Point MC-1: Why Was President Bush Not Hustled Away
Point MC-1: from the Florida School?
On the morning of September 11, 2001, President Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, scheduled to read with grade school students for a “photo op.”
- When the President arrived, he was told at 8:55 AM that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. Bush responded that “a commercial plane has hit the World Trade Center and we’re going to . . . do the reading thing anyway.”
- While Bush was seated in the classroom, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, came in (at about 9:05) and reportedly whispered in the President’s ear: “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack.”
- Bush remained in the classroom another five to seven minutes, then made a statement to the nation from the school, after which he left the school at about 9:35.
- The St. Petersburg Times asked “why the Secret Service did not immediately hustle Bush to a secure location.” Likewise, the Family Steering Committee – which was instrumental in getting the 9/11 Commission created – asked: “Why was President Bush permitted by the Secret Service to remain in the Sarasota elementary school where he was reading to children?”
- The 9/11 Commission explained: “The Secret Service told us they were anxious to move the President to a safer location, but did not think it imperative for him to run out the door.”
- The Secret Service is charged with the protection of the president. In a book about the Secret Service, Philip Melanson wrote: “With an unfolding terrorist attack, the procedure should have been to get the president to the closest secure location as quickly as possible.”
- The presidential visit had been highly publicized, and one journalist had written, in fact, that “Bush’s presence made…the planned reading event a perceived target,” because “the well-publicized event at the school assured Bush’s location that day was no secret.”
- Given this fact, combined with evidence that many planes had been hijacked and that terrorists were going after high-value targets, the Secret Service should have assumed that a hijacked airliner may have been bearing down on the school at that very moment, so the President should have been removed immediately. Indeed, as soon as the second strike on the World Trade Center was seen on television, the Marine carrying the President’s phone said to Sarasota County Sheriff Bill Balkwill: “We’re out of here. Can you get everybody ready?”
- However, this Marine’s instructions were evidently overridden: The head of the Secret Service detail allowed Bush to remain at the school 30 minutes longer to make his previously scheduled television address to the nation at 9:29, thereby letting any terrorists know that he was still at the school.
This break in protocol indicates that the Secret Service, at some level, knew that the President was not in danger.
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004) 39.
Mitch Stacy, “Florida School Where Bush Learned of the Attacks Reflects on Its Role in History,” Associated Press, 19 August 2002.
The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, 38.
“One of the many unanswered questions about that day is why the Secret Service did not immediately hustle Bush to a secure location, as it apparently did with Vice President Dick Cheney,” Susan Taylor Martin, “Of Fact, Fiction: Bush on 9/11,” St. Petersburg Times, 4 July 2004. This issue had been raised the day after 9/11 in one of Canada’s leading newspapers, which wrote: “For some reason, Secret Service agents did not bustle [Bush] away,” John Ibbitson, “Action, Not Overreaction, Prudent Course,” Globe and Mail, 12 September, 2001.
Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, Knopf, 2006, 54.
The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, 39.
Philip H. Melanson, Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002), as quoted in Susan Taylor Martin, “Of Fact, Fiction: Bush on 9/11.”
Mike Riopell, “Educator’s History Lesson,” Arlington Heights Daily Herald, 11 September 2006.
The event had been known by county school officials since early August. Much preparation had been done. “Original Video of Bush’s Visit to Booker Elementary on 9/11”. Concern was expressed by Sarasota County Sheriff Colonel Steve Burns, who was in charge of security at Booker Elementary school that day and was working with the Secret Service; see 2:30).
Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), 4.
Tom Bayles, “The Day Before Everything Changed, President Bush Touched Locals’ Lives,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10 September 2002; Blakewill’s statement was later quoted in Susan Taylor Martin, “Of Fact, Fiction: Bush on 9/11,” St. Petersburg Times, 4 July 2004.
Bush’s speech was reported live on CNN.
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