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"I Thought It Was Great," Cheney on Killing of Bin Laden; Desperate Hours Aboard Air Force One; "It Changed My Presidency"; Searching for Purpose After 9/11; NYC, D.C. And National Law Enforcement On High Alert After A Credible, But Unspecific Terror Threat Has Been Discovered

Aired September 10, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A decade after 9/11, America is once again on alert. Stepped up security in New York and Washington, D.C., as authorities investigate a possible Al Qaeda terror plot tied to the anniversary.

Desperate hours aboard Air Force One, circling over America, trying to find a safe place for President Bush to land on 9/11. My interview with the pilot of air force one, he flew that critical mission.

President Obama's new jobs plan, certain to be a hot topic when the Republican hopefuls gather here in Tampa, for Monday night's presidential debate co-hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Checkpoint searches and an urgent scramble for intelligence. America, once again, faces a terror threat. This time, authorities say they have credible and specific information about a possible Al Qaeda plot tied to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The key focus, Washington and New York. Our National Correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us now. She's in New York.

Susan, I assume you can see the precautions under way this weekend in New York City?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. Of course, security was already at a heightened state because of the importance of this particular anniversary. And now it's ramped up even more. So, yes, you can easily see a bigger police presence at train stations, at tunnels, on the streets, with bags being checked, with cars, all kinds of vehicles being checked, for explosives, the possibility of radioactive bombs as well.

And this is all part of the plan, a ramped up plan, to make sure they're not going to miss anything throughout this weekend. But you know, Wolf, it's also interesting to look at the origin of this threat. And my colleague, Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, has learned that this started on Wednesday when some information was intercepted from an Al Qaeda operative, someone that authorities believe has been credible in the past that they've eavesdropped on in the past. They took that information, that's where it came from, and now they have continued to work on corroborating it.

BLITZER: Have you seen this kind of threat level in -- over the 10 years, and you've been covering this story all of this time. How extraordinary is the fact that they have now gone public and specifically told everyone in New York and Washington, be on alert. Don't get crazy or anything, don't panic, be on alert because there is this so-called specific and credible threat?

CANDIOTTI: I don't think I've seen anything like this in years from either -- from being here or from afar. It's because of the importance of this particular anniversary that everyone's paying so much more attention to it, so nerves were already on edge, and now they continue to be even more so as we approach the anniversary.

BLITZER: And you've had a chance to see the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the police commissioner, Ray Kelly. They're pretty worried about what's going on, based on the intelligence that they have, their cooperation with federal authorities in Washington, as well.

CANDIOTTI: Oh, absolutely. The information is free flowing. And as it started to become public, that is why a news conference was put together late on Thursday night to make the public aware of it. So that people were told to be on guard but also be on the lookout, too. And we've seen in the past with the foiled Times Square bombing, just over a year ago, that came about because someone saw some smoke burning in a car. And they brought it to the attention of authorities and that's how that plot was eventually foiled.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti on the scene for us, as she always is. Thanks, Susan, very much.

Let's get some more now on this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. Joining us, our CNN Contributor Tom Fuentes; he's a former assistant director of the FBI.

Tom, when they say this is a specific and credible threat, that sort of is confusing. What does it mean?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, you're right, it is confusing. I think the most confusing aspect is, it's specific that they've heard this from a source that they've heard information from the in past, but not specific enough to identify who is involved in this or whether they're already in the U.S. or en route to the U.S. So you're creating almost an impossible situation for the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community to identify people who you don't even know who they are yet.

BLITZER: And I've spoken with some experts, some intelligence, counterterrorism experts, who have suggested it wouldn't necessarily even be out of the realm of possibility that Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda sympathizers are deliberately pretending to do something like this to get the U.S. maybe on the wrong track. This being some sort of diversion. Is that something that the FBI counterterrorism experts and Homeland Security and elsewhere would even start to consider, that scenario, something sophisticated like that? FUENTES: Certainly, they've been considering that all along, but not only, you know the threats coming against New York and Washington are logical, but the threats could also come to other large cities throughout the country, or even smaller cities. So the fact that the threat could be anywhere, it could be committed by anyone, it could involve a small group of people, or even an individual acting on his own, is what really scares the authorities.

