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CNN BREAKING NEWS
White House, U.S. Capitol Evacuated
Aired May 11, 2005 - 11:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Unfolding this hour on NEWS FROM CNN, the prosecutor says he's a person unlike the rest of us. Laura Hobbs once called him dad before police charged him with killing her and her best friend. We'll go live on this awful case to Zion, Illinois.
And Uncle Sam doesn't want you, at least not for one whole day this month, even with the Army falling short of new recruits. We'll tell you why there's an order to stand down.
Also, friendlier skies for bankrupt United, but on the ground thousands of angry employees. We'll explore why the airline is dumping its pension plans and what it means for you.
First, some other headlines.
Anger at America boiling up on the streets of eastern Afghanistan. Protesters rioted in Jalalabad and stoned a U.S. military convoy. They're said to be angry over a "Newsweek" magazine report alleging U.S. interrogators at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba defiled the Koran.
We'll go live to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr is standing by with reaction and details.
North Korea says it's finished extracting 8,000 fuel rods from a closed nuclear reactor. Spent fuel rods can be used to make weapons- grade plutonium for bombs. The U.S. is urging North Korea, which tested a short-range missile earlier this month, to return to six- party talks on its nuclear program.
Michael Jackson back in court today for his child molestation trial, and Macaulay Culkin is testifying right now as a witness for the defense. The former child actor was a well-known Jackson companion. He's expected to say Jackson never behaved lewdly or improperly in his presence.
Up first, a story certain to give many, many people pause. Amid all the concern about the future of Social Security comes the biggest ever default of a corporate pension fund. For literally tens of thousands of people at United Airlines, retirement is likely to be a lot less rosy that promised over these many, many years.
Let's turn to CNN's Allan Chernoff. He's in New York, and he's working this story. He's got details -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this actually will affect 120,000 United employees and retirees. A very tough blow to them, because United is no longer going to be supporting their pension plan.
What's going to happen here is that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, a corporation created by the U.S. government, will resume responsibility for four different pension plans. The real problem here is that the PBGC will pay out only about two-thirds of what is owed to the members of these pension plans. And specifically, for individuals at age 65, that would mean a maximum right now of just over $45,000 -- $45,600 specifically.
This means that highly-compensated employees and retirees, like pilots, will really be hurt. They could see a major slash in their pay-outs over every single month.
Flight attendants, who are compensated at a much lower level, won't be affected nearly as much. But they are still very, very upset about this situation.
Now, United says that it will be saving billions of dollars as a result, and that it needs this in order to be able to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has been in Chapter 11 for about two years.
And wolf, this also means that there will be financial pressure on competing airlines who may in fact follow suit. So it could be more pressure now on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which already is $20 billion in deficit -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This sounds like another S&L scandal almost, what many of us remember a decade or 15 years or so ago, but let's talk about other industries beside the airline industry. Are people who are depending on their pensions, should they be worried about their pensions right now?
CHERNOFF: Well, certainly, this has been a long problem, underfunding of corporate pensions. We saw it in the steel industry, and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation now handles many different pension plans for steel industry retirees, and it certainly could spread.
This is one area that many companies tend to skimp on when they're facing financial trouble, figuring, oh, we can wait for years down the road to make those payments. But inevitably, what happens sometimes is they simply cannot make the payments. They fall into Chapter 11, and then you have this bailout from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.
BLITZER: Pretty shocking stuff, $10 billion underfunded. The United pension, I guess the management over there, the executives, have lots of explaining to do how this could occur. We'll continue to follow this story.
Allan Chernoff reporting for us. Allan will have much more coming up later today, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Let's move on.
Other stories we're following, President Bush plans to sign a new spending bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate passed the $82 billion spending bill by a vote of 100-0. The House approved it overwhelmingly last week.
Most of the money is earmarked for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill includes funds for training Iraqi security forces. It also increases the death benefit for U.S. service members from $12,000 to $100,000.
A political odd couple joining forces on health care reform. Only moments ago here in Washington, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, were on the Capitol steps calling for bipartisan reform of the nation's health care system. The irony of the moment was not lost on the participants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I know it's a bit of an odd fellow or odd woman mix, but Speaker Gingrich and I have been talking about health care and national security, actually, now, for several years. And I find that he and I have a lot in common in the way we see the problems that we're going to have to deal with in order to have a 21st century health care system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: For a little explanation now of what has to be one of the more improbable photo-ops we've seen here in Washington -- and we see many unusual photo-ops -- let's turn, as we always do, to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
Bill, all right, to our viewers just tuning in, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Newt Gingrich, both of their names have been thrown out as potential presidential candidates in 2008. Adversaries going back many years, all of a sudden joining hands on Capitol Hill, on health care of all issues.
What's going on?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Health care, the issue that they were fighting about bitterly in 1993 and 1994 when Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady chaired her husband's health care task force in that famous reform bill that did not get passed largely because Newt Gingrich led the resistance. Well, right now, Newt Gingrich and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senator from New York, probably are two of the more polarizing figures in American politics.
They're both very divisive figures. And I think they're both looking to depolarize the political environment a little bit, because if either of them does end up running for president, they have to somehow reach across that divide and pull in some voters from the other side.
BLITZER: It's interesting that both of them think that it's to their respective political advantage to join hands right now on this issue. In effect, to move both of them a little bit towards the center.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. This is an issue that is of increasing concern to Americans. Our polling shows that it's right behind terrorism, health care costs, as the most important issue that people would like to see the president and Congress deal with, ahead of Social Security, which is what everyone in Washington is talking about.
So they're trying to preempt that issue and produce a kind of pragmatic response, at least in this one specific area; namely, health care information, which is what they were talking about.
BLITZER: All right. I want to just interrupt, because we're getting some disturbing pictures from Capitol Hill right now.
I want to show our viewers what we're seeing. CNN staff is telling us there's some sort of evacuation under way up on Capitol Hill right now.
We don't know any details, yet, other than Capitol Hill Police are telling our staff, telling other members of Congress, the staff members, this is a good moment to leave the U.S. Capitol. We don't know if this has been a false alarm or if there is a serious threat that's really going on.
There have been some earlier evacuations that have been the result of false alarms, and Capitol Hill Police usually do this in response to an overabundance of caution if there's some sort of serious threat. We'll see what the pictures show, we'll get some more information from our reporters, what's happening on the scene, but we do understand there has been an order to go ahead and evacuate what's happening on Capitol Hill.
Suzanne Malveaux is joining us from the White House, our White House correspondent.
Is there a similar evacuation under way there, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, there is, Wolf. There's been quite a bit of commotion that has just occurred over the last couple of minutes.
We were inside of the White House at the briefing room, and we came outside of the briefing room. That is where we saw Secret Service who were quite excited.
They were yelling for us to either stay in the building or get off of the grounds. And then they started to just say, "Run, get off of the grounds."
One of the Secret Service agents told me, "Run, this is no joke. Leave the grounds."
They were -- they were poised with their guns on the northwest lawn. They are stationed outside of the White House. They are stationed inside of the gates.
Immediately, as I was leaving, there was a motorcade that left the White House, a motorcade about six or seven vehicles that immediately left. There was one gentleman, a Secret Service agent, who I overheard saying, "Two planes, two planes ahead."
Then there was another gentleman at that point who continued to tell us to leave immediately, to evacuate. We then heard the sound of some sort of aircraft, which sound like a military aircraft...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Suzanne. What we have seen over the heads of our bureau here on Capitol Hill is two F-16s flying over, which would seem to indicate that U.S. military aircraft scrambled in response to some sort of emergency, perhaps some other plane flying over the restricted airspace, restricted airspace over the White House, restricted airspace over Capitol hill.
But F-16s have scrambled, two of them at least, we're seeing flying over here the -- over here on Capitol Hill. Stand by for a second, Suzanne.
Joe Johns is on Capitol Hill, our congressional correspondent.
Set the scene. What's happening there, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the first probably indication that we got of trouble here was a sudden evacuation of the United States Senate floor while it was in session. This obviously a clear indication of a severe problem.
Shortly after that, people started moving towards the exits. Clearly, an evacuation going on. Police telling us to move to the nearest exit.
The United States Capitol has been evacuated before, especially during the funeral of President Ronald Reagan. This was one of those evacuations that appear to be real time, with a great sense of urgency.
When I got to the first floor of the United States Capitol, I saw the United States Senate arms -- the United States Senate sergeant in arms, excuse me, who I looked at him and said, "What's going on?" He held up a couple fingers and said, "You have two minutes to get out."
The indication was, we're told now by Capitol Police through my producer, Steve Turnam (ph), that there may have been a plane in the airspace.
I can tell you also, I heard you talking about the issue of fighter jets. When I emerged from the Capitol and got outside, I could very clearly hear the quite unusual sound of aircraft in the vicinity of the United States Capitol, and very loud.
So it seemed quite clear to me that there was a plane in the air, and the indication, obviously, it was a United States military aircraft, not -- not any other type of plane. Just at least from one bystander who indicated he saw a United States military aircraft in the air.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second, Joe. I want to get back to you.
Suzanne Malveaux, if you are still over with us at the White House, is the president, as far as we know, at the White House right now? Suzanne Malveaux, can you hear me?
I don't think Suzanne can hear me. We'll try to reconnect with her.
Our Kathleen Koch is watching this story as well. She's been able to confirm that the FAA has been tracking an unauthorized aircraft that apparently flew over restricted airspace. That's caused this commotion.
We'll see if that was an inadvertent decision by a pilot to fly over, but -- but we'll see what's going on, on that front. We're getting more information.
Joe Johns, are you still there?
JOHNS: Wolf, I'm here. Just watching people now out on the plaza near Senate Park, which is just outside the United States Senate. There are people just milling around.
A lot of us, when we came out of building, were instructed to go in the direction of Union Station, which is just a few blocks away from the Capitol to sort of map this out. No indication as yet that there's been any all-clear signs. So we're just watching and waiting for the police to tell us what happens next.
BLITZER: All right. Joe, stand by.
Bernard Shaw, our former CNN principal anchor, is on the phone with us. He lives in this area.
Bernie, I understand you saw some activity up on the skies over where you are. Tell our viewers what you saw.
BERNARD SHAW, FMR. CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it happened just about 12 minutes ago, north of Washington, D.C., roughly over the southern Maryland edge if you go north of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, over Silver Spring, Tacoma Park, Maryland, Tacoma Park, Washington.
I was standing outside the carport and I looked up because I heard these roaring jets. What I saw were two F-16 jets, and they were circling overhead, circling a single-engine plane.
And the jet fighter pilots were banking very quickly, and I saw them fire two warning flares in the direction of this single-engine plane. This plane continued on the track, I would guess, southeast. It was going southeast towards Bolling Air Force Base, maybe Andrews, and it was getting lower and lower.
And these two F-16 fighter pilots kept circling this plane to ensure that it didn't go farther south, meaning towards Washington, D.C. and the White house, Capitol Hill area. Basically, that's what I saw. It's clear that these two planes had pounced on the single- engine plane and they were directing it away from the downtown area.
BLITZER: When you say a single-engine plane, Bernie, a small little private aircraft, a propeller aircraft? Is that what you saw?
SHAW: Very much so.
BLITZER: So like a Cessna, something along those lines?
