Here's a survey of Mineta's statements on the events in the morning of 9/11 without comments - for documentation purposes. I learned only recently of the The Daily Californian and MSNBC interviews.
Congressional testimony, September 20, 2001
On the morning of September 11th, on first word of the attack, I moved directly
to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center in the White House. As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House
to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without
exception. That was an unprecedented step. But with the risk of additional
flights that might be used as terrorist weapons, I believe that it was the right
and necessary step to take.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, summoned by the White House to the bunker, was on an open line to the Federal Aviation Administration operations center, monitoring Flight 77 as it hurtled toward Washington, with radar tracks coming every seven seconds. Reports came that the plane was 50 miles out, 30 miles out, 10 miles out-until word reached the bunker that there had been an explosion at the Pentagon.
Mineta shouted into the phone to Monte Belger at the FAA: "Monte, bring all the planes down." It was an unprecedented order-there were 4,546 airplanes in the air at the time. Belger, the FAA's acting deputy administrator, amended Mineta's directive to take into account the authority vested in airline pilots. "We're bringing them down per pilot discretion," Belger told the secretary.
"[Expletive] pilot discretion," Mineta yelled back. "Get those goddamn planes down."
Sitting at the other end of the table, Cheney snapped his head up, looked squarely at Mineta and nodded in agreement.
That morning, I was having breakfast with the Deputy Prime minister of Belgium Isabelle Durant. Mrs. Durant is also the minister of transport for Belgium. So Jane Garvey, the administrator of the FAA and I were having breakfast with her in my conference room.
My chief of staff then came in and said, 'Mr. Secretary, can I see you?' The television was on and obviously it was the World Trade Center with all this black smoke coming out of it. So I asked John, 'What the heck is that?.' And he said, 'Well we don't know. We have heard explosion, we have heard the possibility of an airplane that went into the building.' And so I said, 'Keep me posted,' and I went back into my breakfast meeting. I explained to Mrs. Durant what was going on.
Then in about five or six minutes, the chief of staff came back in and said, 'Mr. Secretary, may I see you again?' He said at that point that it has been confirmed it was a commercial airliner that went into the World Trade Center. And as I was standing there watching the television set, all of a sudden from the right side of the screen came a gray object and then it sort of disappeared and the next thing, from the left of the screen was this white yellow orangey billow of cloud coming out of the left side of the screen, so I ran into the conference room and told Mrs. Durant I was going to have to leave and take care of whatever this was about.
I told Jane to come back in with me, and soon after that, I got a call from the White House saying for me to get over there right away. So I grabbed some papers, grabbed some stuff and went to the garage. I got in my car and went over to the White House. Its only seven minutes away. I drove into the White House grounds, and everyone was running out of the White House, running out of the Executive Office Building.
And I said to the people with me, 'Is there something wrong with this picture? We are driving into the White House and everyone else is running out of it. So I went into the White House and was briefed by Dick Clark of the National Security Council and he said, 'You have to get over to the Presidential Emergency Operation Center to be with the vice president.' ...
We started to monitor what was going on. We knew that there were now two airplanes that had gone into World Trade Center 1 and World Trade Center 2, and I had a direct line set up with the FAA.
Someone came in and said, 'Mr. Vice President, there is a plane 50 miles out.' I asked our FAA people, 'Can you see an aircraft coming in 50 miles out?' and they said, 'Yeah, we're tracking it, but the transponder is off, so we don't know what the identification of that airplane is.' Pretty soon the same person came in and informed the vice president, sitting right across from me at the conference table, that the airplane is 30 miles out. I asked the FAA about it and they said, 'Yeah, we know where the plane is, but we don't know who it is.'
Then they came in and said it was 10 miles out. Soon after that, I was talking to the deputy director of the FAA, and he told me they had lost the target off the screen. Soon after that, then, the vice president was informed that there was an explosion at the Pentagon. So I was trying to relate with the air traffic controllers where that plane went to see whether it was close to the Pentagon. The radar is very difficult to pinpoint it to a ground location.
But while I was talking to the FAA, someone broke into the conversation and said, 'Mr. Secretary, we have just had confirmation from the Arlington County Police Department that they saw a commercial airliner-an American airline-go into the Pentagon.