I think most experts believe that it's next to impossible for a scale and scope of 9/11 to occur again. The international financing that occurred in that case, the coordination, command and control by bin Laden himself and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that it would be very difficult to launch that type of attack on that scale as 9/11. But at this point, it doesn't have to be that large of an attack. A couple of individuals with handguns, explosives, assault rifles, vehicles carrying any number of incendiary or explosive devices could do a great deal of damage without having the sophistication or planning required for 9/11.

BLITZER: That's precisely the point that President Obama made to me when I interviewed him a few weeks ago in Iowa. And I asked him about the concern around the 10th anniversary of 9/11. He suggested that authorities were especially concerned about that so-called lone wolf terrorist out there, along the lines of what happens in Norway. Who could kill a whole lot of people, go after soft targets and cause quite a panic. That lone wolf scenario is very concerning to the FBI, isn't it?

FUENTES: It's very concerning and it may not just be an individual lone wolf but a handful of people. If you recall the Mumbai attack in November of 2008, it was committed by a dozen young men carrying assault rifle and grenades. And they held one of the largest cities in the world at bay for three days. So it doesn't take a lot of people. It doesn't take a lot of fire power, if you will, to really commit a terrible act anywhere in the world at almost any time.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, thanks for joining us. Let's hope for the best. Appreciate it.

FUENTES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Republican backlash against President Obama's plan to jump start the staggering economy. I'm here in Tampa, I'll be moderating Monday's presidential debate. We'll have a preview of that. Plus, my interview with the former Vice President Dick Cheney, he is opening up about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, bin Laden, much more, but he's not regretting anything.

And the U.S. Air Force One pilot charged with shuttling President Bush to a safe location during the 9/11 attacks, you're about to meet him. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple, to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed.


It will provide -- it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American, and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that is stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.


BLITZER: President Obama making an urgent plea to a joint session of Congress this week. He wants hem to pass a plan, he says, will immediately help to jump start the economy. Let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, it's not necessarily, correct me if I'm wrong, a take it or leave it plan. The White House knows there's no way the Republicans are going to accept all of what the president put on this table this nearly (AUDIO GAP) dollar plan, but it does represent an opening for some bargaining and at least get some of this stuff after the ground. Is that the hope at the White House?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What you say is correct, Wolf. And yet they are going to deliver an entire plan to Congress next week. What they're delivering is a plan that they hope they'll receive and take in pieces.

I'll tell you, already I've talked to a lot of Democrat whose are hailing this plan as the kind of -- the speech as the kind of "give'em hell, Harry", return from the ashes leadership that they've been wanting to see from this president for months and months. These are Democrats who have critical of the president saying, finally, he's back. This is the man they've wanted to see. And the White House itself is cheered by the fact that the tone they've heard from a lot of Republicans is to some extent conciliatory, exactly to your point. They believe that they see signs of hope that the Republicans will be willing to pass, as you point out, elements of this plan. Not the whole thing, but elements in the coming months.

BLITZER: Because the president says the whole plan, the $450 billion, in his words, will be paid for, some by spending cuts, but others by increased revenue from taxes. That means tax increases, eliminating some loopholes. On that sensitive point, a lot of Republicans are simply going to vote no. They don't want any tax increases for rich, for middle class, or for anyone else.

YELLIN: Right, and let's be clear, he's leaving that work to the super committee, which is entirely separate process, sort of kicking that can to a different group. So will they raise those taxes? Seems unlikely. They were unwilling to do it in the debt deal. You also have the separate problem that Democrats don't want the entitlement changes that the president's likely to propose as part of the deal. So you have all sort of partisan bickering that comes in that separate process. That's going to be a food fight that will be very ugly, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president, meanwhile, in the coming weeks, he's going to be aggressively campaigning on the road for this jobs plan. He's going to a lot of battleground states, I assume. Is that what you're hearing?