SHAW: It could have been of the Cessna variety, but it was clear that these two military planes did not want the single-engine plane to go any farther south closer to the downtown area of the White House and Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: And it's standard operating procedure, as Bernie knows, as many of our viewers probably know, that there is extensive restricted areas, flying areas over the nation's capital. But the nation's capital is surrounded by several U.S. major Air Force bases, including the Andrews Air Force Base, which is just outside Washington and suburban Maryland.
The standard operating procedure would be to scramble jets to intercept an incoming intruder, if you will, and make sure that it's simply a pilot error or some sort of false alarm and not some sort of threat. After 9/11, everyone, when it comes to planes flying near Washington, D.C., clearly very, very sensitive.
Bernie, stand by.
Suzanne Malveaux are you still over at the White House?
MALVEAUX: Yes, Wolf, we are. As a matter of fact, just moments ago they're escorting us back into the White House now. They say all is clear.
We also saw that single motorcade just drive back through the gates, back to the White House. You had asked before about President Bush. And the last that we understood is that, as you know, a small group of reporters know and as the travel pool was accompanying him to a bike ride on, a bike ride. So we are not sure exactly who it was who left in that motorcade.
In all likelihood, it was Vice President Cheney. But nevertheless, Secret Service are now escorting us back into the White House, and they say all is clear.
BLITZER: All right. Well, that's excellent news, all clear on this front.
Let's now go backwards and try to figure out what has happened.
Kathleen Koch is on the phone. She helps us cover the FAA, among other things.
What are they telling you, Kathleen?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, what I learned from the FAA is that there definitely was someone who was -- who violated the restricted airspace over Washington, D.C. They weren't able to characterize, as Bernie Shaw did, the type of aircraft, just that they were tracking a violator.
It's very confusing over there right now. They don't have many more details, but this is just the sort of thing, obviously, that the systems were put into place.
The reason the airspace, the restricted airspace over Washington was expanded after 9/11 was to keep aircraft from coming close to the White House, to Capitol Hill. And obviously, it does sound like this was a small aircraft, like the incident has come to an end. But we'll bring more information to you, Wolf, as soon as we get it from the FAA.
BLITZER: And Kathleen, the restricted airspace supposedly is very well known and delineated to all pilots who are coming anywhere near Washington, D.C. So unless this small little single-engine plane was having some mechanical problems and couldn't control itself, these pilots are supposed to know what's going on.
KOCH: They are supposed to, Wolf, but, you know, just in recent weeks, both the FAA and NORAD has been -- they've been talking about putting in and testing, actually, a new laser system, right close to Washington, D.C., a laser visual warning system because there are still planes that accidentally stray unintentionally and innocently into the airspace.
But obviously, as we can see today, they provoke quite -- quite a reaction. But they want to keep this from happening, and they want to prevent having to scramble the jets. But this system is not yet operational, and it would be primarily operational closer into the downtown area.
It sounds like the area that Bernard Shaw did describe was a little further out. But there is talk right now, Wolf, in Congress about reopening Reagan National Airport to small private planes, to the general aviation aircraft which have not been able to use Reagan National Airport since 9/11. But if incidents like this continue to happen, that could become increasingly difficult.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly understandable. Kathleen, we'll get back to you.
Suzanne Malveaux is still over at the White House.
Just to recap for our viewers, the all-clear has now been given. People who were evacuated from the White House and from Capitol Hill are now being told they can go back, go back to their offices, go back to work. The all-clear has been given.
The scare, with apparently a single-engine small plane intruding airspace, restricted airspace over Washington, F-16s scrambling to intercept. The all-clear has now been given.
Suzanne, the president you said was off the White House grounds at the time. You have some video that we're going to show our viewers now what it was like. And you were there when -- when law enforcement said, the Secret Service said, move, get out.
MALVEAUX: Well, yes, Wolf, that's right. I'm not sure what the video looks like, but I can tell you from my own experience that just leaving the briefing room, there were emergency response team members. Those are the men with the rifles and the machine guns, and there were also, of course, the uniformed division of the Secret Service. They were yelling at us to run.
One man told me, "This is not a joke." And he said, "Run, get off of the grounds."
There's a group of reporters and producers that are actually locked down inside of the White House in the briefing room area. At one point, we were given a choice. He said, "Either get back inside or leave the grounds." And then the tone changed.
At that point, I yelled, I asked him, "Do we go inside or get off the grounds?" We wanted some clarification, and then he started yelling, "Get out of here. Get off of the grounds. Run."
And that is when we started moving rather quickly. That is when we saw them positioned on the front lawn. That is when we saw them walking around with the dogs, with the guns drawn.
And we were instructed to leave the White house grounds and to keep walking beyond the park that is right in front of the White House, beyond Lafayette Park, to the next street over, which is H Street. They said, "Keep walking."
I also overheard several of them say, "Two planes ahead." And we did hear the noise that you have reported, of course, of a military aircraft overhead the grounds to check out, of course, those aircraft that violated the airspace.
But really some tense moments here. From the Secret Service, you could tell that they were very, very serious about having people move off the White House grounds as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: You mentioned earlier, Suzanne, that a motorcade with about six or seven cars was seen speeding away from the White House as this alert had been delivered. Do we know who was in that motorcade? The president was not at the White House at the time, but my initial assumption would be maybe the vice president was there.
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, that's our assumption as well. As I said, it was the vice president who was escorted immediately. And that motorcade left about the same time that they were ushering us off the grounds.
We saw the motorcade immediately take off and make a left-hand turn, down Pennsylvania Avenue. As you know, Pennsylvania Avenue shut down to commercial traffic here to clear a path for that motorcade to leave immediately.
We believe that it was Cheney, because at the time, the small group of reporters known as the pool were accompanying President Bush on a -- on a bike ride. They have not yet returned. So we assume that that was Cheney that were -- were in those vehicles.
I have to tell you, just about five minutes ago, that motorcade returned to the White House.
BLITZER: Suzanne, stand by.
Our Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, is checking to see what she can determine, what she could learn about the incident. And just want to recap for our viewers. There is the all-clear now.
Officials, workers, journalists, staff, everyone is allowed to go back to their offices at the U.S. Capitol and inside the White House. But there was a serious scare that has occurred within the past few moments here in Washington.
Kelli Arena, what are you learning?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, federal law enforcement confirms for us that the pilot of that plane that flew into the restricted airspace will be interviewed. There is no cause for anyone to say exactly why he did what he did at this point. They're going to force that plane to land, they will get that pilot and interview him.
Wolf, we are -- we are being cautioned, though, by several government officials that, if you remember during former President Ronald Reagan's funeral, the Kentucky governor's plane had entered into that restricted airspace. There was some communications problem.
So that turned out to be just an accident. And government officials say this could very well be the same type of situation. But they don't know, and these are days when no one -- you know, no one leaves any stone unturned.
That plane will be forced to land. That pilot will be interviewed, and they'll get a fuller picture of exactly what happened -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We remember when Ronald Reagan's body was being -- was brought here and there was the funeral, the memorial services under way in Washington. You're absolutely right, the Kentucky governor's private aircraft flew over -- or got very close to some restricted airspace, causing a deep amount of concern. And we remember our reporters on the scene, including Anderson Cooper, being told, get off the Mall, start running. That was seen live on CNN at the time as well.
It seems, though, in this particular case -- and Bernie Shaw was eyewitnessing what was going on -- it looks like this small single- engine, private plane was coming from a different direction than the Kentucky governor's plane was coming from, if it was coming in from suburban Silver Spring, Tacoma Park in Maryland, right outside Washington. That would appear to be a different route not normally even close to where regular commercial aircraft fly around Washington.
Normally, if they're coming into Reagan National Airport, there's specific routes that they have to take. And this aircraft, at least based on what Bernie Shaw was telling us, would appear to be coming from a totally different direction, perhaps heightening the alarm, the concern that was shown.
What else are you learning, Kelli, about this incident, if anything?
ARENA: Well, Wolf, I can just tell you that law enforcement does believe that everything went according to plan in this type of situation. The proper people were notified. The response was immediate. And, you know, they were ready to take action, if they thought that there was seriously a threat.
But at this point, Wolf, I'd rather not, you know, elaborate and wait to hear exactly what -- what those officials find out once they interview this pilot.
BLITZER: Definitely. All right. Kelli Arena, good work. Thanks very much.
And Joe Johns, you're back. Are you back inside on Capitol Hill right now? You returned to your offices?
Hello? Joe Johns, are you there?
I think we're having a little trouble with Joe Johns.
Let me recap for our viewers who may just be tuning in what's going on right now. This is videotape from earlier, within the past half-hour or so.
Officials, law enforcement at the White House, the Secret Service, U.S. Capitol Police up on Capitol Hill, ordered an immediate evacuation, apparently as a result of a small single-engine plane, a private plane going through restricted airspace near the nation's capital, approaching that airspace. At least two U.S. Air Force F-16s were seen flying over the nation's capital, scrambling to intercept this small plane.
In the aftermath of 9/11, no one takes any chances here in Washington. Whenever any plane, whether a big or a small plane, gets anywhere close to the restricted airspace, there are certain steps that are taken as precautions to make sure that no repeat can occur of what happened on 9/11, when that plane, that commercial passenger jet went into the Pentagon, two others went into the World Trade Center in New York City, and a fourth, of course, landed in Pennsylvania, crashed in Pennsylvania.
Joe Johns, are you back inside on Capitol Hill?
JOHNS: Yes, Wolf, I'm headed back right now. People have gotten the all-clear sign, the police are allowing them to walk back toward the Capitol at this stage. It looks like from our vantage point, this thing is coming to an end -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Well, that's good news, but it is a scare. And you've gone through this on a few occasions, Joe, since 9/11, when there have been violations of restricted airspace, and a step that is clearly ordered by law enforcement, the nation's law enforcement authorities here in Washington. Whenever a small plane or a big plane gets close to Washington and that restricted airspace, the immediate -- the immediate step is evacuation.
JOHNS: Absolutely, Wolf. The police here clearly see the United States Capitol as one giant terrorist target on a hill, on Capitol Hill, of course, and they take every precaution in the event there's some indication of a plane moving through restricted airspace.
They weren't kidding around with this. They got people out very quickly.
This was the first time I ever got to actually see on a television monitor the speed with which the United States Senate floor could be evacuated. That happened very, very quickly, and people moved away from the Capitol quite rapidly.
It's a good thing, obviously, that this is over, but I talked to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont a few minutes ago, who, of course, was one of the two senators who's actually been a target of a terrorist attack, the anthrax attack. And he, of course, said, in his view, he thought the authorities handled it very well, and called it a necessary precaution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The earlier incidents, including that incident that surrounded, that occurred during the late President Ronald Reagan's memorial service here in Washington, when there was a brief but worrisome evacuation ordered as well...
BLITZER: This is...
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Joe.
JOHNS: I have to go back now, and I have to change my earlier report because a number of people were allowed in toward the Capitol. Now the police have stopped people from going back.
Are you stopping people from going back?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we're not permitting access for another 15 minutes or so. JOHNS: All right, so apparently the police now saying they're not permitting access, at least to the Capitol building proper, for another 15 minutes or so, but I still do see people headed toward some of the Senate office buildings that surround the United States Capitol. So, Wolf, I have to, you know, change that earlier report I just gave you.