Well, its like anything else, if you see one of something occur you consider that an accident. But when you see two of the same thing occur then you know that there is a pattern or a trend. In this instant we had three of the same thing occur, and that is a program or a plan. So I then informed the FAA to bring all the airplanes down.
I said, 'Any airplanes coming into the Eastern seaboard, turn them around and get them out of the Eastern seaboard heading west. Any planes heading west, have them go on to their destination if they are close by. But in any event bring all the airplanes down."
MINETA: I had a breakfast meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium who also is the minister of Transport. She, Mrs. Durante, Jane Garvey, the head of FAA, and I were going to have breakfast.
And so we were in the midst of having breakfast and my chief of staff came into the breakfast and said, "Mr. Secretary, may I see you?"
So I excused myself, went into my office, and at the other end of the office is a TV set and as I walked in, obviously it's the World Trade Center, black smoke billowing out of there, and I said, "What the heck is that?"
He said, "Well, we don't know, we've heard explosion, we've heard GA -- general aviation -- aircraft go into it. So we don't know."
I said, "Well, keep me posted," and I went back into the conference room, and then told Mrs. Durante about what I saw and knew so far about what was happening in New York.
Then about five minutes later, John Flaherty, my chief of staff, came back in and said, "Mr. Secretary, may I see you?"
So I came back into the office and he said it's been confirmed, it was a commercial airliner that went into the World Trade Center, and so as I then started getting closer to my TV set and I was watching it, and all of a sudden from the right side of the set I see something gray, and then it sort a disappears, and then from the right side of the screen I see this white billowing, yellow-orange cloud, and I go, "Holy cow!"
I turned around, ran into the conference room, and I said, "Mrs. Durante, I'm going to have to excuse myself cause I don't know what's going on in New York City. Jane, you've got to get back to FAA."
And so by the time I came back into my office, I had a call from the White House saying, "Get, get over here right away." So I grabbed a, a few papers and a manual, and ran down to the car, red light and sirens, went over to the White House.
HAGER: So you already knew commercial airliner fairly early on then. Initially, initially you were wondering, "Is it general aviation?"
MINETA: That's right.
HAGER: Which would be the first reaction.
MINETA: That's right. And I was thinking about the, the B-25 that went into the Empire State Building during World War II.
And so anyway, we drove into the White House on West Executive Drive. People were coming out of the White House, pouring out of the Executive Office Building, running over towards Lafayette Park, and I said to my driver and security person, I said, "Hey, is there something wrong with this picture, cause here we are driving in and everybody else is running out."
So I ran into the White House and someone said you have to be briefed by Dick Clarke of the National Security Council.
So I went into the Situation Room and he briefly told me what was going on, and then he said you've got to be down in the PEOC with the Vice President. I said I don't know where the PEOC is, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, and there was a Secret Service agent standing there, and he says, "I'll take you over there right away."
So we went running down and went into the PEOC which is the bunker, as you know, under the White House.
I started to establish a direct line to the FAA to find out what was going on, and the Vice President and I were across from each other on the conference room table in the PEOC, and about this time someone came in and said this was -- when I finally got in there, it was probably about 9:27, is what I recall.
And a little later on, someone said, "Mr. Vice President, there's a plane 50-miles out." So I was talking to Monte Belger, the Deputy Director of the FAA, and I said, "Monte, what do you have 50-miles out?"
He said, "Well, we have a target, bogey, on the radar, but the transponder's been turned off, so we have no identification of this aircraft. We don't know who it is. We don't know what altitude it's at, speed or anything else. All we're doing is watching with the sweep of the radar, the dot moving from position to position."
So then someone came in, the same person came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, it -- the plane's 30-miles out." So I said, "Monte, can you see it, and where is it in relationship to the ground?"
He said, "Well, that's difficult to really determine. I would guess it's somewhere between Great Falls and National Airport, coming what they call the DRA, the down river approach."
And so then the person came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, the plane's ten-miles out," and so I said, "Monte, where is it?" and he said, "Well, I'm not really sure but I'd be guessing somewhere maybe between the USA Today building and, and National Airport."
And then pretty soon he said, "Oh-oh, we just lost the target." And so a few moments later, someone came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, there's been an explosion at the Pentagon."
So I said, "Monte, is there something -- can you identify it as being at the Pentagon?" He said, "No, we can't really pinpoint it like that."