YELLIN: Yeah. And one that I can tell you on the record, he's already going to Ohio this upcoming week, to make his case to the American people. Basically he did what he could. He took this to the Congress, made his plan known, now it's in Congress' hand. The next step, in the view of the White House, is to use the bully pulpit, apply indirect pressure on Congress by continuously making his case to the American people that Congress should pass elements of this. And we will see him on the road selling it over and over, urging Americans to then put pressure back on Congress. Whether that works, we don't know because you know members of Congress will be fighting back aggressively as well. So it's a bit of a preview of campaign 2012 starting already, Wolf.

BLITZER: This campaign is under way, obviously. Thanks very much, Jessica at the White House.

The president's jobs plan will likely be a major point of contention at Monday's presidential debate here in Tampa, which is being co- hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Chief National Correspondent John King; he is the host of "JOHN KING USA".

On this jobs plan, so far at least, John, most of the Republican presidential candidates are being quite negative.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite negative, in part, because of where they're going to be at the debate you're moderating, Wolf. The Tea Party doesn't like President Obama, period. They don't like President Obama's spending proposals. The Tea Party views this as stimulus deja vu. The Republican candidates for president in this primary and caucus environment are catering to the far right of their party. Quite an interesting dichotomy, isn't it? The Congressional leadership, which has sparred with the president many times, the Republican Congressional Leadership being much more diplomatic; saying we see grounds for compromise here. And that's an important distinction.

Because the president knows, and one of the reasons the president's plan is relatively modest and not so controversy, is he knows he has a small window to get things done. The Republican Congressional leadership won't listen to those presidential candidates right now. When we get to February and March and one person emerges as the front- runner that's is when there is pressure for Congress to follow the candidate. The president has a narrow window with the campaign heating up to try to get things done with the Congress.

BLITZER: Gloria, I suspect the two front-runners right now, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, they're not necessarily going to disagree a lot when it comes to President Obama. They're going to be critical of him. But they have already strongly sharply disagreed on an issue that a lot of us are surprised has come up among the Republicans, specifically, Social Security. You expect this to continue to be a source of division between these Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It took about a nanosecond after the last debate for the Romney campaign to send out an e-mail saying that Rick Perry opposes Social Security, calls it a Ponzi scheme, et cetera, et cetera. Of course, Mitt Romney is going to hack away at this, saying I want to save Social Security, he wants to end Social Security. And I think it's, you know, a real problem for Rick Perry, quite honestly, because Social Security is a social compact in this country that is valued by people, in particular, who vote, and that is seniors. Republicans had made an awful lot of in way with senior citizens in the last elections, in the midterm elections. And now, I think, this is going to be a real problem for them. I don't think this is the debate right now that lots of Republicans want to be having among their presidential candidates, which is do we save social security, or don't we save Social Security? That's not kind of the way they want to frame it, really.

BLITZER: Yeah. It's -- I'm surprised it's come up but it has come up in this way. And I think you'll agree, John, that Rick Perry's very vulnerable on the Social Security issue, even in a Republican contest because all of our polls (AUDIO GAP) show Republicans by and large overwhelmingly support Social Security, probably if he were to get the Republican nomination, very vulnerable in a general elections against President Obama. How vulnerable is Mitt Romney on the whole health care issue? The mandate his got through Massachusetts when he was governor there?

KING: No question, especially, again with the Tea Party audience, with the most conservative slice of the Republican pie mandate. The word "mandate" viewed as sacrilege. He's cross that line with the Massachusetts health care plan. So that is a point of contention with Governor Romney. He has tried to say, I did that in Massachusetts, I had to work with Democrats, it's a different state, a more liberal state it was the best I could do is essentially his argument as a conservative. And I wouldn't do it nationally. He makes the case he would on day one issue waivers to all 50 states if they wanted to get out of Obama care. That's a liability for Governor Romney. One of your leading Republican candidates.