BLITZER: That's understandable. Although, that may simply be an abundance of caution to make sure they've swept the Capitol, to make sure that everything is done to be certain that there's no additional problem right there.
Are you near the Capitol yourself, Joe, or are you near one of the office buildings?
JOHNS: Yes, I am right across from the Senate Park, probably within 100 yards of Senate Park, within eye sight of the United States Capitol. So I'm quite close. A bit confusing here because they did allow quite a few people to walk through, and then they stopped. So we're trying to get a handle on -- as you said, in all likelihood that 15 minute hold-off is an opportunity to check security just a little bit further -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns reporting for us from Capitol Hill. Joe, thank you very much. You'll update us as soon as you get some more information.
A scare here in Washington, an evacuation that was ordered both on Capitol Hill, as well as the White House. The all-clear, though, has been given, although as Joe Johns has reported, at least for another 15 minutes, people are going to be prevented from actually going back into the main part of the Capitol. They are returning to offices, the Senate and House office buildings, on the outskirts of Capitol Hill.
Kathleen Koch is with us here in our studio. Kathleen, you've been checking with your sources at the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, and what are they saying now?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now, the latest information is that this was a small aircraft, something called a high-wing Cessna, and it was spotted again within that 15 3/4-mile radius, the prohibited airspace around Washington D.C., that really radiates out from the Washington Monument. The small aircraft, as of the last time I was speaking with an official, about five minutes ago, was headed west of the city, some 17 miles west. They don't believe that it...
BLITZER: It was coming in from Maryland.
KOCH Apparently coming in from Maryland, though this official couldn't clarify that. That was our Bernard Shaw who gave us that information. But the plane was headed west of the city.
And in addition to the two fighter jets that were scrambled, I was told that there also was going to be a Black Hawk helicopter by the U.S. Customs Service that's going to follow that small aircraft and talk to the pilot, follow him to the ground, he or she, and find out just what happened.
BLITZER: And they will interview this pilot, and presumably the pilot will either have a good explanation or not. And just to be precise right now, Kathleen, no one is suggesting terrorism or anything along those lines. This could simply have been pilot error.
KOCH: Certainly, Wolf. And that is the sort of thing that happened in this city numerous times. You mentioned, obviously, the very dramatic incident during President Ronald Reagan's funeral. But less dramatic incidents do happen on a relatively regular basis, and they're trying to stop these. That's why again I told you earlier about the system that they're going to be putting in. They say it could be operational as early as mid-May, where there would be a laser system of blinking red and green lights that would alert small pilots, you have strayed into prohibitive airspace, get out of here before we scramble the jets, before we send in the choppers, because it's all quite expensive.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Kathleen.
Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, has been getting reaction as well. Barbara, standard operating procedure for the U.S. military, especially the Air Force in this particular case, is to scramble jets and to intercept those violators. Talk a little bit about that.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what America has seen unfold here in the last several minutes really truly is the post-9/11 response by the U.S. military, by the federal government when there is an intrusion of an aircraft over Washington, D.C.
This was, by all accounts, a by-the-book operation, the procedures that were set up after September 11th.
Let's start the at beginning. There is restricted airspace over Washington. Private planes not allowed to fly over these areas. There are intrusions on a relatively infrequent, but every-once-in-a- while basis.
When there are these intrusions, what you saw today was the immediate communication between the FAA, civilian commercial aviation authorities and the United States military. There is constant 24/7 communication between the FAA, the Pentagon, the military command center here in the Pentagon, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command out in Colorado, and Andrews Air Force Base here, just outside of Washington.
On a routine basis, U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard, F-16s are at Andrews Air Force Base, ready to launch when they get the word from the FAA that there is an intruder, that there is some unknown aircraft over Washington D.C.
And what we heard from Bernie Shaw is pretty much how the military procedure goes. F-16s are launched. Bernie reports that he saw those F-16s fire warning flares, if you will. What happens is the military pilots, the FAA, they try and communicate with the small aircraft, determine who is onboard, what the aircraft is doing, tell them they are in restricted airspace, get them out of there; and if they do not, then the F-16s go for these additional procedures. They may wag their wings at the small airplane, if you will, warning them with civil-aviation signals that they have got to get out of there, and then those flares are shot, those warning flares.
But, Wolf, let's be very clear. In fact, we've recently spoken to military officials about the ultimate solution. The U.S. military has specific procedures, if it ever came to that, about shooting down a civilian aircraft. There are procedures. There is chain of command. It is in every instance attempted that the president of the United States would make any decision. Thankfully he did not have to do that today. But the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, would work together almost instantaneously to make any decision to shoot down a commercial airliner in the United States, if it was deemed to be a threat.
And as I say, oddly enough, we recently spoke to a senior Pentagon official about this, and he said yes, the procedures are in place, and that the United States government is prepared to shoot down a commercial airliner, if they determine that there was a terrorist attack.
Thankfully, not today, but I can tell you, standing here inside the Pentagon, a building that was hit on September 11th, nerves were immediately on edge -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, as we look at this U.S. Park Police helicopter flying over Capitol Hill right now, patrolling over the Mall, the Washington Mall area, which is their jurisdiction, we'll continue to show this picture for our viewers. This is a live picture that you're seeing of that U.S. Park Police helicopter there. There was no evacuation, I take it, over at the Pentagon, is that right, Barbara?
STARR: There was not. But this is a building where everyone is generally glued to the television sets during the day. Everyone here did see the White House, Capitol Hill, begin to evacuate.
We are still checking about Secretary Rumsfeld, General Meyers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. The early word we have is they did not evacuate.
And you will remember on September 11th, this was a building where the top leaders just flat-out refused to evacuate, even as the building was attacked. The National Military Command center is in here. They have secure communications. They can be in touch with all elements of the government. This is a building where the leaders are not likely, unless truly compelled to go out the front door and evacuate this building. They usually go into the command center and begin to conduct operations.
So again, Wolf, thankfully, apparently, by all accounts, an all- clear, a false alarm, but what you saw unfold here today are the procedures and policies that have been put into place since September 11th so that the federal government is able to respond just as quickly as it can when it believes it may have a threat.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
That pilot will have lots of explaining to do, why he or she, for that matter, decided to fly over restricted airspace here in the nation's Capitol, causing this evacuation of Capitol Hill, causing the evacuation from the White House, causing a big scare here. The all- clear has now been released. People are going back to their offices up on Capitol Hill, as well as over at the White House. Although the Capitol itself, the main building on Capitol Hill, still being cautious as far as letting people go inside.
Kathleen Koch, do we know how many times since 9/11 there have been what have been described as these false alarms?
KOCH: This is tricky, Wolf, because they do happen, as Barbara said. They have happened from time to time. And we don't have the latest figures, but to be sure, we will get them from the FAA today. But this sort of thing happened even in the days immediately after 9/11. Specifically, myself, I was in Salt Lake City for the Olympics after 9/11, and I was up in a Black Hawk helicopter with those folks who were enforcing the prohibited airspace over the Olympics at that time.
And so I got to see what it was like when they track down a violator, just to give you an idea of what they're going to be doing with this person who is now flying in this small aircraft west of Washington, or who knows, by now may have even brought down to the ground.
What happens is the Black Hawk helicopter will get right on top of that plane, stay right on them all the way to the ground, and then when they land, the customs officers will get out and they will be wearing, you know, not only helmets, they will be wearing bulletproof vests. They will armed, heavily armed, when they get out, because they have to act as if this person who, in all likelihood was just simply an innocent pilot who made a mistake, they have to act as if this may have been a terrorist.
So they'll take it very seriously. They'll approach them, two of them, from both sides, and say what's going on? Why did you do this? Now they also very well may have been in contact with the person. The towers may have, by this point, spoken to them, but as you mentioned earlier, that is unless there was a radio problem, which could have occurred. This does happen. So hopefully by now, everyone's been talking to everyone and they will know this person is not a threat by the time they get to the ground. But as far as those numbers, it happens rarely.
But this sort of plays into this whole debate right now that's happening about should they reopen Reagan National Airport to small aircraft? A lot of pilots say it's time, we can do it, we can operate safely. But this certainly does raise some questions about that. BLITZER: And the law enforcement, the military, the police, the Secret Service, everyone involved, Capitol Hill, police, they have to worry about what's called the worst-case scenario. So even if this pilot's small little plane, whether it's a Cessna or what other single-engine plane it is, lands, let's say, at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, a forced landing, and they go in full combat gear to question this pilot.
One of the questions they will have on their mind is was this, perhaps, a test by sinister forces to see how the U.S. military, the law enforcement would scramble, would deal with this kind of a violation in order to set stage, God forbid, for some sort of serious threat. That's one of the things they will have to make sure, that this was not along those lines.
KOCH: Certainly not. Wolf, it's interesting, though, the people who are trying to get these airports reopened for private flights, they say, when you look, though, even if this plane was packed with explosives, you look at the damage it could do. It wouldn't do any more, they say, than an SUV or something. You look at the plane that years ago did hit, a small aircraft that hit the White House and did absolutely no damage. It crumpled against the side. Or the young man down in Florida who flew his plane, a small aircraft, into an office building.
BLITZER: If it's not loaded with dynamite and explosives. If it's fully loaded...
KOCH: Right. That's the argument, though, of these private pilots.
BLITZER: I was covering the White House when that small Cessna landed on the South Lawn.
Kathleen, stand by. Suzanne Malveaux is back at the White House right now. Update our viewers what the scene is like there, Suzanne, including the whereabouts of the president and the vice president.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's all rather calm right now after quite a bit of commotion. We understand, through a senior administration official, that Vice President Dick Cheney was in the west wing of the White House during this incident. We are told that he was moved to a secure location. We can't confirm whether or not Cheney was actually in the motorcade that we saw speed off outside of the White House. It is a working assumption that we're making right now.
Because we do know President Bush at the time was not here at White House. He was at Waldorf, Maryland. That is where a small group of reporters, of pool reporters, were accompanying the president. He went on a bike ride. And so he was actually not here at time of the incident. We did see, about 15 minutes after the White House was evacuated, after we were rushed off the grounds, we saw that motorcade return to the White House.
We are also learning from a senior administration official that Cheney is back here at the White House, that all is safe. So we understand that Cheney initially was in the building during the time of the incident. He was evacuated very quickly. He has returned to the White House. President Bush was not here at the time of the incident.
Wolf, I can tell you there were some very, very tense moments at that the time. We were basically given a choice by some of the emergency response team members, as well as uniformed Secret Service, either to stay inside of the building or to leave. I tried to get some clarification. I was asking where should we go? Should we leave the building? And then finally, what happened -- it seemed like there was quite a bit of tension -- one of the agents yelling, "This is not a joke, run!" At that point, many of them started yelling to us to run, to get off of the grounds, and that is when we left the White House grounds.
We also overheard one of the agents talking about a plane that was overhead. We heard the noise of a military aircraft overhead, over the White House. A very, very tense moment as they ushered us out of northwest gate. Then we gathered outside of the White House, really on Pennsylvania Avenue, right there. They said no, that is not far enough, to keep moving, to cross the street, to go across Lafayette Park, all the way to the other street. That is H street. That is where they seemed to be satisfied that we were at least far away from the White House.