Then about that time someone broke into our phone conversation and said, "Mr. Secretary, we've had a call from an Arlington County police officer saying that he saw an American Airlines airplane go into the Pentagon."
At that point I said, "Monte, bring all the airplanes down," and we had a slight conversation about that, and then the professionalism of the air traffic controllers and the skill of the pilots and the flight deck, and the flight attendants in the flight cabins, we're able to bring down over 4600 airplanes in about two hours, safely and without incident.
And it was one of these, where every so often Monte would call me and say, "3212 airplanes still in the air." "2112." "1174." And he just kept on reporting back to me as to the number of airplanes left. And as I recall, about 12:20, somewhere around in there, I finally said to him, -- to the Vice President -- I said, "Mr. Vice President, all the airplanes are down" and to me it was just miraculous that the great working team of the airplanes and the air traffic controllers were able to bring everything down safely.
HAGER: Let me take you back over some of that. Now, when you're in your office and you're first seeing it on the TV, I think you said your initial reaction is maybe it's a private plane of some kind. But I think in the second case, you knew right away that was a commercial airliner.
MINETA: I saw a gray airplane, and first I thought maybe -- and I didn't think of it in terms of a commercial airliner and I thought maybe it might be the size of a King Air or a G5, or something of that nature. And then I really should have, if I thought about it, gray -- United Airlines, and -- but it just happened so quickly, that it just, other than seeing a gray object come in, I really couldn't assess what kind of an airplane it might have been.
HAGER: I'm wondering when the first explosion occurred, you could think, you know, somebody had a heart attack -- a pilot, or somebody lost, something like that, equipment failure. But when the second tower is hit, I'm wondering what was flashing through your mind, because then we begin to get sinister implications.
MINETA: Well, the whole issue was what was the nature of what's going on, not only was it a commercial airline, but what's going on with two airplanes going into the World Trade Center, into the twin towers?
Well, when that third one went into the Pentagon, it's like anything else. If you see one of something it's an accident. When you see two of the same thing, it's a pattern or a trend. But when you three -- see three of the same thing occurring, then you know it's a program or a plan.
And so that's when it was decided that all the airplanes had to be brought down.
HAGER: Had the implication of the idea of terrorist attack -- was that one of the things you might have thought of after the second tower?
MINETA: Not at all. I mean, to have the thought of a commercial airliner being used as a missile or the weapon itself, at that point was the farthest thing in my mind.
HAGER: Even after the second tower was --
MINETA: Ever after the second one.
HAGER: Now coming over to the White House and you're down there in the bunker, and that third unidentified blip is coming down the Potomac.
For one thing, had you thought about the possibility that it might be -- I mean you're at the White House. That's the center where everything is going on. Is that something that would have gone through your mind?
MINETA: Well, the question was where is it coming. And so as I was asking Monte, it was following pretty much the DRA, the down river approach, and it had not crossed over towards the White House or towards the Capitol. It was staying on its line towards what would normally be the traffic pattern into National Airport.
And in fact, later on, in looking at the radar track, the plane had actually over-passed the Pentagon, then turned around and then came back into it, and it never took a wide sweep to cross over to the east side of the White House.
On the other hand, we had seven or eight uniden -- or unaccounted-for airplanes, and then I heard about an airplane going down on the Ohio-Kentucky border.
So I said to Monte, I said, "Have we heard anything further about what you just mentioned a little while ago, about that plane down in, along the border of Ohio and Kentucky?" And he said no, we haven't heard anything.
I said, "Well, have you called the Ohio State Patrol or the Kentucky State Patrol to find out if they've heard anything?"
Cause if someone sees an airplane crash, they're immediately going to call the law enforcement agency. I said find out from them if they've heard anything.
But that turned out to be negative. And then about what, 10:15 or so, then we heard about the crash up in Shanksville, and so then the question of course -- and the other thing that happened when the person came in and said that the plane was ten miles out, he said do the orders still stand, and the Vice President said of course the orders still stand.
Have you heard anything to the contrary? I was thinking what are they talking about?
Then I thought, "Oh, my gosh, I wonder if they've scrambled aircraft and have aircraft up there now."
HAGER: And the order would be to shoot --
MINETA: Shoot it down. So then when I heard about the Shanksville plane, then I thought what happened to that airplane? Did it go down on its own?
HAGER: When you first heard that plane went down in Shanksville, what were you thinking?