Social Security, Governor Perry had to know about this was coming up. He talked about in his book, he thinks it's unconstitutional. He thinks the federal government had no right to impose a national mandated retirement program. So, you have both leading candidates, Governor Perry the nominal front-runner at moment, with significant vulnerabilities. The distinction here is, yes, Social Security will be a vulnerability for Governor Perry within the Republican primaries; much more of a general election issue. The health care issues a huge vulnerability with Governor Romney in a Republican audience, probably not so much in a general election environment.

BORGER: And you know, Wolf, I'm going to be interested to watch in the debate, in our debate, whether Perry tries to kind of walk back, or more fully explain this notion of Social Security being a Ponzi scheme, because he's gotten himself in kind of a box here. Because if he does try and alter his position in any way, shape or form people are going to say that he's just another politician who changes his views when they're unpopular. And Mitt Romney was charged with doing that in the last presidential race. So but if he sticks firm on it, and tries to talk about how it's a Ponzi scheme, again, he also gets himself in some political hot water. So it will be interesting to see how he responses to any questions he may get from you on Social Security.

KING: Wolf, you're moderating this debate. In one of the states, where this would be a critical, pivotal, general election issue because of the demographics.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of seniors, not only in Florida but a lot of seniors in Iowa as well.

Guys, thanks very much. Gloria and John will be with us throughout this entire buildup to the Monday night debate and the aftermath, as well. Don't forget, the Republican presidential candidates debate here in Tampa, Florida, Monday night. I'll be the moderator. CNN hosts the debate with the Tea Party Express and several Tea Party groups here in Tampa. Monday night, 8:00 p.m., Eastern, only here on CNN.

On board one of the world's most famous planes; we're talking about Air Force One. The pilot tells us about shuttling President Bush around the country after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.

And my one-on-one interview with Dick Cheney, with thousands of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, does he have any, any regrets.


BLITZER: Eight and a half years after the controversial invasion of Iraq, the former Vice President Dick Cheney is sticking to his guns about the war and the overall regard of the administration. He has a new book out. I sat down with him this week in Los Angeles for an in- depth interview.


BLITZER: We asked our followers on Twitter, on Facebook, for questions for you, and a lot of them, I'm not -- I'll give you one, though, from Ken Blevins. Mr. Vice President, the current fatality count in Iraq is 4,474, the cost to the U.S. is climbing over $800 billion -- I think it's more than that. That being said, has it been worth it so far in your opinion?


BLITZER: No doubt about it?

CHENEY: No doubt about it.

BLITZER: Even though the current regime in Iraq is moving closer towards Iran, which arguably may be the biggest strategic winner in this whole U.S. involvement in Iraq than the United States?

CHENEY: Look at what happened here. When we went in and took down Saddam Hussein, first of all, we got rid of one of the worst dictators in the world when he was tried and convicted and ultimately executed. Secondly, when we went in, we have got the rudiments of a democracy now established in Iraq, it's not perfect by any means, they've got major problems, got to overcome as they move forward.

BLITZER: It's alliance that they're developing with Iran is not concerning to you?

CHENEY: They have a major amount of work to do, without question. Third proposition, in terms of what happened, Moammar Gadhafi saw what we did and five days after we captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Gadhafi became public and coughed up all of his nuclear materials, his uranium centrifuges, his uranium feed stock, the weapons designed he acquired from A.Q. Khan in Pakistan, who was running a black market to nuclear operation to Libya, to Iraq, and to North Korea --

BLITZER: But, I'm concerned --

CHENEY: There were a lot of things of what we did in Iraq that were very positive, that had to happen, we're much better off today with Saddam Hussein gone. You have Gadhafi gone, you have neither Iraq or Libya in the nuclear business. You have A.Q. Khan, the outfit that was supplying them out of business, we shut down their operation. So we got a lot done. We didn't get it all done but we got a lot done.

BLITZER: But I'm concerned that when all of the dust settles in Iraq, and the U.S. troops pull out, supposedly by the end of the year, although there may be a residual number of some troops left -- they're negotiating that -- when all of the dust settles the Shiite-led regime in Iraq of Nouri Al Maliki will be a partner of Iran and Syria, for that matter. In recent days, Nouri Al Maliki's government supported Bashir al Assad in his crackdown on peaceful protestors in Syria, together with the Iranians. One of the few countries to do that.

