, I said, "What you mean, not to worry? What else he say?" "He say, Mommy, he say he love you no matter what happens, he love you."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Moysep (ph) never called again, but those words were to Elizabeth a final act of love and bravery.
RIVAS: She said to me that he didn't sound worried. He didn't sound worried. Other people, maybe there was screaming and crying and getting suffocated with the smoke and everything. And he tried to call me. He called me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bob Harrington was the proudest father. His stunning 31-year old daughter, Melissa, an international trade consultant, had just married an equally handsome young man, Sean Hughes. Life was good for them in San Francisco. But on September 11, Melissa was at a meeting at the Trade Center. It was 8:55 a.m., a mere nine minutes after the attack when the phone rang at her father's home in Massachusetts.
BOB HARRINGTON, FATHER OF MELISSA: She was a little hysterical and I couldn't understand what she was saying. So I was saying, "Honey, you got to slow down a minute and tell me what the problem is so I can help you out."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As his daughter spoke, Bob turned on the TV, his heart split open. But ever the father, he remained cool and calmly told her to find an exit sign.
HARRINGTON: And I said, you get to the stairwell and you get out of that building as fast as you can. I told her that I loved her. She said, "I love you, too, Dad." And she said, "But you have to do me a favor." I said, "What's that?" She said, "You have to call Sean and tell Sean where I am and what happened and tell him that I love him."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve minutes later, at 9:07, miraculously, Melissa was able to make a second call to her husband, asleep in San Francisco.
MELISSA: Sean, it's me. I just wanted to let you know I love you...and I'm stuck in this building in New York...there's lots of smoke and you can smell it through the nose. I mean..."
HARRINGTON: When she called me, she was panic stricken, but I didn't think -- she thought she could get out of the building, but when she talked to Sean, I could see in her voice that she knew she was going to die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A father left to live with that gut wrenching image, and yet, he was one of so few able to say good-bye, able to be a good father, who gave advice to his little girl until the very end.
HARRINGTON: In one instance, it's good that I talked to her, because I can always remember, you know, us exchanging, you know, "I love you. I love you, Dad." But it's just painful sometimes, you know. It was painful all the time because you just don't forget a girl like that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bill Kelley loved to sail, loved the ocean, loved his four sisters. And after living in New York for a year, came to love the city. And he loved his Park Avenue job for the Bloomberg Corporation. But on September 11, he was at Windows on the World, his family and friends had no idea he was there. Neither did a friend of Bill's who sent out this e-mail message that Bill received on the 106th floor on his Blackberry pager.
MIMI, BILL KELLEY'S SISTER: Check out the news. A plane just hit the World Trade Center. And my brother had e-mailed back to him, "I'm stuck on the 106th floor...stuck."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's at 9:10?
MIMI: 9:10, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, 13 minutes of silence from Bill's end, until 9:23 when another message was sent to his Blackberry.
COLLEEN, BILL KELLEY'S SISTER: His boss writes at 9:23, re: Bill, are you OK? And that's the one that Bill responds to. And Bill writes back, "So far...we're trapped on the 106th floor, but apparently fire department is almost here."
The fact that he felt the fire department is almost here, to me that means at 9:23, he still had hope.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For these sisters, the final communications have meant different things. Colleen says she became fixated.
COLLEEN: I was really obsessed with messages and really obsessed, and really wanted to know everything that Bill might have communicated. It was helping me accept his death and accept that he wouldn't be able to communicate anymore with us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For sister Mimi, her peace came, not with the last messages, but with the messages of Bill's 30 years of life.
MIMI: Over time, Col and I have talked, and the rest of the family too about not overvaluing those last messages either, that really trying to balance the value of the messages that he gave us all throughout his life to us. And that's what's really important.
We're never going to know exactly what happened. And I think for myself, I've resolved in that I know he probably died the exact same way that he lived his life. He died with honor, he died with courage, he died a gentleman, and he died with a lot of love, and a lot of faith, because that's how he lived.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And those are the real lasting impenetrable messages all the lost ones left behind.
BROWN: We've learned much about what happened on September 11. We know what planes the hijackers boarded, when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We know the enormous toll of the attacks. What we haven't heard much about, however, is what Osama bin Laden was doing on that day, September 11. That has remained a mystery until now.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): It is near sunset in Afghanistan on September 11. The night before and much of that day, in the hours leading up to the attack, Osama bin Laden is observed in deep prayer and meditation. This, according to the accounts of men who were present, who were later interrogated by coalition intelligence officials. As the hijackers board their planes in the United States, sources say only three people of those at the safe house in Afghanistan have exact knowledge of the attack. Osama bin Laden, his trusted military commander Mohammed Atef, and this man, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, wanted by the U.S. since 1995 for his alleged role in a plan to blow up U.S. airliners flying from Southeast Asia.
