Fear of Flying

Why did Ashcroft stop flying commercial only weeks before 9-11?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Like most of the Bush cabinet, Attorney General John Ashcroft took commercial jets when he traveled. But on July 24, 2001, he changed that practice and began flying in chartered government jets. Asked by CBS News at the time about the change, the Justice Department cited a "threat assessment" by the FBI and said Ashcroft had been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term. "There was a threat assessment, and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines," an FBI spokesman said. But as CBS went on to report, "Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected, or who made it." A "senior official" at the CIA said he wasn't aware of specific threats against any cabinet member, and Ashcroft himself declared, "I don't do threat assessments myself, and I rely on those whose responsibility it is in the law enforcement community, particularly the FBI. And I try to stay within the guidelines that they've suggested I should stay within for those purposes." When asked if he knew details of the threat or who might have made it, Ashcroft said, "Frankly, I don't. That's the answer."

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  • The Justice Department did say that it wasn't Ashcroft who wanted to fly in leased airplanes, but that it was the idea of his FBI security detail. The FBI had no comment. All other Bush cabinet members flew on commercial airliners, save for the secretaries of Energy and the Interior when they traveled to remote areas. Janet Reno, Clinton's attorney general, traveled by commercial jets.

     
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