Is that why U.S. went to war so that Iraq would become a strategic partner of Bashar al Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

CHENEY: First you constructing a worst-case scenario there, Wolf. I don't think it's going to happen.

BLITZER: You think there's going to be a democracy, and a pro- American government in Iraq? CHENEY: I think the Iraqis will in fact be somebody we can work with on a regular basis. That they will have a rudimentary democracy, if you will, and I think it will be a success. We'll have to see.

BLITZER: When they support al Assad, what goes through your mind?

CHENEY: I think Bashir al Assad is not long for this world either. Looks to me like he's on his way out because of the unrest that has been occasioned by his own people inside Syria. He's one of the least popular leaders in that part of the world. It is the Middle East. And stuff happens in the Middle East. You know it. You've covered it for years. I don't think you can make a case that the world would be better off today if Saddam Hussein were in still in power.

BLITZER: No regrets about Iraq?

CHENEY: I think we made exactly the right decisions.

BLITZER: Afghanistan? No regrets about Afghanistan, the way it's unfolded? Do you think that is going to have a happy ending when the dust settles?

CHENEY: I think so, it's worth our doing everything we can to get it to have a positive outcome.

BLITZER: What did you think when you heard that President Obama succeeded in killing bin Laden, after all of the years you and President Bush and your administration tried unsuccessfully to kill him, he succeeded?

CHENEY: I thought it was great. I made a public statement to that effect. Congratulated him on it. I'm also convinced, based in part on some of the folks I still talk with in the government, that a lot of the work we did through the intelligence community and with our special operations forces in that period of time, during Bush administration, laid the groundwork ultimately for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. I think it was an effort that our career people in the intelligence and the military deserve a lot of credit for. I gave President Obama credit for sending in SEAL Team 6. He had to make the decision at last minute.

BLITZER: A gutsy decision on his part.

CHENEY: It would not have happened if it wouldn't have been all of the work done for years by the CIA, by our intelligence community, by our special ops forces.

BLITZER: The criticism of the Bush administration you had bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. You took your eye off the ball, started focusing in on Iraq and let bin Laden escape?

CHENEY: I don't buy that bull.

BLITZER: Did you have him cornered in Tora Bora?

CHENEY: I think we got a lot of Monday morning quarterback going on saying this is what happened in Tora Bora. I don't believe it.

BLITZER: Did you know that he was cornered in Tora Bora at the time? Were you getting those daily reports?


BLITZER: Nobody told you about that?

CHENEY: No. We had major effort under way to take down the Taliban, which we did. We were successful. Bin Laden, obviously, was high on our list. People wanted to get our hands on. We weren't able to capture him and he survived for several more years.

But the steps we took, including, I think, things like enhanced interrogation techniques, made it possible for us ultimately to provide the intelligence that was required to take down Bin Laden. And I think our guys who worked on hard on that in both administrations deserve the credit.


BLITZER: Former vice president Dick Cheney speaking with me earlier in the week in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, President Obama's jobs plan, certain to be a hot issue when the Republican hopefuls gather here in Tampa. I'll be moderating Monday's Republican presidential debate right here on CNN.

And ahead, George W. Bush looks back at the day that changed his presidency and changed America.


BLITZER: When America was attacked on 9/11, President George W. Bush was in Florida, there was a desperate scramble to fly him to a safe location at a time when no one knew what was safe and what wasn't. As the Bush administration drew to a close, I spoke about that dramatic day with now-retired U.S. Air Force One pilot Colonel Mark Tillman.

I begun by asking about those desperate hours after the terrorists struck.


BLITZER: You learned a lot, I assume, on 9/11. Let's go back to that day. September 1th, 2001, it started off as a normal day in Florida, but then what happened?

COL. MARK TILLMAN (RETIRED), FORMER AIR FORCE ONE PILOT: It was -- Sarasota, Florida, intent was we had been in Jacksonville earlier the day prior. We were to depart Sarasota. As the first plane hit the towers, we started the - the com started coming live on the aircraft.

