Willie Brown
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The story...

San Francisco mayor Willie Brown was warned not to fly on September 11th.

Our take...

Our first reaction is -- why? Brown wasn't due to fly out until 8am, San Francisco time, and was in no danger. Whoever called him plainly did not have detailed knowledge of the attacks.

Still, it's true, he did receive a call, some say by Condoleeza Rice (although no evidence is ever offered to support this beyond a claim that “Pacifica Radio said...”). If that were true then you might imagine it would have a serious effect, because it would be such an unprecedented event. And yet, Brown completely ignored it and decided to fly anyway.

...Brown didn't think about [the warning] again until he was up, dressed and waiting for his ride to the airport for an 8 a.m. flight to New York

This suggests to us that the call to Brown was nothing out of the ordinary, which, in fact, is exactly what he said:

The mayor, who was booked to fly to New York yesterday morning from San Francisco International Airport, said the call "didn't come in any alarming fashion, which is why I'm hesitant to make an alarming statement."

In fact, at the time, he didn't pay it much mind.

"It was not an abnormal call. I'm always concerned if my flight is going to be on time, and they always alert me when I ought to be careful."

Exactly where the call came from is a bit of a mystery. The mayor would say only that it came from "my security people at the airport."

Okay, maybe we can still grab onto that last part, or maybe ask why anyone should warn Brown at all. Could that indicate some kind of foreknowledge? Well, there is an alternative explanation.

"Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said yesterday that he was "startled" by a little-noticed State Department memo that was issued a week ago and warned that Americans "may be the target of a terrorist threat."

The memo, issued just four days before the attacks on New York and Washington, identified the threat as coming from "extremist groups with links to Osama bin Ladin's al Qaeda organization."

"I have not idea what intelligence lies behind the warning," Shultz said, ''but they put this out because they had some sort of intelligence."

Shultz, who served as secretary of state under President Reagan, said he received a copy of the Sept. 7 "worldwide warning" in his San Francisco office on the day before the fatal attacks. The memo addressed concerns for Americans overseas and made no mention of any possible attack on U.S. soil...

Officials at San Francisco International Airport said they weren't aware of the State Department warning - but someone in the airport security section knew of it and passed word of the warning onto Mayor Willie Brown when he called to check on the status of flight he was planning to take to New York.

So there was an earlier warning, nothing specific to an attack within the US, but people like Schultz were aware of it so there's no particular reason to be surprised that Brown was, too. Especially because, as we said, he was in no danger. Whoever warned him clearly didn't know what was going to happen, therefore it's difficult to see any significance to this event at all.

Update: September 2006 saw Brown commenting on his “warning”. The biggest change here is that he’s saying he called the airport, not the other way around:

Brown's warning: In the five years since 9/11, the question of how then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown got a warning about flying that day continues to live on in the blogosphere -- and conspiracy theories abound.

"The latest version is that Condoleezza Rice alerted me personally,'' Brown said this week. "It's all part of the ongoing myth."

The "myth" has its origins in the night before the attacks, when Brown called "my security people at the airport'' to check on his flight to New York the next morning.

What the mayor got from his source was a warning that Americans should be concerned about traveling.

Willie being Willie, he paid no attention -- and was actually waiting for his ride to the airport when he turned on the TV and, like millions of other Americans, watched as the World Trade Center crumbled.

Exactly how the warning popped up remains a mystery to this day.

It might have had something to do with a little-noticed State Department memo issued a week before that went out in a routine press briefing -- and that former Secretary of State George Shultz himself received -- warning that Americans may be the target of an attack from extremist groups "with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization."

The warning, however, dealt primarily with U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea -- clearly the wrong targets.


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