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CIA Reflects on the Anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

To commemorate the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks on the United States, asked Central Intelligence Agency officers to share their memories from that day. The stories featured here reflect how deeply the attacks affected these individuals as both CIA officers and private citizens.

You can read current CIA Director John Brennan’s reflections below or click on the link to access stories shared by CIA employees about that day. To learn more about CIA’s response in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, read OPA’s publications Devotion to Duty and Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.


I remember vividly being in an 8:30 leadership team meeting in a CIA conference room on the morning of 9/11. Director George Tenet was downtown having breakfast with Senator David Boren, so John McLaughlin was chairing the meeting. A few minutes before 9:00, Geoff F. from the Operations Center entered the conference room and told us that a plane had just struck the World Trade Center. We all were stunned and wondered aloud about the cause.

I was deputy executive director at the time and returned to my office across the hall. We had the television tuned to the breaking coverage when we saw the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. When that plane hit, we all knew that we were under attack . . . and few among us doubted that it was Al-Qa’ida.

George [Tenet] hurried back to CIA Headquarters, and we quickly convened in his office. The phones were ringing off their hooks because the White House and others wanted to know what we knew. We started to receive reports of other aircraft being hijacked. The large bank of windows in the leadership suites provided a worrisome look into the skies around CIA Headquarters and over Washington, D.C.

While our thoughts were racing about what was happening and what we needed to do, there was no panic…only resolve. Since CIA Headquarters reportedly was on Al-Qa’ida’s target list, we knew that we needed to get people out of the building and find someplace where the Agency’s leadership team could securely carry out its responsibilities, and we immediately began making arrangements. Everyone worked together speedily and seamlessly to set up shop at a back-up location.

Buzzy Krongard was executive director at the time, and the two of us divided up responsibilities to ensure that we would be able to carry out our mission in the Washington Metropolitan Area and around the world. Despite the dangers, CIA officers focused on what they needed to do, and many of those with counterterrorism responsibilities, in the great tradition of CIA, stayed at their Headquarters posts as they furiously tried to uncover the clues that would pinpoint responsibility for the attacks and, most importantly, what other attacks might be heading our way.

At a time of great tragedy for the nation, the dedication, skill, patriotism and courage of the women and men of the CIA shone brightly that day. I was exceptionally proud to be a CIA officer that day, as I have been every day of my CIA career.

And in the days, weeks, months and years that followed that devastating attack against our beautiful homeland, our nation came together as one, resolving to do what would be necessary to prevent another attack. It is my deep hope that the lessons of 9/11, and the national spirit, commitment and resilience that emerged in its aftermath, will never fade.

John O. Brennan

Posted: Sep 11, 2014 08:51 AM
Last Updated: Sep 11, 2014 08:55 AM