By the time American Airlines flight 11 slams into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, say those intelligence officials, bin Laden is sitting beside a shortwave radio and waiting for news. He says nothing. As people gather around, there is a bulletin about the first plane. This seems to agree with Osama bin Laden's version of events in this tape, obtained by the U.S. government in Afghanistan and released last December.
OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time. I was sitting with Dr. Akmed Abukay (ph). Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington. The news continued and no mention of the attack until the end. At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center."
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden begins weeping and praying, then shouts, "Allah Akbar," God is great, according to detainees who were present. Then in a chilling sign of what is still to come, the coalition intelligence sources say Osama bin Laden raises his arm and lifts two fingers. This is perhaps what bin Laden spokesman, Suleimen Abu- Ghaith is talking about in his account of what happened.
SULEIMEN ABU GHAITH (through translator): So I went back to Sheik Bin Laden, who was sitting in a room with 50 to 60 people. I tried to tell him about what I saw, but he made a gesture with his hands, meaning, "I know, I know."
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden himself also offers a clue to his behavior.
BIN LADEN (through translator): They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building. So I said to them, "Be patient."
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden moves to an adjacent room with satellite TV. More people gather to watch with him, and they begin to record coverage of the events, a tape which we found in the al Qaeda tape archives obtained by CNN. At this point, say the sources, bin Laden is silent. Then cameras catch United Airlines flight 175, as it crashes into the South Tower.
BIN LADEN (through translator): After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.
BOETTCHER: When the second tower is hit, bin Laden again prays and weeps, shouting, "Allah Akbar." Then he lifts three fingers. It becomes clear to the people in the room that he's signaling a third attack is to come, according to the intelligence sources. It does. American Airlines flight 77 hits the Pentagon.
BIN LADEN (through translator): Those young men said indeed in New York and Washington speeches that overshadowed all other speeches made everywhere else in the world.
BOETTCHER: Once again, bin Laden prays, weeps, and shouts, "Allah Akbar." This time, he lifts four fingers. Those beside him wait for the fourth attack. Only the select few know United flight 93 has already been hijacked and pointed toward Washington. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flight 93, I understand, has got a bomb on board.
BOETTCHER: The passengers on United flight 93 rush the cockpit, prevent the hijackers from achieving their aim. And the plane crashes in a Pennsylvania field.
Even as the fourth attack failed, the Twin Towers are collapsing, something Osama bin Laden, who once worked in his family's construction business, has been planning for.
BIN LADEN (through translator): Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas and the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.
BOETTCHER: By now, it is night time in Afghanistan. Bin Laden's followers again watch as he prays and weeps. They wait for him to raise his hand to indicate a fifth attack. He never does.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up, a presidency changed forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was on the left side of the chopper. And he looked out the window and he said, "Everybody take a look. He said you're looking at the face of war in the 21st century."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minute by minute with George W. Bush on September 11 when we return.
BROWN: For President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001 began publicly in Sarasota, Florida. An elementary school, a routine photo opportunity, a book in his lap, children listening to the president of the United States read a story. And then in an instant, everything changed. The president's mood, his pained expression said it all. America was at war and Mr. Bush instantly became a war time president.
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 9:05 a.m., Sarasota, Florida, the whisper that change the presidency.
ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I walked up to his right ear, leaned over and whispered in, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
KING: Priority one, don't alarm the children.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all so very much for showing me your reading skills.
KING: But soon, an early exit. Top aides waiting just beyond the classroom door.
KARL ROVE, SENIOR WHITE HOSE ADVISER: As he comes in the staff room, they're playing the footage of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. And the president said very simply, very calmly, but very powerfully, "We're at war. Get me the director of the FBI and get the vice president."
KING: 9:30 a.m., a time for testing, a president just seven months on the job.
BUSH: Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America. I unfortunately will be going back to Washington after my remarks.
KING: Or so he thought, a dash to the airport, a quick phone call back to the White House.
CARD: We were heading back to the plane. And we had a report that the Pentagon had been hit.
ROVE: The president was very emphatic. "I want to go to Washington." I said, "We can't guarantee the air space."
RICE: We said, "This isn't the time to come back because Washington is under attack." The vice president was here. The last thing that you wanted at that moment was to have both the president and the vice president in the same place.
KING: A rush to board Air Force One and get a potential target off the ground.
GORDON JOHNDROE, PRESIDENTIAL AIDE: It felt like the fastest takeoff and the steepest climb I had ever been on a plane for.
