Key Leaders Whisked to Secure Sites

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2001 — -- Political leaders and key officials were whisked away to secure and in some cases secret installations today as the U.S. government moved swiftly to ensure the safety of the men and women who comprise its very core.

When terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, President Bush was rushed aboard Air Force One and flown under the protection of fighter aircraft from Sarasota, Fla., where he had been scheduled to participate in an education event, to an Air Force base in Louisiana and then onto STRATCOM — an underground military bunker near Omaha, Neb.

‘They Are All Safe’

Congressional leaders, who were in the Capitol building when it was rocked by the blast from the attack on the Defense Department, were evacuated via helicopters to "Mount Weather" — a secrecy-cloaked mountain facility 50 miles outside Washington in Virginia that was originally designed to serve as the new seat of government in the event of a nuclear war.

The select group of elected officials brought to that underground installation consisted of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is second in the constitutional line of succession to the presidency, and seven other top members of the House and Senate leaderships.

Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, headed to the secure Situation Room in the White House, where they worked for the rest of the day, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remained at his badly damaged headquarters, working out of the National Military Command Center, the most secure part of the building once believed to be impregnable.

"The United States Secret Service immediately secured the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House, and they are all safe," White House counselor Karen Hughes said this afternoon. "They have also secured members of the national security team, the president's Cabinet and senior staff."

‘Open for Business’

But one by one, those officials — from the commander in chief on down — emerged from their secure locations to tell Americans that the government's work would go on, even in the face of the chaos and tragedy wrought by an unprecedented assault against the heart of their nation.

"The Pentagon's functioning," Rumsfeld told reporters this evening at a briefing held at the Defense Department. "[It will] be in business tomorrow."

"Make no mistake about it," added Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Your armed forces are ready."

After returning to Washington, Hastert, R-Ill., joined with scores of his fellow lawmakers on the steps of the Capitol to deliver a bipartisan message of determination and resolve.

"Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans, will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight this evil that's been perpetrated on this nation," he said.

The president returned to the White House and, in a nationally televised address, assured the public that their government was in fact "open for business."

"The functions of our government continue without interruption," Bush said. "Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow."

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