Everybody on our aircraft, we were at the plane pre-flighting. We started getting information that there had been a terrible accident in New York City. We started seeing it on the television. And at that point, we just started working with the staff, getting more and more information as to the amount of planes hijacked, where the planes were, and then it slowly started working into getting the president back to Washington, D.C., as soon as possible.

And then as the scenario started to unfold, we realized getting him back home wasn't the answer right away. We needed to move him around in the country to figure out exactly what the entire -- what the entire plot was to make sure that the president wasn't part of that, that he wasn't the next target of the day, as such.

BLITZER: As a result, you made that decision. You're not going to go from Florida right back to Washington, you had to call inaudible and go someplace else talk about that.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. When we left Sarasota, our intent was to head back to Washington, at least get him on to the east coast, land him somewhere so he could be close to Washington once we got the all-clear and it was safe, to get him back in.

The problem is at the time, there are many airliners that were still flying in the United States, at that time airliners that were hijacked, sadly, they had been taken over and we were unsure of other airliners.

So the FAA was constantly giving us information. The president was in full contact with everyone he needed at the White House, the vice president, et cetera. So he was getting information channelled to him here on Air Force One. So as a threat scenario would develop, we would counter it. So the concern was that we may be a target

So I took him out into the Gulf of Mexico just because there were no airliners out in the gulf and we started working to find a location so that he could land and address the nation. And let them know that, you know, what the status of the nation was, it was my understanding.

BLITZER: How long could you have stayed in the air, if necessary? What kind of capability without aerial refuelling?

TILLMAN: On that day, we took off with a little over seven hours worth of gas. So I basically I could have taken him anywhere in the United States and landed. But the first location, Barksdale Air Force Base, once we landed we filled the plane up with gas. So I had 14 hours worth of gas. So I could have taken him halfway around the world.

BLITZER: That was in Louisiana.

TILLMAN: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Bt the way, do you have the capability, does Air Force One, this 747, have the capability for aerial refuelling?

TILLMAN: Yes, it does.

BLITZER: Has it ever happened? TILLMAN: We have not. We have not air refuelled with the president on board, we have not.

BLITZER: If necessary, you could have?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. We're trained, and the plane's ready to handle if necessary.

BLITZER: All right, so you refuel first and then what happens?

TILLAN: After Barksdale then we're waiting to get the all-clear from Washington. So my goal was to take him to locations that I knew had underground capability because we still weren't sure what the entire plot was against the president.

We all just assumed that since we had the president, there was an excellent chance that he was part of some kind of plot to harm him or the staff. So when I took him to the next stop was off an Air Force Base in Nebraska, the goal to get him underground so everybody could figure out what need to be done.

And he no sooner got underground, talking with the military leadership, and then he decided to come back. He came back on the plane and we rushed him back to Washington, D.C., at that point.

BLITZER: You flew right back right here to Andrews Air Force Base.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. Came right back across the country as fast as we could go. We had fighter support throughout the day. They all joined up on us and they escorted us into the Washington area.

BLITZER: F-15s, F-16s?

TILLMAN: We had F-16s from his guard unit. When the president's guard unit in Houston, went over the Gulf of Mexico, the fighters joined up on us. Houston Center basically at that point told us that the airspace was ours. So we were just flying with F-16s on our wing, and they were protecting us.

BLITZER: Was that the most nerve wracking day in your history as a pilot?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. Just because there was no -- we had no what. We've been all trained for different emergencies for the president and just no one ever had ever trained for the fact that the country, it sounds kind of bad, but the country was in chaos at that point.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, there is another plane. I guess, they call it the doomsday plane, for continuity of government to get the top leadership out of the United States, up in the skies. That has nothing to do with Air Force One.

TILLMAN: It does not, no.

BLITZER: Are you familiar with that plane?

TILLMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I don't know what you can tell us about it. What would be the scenario that would get that plane to take off?

TILLMAN: There are a lot of emergency action operations for the president that are still as expected sensitive and classified. So I really can't talk about what their mission would be.

