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News | Sept. 11, 2015

This Day in History: Sept. 11, 2001

By DIA History Office

On Sept. 11, 2001, a mild, sunny, morning in New York City and Washington, D.C., Al-Qaeda terrorists launched an unprecedented attack against the United States. That morning, they hijacked four passenger airliners. Two were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third struck the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a fourth crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Penn. The attacks killed more than 3,000 people.

The strike at the Pentagon was a defining event for the Defense Intelligence Agency. American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, hit the west wall of the Pentagon on the first floor at 9:37 a.m. It proceeded diagonally through the building, setting off a chain of explosions as it ripped through the interior walls. All 64 people aboard the plan died; 125 people inside the Pentagon were killed, and over 100 were hospitalized. Flight 77 crashed through office spaces occupied by 70 DIA employees, killing seven of them, all of whom worked for DIA's Office of the Comptroller: Rosa Maria Chapa, Sandra Foster, Robert Hymel, Shelley Marshall, Patricia Mickley, Charles Sabin, and Karl Teepe.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, DIA employees at the Pentagon searched the burning office spaces for their friends and colleagues. Others helped relocate young children to a safer location, some of whom were still in their cribs after a rushed evacuation of the building. "It was like walking into hell," recalled one employee.

With smoke pouring into his office, then-DIA Director Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson helped orchestrate the agency's response from the National Military Command Center and National Military Joint Intelligence Center, both located within the building. Wilson had to balance the difficult tasks of providing intelligence to national leadership and accounting for all DIA employees.

Across the Potomac River at the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center (known now as DIA Headquarters), DIA employees could see smoke billowing from the Pentagon. Non-essential personnel were ordered to conduct a phased evacuation, while many other personnel stayed behind to funnel intelligence to Wilson and his staff. The director was undaunted. The day after the attack he told DIA personnel, "We will pull together ... to get the job done." In the days and months that followed, he reconstituted DIA operations, personally supported the families of the dead and injured, and grieved with his employees at the tragedy that had befallen the agency.