Secret Service Broke Chain Of Command After 9/11 Without Bush And Cheney Knowing, New Declassified Docs Reveal

(Photo by David Bohrer/U.S. National Archives via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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The Secret Service acted outside the military chain of command to scramble jets on 9/11 without the knowledge of the president, a newly declassified interview reveals.

The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel on Wednesday released notes from an interview conducted by the 9/11 Commission with former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, revealing new details about how the White House reacted in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. During the interview, conducted in April 2004, Bush said he didn’t know that the Secret Service had scrambled fighter jets without his permission.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who chaired the commission, asked Bush and Cheney if they knew the Secret Service scrambled jets from Andrews Air Force Base after the attacks had occurred without going through the established military chain of command.

“The president, surprised, asked the chairman to repeat ‘ordered by the Secret Service?’,” the transcript reads. “The chairman affirmed that. The president said he did not know about that.”

The interview notes were released after the Public Interest Declassification Board wrote to President Joe Biden last year recommending a list of 9/11 Commission documents that should be made available to the public. Among the other requested documents were interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush also described how he deferred to Cheney on some key decisions after opting not to return to Washington from Florida immediately after the attacks.

“You have the authority to shoot down an airplane,” Bush told Cheney, referring to commercial airliners that were not responsive to intercepting military aircraft. The document says the president “agreed reluctantly” not to return to Washington from the education event he was attending in Florida at the time of the attack.

“The president asked the vice president to take necessary steps and stay in close touch,” the document said. (RELATED: Families Affected By 9/11 Ask Biden Not To Come To Memorial Events: REPORT)

The document also outlines how Bush and Cheney responded to early intelligence reports indicating Osama Bin Laden wanted to attack the United States. Bush said that a document in his Aug. 6, 2001 Daily Brief said Bin Laden was “determined” to strike the U.S. but contained no “actionable intelligence” about a specific threat.

Bush also said that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair “would have looked at [Bush] like a nut” if the then-president had suggested putting troops in Afghanistan before the attacks.

The 9/11 Commission released its final report in July 2004, concluding that the U.S. government was not prepared for the Al-Qaida attack and didn’t detect early warning signs.