MINETA: Well, the question, when I first heard about that plane was what happened to it. Did it go down on its own or might it have been shot down by one of the aircraft that had been scrambled, and -- now I knew that afterwards, that planes had been scrambled to intercept the airplane coming in on the river approach, but because it was coming up from Norfolk, it was still 10, 11 minutes away when that plane went into the Pentagon.
But by that time I knew that there was an airplane now in the area and so then when I heard about the Shanksville airplane, then the question came up, "Wow, what happened to that?"
Did it go down on its own or was it shot down? And even the Pentagon was not able to answer that until some two hours after that plane had gone down.
HAGER: Was it a fleeting idea at all in, in your head, that, "Gee, they might be coming for us?"
MINETA: Oh, absolutely, it's something like that, but at least at the time the track of the radar was following what would be considered the down-river approach and it never came over to cross the east side of the Potomac River and it just followed the river all the way in.
But the -- of course the thought about, you know, is the White House the target, because I think as we found out later on, about the way al Qaida operates, they were looking for significant, something of a significant nature and that they wanted to go after political, economic and a military icon.
So here in terms of icon, they had hit the twin towers in New York, in terms of economic icon and then now they've struck the Pentagon, the military icon, and you think about political icon either being in the White House or the Capitol.
HAGER: Not to dwell on the personal, but besides being Secretary of Transportation, you're a human being. Did this thing ever get your heart pumping or make your adrenaline go?
MINETA: Oh, absolutely. I mean you're on the edge of your seat and you're saying, "Monte, tell me what's going on. What is it?" Because we're in the bunker and we're getting bits and pieces of news.
We frankly have had CNN, Fox and NBC on in the screens inside the bunker, and that was really as probably up to date news as we were getting in the bunker and then the input that the Vice President was getting from his staff.
HAGER: Now moving to the decision to bring the planes down, you said you had a discussion, but I heard it described as a somewhat more animated discussion than that.
MINETA: It was. What had happened was that earlier that day, as this was all unfolding, I had already talked to Don Carty, the CEO at American Airlines, and Jim Goodwin, the CEO of United Airlines about accounting for their own airplanes, and so they had placed ground holds on their airplanes on the East Coast, in other words, no airplanes were to take off.
When the third one struck, I told Monte -- I said bring all the airplanes down and he said we'll do them, we'll do that according to pilot discretion.
Well, pilot discretion was to me a little too loose in the sense of I don't want pilots to go another hour to flight or their destination. I wanted those airplanes down.
So I told Monte, I said, you know, in effect, "The hell with pilot discretion, get those planes down."
04:03:34 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
Someone came in and said Mr. Vice President, there's a plane out 50 miles.
04:03:39 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) Mineta confers with Federal Aviation Deputy Chief Monty Belger.
04:03:43 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
And so I said, Monty, what do you have? He said, well we're watching this target on the radar, but the transponder's been turned off. So we, have no identification.
04:03:56 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) At the FAA's Air Traffic Control Center near Washington's Dulles Airport, Danielle O'Brien is at a radar scope.
04:04:03 DANIELLE O'BRIEN, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
It was an unidentified plane to the southwest of Dulles moving at a very high rate of speed.
04:04:11 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
Someone came in and said, Mr. Vice President, the airplane's 30 miles out.
04:04:16 LT COLONEL DAWNE DESKINS, AIR NATIONAL GUARD
We caught on the radar scope, a few blips, maybe seven or eight, you know, just enough to kind of go around in a half circle and then fade right over, losing radar contact right over, Washington. I said, my God, what is that?
04:04:31 DANIELLE O'BRIEN, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
He was fast and it was just, it would be unprecedented for a commercial plane to come screaming through your air space at that kind of speed, unidentified, without making some type of communication.
04:04:45 MASTER SERGEANT MAUREEN DOOLEY, AIR NATIONAL GUARD
We knew that he was headed in that direction and we were calling, Washington Center, oh, my God, you've got, he's coming towards you.
04:04:51 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
The fellow came in and said, it's ten miles out. Assuming that it was coming into, National Airport, Ronald Reagan National Airport.
04:05:01 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) At Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, F-16 fighter pilots Brad Derrig and Dean Eckmann scramble into the air. They are 105 miles, 12 minutes south of Washington. It is just 9:30 a.m.