We saw a number of these agents with their guns drawn. They were running around the grounds. Very, very tense moments here at the White House. But Wolf, I can reassure you, I can tell you, the vice president is safe. He is back at the White House. The president was never in any danger because of this incident -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, we'll be getting back to you.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, letting us know -- quoting a senior administration official, he says that there was a suspect plane that apparently ignored repeated attempts to communicate with others. The plane was on a flight path of concern, given the lack of response. So that's why the jets scrambled. But the all- clear, as we've been reporting, has now been given.
One of those lawmakers who was himself scrambled outside of the U.S. Senate, the senator -- the Republican senator from neighboring Virginia, George Allen, is joining us here on our set. What was it like inside, Senator Allen, when they told you get out?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our chief national correspondent, John King letting us know -- quoting a senior administration official. He says that there was a suspect plane that apparently ignored repeated attempts to communicate with others.
The plane was on a flight path of concern, given the lack of response. So that's why the jets scrambled. But the all-clear, as we've been reporting, has now been given.
One of those lawmakers, who was himself scrambled outside of the U.S. Senate, the Republican senator from neighboring Virginia, George Allen, is joining us here on our set.
What was it like inside, Senator Allen, when they told you, "Get out"?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): Well, we were leaving, actually, to come over here to do an interview on John Bolton.
BLITZER: You were to be on this program with me.
And so we were leaving. We just had finished a vote and heard all this yelling. And I didn't know -- at first, you just thought it was somebody screaming about some way we voted. And then you saw everyone evacuate, yelling to everyone to get to Union Station.
The only thing similar to this was when the plane came in -- the governor of Kentucky's plane -- in the week of President Reagan's funeral. And people were all rushing that time. I found this to be much better.
First of all, you were in the Senate Office Building, is that where you were?
ALLEN: No, I was in the U.S. Capitol. We had just finished the vote.
BLITZER: You were actually in the U.S. Capitol.
And so U.S. Capitol Police said, "Get out."
ALLEN: They were just saying, "Get everyone -- get out, get out, get moving. Get..."
BLITZER: No explanation given, though.
ALLEN: No explanation -- "Get to Union Station." That's one of the things I'd sure like to know.
BLITZER: And to our viewers outside of Washington, Union Station, the railroad station right off of Capitol Hill, right near...
ALLEN: I'd say it's a couple -- three blocks away.
ALLEN: And that's the place -- the same place they told everyone to get to, generally speaking, the last time, during the week of President Reagan's funeral.
This time, everyone is telling us, "Run, run, run," and all that. Unlike last time, where they were saying, "Take your shoes off. Run for your life."
And you had a lot of people getting injured and in a panic over it all.
The one thing I'd like to know, still just for the safety of my staff, is: What is the threat? Is it a chemical or biological problem? Is it a truck bomb, is there a bomb in the Capitol building, or is it an airplane?
When we heard the jets in the air, you think, "Oh, this has got to be something in the air." And then my brother, Bruce, down in Tampa e-mails me on the Blackberry about what all it is, and eventually...
BLITZER: How did he know?
ALLEN: Probably watching CNN, honestly.
BLITZER: I thought maybe he's got some sensitive position.
ALLEN: No, no, no. He's watching TV.
In fact, we turned on the radio coming over here -- local radio stations WMAL and WTOP -- that's how we first got the information.
First, I got a Blackberry message from my brother, then ultimately we got some official ones 10 or 15 minutes later.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers some of the video that we shot during the course of this evacuation -- this picture taken up on Capitol Hill.
You see the people leaving that area understandably quite nervous, if you hear a Capitol police officer screaming at you, and especially to the women, "Take off those heels..."
ALLEN: No, they didn't do it this time.
BLITZER: But they've done it in the past.
BLITZER: They did it when that Kentucky governor's plane...
ALLEN: I agree.
BLITZER: ... got through, and they said, "Take off those shoes."
But you get nervous when you hear that.
They didn't do that this time, which is good.
There is no reason to cause people just to stampede and panic and end up maybe running over someone.
BLITZER: So they were much more controlled this time?
ALLEN: Much better, emphatic, very strong, evacuate, leave, run, if you can, to Union Station.
The communications as to what was going on was better than it was last time, which was absolutely nothing, and so I think that having gone through it before, the police and security have done a better job.
Still, I would like for us when they're telling folks to leave, especially I care about my staff, because we have these hoods in all of our offices worrying about a biological or chemical attack.
BLITZER: For anthrax or something like that?
ALLEN: For anthrax -- exactly.
BLITZER: Capitol Hill has been attacked by anthrax.
ALLEN: It sure has. And then you also worry about sarin and you may have...
BLITZER: Poison gas or whatever.
ALLEN: And ricin...
BLITZER: What are these hoods?
ALLEN: The hoods -- you put the hoods all over and it obviously filters the air.
I care about these young men and young women who are motivated, inspired to come and work in their nation's capital and for their government and for the people.
But if that is the threat, they ought to know it so they can bring these hoods with them if they're evacuating everyone.
So I think this is much improved over last year, and we'll learn from this and improve it in the future. But it is fortuitous to have folks like CNN and other networks covering it, because often we get the information from you all or radio before we get it from the official sources.
BLITZER: We just want to make sure our viewers know what's going on, without obviously overly alarming them.
One of the issues -- and I know you've been involved in this, as one of the senators from Virginia -- is Reagan National Airport, which is right outside the nation's capital.
Since 9/11, as you know, private planes, the small private planes, what's called general aviation, have been barred from taking off or landing. There are only commercial aircraft.
You think that should be changed though?
ALLEN: Yes, I do, Wolf.
BLITZER: But given the aftermath of what happened today, explain to our viewers why you think these small little Cessnas, these other planes, should be landing and taking off.
Now they go to Dulles Airport, which is further out in Virginia, 15, 20 miles away from the nation's capital.
ALLEN: And this one was forced to land in Leesburg.
BLITZER: This plane?
ALLEN: This one today.
BLITZER: Well, you're giving us new information. The small Cessna...
ALLEN: That's the information that I received.
BLITZER: ... that was violating airspace, restricted airspace was now forced to land in Leesburg, Virginia?
BLITZER: That's about, what, 15, 20 miles out of Washington?
ALLEN: Yes, I'd say Leesburg Airport is probably 20 miles from here.
ALLEN: At any rate, now, on general aviation at Reagan National Airport, recognizing that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon left from Dulles Airport, went over the Ohio River and then came back and crashed into the Pentagon -- the improvements in technology allow us to put in a gold standard, special security and scrutiny for those who would want to have general aviation planes take off or land. You would want to know who the pilots are, the passengers. You could have screening. You may require a certain technology program, which actually can create virtual domes around the Capitol or the White House or a nuclear power plant.
And so I think with good reason, with imaginative thinking, we can come up with a gold standard of security to allow certain general aviation back into Reagan National Airport.
Now, it won't be like flying into, let's say, Charlotte or Raleigh or Charlottesville for that matter, but if they want to fly in, they're going to have to get the background checks on who the passengers will be.
And I think that instead of just this approach of let's just be paranoid and shut down general aviation at Reagan National and then clog everyone up at Dulles, we ought to find a creative method, a reasonable method of using new technologies in a very secure way of allowing Reagan to be reopened. I know it's going to be tough but...
BLITZER: Even though -- you understand this. Even though Al Qaeda and others, terrorist-related or unrelated organizations have made it abundantly clear that the U.S. Capitol is their is target number one, you still think that we should take that kind of chance?
ALLEN: I think that what we can do -- I'm not staying that it is just completely unfettered, unsecure. And I recognize -- in fact, when we were coming over, I said, I know this is going to make it harder for us to...
BLITZER: If not impossible.
ALLEN: Well, see, you have the Secret Service and they are paid to be paranoid. And if they had their way, they would still have Reagan National Airport shut down to commercial aviation.
I recollect it was quite an effort to get them to finally reopen Reagan National Airport, and it wasn't fully reopened for, oh, gosh, nearly half a year.
BLITZER: And even to this day, as you well know since you fly into Reagan National all the time, as do I, an hour outside of Washington or, at least, a half an hour -- I think it's half an hour -- you can't stand up from your seat. You can't go to the bathroom, you can't do anything either taking off from Reagan National or flying into Reagan National.
Thirty minutes outside of Reagan National, you are strapped in. And if you do get up, they have to divert the plane and fly to another location. They are that concerned.
ALLEN: Right. And that's an example. At Reagan National, there is an added security scrutiny for that airport, as opposed to going to Dulles or going to Richmond or any other airport.
And I think that's fine. People can put up with it. And I think that for general aviation there is -- some of these private planes that have the technology, the communications, that it can be reopened. I realize in a time like this to be advocating this...
BLITZER: This is not a good position for you to be taking right now.
ALLEN: Well, it makes sense. Again, there are new technologies, and, listen, obviously we need to...
BLITZER: On these new technologies, how many years down the road -- this dome that you're talking about, for example -- is that technology?
ALLEN: It's available presently.
BLITZER: It is?
ALLEN: And we ought to be using it.
BLITZER: How expensive is it?
ALLEN: Well, it depends on the number of places that you're doing it. Right now what they're doing, by the way, in D.C., in the area -- and you might have reported this -- is there's lasers for pilots who are getting out of the airspace or getting into restricted space...
BLITZER: As warnings lights.
ALLEN: As warnings and then you're to communicate. That's another example of using technology.
We'll have to see what this situation was. This may not be the type of plane that has the technological capabilities to be allowed to fly into Reagan National.
BLITZER: You're on the Foreign Relations Committee.
ALLEN: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: You're very well plugged in. In recent days, has law enforcement, the intelligence community, Capitol Hill police, anyone at homeland security, said to you or your staff, "You know what, this is a time of a little greater threat, a little danger." Is there anything you should be worried about?
Have you gotten any of those kinds of alerts in recent days?
ALLEN: Good question. No, I have not. And I don't think we ought to live our lives in fear and timidity because of whatever happened here.
We need to analyze it, determine what went wrong or whether this pilot made an error in flying into restricted space. But it shouldn't be something that shuts down the government or shuts down the unfettered travel, within reason, of people in this country and using our facilities, including Reagan National Airport.
BLITZER: Senator George Allen, thanks very much.
I'm glad you managed to get here. I'm glad it's all over. We'll now step back, I'm sure, you, your staff, other colleagues will take a close look at the lessons learned from this incident, make sure that next time -- and I'm sure there will be a next time -- when a plane inadvertently flies over this restricted airspace, that they get the job done even better than this time. But it looks, at least, on this occasion, it was handled smoothly according to the book.
Senator Allen, thanks very much.
ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Miles O'Brien has been watching all of this unfold. He's a pilot himself, has -- is very well plugged into the whole aviation community.
What are you learning, Miles?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, I've been talking to some folks around the aviation world, and I have a little bit of information. First of all, let's talk about the type of airplane that was involved here. It's worth pointing this out, because this will give you some perspective. This is as small as they get, Wolf. It's a two-seater, a Cessna 150. I pulled up a picture of one just like it. A Cessna 150, historically a training aircraft. If it weighs 2,000 pounds dripping wet, that would be a lot. And thus, its ability to inflict any harm as a weapon, if you will, is very limited.