My mission is basically to keep him safe, get him to different locations to ensure that continuity of government remains the same, and as far as the Doomsday machine or the E-4, their mission is, well -- basically in the press as well.

Their mission is well, also, continuity of government also, but the interrelation between us is all sensitive and classified.

BLITZER: Would the president of the United States be aboard that other plane?

TILLMAN: On September 11th, he could do everything he needed on Air Force One. So the goal was to keep him on this aircraft and still maintain the continuity of government, we were able to do that.

BLITZER: Was there ever any consideration to using the other plane?

TILLMAN: To us the E-4?


TILLMAN: No, there wasn't because he was able to accomplish -- basically once he got on here, we were able to establish the com links we needed and he was running the country from Air Force One.


BLITZER: Amazing, amazing day indeed. Also coming up, an unprecedented and emotional interview with former President George W. Bush. How the former president reacted to those first horrific moments of 9/11.

And how sports helped heal New Yorkers. The role of the city's professional athletes in the wake of the terror attacks.


BLITZER: On this 9/11 10th anniversary, much of the world is remembering the sheer horror of that day, including the man at the helm when the disaster occurred. President George W. Bush. Here's CNN's Becky Anderson.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: September 11th was a monumental day in our nation's history. It was a significant day, obviously it changed my presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two planes flew into the two towers, a smaller plane into the north tower.

BUSH: I went from being a president that was primarily focused on domestic issues to a wartime president. Something I never anticipated, nor something I ever wanted to be.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We have seen many times George W. Bush's reaction in a Florida classroom to news that America was under attack.

But only now, 10 years later, has the former U.S. president revealed in inmate detail how events unfolded that day. He knew before entering the school that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

BUSH: First, I thought it was a light aircraft. My reaction was, man, either the weather was bad or something extraordinary happened to the pilot.

ANDERSON: But then, the second plane hit.

BUSH: In the back of the classroom, there's a full press corps and staffers and some adults and I'm intently listening to the lesson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These words, get ready.

BUSH: And I felt the presence behind me. And Andy Card's Massachusetts accent was whispering in my ear, a second plane has hit the second tower, America is under attack.

ANDERSON: The unprecedented interview secured by journalist and documentarian, Peter Schnall.

PETER SCHNALL, GEORGE W. BUSH DOCUMENTARIAN: We wanted to give the president a chance to speak to those horrific days in September, you know, days that changed his presidencies and we wanted him to do it in a man that was personal, that was in-depth, and that would speak to those events perhaps in a way that we haven't heard before.

They agreed to the format. They agreed to the matter in which we could conduct the interview, and that would be just one-on-one, the president sitting, you know, right across from me and we just talked for almost five hours over the course of two days.

ANDERSON (on camera): What struck you most about what he said?

SCHNALL: What struck me the most was that during those hours, the days of 9/11, the president was overwhelmed by the events, overwhelmed in the sense that certainly in the first few hours of September 11th they didn't know who the enemy was.

They didn't know if there were more attacks about to happen. So he spoke about the fact that he was journeying through the fog of war, which I thought was a very interesting and powerful thing for a president to speak about.

ANDERSON: Do you think he remains troubled by that period? SCHNALL: We could see, in the interview that the president was very taken by the events on that day. Obviously, it was a day that will forever be, you know, the center from which his presidency changed. He was very emotional.

He talked a few times about decisions that he had to make. Remember now, he's not in Washington. He's literally flying across the country. They are literally running from an unknown enemy and they're having to make decisions at 40,000 feet in Air Force One.

And he talked about some of the decisions he had to make, for example, ordering the air force to shoot down commercial planes that had not responded to the FAA demand to land. And those were decisions that he had to make, and they troubled him then and I think they still trouble him now.

He talked about the fact that when Flight 93 went down in the fields of Pennsylvania, remember he's still on Air Force One, and the communication was not as good as it was supposed to have been. He talked about that they weren't sure if that plane had gone down because of his order to shoot down commercial planes.

ANDERSON (voice-over): The other key decision that day amounted to what has been a lingering war on terror.

BUSH: Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.