KING: On board, the president is told the First Lady is safe, checks in with his daughters, calls Mayor Giuliani in New York. And for the first time that fateful day, hears a now all too familiar name.
CARD: Osama bin Laden, I remember hearing Osama bin Laden. I do not remember hearing al Qaeda at that moment.
KING: Another call to the vice president.
ROVE: He says, you know, "it sounds like we got a war going on. You know, I heard about the Pentagon. At this point, there are three aircraft missing."
KING: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld joins in. CARD: It was a short, but very heavy discussion. A decision was made that if hostile acts were likely to be taken place by a commercial jetliner, a fighter pilot would given permission to shoot the plane down.
KING: 11:45 a.m., touchdown Barkesdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, another reminder everything has changed.
ROVE: In times of peace, a great moment, because they're bands, some people in uniform and spitting polish. And it's really an impressive ceremony. We landed at Barkesdale. And we met by the commander of the Eighth Air Force and his command staff. In combat uniforms, every one of them with a side arm.
KING: Another briefing. The CIA director says early evidence suggests bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
RICE: Nobody was surprised. It was an incident, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that looked like, felt like, smelled like al Qaeda.
KING: 12:36 p.m. Eastern, an effort to reassure a nervous nation.
BUSH: We have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people. Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status. And we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.
KING: 1:37 now. Wheels up, Barkesdale. The president advised once again, stay away from Washington.
ROVE: There are, you know, nine planes, six planes, eight planes, you know, three planes inbound over the Atlantic with emergency beacons on. I mean, it's a -- you know, there is a fog of war. And this was the first day of a new war.
KING: 2:50 p.m., arrival off at Air Base Nebraska, the home of the strategic command and a Cold War command and control bunker built to survive a nuclear attack. A secure video link with the National Security team. Two announcements from the president.
RICE: He came onto that teleconference and said, "I'm coming back." It wasn't the end of the discussion. There was no more discussion about whether he was coming back.
NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: He said, "I'm going to find out. We're going to find out who did this. We're going to seek them out. And we're going to destroy them."
JOSH BOLTEN, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: And it's -- it is now the mission of this government, the whole tenor of the presidency changed immediately at that moment.
KING: 4:36 p.m., eight hours after the first attack. A wartime president heads home under constant watch. JOHNDROE: I remember looking out the window and seeing a -- I suppose it was an F-16. It was Air Force jet right off the wing. I mean, if you could have opened the window, I think you could have touched it almost. It was amazing. I think that really made a lot of this hit home.
KING: A two hour flight to Andrews Air Force Base, a short but telling helicopter ride home. Decoys just in case. The president's first up close look at the devastation.
ROVE: There was a large plume coming out of the Pentagon that was visible for miles. The president was on the left side of the chopper. And he looked out the window and he said, "Everybody take a look." He said,"You're looking at the face of war in the 21st century."
CARD: It was eerie. And it was a very, very heavy time. It was a heavy time for the president. It was a heavy time for those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around him.
KING: Into the White House, an update from the vice president. A meeting with staff to discuss his address to the nation. 8:31 p.m.
BUSH: Good evening. Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom, came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.
KAREN HUGHES, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He felt it was very important that night that he reassure the country that we'd obviously been through a horrible trauma, and we were all horrified. We didn't -- we were not terrorized. And he wanted to convey that, that evening.
BUSH: America has stood down enemies before. And we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day.
BOLTEN: I think I was nervous, a little bit nervous for the president because I knew how important this was to the feeling in America that day.
BUSH: Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.
KING: 8:35 now. Back to the bunker. Another National Security Council meeting, the president opens by saying this is the time for self-defense.
RICE: By that night, the president was in the mood to kind of start handing out assignments. He really was determined that Don Rumsfeld was going to be doing his work to make sure the military was ready.
KING: At 10:30, the meeting breaks. The president heads to the residence. And soon after, to bed. But the long day is not done.
RICE: I was still in my office at about 11:30 when there was a report of another plane coming to the White House. And we went back to the bunker. And that was a kind of surreal scene, because the president was there in his running shorts and Mrs. Bush and her robe, and the dogs were there. It was a really kind of peculiar scene.
KING: An early start the morning after. A new chapter born of tragedy.
HUGHES: He told us all from this day forward, this was the focus of our administration. This will be the focus of our administration. And I think he expects that it will also be the focus of administrations to come.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up, critical moments, critical choices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: He grabbed me and propelled me out of my office and down the hall, into the underground shelter in the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice president and 9/11, when we return.