I'm wondering if you can get the shot up of that airplane for me over my shoulder there, the Cessna 150. This particular plane that was involved in this incident, November 5826 Gulf (ph) -- there you see the Cessna 150 -- is registered to a Vintage Aeroclub in the city of Smoketown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. What we're hearing is at 11:28 p.m., the FAA picked this particular airplane up on its radar signals, 11:55 a.m., really a short time later, Black Hawk helicopters were scrambled in this direction. We should point out, this airplane barely can fly 100 miles an hour. And so intercept with an F-15 or an F-16 is very much problematic. They can't fly that slow, and so thus the Black Hawk helicopters were scrambled initially.
By noon, F-16s were put into the mix as well. Now air-traffic control in Washington contacted this aircraft at some point in the mix here. The plane was followed by the Black Hawks, got about four miles north of the Capitol, and then it became evident to him that he was being intercepted. He or she, was being intercepted, he or she, was being intercepted. The plane is now down on the ground 12:37 p.m. in Frederick, Maryland.
Now I just want to tell you a little bit about this airspace, Wolf, that you're in the middle of here. This might be hard to see. I'm going to try to tilt this a little bit more to the screen there for you, if you can see it. This distance across here is about 75 miles. Right in the center there, you'll see P56B, PB56B, little brown areas there. That is the White House and the Capitol, prohibitive airspace, always has been, always will be.
Since 9/11, this whole area around here that looks like a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped deal, is prohibited as well for pilots who do not have communication with air-traffic control, and do not have a specific code in their box, called a transponder, which helps identify them on radar.
Now this particular airplane, for whatever reason, penetrated in here. I'm not sure which direction, but I'm assuming if it's coming from Pennsylvania, somewhere in there, penetrated this red line.
Now any pilot who flies knows that this is a no-fly zone. There are no secrets about this. And so this particular pilot who is now on the ground in Frederick, Maryland, has, as they say, an awful lot of explaining to do. Could there have been a communications failure, an electric failure. The procedures would be for that person to do some specific things to encode his transponder, let them know, and then get out of that area right away, turn away.
This is a transponder, Wolf. It's a little box in any plan that would fly into that zone, has to have one of these boxes. Now, this particular brand, this happens to be the one I have in my plane. And this tells you right here if you've got that 1200 code that is just a visual flight rules airplane, just flying around, not necessarily talking to controllers.
Well, you can't fly into the D.C. air space with those codes. They give you a special number to put in so they can track you and watch you like a hawk, and your specific direction is monitored very clearly. You just don't fly willy-nilly into the Washington airspace. So, obviously, this is grist for a rather interesting interview that's probably going on right this moment.
I can tell you that the procedures for intercept would be enough to startle the pilot of any 150, especially if it involved the firing of flares.
I should point out one other thing to you, Wolf. Recently in the D.C. area they installed a series of lasers. You reported on that. I saw you doing a piece on it, kind of around the perimeter of that restricted airspace I was telling you about. So if a pilot came in and wasn't talking on the radio, as it appears this was the case, those lasers in theory would give them some indication that they're doing the wrong thing.
Lots to dissect here about what this pilot knew, when the pilot knew it, but the fact of the matter is if you're involved in aviation, the thing you know more than anything right now is that this area around Washington is just verboten, if you're not talking to air traffic controllers, if you're not using your transponder in the way they instruct and if you're not on the right frequency.
So this is -- this is certainly a black eye for people that fly little planes when something like this happens, because what it does is it set backs effort -- efforts to allow people like me to fly back into national airport, who haven't been able to do so since 9/11.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "NEWS FROM CNN": Well, you're not going to be flying into Reagan National Airport any time soon. I can assure you of that, Miles.
Now, did you say? I want to clarify this, Senator Allen, George Allen, Republican of Virginia, was just on this program, said that he had been told that the pilot, the intruding pilot was forced to land in Leesburg, Virginia, outside of Washington. You're reporting now that actually he's landed in Frederick, Maryland, which is, what, 30 or 40 miles outside of Washington in Maryland. Is that the information we're now reporting?
O'BRIEN: Frederick is what I have. Let's put that in the category of conflicting information right now with a developing story. Frederick is what I have from my sources. I wouldn't -- the senator might have some other information.
BLITZER: No, I think you are right because Kathleen Koch is also reporting Frederick, Maryland, which is outside of Washington.
BLITZER: Frederick, Maryland, has a small airport there, and presumably that pilot is being questioned right now.
Stand by, Miles. Because Kelli Arena is getting some additional information, and I want you to listen to what she has to say. But before we go to Kelli, let me recap for our viewers who may just be tuning in now at the top of the hour.
About an hour or so ago here in the nation's capital, a small plane, a Cessna, as we just heard, apparently violated restricted air space over the nation's capital. The plane was refusing to engage in communications with authorities.
As a result, the U.S. Air Force scrambled at least two F-16 fighter jets. Other aircraft scrambled, as well, including some Black Hawk helicopters, and the pilot and that small Cessna now on the ground in Frederick, Maryland.
There was an emergency evacuation order, not only of the U.S. Capitol, the White House. We're also now told the U.S. Supreme Court, the Treasury Department, other government offices. Officials hurriedly got staff and others away from the area, but the all-clear about 15, 20 minutes after the incident started was given.
Kelli Arena, what are you learning?
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are told that there is one man in custody in Frederick, Maryland. He's being held by the Maryland State Police. They are waiting for federal officials to arrive to be able to interview that man to fine out exactly what he was doing in that federally restricted zone. We were also told that the plane, as you reported, was in the innermost circle of that restricted area. That was what caused most of the concern. Also the route that that plane was flying...
BLITZER: All right. Kelli, hold on one second. I just want to briefly go to Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader. He's talking about this incident on the Senate floor right now.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We'll be going back into session here now, and now I'll be happy to turn to the Democratic leader.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I am grateful that the distinguished Republican leader would come to the floor, look after us every day. Every day.
The training of our capital police force is exceptionally good. As I was with them, as was the distinguished Republican leader, I'm amazed at their professionalism as they took us away.
I'm an alumni of different universities and a proud lawyer and a number of other things that I've had the good fortune of working with over the years, but I'm -- the capital place. I was a capital policeman. I'm very proud of that.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and the Republican leader, the majority leader, Bill Frist, speaking out now. They're back in the U.S. Capitol, as you can see, speaking on the Senate floor, praising law enforcement, Capitol Hill police and others for the work they did in making sure this incident was resolved smoothly.
Kelli Arena, I interrupted you when you were giving us the latest information you're getting. Why don't you go ahead and tell our viewers what you know?
Unfortunately, we've lost Kelli Arena, but let's bring in Kathleen Koch. Kathleen Koch is right here with me in the Washington studio. Just recap what we know, specifically. You are reporting Frederick, Maryland, outside of Washington, is where this pilot is now being interrogated, presumably, or being held.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and as I guess Kelli Arena reported he may actually now be under arrest.
But yes, according to federal officials, aviation officials are saying it was about 12:37 this afternoon that two helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. Customs Service were able to bring this plane to the ground, and that's at a small airfield in Frederick, Maryland, where a lot of pilots have their small general aviation craft based. They also teach flying lessons out of that airfield. I've been there several times myself.
A small Cessna 150, a two-seater aircraft, again as Kelli reported. It's believed to have only one person onboard right now. But according to federal officials they believe at no point, though, did this individual actually pose a threat.
They say that they believe that the system performed flawlessly. They say that they were in -- the FAA was in constant contact with NORAD. Everyone worked together, that this really was a textbook example of how the system is supposed to work now, post-9/11.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a second, Kathleen. Suzanne Malveaux is over at the White House. I just want to alert our viewers. Also, we're standing by in addition for a briefing of -- park police are about to hold a briefing. We'll bring that to you live. You see the microphones outside the White House right now.
What do we know specifically about the president, his whereabouts right now, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that the president is returning to the White House momentarily. His motorcade will be arriving very shortly. He went for a brief bike ride.
The president left the White House more than 90 minutes ago. He's in Waldorf, Maryland, at the Catoctin Wildlife Refuge. That is where he went with a very small group of reporters known as, of course, the pool that accompany him when he leaves the White House for these kind of small events.
We have gotten what is called a pool report, saying that the president is heading back in this direction. They do not know whether or not he was notified of the incident. It is not hard to imagine, of course, that he would be, but we're waiting for official notification.
So it's important to tell you, Wolf, and to tell our viewers that the president was never in any danger, any harm during this particular incident. He was away from the White House.
Now Vice President Dick Cheney was here at the White House. He was in the West Wing, according to a senior administration official. But he was escorted to a secure location, we are told, and then he is now back at the White House, returned 15 or 20 minutes after the incident.
Wolf, what is still unclear is who was in the motorcade that sped away from the White House very quickly around the same time that we were being evacuated. We expect to get more details about this from the press secretary, Scott McClellan, who is now, we are told, getting somewhat of a pre-briefing, if you will, of the kind of information that he is going to be able to gather, to collect and to tell us momentarily in the briefing room about just what took place in the last hour or so, Wolf.
BLITZER: The Associated Press is on -- is reporting that the vice president had been, as you've been reporting, in the White House at the time of this incident, but the A.P. reporting he was moved to what's being described as a secure location elsewhere.
But it's unclear if he was in that motorcade that sped away from the White House, the motorcade that you saw leave the White House at the time of this incident. We still don't know specifically where the vice president was at the time of the incident. He was in the White House, but -- or whether or not he left.
MALVEAUX: Well, we know that he actually was sent -- was sent to a secure location. Now Wolf, you bring up a very good point. He could have been taken to an undisclosed location, a bunker perhaps, on the compound...
BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second. Suzanne -- Suzanne, hold on one second. I want to show our viewers. These are live pictures.
This is the Cessna 150. This is the small plane that apparently intruded, got over restricted airspace in the nation's capital, is now on the ground. Now on the ground in Frederick, Maryland. That's 30 or 40 miles outside of Washington D.C. It was forced to land at this small airport in Frederick, Maryland.
The pilot, presumably, is going to be questioned, if he's not being questioned yet. We don't know if the pilot is still onboard that small plane or -- or if the pilot has been removed, is in police custody elsewhere outside of that plane.
But we see that's the small Cessna that violated restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., causing F-16 jets to scramble, U.S. military Black Hawk helicopters to scramble and an evacuation of Capitol Hill, the White House and other federal office buildings here in Washington.
We'll keep that picture up for our viewers, Suzanne, but go ahead. And I interrupted you again. Go ahead and finish your thought.
MALVEAUX: Wolf, we've been warned that we've got a two-minute warning to the briefing. That means Scott McClellan, of course, is going to come out before the cameras and answer questions, perhaps give us more specifics about what happened here at the White House.
Wolf, I can tell you there were some very, very tense moments leading up to this. Essentially, we heard that there might have been something taking place outside. I walked outside. That is when we saw those emergency response team members. That's when we saw the uniformed security -- Secret Service agents. We saw people with guns drawn, rifles. We saw them and essentially they were yelling at us to run, to run as quickly as possible.
Initially, they had given us a choice, either go back in the building or get off the grounds. That immediately, quickly changed to, "Run, this is not a joke." That is what several of them were shouting to us when we were being evacuated from the North Lawn here.
We went through the northwest gate and they continued to tell us to move away from the grounds across the street, across from the park, Lafayette Park, about a block away.