04:05:15 MAJOR BRAD DERRIG, PILOT, AIR NATIONAL GUARD
We're directed to go and which turned out to be Reagan National which is right by the Pentagon.
04:05:20 DANIELLE O'BRIEN, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
Our supervisor picked up our line to the White House and started relaying to them the information. We have an unidentified, very fast moving aircraft inbound toward your vicinity, eight miles west, seven miles west, and it went, six, five, four, . . .
04:05:39 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
He said, uh-oh, we just lost the bogey, meaning the target went off the screen. So I said, well, where is it? And he said, well, we're not really sure.
04:15:04 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) Deep beneath the White House, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta issues an unprecedented order.
04:15:10 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
The planes that are coming into the eastern seaboard, turn them around and get them going west. If they're going west, have them land at their destination, but in any event if they're not too far away, have them land.
04:15:22 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) More than 4,000 planes are in the skies over the US. FAA policy allows pilots to use their own discretion to decide where and when they land in an emergency. But on this morning, . . .
04:15:35 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
I said, "screw pilot discretion, get the damn planes down."
04:22:07 CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(VO) White House photographer David Bohrer watches the tense moment and records it on film.
04:22:13 DAVID BOHRER, WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER
Eventually it narrowed to Flight 93. That was the biggest threat at that point.
04:22:19 KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR
If you take the trajectory of the plane, of Flight 93 after it passes Pittsburgh and draw a straight line, it's gonna go to Washington, DC.
04:22:27 NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY
You just had to do something instantaneously.
04:22:30 DAVID BOHRER, WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER
There was a, a PEOC staffer who would keep coming in with updates on Flight 93's progress towards DC.
On Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, I was meeting with the Belgian transport minister in my conference room adjacent to my office, discussing aviation issues. Because of the agenda, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey was also in attendance.
A little after 8:45 a.m., my chief of staff, John Flaherty, interrupted the meeting. He asked Administrator Garvey and me to step into my office, where he told me that news agencies were reporting that some type of aircraft had flown into one of the towers of New York's World Trade Center.
Information was preliminary, so we did not know what kind of aircraft nor whether or not it was intentional. Jane Garvey immediately went to a telephone and contacted the FAA operations center. I asked to be kept informed of any developments and returned to the conference room to explain to the Belgian prime minister that our meeting might have to be postponed.
In an incident involving a major crash of any type, the Office of the Secretary goes into a major information-gathering response. It contacts the mode of administration overseeing whatever mode of transportation is involved in the incident. It monitors press reports, contacts additional personnel to accommodate the surge in operations, and centralizes the information for me through the chief of staff.
In major incidents, it will follow a protocol of notification that includes the White House and other agencies involved in the incident. These activities, albeit in the nascent stage of information-gathering, took place in these initial minutes.
A few minutes after my return to the conference room, my chief of staff again asked me to step back into my office. He then told me that the aircraft was a commercial aircraft and that the FAA had received an unconfirmed report that a hijacking of an American Airlines flight had occurred.
While Mr. Flaherty was briefing me, I watched as a large commercial jet flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center. At this point things began to happen quickly. I once more returned to the conference room and informed the minister of what had happened and ended the meeting. I received a telephone call from the CEO of United Airlines, Jack Goodman, telling me that one of United's flights was missing. I then called Don Carty, the CEO of American Airlines, and asked him to see if American Airlines could account for all of its aircraft. Mr. Flaherty reported to me that Jane Garvey had phoned to report that the CEO of Delta Airlines had called the FAA and said it could not yet account for all of its aircraft.
During this time, my office activated the Department of Transportation's crisis management center, which was located on the 8th floor at that time of the Department of Transportation headquarters, and provides for senior DOT personnel to conduct surge operations in a coordinated manner.
By this time, my office had contacted the White House. A brief moment later, the White House called my chief of staff and asked if I could come to the White House and operate from that location. I decided that, given the nature of the attack and the request, that I should be at the White House directly providing the president and the vice president with information.
When I got to the White House, it was being evacuated. I met briefly with Richard Clark, a National Security Council staff member, who had no new information. Then the Secret Service escorted me down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, otherwise known as the PEOC. I established contact on two lines, one with my chief of staff at the Department of Transportation, and the second with Monty Belger, the acting deputy administrator of the FAA, and Jane Garvey, both of whom were in the FAA operations center.
