26 November 2016

Politico Magazine: ‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

Ari Fleischer: As we were flying out of Sarasota, we were able to get some TV reception. They broke for commercial. I couldn’t believe it. A hair-loss commercial comes on. I remember thinking, in the middle of all this, I’m watching this commercial for hair loss.


Gordon Johndroe: [Putin] was important—all these military systems were all put in place for nuclear alerts. If we went on alert, we needed Putin to know that we weren’t readying an attack on Russia. He was great—he said immediately that Russia wouldn’t respond, Russia would stand down, that he understood we were under attack and needed to be on alert.

Ari Fleischer: Putin was fantastic that day. He was a different Vladimir Putin in 2001. America could have had no better ally on September 11th than Russia and Putin.


Rep. Adam Putnam: We get to Barksdale, keep in mind that we haven’t really had good TV images. We were all overwhelmed with emotion, because we were all catching up to where everyone else had had a couple hours to process. I called my wife and said, “I’m safe. I can’t tell you where I am.” And she said, “Oh, I thought you were in Barksdale? That’s what I saw on TV.”


Sonya Ross: I had started on the White House beat on September 11th, six years earlier. I said to Ari at some point, “This is my White House anniversary.” He laughed, “Some anniversary party you threw.”


Mike Morell: It was about an hour from touching down, pretty late in the day, a lot of people were asleep, and the lights on Air Force One were turned down. The president came back into the staff compartment. I was the only one awake. I said, “How are you doing?” “I’m just fine, thanks for asking.” One of the things that struck me, he transformed right before my eyes from a president who was struggling a bit with the direction of his administration on September 10th, to a wartime president, just in a matter of hours. I could already see this new confidence and power in him.


Karl Rove: I watched the fighters and I realized this was no ceremonial escort—this was the last line of defense in case there was a MANPAD [surface-to-air missile] on the approach to Washington. They were going to put themselves between Air Force One and whatever the threat was.

Garrett M. Graff

Gripping article (that could be made into a movie) about the September 11th terrorist attacks told from the unique perspective of the staff accompanying president George W. Bush. Together they spent the next eight hours in the only plane flying in the air, with very little information about the events down on the ground and trying to make decisions that could save or imperil the United States. It’s only 15 years ago, but the difference in terms of communicating are enormous. Also, I find it intriguing how, despite little to no contact with the outside world, Al Qaeda was already being singled out as the organization behind the attack – suggesting their plans were known to intelligence agencies but they didn’t take any action to prevent them. And with Donald Trump as president elect, it’s chilling to imagine how a similar scenario will play out under his leadership.

George W. Bush on board Air Force One
After departing Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President George W. Bush confers with Vice President Dick Cheney from Air Force One, September 11, 2001, during the flight to Andrews Air Force Base.

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