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Former Head of CIA on 9/11


Andrew Thomas:
What did you do during the time of September 11 to make sure that your organisation was able to function and you were able to organise and get people thinking forward. Managing the present but thinking forward as well.

General Michael Hayden:
I was director of the National Security Agency. I still remember the day. Crystal clear, blue, cloudless sky. It was just spectacular, the weather just doesn’t get any better than that in the DC area.

My executive assistant came in .… a plane hit World Trade Centre. Like every one else I assumed small plane, tragic accident, went back to work. 20 minutes later 15 minutes later, she comes back in, plane hit 2nd tower. At that point all the calculus changed. I said, get the Head of Security up here right away.

As he was walking into my office a few minutes later. our national television networks were reporting an explosion on the mall, that is the mall in downtown Washington. Erroneous report but reflecting the plane hitting the Pentagon.
The security officer came in, didn’t even have a chance to speak, I simply said all non-essential personnel out of here now and he did an about face and off he went.

There have been a lot of pictures of NSA on the evening news in the last couple of weeks. You’ve seen pictures of NSA, you’ll notice we’ve got two high-rise buildings and behind them you’ve got one low rider. And for obvious reasons those who stayed behind, the essential personnel, we evacuated the high rises and went into the low rider.

Blessedly that is where our operations centre is, so I had all the communications in the world and took up office there and started doing what you’d expect me to do.

It was coming on to evening; I was reminded that I should go visit our counter-terrorism shop. So I did. As I said it was about dusk. I went back into the high rises because the counter terrorism shop was near the top floor in the high rise. You have to understand Andrew, NSA headquarters is not just a headquarters we do mission there and this was the counter terrorism mission.

So I walked in to the office and everyone had headsets on and they were doing what you’d expect a signals intelligence agency to be doing. Almost all of them were Arab Americans so they were bearing a professional and for many of them a personal impact from the day’s events.

I didn’t make any speeches; I just walked from workstation to workstation, hand on shoulder, nod, thumbs up, keep up your work. While I was there the logistics force for NSA was in the area, remember they’re in the high-rises, and it’s dusk. And the logistics force was tacking up black out curtains on these windows. I still remember having the thought, we’re putting up black out curtains in the 21st century in Eastern Maryland, tomorrow’s going to be different and it was.

I talked to the workforce two days after 9/11 so it would have been 9/13, Thursday. I gave a speech, actually gave a speech to an empty room, just to a camera. But NSA being what it is was, going to all the workstations on the planet that belonged to our workforce, and I made two or three big points.

One was we’re still playing defence so it’s about attack characterization and warning of next attack. Be patient, we’re not going to play defence forever. But the emphasis now is on defence.

Number two thanks for being here, I’ll bet you an awful lot of your family members were wishing you didn’t have to go to work here. But look on the bright side there are more 300 million of your countryman wishing they had your job today.

And the third thing I said was lets get down to the real fundamental question here. All free people have to decide where they are going to put their flag in that spectrum between security and liberty. Blessed by friendly or weak neighbours and two really big oceans we have always been able to put our flag way up there next to liberty. That will now be challenged so here is the job. You will keep America free by making Americans feel safe again and that was the last thing I said to the workforce that day.

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