And as the minutes passed, the developing picture from air traffic control towers and radar screens became increasingly more alarming. Some aircraft could not be contacted. While on a normal day that may be just a communications snafu, we were faced with trying to quickly sort out minor problems from significant threats. We did not know how many more attacks might be in progress.
The FAA began to restrict air travel in the Northeast United States by a combination of actions which included sterilizing air space in certain regions and at various airports, and ultimately a nationwide ground stop of all aircraft for all locations, regardless of destination.
Within a few minutes, American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. At this time, as we discussed the situation with the North American Aerospace Defense commander and his staff, we considered implementing an emergency system of coordinated air traffic management to allow maximum use for defensive activities.
It was clear that we had to clear the air space as soon as possible to stop any further attacks and ensure domestic air space was available for emergency and defensive use. And so at approximately 9:45 a.m., less than one hour after I had first been notified of an airplane crash in New York, I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible. It was the first shutdown of civil aviation in the history of the United States.
Within minutes, air traffic controllers throughout the nation had directed 700 domestic and international flights to emergency but safe landings. Within another 50 minutes, air traffic controllers, working with skilled flight crews, made sure another 2800 airplanes returned safely to the ground.
By shortly after noon, less than four hours after the first attack, U.S. air space was empty of all aircraft except military and medical traffic. A total of approximately 4500 aircraft were landed without incident in highly stressful conditions. Additionally, all international inbound flights were diverted from U.S. air space and U.S. airports.
Unfortunately, during this time we also learned that United Flight 93 crashed in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania. As America knows, but it is important to keep repeating, that aircraft never reached the terrorists' target due to the heroic actions taken by the passengers and crew on United Flight 93.
MR. HAMILTON: We thank you for that. I wanted to focus just a moment on the Presidential Emergency Operating Center. You were there for a good part of the day. I think you were there with the vice president. And when you had that order given, I think it was by the president, that authorized the shooting down of commercial aircraft that were suspected to be controlled by terrorists, were you there when that order was given?
MR. MINETA: No, I was not. I was made aware of it during the time that the airplane coming into the Pentagon. There was a young man who had come in and said to the vice president, "The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out." And when it got down to, "The plane is 10 miles out," the young man also said to the vice president, "Do the orders still stand?" And the vice president turned and whipped his neck around and said, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?" Well, at the time I didn't know what all that meant. And --
MR. HAMILTON: The flight you're referring to is the --
MR. MINETA: The flight that came into the Pentagon.
MR. HAMILTON: The Pentagon, yeah.
MR. MINETA: And so I was not aware that that discussion had already taken place. But in listening to the conversation between the young man and the vice president, then at the time I didn't really recognize the significance of that.
And then later I heard of the fact that the airplanes had been scrambled from Langley to come up to DC, but those planes were still about 10 minutes away. And so then, at the time we heard about the airplane that went into Pennsylvania, then I thought, "Oh, my God, did we shoot it down?" And then we had to, with the vice president, go through the Pentagon to check that out.
MR. HAMILTON: Let me see if I understand. The plane that was headed toward the Pentagon and was some miles away, there was an order to shoot that plane down.
MR. MINETA: Well, I don't know that specifically, but I do know that the airplanes were scrambled from Langley or from Norfolk, the Norfolk area. But I did not know about the orders specifically other than listening to that other conversation.
MR. HAMILTON: But there very clearly was an order to shoot commercial aircraft down.
MR. MINETA: Subsequently I found that out.
MR. HAMILTON: With respect to Flight 93, what type of information were you and the vice president receiving about that flight?
MR. MINETA: The only information we had at that point was when it crashed.
MR. HAMILTON: I see. You didn't know beforehand about that airplane.
MR. MINETA: I did not.
MR. HAMILTON: And so there was no specific order there to shoot that plane down.
MR. MINETA: No, sir.
MR. HAMILTON: But there were military planes in the air in position to shoot down commercial aircraft.
MR. MINETA: That's right. The planes had been scrambled, I believe, from Otis at that point.
MR. ROEMER: Nice to see you, Mr. Secretary, and nice to see you feeling better and getting around as well, too.
