As President Bush was shuttled from a school visit in Florida to secure locations in Louisiana and Nebraska, Mr. Cheney placed U.S. forces on alert around the world and ordered the Capitol evacuated and congressional and other leaders removed to safety.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Mineta claimed that he had ordered all civilian air traffic in U. S. airspace, about 4,500 aircraft, to land immediately. “I said, ‘Get the damn planes down,’” he told ABC News. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Mineta were widely praised as cool hands in the crisis.
But the 9/11 Commission, the bipartisan body set up by Congress to investigate the circumstances of the attacks, found that the unprecedented order to ground the aircraft was issued, on his own initiative, by Ben Sliney, the Federal Aviation Administration’s national operations manager, after hearing that the Pentagon had been hit. The order was executed with great skill and without incident by the air traffic control system, the commission said.
Ten days after the terrorist attacks, Mr. Mineta forbade all United States airlines from subjecting Middle Eastern or Muslim passengers to heightened degrees of preflight scrutiny. In a national mood of suspicion, the orders were widely violated, and enforcement was almost impossible. But several incidents led to charges and multimillion-dollar settlements.
In the months after the attacks, Mr. Mineta organized the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency responsible for air-travel safety. He mobilized efforts to upgrade airport security with new equipment to screen for weapons and explosives, and he ordered the training of 65,000 air marshals and ground inspectors to put these measures into effect.
He also increased security on rail and bus lines and in ports and coastal waters. The T.S.A. and the Coast Guard were shifted in 2003 to the new Department of Homeland Security.
There were no more air hijackings on Mr. Mineta’s watch. When he resigned in 2006, after five and a half years, he was the longest-serving secretary in his department’s 39-year history. Mr. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.