We also at that time saw a motorcade leave the White House very quickly, about 15, 20 minutes returned. I heard a number of Secret Service agents talking about a plane, a plane overhead. And then that's what we heard the sound of a military aircraft go overhead the White House.
Very tense moments. We saw a lot of activity here. It ended about 15 or 20 minutes later when they gave the all-clear, told us to come back here. And again, I should reiterate that the president was never here at the White House during the time. He was on a biking trip in Waldorf, Maryland.
Vice president Dick Cheney, we are told, was at the West Wing. He was escorted to a secure location and then he was brought back about 15 or 20 minutes later after the incident -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Suzanne, we're going to stand by for that White House briefing. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, about to brief reporters. We'll go there live as soon as it starts.
This is a picture -- these are live pictures, that Cessna 150 has made this landing at this small airport in Frederick, Maryland. Miles O'Brien, you look at this plane and you understand, because you're a pilot. You've flown these kinds of small little planes. How small it really is.
O'BRIEN: I learned how to fly in a plane just like this one, a Cessna 150. As a matter of fact, a lot of pilots would tell you they did that, because this is -- was for a time by far the most widely- used trainer.
This particular airplane, Wolf, loaded up with fuel, weighs 1,500 or 1,600 pounds. That's it. It is truly, when you say light aircraft, you really mean it. And it's not a fast mover. Nor does it have a tremendous amount of range.
And it's worth putting out here, given the fact that it is so light and has so little fuel, the possibility of a 150 causing any damage is minimal. I should point out during the Clinton administration, Wolf, I think you were on the White House lawn when this happened, a Cessna 150 or 152, its cousin, actually flew right into the south side of the White House. Were you there that day?
BLITZER: It happened at 4 in the morning. It was on a Saturday morning, very, very early. And this pilot just simply flew and landed on the South Lawn of the White House and it screeched to a halt, actually ramming into the south side of the White House. I wasn't there at 4 a.m., but there was a lot of concern, as you well remember, and many of our viewers remember at the time.
That Black Hawk helicopter near the Cessna 150 is the Black Hawk helicopter that escorted this small plane, Miles, and forced it to land in nearby Frederick, Maryland.
O'BRIEN: Well, it's interesting. A little piece of irony here that many pilots in the know would be thinking about right now. Frederick, Maryland happens to be the headquarters of the world's largest organization for general aviation pilots and aircraft owners, the AOPA, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The head of that organization has been working feverishly in Congress of late, trying to open up some of the restrictions on the restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., up to and including allowing general aviation airplanes back into Reagan National Airport.
Clearly, a bit of irony for this organization to be seeing this apparent scofflaw on the runway there, perhaps setting those efforts back by some time, Wolf.
BLITZER: This plane, and I assume, Miles, and Kathleen Koch is here, as well. I assume the pilot has been removed from this small plane and is being held by police in a separate location.
But there's Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: First of all, as you all are aware, the president was off-site, getting in a bike ride after returning from a four-day trip overseas.
And, secondly, back to here at the White House, first of all, the top priority of the Secret Service here at the White House is the safety and security of the people who work here every day. And they have certain security precaution protocols that are in place. And those security precaution protocols were followed in this instance.
Let me give you a little facts about what happened. At approximately 11:59, the threat level here at the White House was raised to yellow. There was a Cessna plane within about 15 miles of the White House. It was north of the White House.
Shortly after that, around noon, fighter jets were scrambled. At approximately 12:01, the threat level was raised to orange. The plane was within 10 miles and an evacuation and moving of people to more secure locations began at that point.
Let me just point out that the Cessna was traveling in restricted airspace toward the White House and Capitol. The pilot was not responding to efforts to communicate with the plane.
And then, at 12:03, the alert level was raised to red.
And at approximately 12:11, the alert level went back down to yellow. The plane, at that point, was turning west and traveling away from the White House and Capitol.
And at 12:14, the all-clear was given.
MCCLELLAN: The pilot and the plane are now on the ground. It was escorted by a fighter jet and a Black Hawk helicopter. And the Secret Service and local authorities will be interviewing the pilot if they are not already. And in terms of other officials, as I said, the president was off-site at the time. He was informed by his detail. The detail that was with the president was notified and informed the president at that point.
Mrs. Bush, as well as Mrs. Reagan, who is in town, were here at the White House and they were taken to a secure location. The vice president was evacuated and has since returned to the White House.
And with that, I think I think I will just go to you all's questions.
MCCLELLAN: They were taken to a secure location.
QUESTION: Can I just go back through a couple of things here? You say, at 12:03, the alert level was raised to red. So how close was the Cessna to the White House at that point?
MCCLELLAN: Oh, I'm sorry. I should have mentioned that up top.
The Cessna was within three miles of the White House before it turned west and started traveling away from the White House.
QUESTION: And it goes back to yellow at what point?
MCCLELLAN: It went back to yellow at 12:11 p.m.
MCCLELLAN: That's when the plane had turned west and was moving away or traveling away from the White House.
QUESTION: Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Reagan were put in a secure location in the White House, so the bunker, I assume.
MCCLELLAN: I will just leave it at they were taken to a secure location.
QUESTION: In the White House?
QUESTION: On the grounds?
MCCLELLAN: They were here at the White House and they were taken to a secure location.
QUESTION: You can't say on the grounds of off the grounds?
All right, but you're saying -- but the vice president was actually evacuated...
MCCLELLAN: That's right.
QUESTION: ... off the grounds?
MCCLELLAN: That's correct.
QUESTION: That's correct.
Why the distinction, given the history of this?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the Secret Service has security precaution protocols that are in place. And, as I mentioned at the beginning, those precautions were followed. That's what they have in place and it was consistent with the protocols that were in place.
QUESTION: And just one final one on the color coding.
MCCLELLAN: For obvious reasons, I don't think I want to get too far into details of what those security precautions are.
QUESTION: The color-coded levels: These correspond to the development of Homeland Security right? In other words, is this the first time the red levels have been reached?
MCCLELLAN: I think you might want to double-check with the Secret Service. I think that these are a threat level system that they have had in place maybe for some time that preceded even the Homeland Security threat advisory system.
QUESTION: A different color code system then?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think it has the same colors. You might want to double-check with the Secret Service.
QUESTION: If it predates the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded system then it's a different system...
MCCLELLAN: Hang on a second.
You might want to check with the Secret Service. I think that that's correct. I'm not sure that that's correct but I think that this has been a system that was in place even before the Homeland Security advisory threat level was put in place.
QUESTION: Between noon when the fighter jets were scrambled and 12:11 when the all-clear sounded, who was in a position to give the authority, if necessary, for those fighter jets to fire on the plane?
MCCLELLAN: It never came to that point, I don't believe. I don't have any more details in terms of what occurred in terms of that. But my understanding from the briefing I received following this situation, or this incident, I did not receive any information to that effect.
QUESTION: Who was in charge? Who would have made the call that this was, at threat level red, too serious a threat to allow to continue?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the president was off-site at a location and he was informed and he was informed of the situation that occurred. And, obviously, there are protocols in place for that as well. But the president was being kept well-informed of the situation that was going on by his security detail that was traveling with him.
But I don't want to speculate that it ever came to that. I was not informed that it ever came to that situation.
There were fighter jets that were scrambled. They were trying to get in contact with the pilot of the plane. The pilot was not responding to their efforts to communicate with the plane. And I'm not sure that it ever came to that point because the plane turned west and started traveling away from the White House when it was within that three-mile radius of the White House.
QUESTION: More generally, these pictures of a somewhat frantic evacuations of the heart of the American government are being broadcast all around the world. Is it fair to say that really, without doing anything here, there's been an achievement by terrorists to demonstrate to the world that this country and capital can be rattled by a Cessna that's...
MCCLELLAN: I don't agree with your characterization.
Let me, first of all, say that we are grateful for the job that the Secret Service does, and that all our Homeland Security officials and local authorities do to protect the people that work at the Capitol and that work here at the White House. They do an outstanding job.
They have security protocols that are put in place. They followed the security protocols. At least when it comes to the White House, I was informed that those security protocols were followed and that the actions they took were consistent with those protocols.
So we are grateful -- I think all of us in this room -- for the job that the Secret Service does, both the president's detail as well as the uniformed division here at the White House. They do a great job, and they were doing a great job, I think, in terms of evacuating people and moving people to more secure locations as this situation was developing. And we appreciate those efforts.
In terms of other people around the world, we have to remember that we are a nation at war. And there are still people that seek to do harm to the United States and seek to carry out attacks on the United States.
This was a situation that we don't know the exact details of why this plane was traveling in the restricted air space at this point. It's being investigated. The pilot is being questioned or will be questioned shortly. And let's see what the facts are.
QUESTION: Do you know if the fighter jets -- were they scrambled with shoot-down authority?
MCCLELLAN: I don't have the information on that.
Like I said, the fighter jets were scrambled at around the noon hour. And they escorted -- at least one of the fighter jets, along with a Black Hawk helicopter, escorted the plane to the ground. And I'm not aware that it came to that point.
QUESTION: I would assume, with the plane three miles away from the White House, that you probably would have had some commander on the ground that had...
MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware that it came to that point because, as I said, at some point it did turn west.
QUESTION: (inaudible) at the time it was that close to the White House, you wouldn't have time to call the president and say, "Do we have authority to shoot it down?"
MCCLELLAN: Well, there are protocols that are in place for this as well.
QUESTION: We had all of these coordinated evacuations -- the Capitol, Supreme Court, here at the White House, elsewhere. Who raised the alarm? Was it NORAD? Was it this other office out in Herndon?
MCCLELLAN: There are communication centers here at the White House. There are communication centers outside of the White House. I think they were all in contact with one another, and probably all of those that you mentioned were involved in this.
Because when the plane enters the restricted air space there are defense officials that see that and they start to take steps when that occurs, if the pilot is not in contact with those who are trying to reach the plane.
QUESTION: NORAD or is it the FAA that first raised the alert?
MCCLELLAN: I'll see what else I can find out. I don't have that information at this point.
QUESTION: What, if any, actions did the president take after he was notified?
MCCLELLAN: The president is on his way back to the White House right now. He should be arriving at any point. I'll see if I can get you the information later in the day if there's any additional information to share.
QUESTION: (inaudible) that he stopped biking or got in touch with someone or...
MCCLELLAN: He was notified and informed about it by his detail. And, like I said, that's what I have at this point.
He should be arriving here at the White House at any moment, and then we'll have more information and we'll talk about that more.
QUESTION: We'd like to know whether he was on the phone with somebody at the time that there was a red alert, whether he could have conceivably given a shoot-down order or whether somebody was empowered to do that.
I think that's important because this is such a short time frame, and you're talking about something that's within three miles of the White House.
MCCLELLAN: Right, I understand that, and I understand the question. I appreciate the question that you're asking.
But from everyone I've talked with, all those that were involved in this from the White House perspective, I didn't get any indication that it came to that point.
MCCLELLAN: The plane did turn away from the White House and started traveling away from the White House.
But, there are protocols in place for this. That's why the fighter jets were scrambled. That's why they did try to make contact with the plane.
But I don't want to try to suggest that it came to that point, because I'm not informed in any way that it did come to that.