KING: He was here in his West Wing office, suspicious at word a plane had struck the World Trade Center, watching TV, hoping his instincts were wrong.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a clear day. There was no weather problem. And then we saw the second airplane actually hit in real time, and that was, at that moment you knew this was a deliberate act, that it was a terrorist act.
KING: A call to the traveling president, urgent conversations with top aides and then a burst through the door.
CHENEY: My agent all of a sudden materialized beside me and said, "Sir, we have to leave now." He grabbed me and propelled me out of my office, down the hall, into the underground shelter in the White House.
KING: In White House shorthand, it is the PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.
MARY MATALIN, COUNSELOR TO THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I didn't know that it existed until I was actually down there. And I'm not sure I could find my way back there to this day.
KING: A Cold War relic, deep underground, and the vice president's base of operations on the first day of a new war.
LEWIS LIBBY, VICE PRESIDENT'S CHIEF OF STAFF: There's only one reason we would be headed for the PEOC on a day when planes were attacking America. And at one point they came in and said there's a plane five miles out. Now a plane five miles out, traveling at 350 to 500 miles per hour doesn't take long to arrive. And so that was a wrong bit of information that added to the drama.
KING: That was the plane that slammed the Pentagon. Then, a report of a plane over Pennsylvania headed for Washington. Twice, a military aide asks the vice president for authority to shoot it down.
JOSH BOLTEN, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The vice president said, yes, again. And the aide then asked a third time. He said, "just confirming, sir, authority to engage." And the vice president, his voice got a little annoyed then, said, "I said yes."
KING: It was a rare flash of anger from a man who knew he was setting the tone at a White House in crisis.
CHENEY: I think there was an undertone of anger there, but it's more a matter of determination. You don't want to let your anger overwhelm your judgment at a moment like that.
KING: Word that flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania, a scramble to find out if a military jet had shot it down. Aides frantically called the Pentagon.
ERIC EDELMAN, VICE PRESIDENT'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The vice president was a little bit ahead of us, actually. I think he was a step ahead of us. He said, sort of softly, and to nobody in particular, "I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane."
KING: The vice president and aides watched in horror as the first tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
CHENEY: A remarkable moment, a very emotional moment for everybody.
MATALIN: Oddly, everything just stopped. Not for long, but it did stop totally at that moment.
KING: And the vice president said nothing?
MATALIN: No, but he emoted in a way that he emotes, which was to stop.
KING: Back to business included comparing notes on the tail numbers of planes still unaccounted for.
NORMAN MINETA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: It was about 12:15, 12:20 when I said to the vice president, "Mr. Vice President, all the planes are down." And he said, "Great, thank you very much."
KING: A recommendation that it was too risky for the vice president to stay at the White House, a possible target.
EDELMAN: They wanted him to depart the White House to one of the alternate locations, undisclosed locations that we subsequently got to know pretty well. KING: He said, no.
CHENEY: I had communications with the president, communications with the Pentagon, Secret Service and so forth, and we could continue to operate there. And, if I left, I'd lose all of that.
Lynne Cheney was a constant presence, leaning in at one point to tell the vice president their daughters were fine.
CHENEY: It's something you think about, but, again, it's not so much a personal consideration at that point. It may have been for people who didn't have anything to do.
KING: It was the bunker's first test in an actual emergency, a day of crisis not without a few hitches. The vice president wanted to track TV reports of the devastation and listen in on communications with the Pentagon.
MATALIN: You can have sound on one or the other and he found that technically imperfect in the 20th century.
KING: A few words with the president just before his address to the nation. The CIA director watched from the bunker, waiting for the president to convene a late-night meeting of the National Security Council.
CHENEY: I guess the thing I was struck by was the extent to which he had begun to grapple with these problems and to make decisions, that we were in a war on terror.
KING: A final word with the president, then a late night helicopter ride past the Pentagon.
LIBBY: I recall watching the vice president, who was staring out the window at the Pentagon and wondering what he may be thinking about the responsibilities that he will have in the future. A pretty sobering moment.
KING: Did he ever say anything about any of that?
LIBBY: Not exactly his style.
KING: It is a memory he says has shaped every day in the long year since.
CHENEY: As we lifted off and headed up the Potomac, you could look out and see the Pentagon, see that black hole where they'd been hit, a lot of lights on the building, smoke rising from the Pentagon. And, you know, it really helped really bring home the impact of what had happened that day, that we had in fact been attacked.
BROWN: September 11 changed many things in this city and in this country. We can't know, and we won't know for many years how much it's changed and how lasting that change will be. But what we do know better now, and it is important to know, is what really happened.
That's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. From New York, I'm Aaron Brown. We'll see you next week.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com