November 25, 2009
By Declan McCullagh (CBS News)
As the World Trade Center and Pentagon were ablaze on September 11, 2001, the U.S. Secret Service’s presidential protective detail was informed that a “Korean airliner has been hijacked” en route to San Francisco, prompting already-skittish agents to worry about another wave of terrorist attacks.
That morning and afternoon, Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president and his family found their pagers constantly buzzing with alerts both true and false. There was a false alarm about a car bomb in downtown Washington, D.C., a report of “two Arab males detained” after asking for directions to the presidential retreat at Camp David, and reassurances that “Twinkle and Turq” — code names for the Bush daughters — were safe and accounted for.
This unusual glimpse into the events of 9/11 comes from messages sent to alphanumeric pagers that were anonymously published on the Internet on Wednesday. The pager transcripts, which total about 573,000 lines and 6.4 million words, include numeric and text messages also sent to private sector and unclassified military pagers.
It’s impossible to tell whether the logs have been faithfully reproduced in their entirety. But there’s evidence they have been: I spoke to three journalists working on September 11, 2001 whose correspondence appeared in the logs or who were familiar with the messages circulated in their newsrooms that day. All three say the logs appear to be legitimate.
This trove of messages is likely to become a boon for historians, a new source of concern for privacy advocates, and, depending on the details, a point of embarrassment or pride for the government agencies and corporations whose internal conversations have been divulged. The files were posted on WikiLeaks.org, which has made a speciality of disclosing confidential documents and boasts that it is “uncensorable.”
One string of messages hints at how federal agencies scrambled to evacuate to Mount Weather, the government’s sort-of secret bunker buried under the Virginia mountains west of Washington, D.C. One message says, “Jim: DEPLOY TO MT. WEATHER NOW!,” and another says “CALL OFICE (sic) AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. 4145 URGENT.” That’s the phone number for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Continuity Programs Directorate — which is charged with “the preservation of our constitutional form of government at all times,” even during a nuclear war. (A 2006 article in the U.K. Guardian newspaper mentioned a “a traffic jam of limos carrying Washington and government license plates” heading to Mount Weather that day.)
FEMA’s response seemed less than organized. One message at 12:37 p.m., four hours after the attacks, says: “We have no mission statements yet.” Bill Prusch, FEMA’s project officer for the National Emergency Management Information System at the time, apparently announced at 2 p.m. that the Continuity of Operations plan was activated and that certain employees should report to Mt. Weather; a few minutes later he sent out another note saying the activation was cancelled.
The first pager message reporting the attacks on the World Trade Center appears to have been sent by Morgan Stanley at 8:50 a.m. ET, saying that “an Aloha call is starting” due to a fire in the complex’s south tower. Morgan Stanley leased 840,000 square feet in that building, on over 20 floors. Read more