QUESTION: But it did. If it's red alert, it can't go any higher. So if it gets any closer than three miles, you don't have a lot of options if it keeps coming.
So I think we just want to know, within the bounds of security, what was in play.
MCCLELLAN: No, I understand that. As I said, I appreciate the question.
We'll try to keep you updated as we learn more about this. This just occurred a short time ago and I wanted to make sure I came out here and gave you all of the information and the facts that we knew at this point.
And if there's additional information to share with you, obviously, I will get you that information...
QUESTION: For example, we know, September 11th...
MCCLELLAN: ... let me keep going around the room.
QUESTION: ... that it was the vice president who gave the authorization to shoot down if it was necessary. So we're wondering who would have been in the...
MCCLELLAN: Let me keep going and I'll come back to you, if I can.
QUESTION: Scott, you gave us a fairly detailed, minute-by-minute countdown of actions that were taken, the raising of the alerts. You also told us separately that the president was informed by his detail.
Can you tell us where in that chronology the president was informed: after the code reached a certain level or what have you?
MCCLELLAN: I will get you that information later in the day.
As I said, the president's returning to the White House, but I wanted to get you what facts we knew that the point.
QUESTION: Scott, so when the alert went away and the plane was three miles out, is it safe to assume that the reason why many of the persons were not evacuated from the Old Executive Office Building and even from the West Wing is because it was too close and there was nothing to do at that time?
MCCLELLAN: Like I said, there's a protocol in place for a situation like this. Some people were evacuated and then at some point people were moved to a more secure location because that was the appropriate step to take at a certain point in time.
QUESTION: According to some sources, some of the people in the Old Executive Office Building were not told and they found out by watching the television.
So, I mean, what is the protocol for that type of situation?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know that that's the case.
I know that I checked with the Secret Service and people were informed about the situation that was going on. They took appropriate steps. The uniformed division -- I think you saw them around the White House complex taking appropriate steps as well and we appreciate the job that they did.
MCCLELLAN: Scott, one quick question on this and then another subject.
MCCLELLAN: Let's stay on this subject and then I'll come back to the other subject. This isn't a press conference where we can jump subjects and take away from other people.
QUESTION: To those collection of questions you're going to come back on, could you also find out for us, is there a standing order -- in other words, is the authorization that we were discussing before no longer necessary if a plane comes within a certain region around the White House? Or are pilots now authorized to make that judgment themselves once the plane is within a certain...
MCCLELLAN: I'm not sure that's the case. Let me get some additional information. And I'll get it to you all later today.
And like I said, I know you all are asking this question, I appreciate that you're asking this question, but I'm not sure that in this situation it ever came to that point.
So I want to emphasize that point because I think I would have been informed about it. But I will look into that and get you more information on that as well. QUESTION: Scott, two questions. Where was the president biking? And, two, was the plane forced to turn west or did the plane turn west on its own?
MCCLELLAN: What I was told was that it turned west at some point when it came within that three-mile radius of the White House.
MCCLELLAN: The president was in an off-site location. I'll leave it at that. Your colleagues were there covering it so I think you all are aware of where he was.
But from this podium, I think I'll just leave it that he was in an off-site location.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) when the fighter jets essentially intercepted the plane? You said the fighter jets and a Black Hawk helicopter escorted it to the ground.
MCCLELLAN: They were scrambled around noon. I know at some point after that they tried to make -- or there was communication that -- people were trying to communicate with the plane at some point within this time frame that I gave you, this timetable that I gave you when everything occurred.
But no, I don't have any more information than what I gave you on that.
QUESTION: This is a crucial point: Did the pilot have a radio on the plane? Did he ever, at any point, have conversation with the U.S.? Because the implication is could have been a failed suicide attempt and then he changed his mind.
MCCLELLAN: No, like I said, there were efforts to communicate with the pilot, and the pilot was not responding to efforts to communicate with the plane.
QUESTION: At any point was there a response? And was there a radio on the plane?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I don't have those details. The pilot is going to be questioned, if the pilot is not being questioned already. They will be investigating this matter.
The investigation is ongoing at this point, I should say, by the Secret Service and by local authorities. I think those are all questions they'll be able to answer as the investigation proceeds forward.
QUESTION Scott, did you say something about Black Hawk helicopter? Were there Black Hawks?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, this was a Border and Customs helicopter.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) MCCLELLAN: I believe that there was a fighter jet and a Black Hawk helicopter. There may have been additional aircraft as well that escorted that plane.
QUESTION: Was that an ICE helicopter?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding was that it was a Border and Customs helicopter, so probably so, but you might want to double-check with Homeland Security on that.
QUESTION: Concerning threat levels, former Secretary Ridge yesterday indicated there might have been some ongoing...
MCCLELLAN: Can we stay on this current situation and then I'll be glad to come back to your question?
Does anybody else have any questions on this current situation?
QUESTION: Why didn't the internal emergency notification system go off here in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: I think that there was a notification system that was going off.
QUESTION: After 9/11 there was a system put in place where there's a voice announcement that comes over the speaker if there's a certain level of emergency.
MCCLELLAN: My understanding from the initial conversations I had following this situation was that the protocols were followed that were in place. And let me look into it to see if there's more. You might want to direct those questions to the Secret Service as well.
MCCLELLAN: The uniformed division was evacuating people as well as moving people...
QUESTION: We did not know anything about that. We did not know anything about that, period.
MCCLELLAN: Let me just mention that the uniformed division was evacuating people on the property as well as moving people to a more secure location.
QUESTION: There were reports of a flare being seen during this episode. Was that part of the fighter jet's attempt to contact...
MCCLELLAN: It may well have been. I don't know, but it may well have been.
QUESTION: Scott, to close the loop on the helicopter and the fighter jet, they scrambled from where?
MCCLELLAN: You might want to direct those questions to the Department of Defense, in terms of the fighter jets. And in terms of...
MCCLELLAN: I don't know that I will get into all those details. But the Department of Defense might be able to provide you with some additional details on that.
And in terms of the Black Hawk, I think you ought to direct that to the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: And you're saying that for security reasons you can't answer whether they were already in the air, if they were scheduled...
MCCLELLAN: I think I'll leave it to those two agencies to get you that information. They can probably provide you with that. I don't have that information at this...
MCCLELLAN: I don't have that information at this time. If I get something else, I can give you, I will, OK?
QUESTION: The restricted air space -- has it ever changed in the last two or three years? And how big is it?
MCCLELLAN: I think it's changed since September 11th.
QUESTION: How big is it now?
MCCLELLAN: You might want to double-check with the authorities. I think there's a 25-mile area. Obviously, there's Reagan National Airport; they have certain procedures that the planes departing from there follow.
I think this was a general aviation aircraft, so it was not a commercial...
QUESTION: According to my files, it's been extremely enlarged then, to 25 miles, since 9/11.
MCCLELLAN: You can get those facts. I don't have those facts in front of me right this second.
QUESTION: Scott, could we find out your personal experience here, what you were doing at the time, how you learned of the threat, your actions and so forth?
MCCLELLAN: Yes. I was notified by staff.
QUESTION: Staff meaning who?
MCCLELLAN: My staff, yes. I was first notified by my staff. And what else do you want to know?
QUESTION: What actions did you take? Where did you go?
MCCLELLAN: I moved to a secure location. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Did you make any calls before you did that?
QUESTION: Can you just clarify: Are you saying that everybody including staff in the West Wing and in OEOB, to your knowledge, was either evacuated or brought to a secure location?
MCCLELLAN: They were either evacuated -- what I know is people were evacuated or moved to a more secure location, at least in the White House complex. I don't have more on the Executive Office Building, but I think they were being evacuated and moved as well.
Like I said, there comes a point at some point in time when you have a situation like this where it is safer to move someone to a more secure location within the compound.
QUESTION: Scott, what about those who watched it on television in OEOB and found out about it that way?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your concern here. Let me take the questions one at a time here, though.
QUESTION: One of the issues here: You have eight minutes between 12:03 and 12:11, where the plane is within three miles of the White House. And then I presume in the eight-minute span the plane heads back west and it goes back to yellow. Can you now or at some point give us some sense of the sequence?
MCCLELLAN: My understanding is that right about 12:11 is when the plane turned west.
QUESTION: So there are eight minutes when things are moving rapidly here.
MCCLELLAN: That's correct.
QUESTION: You've got an eight-minute window here where the plane is three miles away from the White House. And eight minutes later it goes down to yellow because the plane's moving away.
What happened in the eight-minute span? And I think that goes to the question, too, about the shoot-down authority. But when do you get to that point where...
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that question's already been asked and I told you I would provide you with additional detail as I can on that.
QUESTION: The sequence in that eight-minute period of time, any more detail on that would be helpful.
MCCLELLAN: In terms of between 12:01 and...
QUESTION: 12:03 and 12:11...
MCCLELLAN: Right about 12:01, that's when I think the evacuation process began here at the White House, right around that time when the plane was about 10 miles north of the White House. And then it was 12:11, approximately, when the plane turned west and then the threat level went back down to yellow. And then the all-clear was given at 12:14.
QUESTION: So you understand what I'm asking: What happened between 12:03 and 12:11 when the plane was within three miles of the White House, and then at 12:11 it goes back to yellow, because I think at that point the plane is 25 miles out and heading west?
QUESTION: So what happens in that eight-minute span...
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, at 12:11?
QUESTION: At 12:11, you said that the threat level went back down to yellow, indicating the threat is passing here. It's not gone, but it's passing.
And I think at that point, the plane -- I know at some point the plane is 25 miles away heading toward west...
MCCLELLAN: No, at that point, my sense is that was when -- between the red and yellow. At approximately 12:11 is when it's still within three miles, but that was when it turned and started traveling away from the White House at some point within that 12:11 time period.
That's why the threat level went back down to yellow at that point.
QUESTION: His point is what was going on in that time period.
MCCLELLAN: What was going on where?
QUESTION: Between 12:03 and 12:11. That's a fairly critical period of time, right?
QUESTION: I mean, you have to decide whether you're going to shoot the thing down or whether it...
MCCLELLAN: I know, you're getting to this question again. I think this question has been asked.
Like I said, I have nothing to suggest that we were at that point by any means, so I don't want to suggest that. But I will look into that and get you all that additional information as I can... QUESTION: My question is...
MCCLELLAN: This afternoon.
QUESTION: ... when you get to that point...
MCCLELLAN: That's what I'll get you additional information on, but I think you can appreciate that I wanted to come out here and make sure you all had the facts about what occurred. And as we get additional information, I will be glad to provide that information to you.
QUESTION: Why is it that -- you know, the president was off-site but obviously he's still in the area somewhat. Why is it that there isn't a procedure that when something like this happens he would automatically get taken to some sort of a secure location? He just stayed there.
MCCLELLAN: There are protocols in place. And I think those are decisions that the Secret Service makes based on those protocols that are in place. And I think in this instance they took the appropriate steps.
QUESTION: The threat was not serious enough...
MCCLELLAN: You might want to direct those questions to the Secret Service, but I think they took the appropriate steps following the protocols that were in place.
We still on this subject?
QUESTION: One more on this and then another one on...
MCCLELLAN: Let me stay on this subject.
QUESTION: Where did the plane come from, and also are we calling this a terrorist act now?
