Think back for a moment to what you were doing the morning of September 11th, 2001. So much has happened since that fateful day, we tend to forget some of the details. I was in the suburbs of Chicago. It was one of those gorgeous September mornings. As my friend Dominic in Ireland would say; the sky was a “Big Blue Dome”.
As the tragic events unfolded, and it appeared we were under attack, the whereabouts of the President became a source of concern in the media. I can recall network anchors beginning to question where he was. Why wasn’t he reaching out to the American people to reassure us at this time of fear and confusion?
While I experienced the same emotions everyone did that day. I had one advantage. As a former member of the White House Communication’s Agency (WHCA), I had a pretty good idea where the President was, and what he was doing.
While I am prohibited from revealing any real information, I can say that we practiced relocating the President from the White House, or a trip site, continuously while I served there. As part of what Richard Clarke made public on Nightline after September 11th, the United States government has continuity of government plans to ensure the survival of the national command authority in the event of an attack on the nation.
The original Internet, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was part of these plans. Having been developed as a redundant, survivable, military communications network, it was to operate in the event the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure was attacked.
These doomsday plans were products of the Cold War. They were designed with deterrence in mind. We needed to convince the Soviet leadership that we could absorb an initial attack and retaliate effectively, and unforgivingly. So we practiced. A lot.
As we conducted our drills, and the military circled the wagons around it’s Commander-in-Chief, I would always wonder. How would a democracy react to it’s Chief Executive being whisked away by the military in a time of crisis? Well, we saw it on September 11th, 2001. The press made it appear the President was out of the loop when nothing could have been further from the truth.