A cohort of Hoover fellows, all of whom served in prominent leadership and military positions in the administration of George W. Bush, reflected on their personal experiences during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
Participants in the conversation included Condoleezza Rice, White House national security advisor from 2001 to 2005; John B. Taylor, undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs from 2001 to 2005; and James Mattis, who then was serving as a US Marine brigadier general and deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The conversation also included Karen Hughes, the White House communications director from 2001 to 2002. The program was moderated by Peter Robinson, Murdoch Distinguished Policy Fellow and host of Hoover’s flagship public affairs interview hour, Uncommon Knowledge.
Rice recalled the events of that fateful day that began when her assistant alerted her that a commercial plane had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Shortly thereafter, she had been escorted to the White House bunker. Rice explained that at the time, the president had been visiting a school in Florida. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Peru for a meeting of the Organization of American States. Rice was also unable to reach Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by phone. An hour after the second plane hit the south tower, another commercial jet exploded on impact at the Pentagon and people working in the fortress building had been forced to evacuate. In the bunker, Vice President Dick Cheney had a phone conversation with President Bush that concluded with the president providing the authorization to shoot any aircraft that wasn’t communicating with air traffic control centers.
“For an awful few minutes when that plane went down in Pennsylvania, we thought we’d shot it down,” Rice remembered.