Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, never-before-seen photos from inside the White House during the 9/11 attacks have been released.
On Friday, Colette Neirouz Hanna opened an e-mail from the National Archives that she has been waiting to receive for more than a decade. Hanna, the coordinating producer for the FRONTLINE film team the Kirk Documentary Group, had just struck stock footage research gold — 2,664 photographs of former Vice President Richard Cheney and his staff were being released to FRONTLINE in response to her Freedom of Information Act request.
“We have wanted these photos for years to help us tell the story of probably the most powerful vice president in American history,” Hanna said.
For almost 15 years, FRONTLINE has been covering the role that Vice President Cheney played in the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks. And from the beginning, one of the biggest challenges was the intense secrecy that surrounded the Office of the Vice President.
“Time and again we ran into roadblocks,” said Hanna. “The White House would refuse to cooperate with our requests for photographs and even our attempts to film hallways in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building were denied.”
At one point, the administration refused to provide FRONTLINE a high resolution photograph of the vice president that had already appeared on the White House website. We used the low resolution photograph anyway.
Without cooperation from the White House, the Kirk Documentary Group — whose coverage of the Bush administration for FRONTLINE includes the films Bush’s War, Cheney’s Law, The Dark Side, and most recently, the 2014 investigation Losing Iraq –– worked to find the images in other ways.
But Hanna knew there was a trove of other photographs out there, and when the National Archives took over the Bush administration’s records, she was one of the first to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the long-denied photographs.
“The release of this significant archive after years of trying points to the importance of in-depth journalism and our commitment to an important story like this,” says Raney Aronson-Rath, executive producer of FRONTLINE. “Through tenacity like this, we’re committed to shining new light on the big stories and people who continue to shape our times.”
The entire cache of photographs released yesterday can now be seen on the National Archives’ Flickr account. The collection includes a number of intimate photos of Cheney and President George W. Bush. Others include rare moments from inside the vice president’s office, while a third set of photographs detail the role of David Addington, Cheney’s top attorney and a senior advisor who worked with the vice president on national security issues.
“I am thrilled that these important photographs have finally been released to the public and I hope they will contribute to a fuller understanding of this crucial period in American history,” Hanna said.
In addition to the photographs, the archives also released a collection of administration documents in response to a separate FOIA filed by Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News. As Peter Baker noted in The New York Times:
The papers are mainly memos, fact sheets and news articles sent to him in 2006, around the time of the hunting accident in which he shot a fellow hunter on a Texas ranch. But they offer a small glimpse into Mr. Cheney’s time in office … Many of the documents are banal. Aides sent Mr. Cheney a weather forecast for a coming weekend in Jackson, Wyo., where he kept a vacation home (“snow showers” every day). They passed along a birthday letter from the prime minister of Romania, thank you notes after meetings with a former prime minister of Sweden and a former chief executive of Hong Kong and a goodbye letter from a Canadian ambassador leaving Washington.
The photos, reportedly captured by a staff photographer, document the reactions of then President, George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney as they watch the horrific incident unfold on live television on September 11, 2001.
The majority of the photos were taken in the secure basement of the White House, where Secret Service agents frog-marched top government officials following reports that more attacks were a possibility.
In the photos, President Bush looks tense as he converses with top officials in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a highly-secure bunker situated below the East Wing, which can withstand nuclear hits and ‘other devastating attacks’.
Other senior government officials also feature in the photographs, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, Dick Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington and Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
The moments were documented shortly before George Bush’s famous address to the nation, which was aired to record numbers worldwide.
When the planes hit, it was Cheney who was in charge of the White House, while George Bush was present at a school in Sarasota, FL, where he was filmed receiving the devastating news.
US National Archives
Selected Cheney Vice Presidential Photographs
Cheney’s wife, Lynne, was brought to the White House and taken to the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a secure basement room, with the vice president.
First Lady Laura Bush joined the Cheneys as secure communications were established for the basement room.
Cheney made a series of calls from the PEOC, including to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Terrorists had attacked the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice joined Cheney in the PEOC. Throughout the morning they were receiving reports of airplanes headed toward the White House.
Those in the room that day say the attacks had a profound effect on Cheney and shaped his entire time in office.
Cheney confers with President Bush, who had arrived at the PEOC around 7:00 p.m., after his plane was diverted to Louisiana and Nebraska.
Prior to addressing the nation, Bush is briefed by Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Cheney and Rice.
The Cheneys leave the White House for an “undisclosed location.”
Marine Two takes off with the Cheneys.
Moving the vice president is part of a Secret Service plan to preserve the continuity of leadership.
The photos released today show that Cheney was taken to Camp David.
Cheney will soon announce from Camp David that the United States will have to work the “dark side.”
The full collection can be viewed here.