ANDERSON: That hunt culminated on May 2nd this year with the death of Osama Bin Laden. Coincidentally, it came as Schnall was preparing to interview the former president who has never commented on the assassination.

SCHNALL: He told us he was sitting in a restaurant in Dallas when the secret service told him that President Obama wanted to speak to him. He then learned about the assassination. He said to us certainly that there was no sense of jubilation, certainly no sense of happiness. If anything, he felt that finally there was a sense of closure.

ANDERSON (on camera): Did you get the sense that the former President George W. Bush has any regrets?

SCHNALL: You know, that's an interesting question. As we often ask the people that we're interviewing, you know, is there anything you would do again, is there anything that you regret, he looked at me and said, "I hate that damn question."

He did not ever use the word "regret." He did not ever say that he would have done anything differently. He did say in the interview quite clearly that he made decisions, decisions that were controversial, and they still are controversial.

I mean, look, we're still living through the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those decisions that they made in September will forever have changed our life and the world today.


BLITZER: Emotional day indeed. And this note, CNN will have live coverage of all of the 9/11 remembrance ceremonies tomorrow, beginning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

After 9/11, many of New York's professional athletes found themselves playing a new role, no longer hitting home runs, but instead helping heal their hometown.


BLITZER: New York's professional athletes, the Mets, Yankees, Giants, 9/11 brought a temporary time-out for sports and a time to pitch in for their beloved city. CNN's Mary Snow reports.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the unthinkable happened on September 11, it was the routine that suddenly became hard to imagine. New York's professional athletes whose lives are normally very regimented found themselves searching for purpose. They didn't have to look far.

JOE TORRE, MANAGER, 2001 NEW YORK YANKEES: As the New York Yankees, we had a responsibility, and that was to represent the city of New York, not necessarily the New York Yankees, but the city of New York.

SNOW (on camera): All of New York's teams felt a sense of responsibility. Players visited families and armories where they were looking for loved ones. They came to visit firehouses like this one and police stations, and some made their way to ground zero to try and help first responders.

JOHN FRANCO, RELIEVER, 2001 NEW YORK METS: We were down there looking at them, and we were just thanking them for the job that they were doing. You know, we wanted to get in and help. Obviously we couldn't.

AMANI TOOMER, RECEIVER, 2001 NEW YORK METS: It was very strange for them to thank us because we hadn't done anything. And we were going down there to work, and for them to thank us, we couldn't understand why.

SNOW (voice-over): Shea Stadium, home to the Mets in 2001, became a staging area for supplies taken to ground zero. Then-manager Bobby Valentine spent days loading trucks as well as visiting the site.

BOBBY VALENTINE, MANAGER, 2001 NEW YORK METS: I remember, one of the guys taking off his t-shirt and taking off his hat and asking if we would wear those in remembrance of some of his lost buddies.

SNOW: The team did just that. On September 17, the Mets played their first game following the attacks and they wore caps representing New York's bravest and finest.

VALENTINE: The idea of the awareness that these heroes and these fallen heroes and these heroes who are alive were recognized in -- on the national stage, I thought that that was a great piece of healing.

SNOW: Valentine won't ever forget when the team returned home to play in New York and the dramatic home run that won that first game.

VALENTINE: There were people crying in the stands. They weren't crying because they were met fans and we took a lead on the archrival braves. They were crying because they actually felt normalcy again.

SNOW: Days later, the Yankees returned to New York's Yankee stadium and as fans sang "God Bless America" that night, the seventh inning stretch felt anything but routine.

DEREK JETER, SHORTSTOP, 2001 NEW YORK YANKEES: In that first game back, it was 9:11 on the clock. It was "God Bless America." That's kind of -- it was kind of an eerie feeling to look up and see that.

SNOW: In games that followed, victims' spouses and children were honored at stadiums daily.

TOOMER: You realize how insignificant and small what we were doing was, but how big it was to New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a couple of hours, we made everybody forget. We felt it was our duty to do that.

SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: An emotional moment for all of us, indeed, 10 years ago this weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN and at this time, every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.