White House e-mails reveal shock as 9/11 unfolded

A SERIES of e-mails sent and received from within the White House on 11 September, 2001, have revealed the shock of US leaders as they reacted to the terrorist attacks.

Chief of staff Andy Card whispers into the ear of President Bush to give him word of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Picture: AP
Chief of staff Andy Card whispers into the ear of President Bush to give him word of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Picture: AP

Aides to then-President George W Bush sent the e-mails, as family members and friends expressed their horror at the attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania

Images taken of Mr Bush and his senior advisers in the secure bunker underneath the White House, released by the National Archive, also show them struggling to come to terms with the attacks.

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The release of the e-mails comes just weeks after never-before-seen images of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s reaction to the attacks were also made public following a Freedom of Information request.

President Obama and first lady Michelle mark the 14th anniversay of the 911 attacks. Picture: Getty

With then-President Bush away on an education trip in Florida at the time of the attacks, the e-mail exchanges between White House staff were typical that morning, discussing meetings and the news of the day.

However, at 8:56 am, just after a plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Centre at 8.46 am, the first change in tone came from Tucker Eskew, director of the White House media affairs office, who e-mailed three colleagues saying: “Turn on CNN.”

Suddenly two meetings were cancelled.

At 9.20 am, Mary Matalin, the counsellor to Vice-President Dick Cheney, was sent an e-mail from political writer David Horowitz saying: “Today is Pearl Harbor.”

Meanwhile, victims’ relatives began marking the 14th anniversary of September 11 in a subdued gathering yesterday at ground zero, with a moment of silence and sombre reading of names.

Hundreds of victims’ relatives – fewer than thronged the ceremonies in their early years – gathered, carrying photos emblazoned with the names of their lost loved ones as they remembered the day when hijacked planes hit the World Trade Centre’s twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“We come every year. The crowds get smaller, but we want to be here. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be here,” said Tom Acquaviva, 81, who lost his son, Paul Acquaviva, a systems analyst who died in the trade centre’s north tower.

For Nereida Valle, who lost her daughter, Nereida De Jesus, “It’s the same as if it was yesterday. I feel her every day.”

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stepped out of the White House at 8:46am – when the first plane hit the north tower – to observe a moment of silence.

President Obama was scheduled to observe the anniversary with a visit to Fort Meade, Maryland, in recognition of the military’s work to protect the country.

The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania was marking the completion of its visitor centre, which opened to the public on Thursday.