MCCLELLAN: No, this is something that's being investigated at this point. That's the way I would describe it, as an ongoing investigation.
I don't know the facts at this point, because the plane was just a short time ago escorted to the ground and the pilot is being interviewed by local authorities and Secret Service to determine what was going on.
QUESTION: The Secret Service did not alert people in the basement of the press room that there was a problem. The sound system did not go off.
How can you be confident that protocols were followed when clearly here we know they were not? Were all staffers in the White House alerted about this problem and evacuated by Secret Service? MCCLELLAN: A couple of things: One, that was my initial conversations with the Secret Service, that the protocols were followed. I specifically asked about what occurred here in the press area as well.
I know that you all -- I saw some of you all leaving when I was being moved as well.
And then, I understand from Secret Service that, at one point, they decided to move some of you that were still here and had not left the premises to a more secure location within the complex -- and I believe that was down in the basement.
QUESTION: Are you confident that all staffers of the White House were told by the Secret Service that there was an imminent danger?
MCCLELLAN: As far as I know, in the White House, the uniformed division, as well as the presidential detail, were taking the appropriate steps to either move people off the property or move people to a more secure location on the property. That's the understanding that I have.
Obviously, we'll learn more as time goes on, and you might want to direct some of those questions to the Secret Service.
But, as I emphasized at the beginning, the number one priority for the Secret Service, when a situation like this occurs, is the safety and security of the people in this building.
And we appreciate the job that they did today. We are grateful for the job that they do every day.
QUESTION: Scott, to the best of your knowledge, is this the most serious violation of restricted airspace since 9/11?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know if I can characterize it at this point.
QUESTION: I know that there was the famous Kentucky governor's plane last June, but it didn't seem to come as close as this plane did.
MCCLELLAN: I'm not sure that that's the case. I think you might want to look back on that and check on that.
QUESTION: Let me just clarify something. You said at 12:03 the alert turned to red because at that point the plane was within three miles.
MCCLELLAN: I understand that at that point it was within three miles.
QUESTION: And it doesn't turn west for the next eight minutes. It's going at a pretty good clip. It sounds like it got closer than three miles to the White House.
MCCLELLAN: Let me double-check that, to verify that fact. QUESTION: Scott, can you clarify whether or not this was the first time?
MCCLELLAN: It went to orange at 12:01, as I pointed out, and that was when it was 10 miles out.
QUESTION: Then it's three miles. And it doesn't turn west for another eight minutes. So it sounds like it...
MCCLELLAN: Well let me make that -- it went back down to yellow at 12:11. At some point before that, obviously, it had to turn west and be traveling away from the White House.
So thank you. No, thank you for clarifying that, because they wouldn't go back down to yellow if it were still traveling toward the White House.
QUESTION: Right. And I guess what I'm asking is if you can establish the closest that the plane came to the White House.
MCCLELLAN: I think it was just within three and a half miles. I don't think it was too much closer than that.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) 12:03 to 12:11?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, it would have been that entire time.
QUESTION: Was this the most serious alert since 9/11?
MCCLELLAN: To my knowledge -- I mean, I don't know another time when were at that level for that period of time...
QUESTION: But it's the first time it was red alert...
MCCLELLAN: You might want to double-check with the Secret Service on that. I cannot verify that for your from this podium.
QUESTION: Actually, my question was: Is this the closest an aircraft has gotten...
MCCLELLAN: Yes, again, that I don't know that that's the case either. As you pointed out, there was the governor of Kentucky's plane. I'm not sure how close that came.
QUESTION: You just used the figure three and a half miles -- within three and a half miles.
MCCLELLAN: Within three miles.
QUESTION: Three miles -- yes, very well.
MCCLELLAN: Well, I didn't mean to use three and a half if I did.
Are we still on this topic, or we're ready to move onto other topics?
QUESTION: One more.
MCCLELLAN: I think one more. One more.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Secret Service has a pecking order of who they're going to save -- the president, the first lady, and then the press would be...
QUESTION: Way down.
MCCLELLAN: No, I...
QUESTION: Yes, we are way down.
MCCLELLAN: I think everybody is a priority for the Secret Service and everybody's safety and security is the priority for the Secret Service.
There are a lot of personnel that work here in the White House. Obviously, there's a detail that is assigned to the president. There's a detail assigned to the vice president as well as Mrs. Bush. And they take their steps as well. And then others around the White House are taking steps at the same time.
So I don't think I would characterize it that way.
QUESTION: I just wanted to be clear on the color alert -- the hearing is not as good back here -- this is a totally separate from the post-9/11 homeland security alert system, first of all -- the color scheme.
And is it...
MCCLELLAN: I believe that's correct.
QUESTION: So how far back does it go and how many colors?
MCCLELLAN: I don't have that for you. You might want to double- check with the Secret Service on that.
Are we ready to jump subjects now? OK.
QUESTION: One last question on this subject, if I may, please.
BLITZER: And so there he is, the White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, briefing reporters on this scare, 15-minute scare, precisely beginning at 11:59 Eastern, going until 12:14 Eastern, 15 minutes during which there was an evacuation ordered from the White House, from Capitol Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court, other federal buildings as this small Cessna 150 intruded airspace. At one point according to Scott McClellan, getting to within three miles, three miles of the White House before making a U-turn, turning west, and heading off three miles.
During that period, there was a full-scale red alert that was initiated at the White House. A red alert meaning a terrorist incident was imminent, at least for those few minutes. At least for those few minutes, that fear existed. The all-clear given exactly at 12:14 p.m. Eastern, when people could start coming back.
That pilot from that Cessna 150 now on the ground in Frederick, Maryland, about 40 miles outside of Washington. He's in the custody of local police. There he is, the video of that pilot, being taken away, wearing shorts, being questioned right now by local police, Secret Service, other law-enforcement officers on the scene, questioning this pilot of this Cessna 150.
We have continuing coverage that we have lots of information coming in now on precisely what happened, what didn't happen, did things go right? Did thing goes wrong? Also, lessons learned from all of this. What happens down the road? The president was never in any immediate danger. He was off the White House in nearby Maryland, exercising on his bicycle at the time.
The vice president was there at the White House. He was evacuated, hustled into a motorcade and taken off campus, as they say at the White House. Now back at the White House.
Our continuing coverage will resume right after a short break. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Much more coverage coming up at 5:00 p.m. Eastern on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
But our coverage will resume with Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien right after this short message.
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Let's go, folks. Get off your cell phones! Move out of the buildings! Come on!
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PHILLIPS: We're continuing our breaking news coverage near -- now out of Atlanta, Georgia.
U.S. Capitol and the White House briefly evacuated today after a small plane entered restricted airspace over the city of Washington D.C. We are told the president was not in danger. He was moved to a secure location right away when these warnings came out.
The incident happened about 11:28 this morning Eastern Time, when the FAA radar picked up this aircraft, we're told a small two-seater Cessna 150 with high wings. The aircraft breached the security zone over Washington, entering restricted airspace. Of course, restricted airspace circling key areas such as the White House and the Capitol and where these main buildings throughout Washington D.C., key buildings. It prompted the alerts across the city.
Those alerts, of course, coming through NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and also the United States Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. I can tell you, due to training that we did about a year and a half ago, I was able to make contact with sources within NORAD. I can tell you that the head of NORAD, Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of NORAD, is with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. They were together when this incident took place. They've been together ever since.
They say that -- or I have been told through sources that the situation was under control, that they felt confident about how the F- 16s scrambled and carried out this scenario that you're watching now, which is the Cessna safely landing in Fredericksburg, Maryland.
This is the most that I can tell you at this point. A couple questions were raised by reporters at the White House briefing with Scott McClellan there, just a few moments ago. A number of reporters asking about if that plane could have been shot down. They were asking if the pilots would have had the right to shoot the plane down if it became a threat to the president or to the White House.
This is what I can tell you -- from the training that we did with NORAD and with the F-16 pilots based out of Jacksonville, Florida -- is that once an aircraft enters restricted airspace, of course, all the warning signals go off, from NORAD to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, and they monitor the plane. They try to get as much information they can on the plane. What type of aircraft, who could be flying that aircraft. Immediately, the intelligence starts to go from entity to entity.
Now, the general at Tyndall Air Force Base, Admiral Keating (ph) at NORAD and those, of course, at the Pentagon, are in tune to all the intelligence that's being shared. In no way, shape or form does a pilot just decide to shoot at an aircraft. That decision has to come from all those individuals involved within NORAD and also the president of the United States. So, if indeed there was a shootdown order, it would be because the pilot ignored all the warnings that take place during a situation like this.
And if all of the information is true, if what we are hearing with regard to the F-16s being scrambled, making communication with the aircraft, trying to make communication with that Cessna using hand signals and then Bernie Shaw saying -- our former anchor -- saying that he did see warning flares released from the F-16, well, that's the final warning.
And it looks like, according to the information, that the pilot responded to that final warning and the F-16 and the Black Hawk escorted that Cessna, deemed a threat to the White House area and in into the airspace, and brought it down in Fredericksburg, Maryland. So at this point, it looks like the standing operating procedure did go forward and that pilot was brought down. Of course, Kelli Arena, you've been following the fact that this pilot has been taken into custody. Also another individual. All we know at this point is they were two white males. We're looking at the video right here. What can you tell us about the individuals that have been arrested? Are they being questioned? Do we know anything else about them?
ARENA: I wouldn't use the term arrested, Kyra. I would say that they've been detained. We're told that FBI agents out of the Baltimore field office, along with Secret Service agents, are on their way, may even be there at this point in Frederick to talk to at least one individual. We have some conflicting reports. We're told -- some officials say there were two individuals, others say there were one. I think we're going with two at this point, just to be safe.
But they are going to interview this -- at least a man about why he was not responding to the communications, what he was doing in that area. He was initially in the custody of Maryland state police. FBI does have a resident agent right there in Fredericksburg who was on the scene immediately, a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Of course the law enforcement's concern is that there is an outside chance that this may be an individual that is in some way connected to a terrorist organization who was asked to do a practice run, to enter into restricted airspace to test and see what the response to that act would be. There is absolutely no proof, no -- nothing at this time to indicate that that's the case, but that is something that law enforcement has to check out thoroughly.
So they'll run this person's name or these person's name through all of their systems to see if there's any connection at all to any known terrorists, any known organizations. They will do a -- obviously, complete interviews, will keep those people detained as long as they have to make sure that they do not pose any threat.
You know, Kyra, we've been through a similar situation before during the former -- the funeral of former president Ronald Reagan. The governor, Kentucky governor's plane, went into restricted airspace and was not responding at first. So this could very well be just someone who was unfamiliar with procedure, panicked, did not know what to do. Or it could be something else, and that's what the FBI is setting to find out.
PHILLIPS: Real quickly. There's word possibly that this Cessna could have been stolen. Have you been able to confirm that, Kelli?
ARENA: Not yet. We've heard that very unofficially. Very -- that's very much rumor at this point, Kyra. We don't know. We don't have anybody officially saying that to us that this time. But it is something. It's a lead that we are checking on.
PHILLIPS: All right, Kelli Arena, thank you so much. We're going to take a quick break. Of course, we're going to continue following this breaking news story and take you inside the training within NORAD, on how those F-16s scramble and help divert these aircraft from becoming a threat. It's something you'll see only on CNN. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
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