Bush's top aide on 9/11: I suspected bin Laden

The man in the famous photo whispering word to then-President George W. Bush that planes had hit the World Trade Center says he immediately thought Osama bin Laden was behind the hits.

Andrew Card, who was Mr. Bush's chief of staff, whispered into the president's ear that, "America is under attack."

Mr. Bush was in a Sarasota, Fla. elementary school at the time.

On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," Card told co-anchors Russ Mitchell and Rebecca Jarvis about the infamous day.

Special coverage: 9/11: Ten Years Later

"First," he says, "I was told it appears a small twin engine prop plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and I thought, 'That was a horrible accident, the pilot must have had a heart attack or something.' And then I was told it looks like it was not a small twin-engine prop plane, but a commercial jetliner and, to be honest with you, my mind focused on the fear that must have been experienced by the passengers; they had to know the plane wasn't gaining any altitude.

"And then it was, 'Oh my gosh, another plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.' And, believe it or not, I thought about UBL, Osama bin Laden. I did. I remembered the attack during the Clinton administration on the World Trade Center tower, so that's what I thought about."

Card says he was extra-careful when delivering the news to Mr. Bush.

"I tried to deliver words that were succinct, that did not invite a question, and told the president of the severity of the challenge," he says. "So I said, 'A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.' That's all I said to him. He had heard the report of what looked like a small twin engine prop plane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. So that's what he knew, as far as I knew, when I walked into that classroom.

"So, I didn't want to invite a question. I wanted him to absorb what I said. I was pleased the way he did it. He sat there and did nothing to introduce fear to those very young elementary school students, and he did nothing to demonstrate fear to the media that I thought would have transferred it to the satisfaction of the terrorists all around the world. So I thought he did the right thing."

At that instant, Card recalls, "I wasn't sure what he would do, but I did not give him any stage direction. So, it wasn't like I whispered in his ear, 'Keep looking straight ahead,' but I delivered very sobering words succinctly, and I was pleased with how he did react."

At that point, Card says, "I moved into an all-business mode. I was trying not to allow emotions to drive my actions that day. I wanted to help the president make impossibly difficult decisions, and so when I walked back into that holding room, I said, 'Get the FBI director on the phone, get a line open to the vice president, get a line open to the situation room, get the crew back on Air Force One.' To the Secret Service, I said, 'Turn the motorcade around.' And when the president walked into that holding room after leaving the classroom, the first thing he asked for (was), 'Get the FBI director on the phone,' and I could say, 'Right here, Mr. President."'

The president addressed the United States at 9:30 that morning from the school, but then was flying in Air Force One.

"He wanted to go to Washington right away," Card says. "In fact, he was very firm with me, kind of ordering me to go back to Washington. The Secret Service was very firm that they could not go back, without understanding the nature of the attack. And even the Air Force had some concern about landing Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base without understanding whether or not it would be safe. So, the president wanted to go back. I was caught in the middle between the Secret Service and the president, and I kind of advised him that, until the dust settled, we had to go someplace else. We went to Barksdale Air Force Base (in Louisiana), and he did tape a message for the American people. and we went to the Strategic Command (headquarters) in Omaha, Neb., and back to Washington, D.C. And he addressed the American people that evening."

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