Wednesday, August 02, 2006
In his bunker under the White House, Vice President Cheney was not notified about United 93 until 10:02--only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. Yet it was with dark bravado that the vice president and others in the Bush administration would later recount sober deliberations about the prospect of shooting down United 93. "Very, very tough decision, and the president understood the magnitude of that decision," Bush's then chief of staff, Andrew Card, told ABC News.
Cheney echoed, "The significance of saying to a pilot that you are authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know, it's an order that had never been given before." And it wasn't on 9/11, either.
President Bush would finally grant commanders the authority to give that order at 10:18, which--though no one knew it at the time--was 15 minutes after the attack was over.
But comments such as those above were repeated by other administration and military figures in the weeks and months following 9/11, forging the notion that only the passengers' counterattack against their hijackers prevented an inevitable shootdown of United 93 (and convincing conspiracy theorists that the government did, indeed, secretly shoot it down*). The recordings tell a different story, and not only because United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked.
At what feels on the tapes like the moment of truth, what comes back down the chain of command, instead of clearance to fire, is a resounding sense of caution. Despite the fact that NEADS believes there may be as many as five suspected hijacked aircraft still in the air at this point--one from Canada, the new one bearing down fast on Washington, the phantom American 11, Delta 1989, and United 93--the answer to Nasypany's question about rules of engagement comes back in no uncertain terms, as you hear him relay to the ops floor.
NASYPANY (to floor): Negative. Negative clearance to shoot.... Goddammit!...
FOX: I'm not really worried about code words at this point.
NASYPANY: Fuck the code words. That's perishable information. Negative clearance to fire.
(*Pieces of Flight 93 were found eight miles away from the impact site. This has been confirmed to me by two unimpeachable and independent sources, one law enforcement, one military. Somebody shot Flight 93 down.)