I want to follow up on what happened in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center and try to understand that day a little bit better. You said, if I understood you correctly, that you were not in the room; you were obviously coming from the Department of Transportation, where you had been busy in a meeting in official business, but you had not been in the room when the decision was made -- to what you inferred was a decision made to attempt to shoot down Flight 77 before it crashed into the Pentagon. Is that correct?
MR. MINETA: I didn't know about the order to shoot down. I arrived at the PEOC at about 9:20 a.m. And the president was in Florida, and I believe he was on his way to Louisiana at that point when the conversation that went on between the vice president and the president and the staff that the president had with him.
MR. ROEMER: So when you arrived at 9:20, how much longer was it before you overheard the conversation between the young man and the vice president saying, "Does the order still stand?"
MR. MINETA: Probably about five or six minutes.
MR. ROEMER: So about 9:25 or 9:26. And your inference was that the vice president snapped his head around and said, "Yes, the order still stands." Why did you infer that that was a shoot-down?
MR. MINETA: Just by the nature of all the events going on that day, the scrambling of the aircraft and, I don't know; I guess, just being in the military, you do start thinking about it, an intuitive reaction to certain statements being made.
MR. ROEMER: Who was the young man with the vice president?
MR. MINETA: Frankly, I don't recall.
MR. ROEMER: And was there another line of communication between the vice president -- and you said you saw Mr. Richard Clark on the way in. Was Clark running an operations center as well on that day?
MR. MINETA: Dick was in the Situation Room.
MR. ROEMER: So there was the Situation Room making decisions about what was going to happen on shootdowns --
MR. MINETA: I don't believe they were --
MR. ROEMER: -- as well as the PEOC?
MR. MINETA: I don't believe they were making any decisions. I think they were more information-gathering from various agencies.
MR. ROEMER: Could it have been in the Situation Room where somebody in the Situation Room recommended the shoot-down and the vice president agreed to that?
MR. MINETA: Commissioner Roemer, I would assume that a decision of that nature would have had to be made at a much higher level than the people who were in the Situation Room.
MR. ROEMER: So take me through that. The Situation Room is monitoring the daily minute-by-minute events and they find out that Flight 77 is headed to the Pentagon. Somebody's got to be getting that information. The Situation Room is then communicating with the PEOC and saying, "We've got another flight that's on its way toward the Pentagon. Here are the options." Then the vice president talks to the president and says, "Here are the options; we have a shoot-down recommendation. Do you agree, Mr. President?" Is that what happens?
MR. MINETA: Again, that would be speculation on my part as to what was happening on that day, so I just wouldn't be able to really answer that -- on that inquiry.
MR. ROEMER: I know, because you had been conducting official business, and I'm sure you were hurriedly on your way over there.
MR. MINETA: As I was listening --
MR. ROEMER: I'm just trying to figure out how the Situation Room, which was gathering the minute-by-minute evidence and information and talking probably to a host of different people, and how they're interacting with the PEOC and then how the PEOC is interacting with the president, who is at that point on Air Force One, how a decision is made to shoot down a commercial airliner.
And then would you say -- let's say we're trying to put that part of the puzzle together. Then would your inference be that they scrambled the jets to shoot down the commercial airliner, it failed, and the commercial airliner therefore crashed into the Pentagon, the jets were not able to get there in time to succeed in a mission that they'd been tasked to do?
MR. MINETA: I'm not sure that the aircraft that were scrambled to come up to the DC area from Norfolk were under orders to shoot the airplane down. As I said, I just --
MR. ROEMER: But it was an inference on your part.
MR. MINETA: It was an inference, without a doubt. And that's why, in thinking about the United plane that went down in Pennsylvania, the question that arose in my mind --
MR. ROEMER: Right away was "Was that shot down?" And did you ever get an answer to that?
MR. MINETA: Yes, sir. The vice president and I talked about that. We then made the inquiry of the Department of Defense. They then got back to us saying, "No, it was not our aircraft."
MR. ROEMER: No shots were fired and no effort was made to shoot that down.
MR. MINETA: That's correct.
Academy of Achievement, June 3, 2006
Norman Mineta: That morning I was having breakfast with the Vice Premier of Belgium, Isobel Durant, who was also the Minister of Transport, and Jane Garvey, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, was also there at breakfast. So the three of us were having breakfast, and my Chief of Staff, John Flaherty, came in and said, "Mr. Secretary, may I see you?" So I excused myself, went into my office. At the other end of my office, I have a television set. Obviously, the World Trade Center, black smoke pouring out of there. I said, "What the heck is that?" He said, "Well, we don't know. We have heard 'explosion,' we've heard 'general aviation plane going into the building,' we've heard 'commercial airplane going into the building.' We don't know." So I said, "Well, I am going to go back into the breakfast, keep me posted." So I went in and explained to Jane and to Mrs. Durant what I had just been told. About six or seven minutes later, John came back in and said, "May I see you?" So I excused myself, went back in, and he said, "It has been confirmed. It was an American Airlines (plane) that went into the World Trade Center." I went up to the TV set to get a closer look, see if I could see the hole where the plane went in, and as I was watching the TV set, all of a sudden a gray object comes from the right side of the screen, comes across, sort of disappears, and then a yellow and white billowy cloud over here, and I go, "Holy Cow, what the heck was that."
I ran back into the conference room and said, "I don't know what is going on in New York, but Mrs. Durant, I have got to excuse myself. Jane, you have got to get back to the Operations Center over at FAA." I excused myself, came back into the office. By that time, the White House had called and said I had to get over there right away.
I grabbed some manuals and some papers, went down to the car, and we went over to the White House. As we went in West Executive Drive, people pouring out of the Executive Office building, people running out of the White House, and I said to my driver and security guy, "Is there something wrong with this picture? We are driving in, and everybody else is running away." So I went into the White House and someone said, "You have to be briefed by Dick Clark in the Situation Room." So I went in there, he talked to me for four or five minutes, and he said, "You have got to go to the PEOC." I said, "What's the PEOC?" He said, "That's the Presidential Emergency Operations Center." I said, "I don't know where that is or what it is." There was a Secret Service agent standing there, says, "I will take you." Well, it's that bunker that's way under the White House.
I got to the PEOC and the Vice President was already there. Big conference table, and there are phones all along here. I took a phone and called my office, kept it an open line, and then I took another phone, called FAA -- Federal Aviation Administration Operations Center -- and kept it at open line and kept working the two phones.
Some young man came in and said to the Vice President, "There's a plane 50 miles out coming towards D.C." So I said to Monty Belger, who is the No. 2 at FAA, I said, "Monty, what do you have on radar on this plane coming in?" He said, "Well, the transponder has been turned off, so we don't know who it is, and we don't know the altitude or speed." I said, "Well, where is it?" He said, "It's somewhere beyond Great Falls right now." Then, the young man came in and said it's 20 miles away. I'd say, "Well, Monty, where is this plane in relationship to the ground?" On radar it is hard to associate with a ground point, but they'd be able to tell you roughly the distance from wherever you are, but he couldn't tell you the speed or altitude, and then all of a sudden, as I was talking to him, he said, "Oh, I lost the bogie. Lost the target." I said, "Well, where is it?" He said, "Well, it's somewhere between Rosslyn and National Airport," and about that time someone broke into the conversation and said, "Mr. Secretary, we just had a confirmation from an Arlington County police officer saying that he saw an American Airlines plane go into the Pentagon." So then I said, "Monty, bring all the airplanes down." When you see one of something happen, it's an accident; when you see two of the same thing happening, it's a trend, something. When you see three, it's a plan. So I said, "Bring all the planes down."
You mean ground all the planes?
Norman Mineta: Ground all the planes. We already had a ground hold on planes going into New York. Any plane that was going to leave from Atlanta heading to New York, those planes were left on the ground in Atlanta. That happened maybe about 8:30 or 8:40 in the morning. Now this is about 9:27.
I said, "Bring all the planes down." Well, at that point, we had 4,638 airplanes in the air. With the skill of the air traffic controllers and the skill of the airplane pilots and the flight cabin crew, getting all the passengers prepared, they brought all those planes down in two hours and 20 minutes. It was really the skill of everybody just bringing those airplanes down. Now, he said, "We will bring the planes down per pilot discretion," and I said, "Screw pilot discretion," because I didn't want a pilot who was over Kansas City thinking, "Well, I will fly on to LA, sleep in my own bed tonight," because I wanted all those airplanes down. We had, at that point, seven to ten airplanes still unaccounted for from the airlines, and so I wanted to get all those airplanes down. I didn't want that pilot in Kansas making his own decision. I said, "Bring them all down."