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Condoleezza Rice: I told Bush not to come back after 9/11

Condoleezza Rice has revealed that she shouted at President George Bush and banned him from returning to Washington to run the country in the chaotic few hours following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Roughly 30 minutes after terrorists flew a second hijacked airliner into the World Trade Centre in New York, Ms Rice, then the National Security Adviser, became involved in a heated exchange with President Bush when he telephoned to announce plans to fly back to the White House, which at the time was still considered a potential terrorist target, to take control of the unfolding security crisis.

She told him several times to remain in the comparative safety of Florida, where he'd been visiting a school at the time of the attacks. When President Bush attempted to over-rule her, Ms Rice responded by shouting at him. Before he could further argue the toss, she promptly ended the call.

"The President got on the phone and he said: 'I'm coming back'," she recalled, in an interview for a British documentary. "I said: 'You cannot come back here. The United States of America is under attack, you have to go to safety. We don't know what is going on here'. He said: 'I'm coming back'."

"I said: 'You can't'. I said to him in a raised voice, and I had never raised my voice to the President before, 'You cannot come back here'. I hung up. The President was quite annoyed with me to say the least. I've known the President a long time and I knew that he wanted nothing more than to be there at the helm of the ship."

The comments by Ms Rice, which will be aired in Channel Four documentary 9/11: State of Emergency on Saturday, provide an intriguing insight into the circumstances surrounding President Bush's immediate response to the 2001 terrorist attack, which at the time were mocked by his opponents.

As Michael Moore famously documented in his film Fahrenheit 9/11, Mr Bush was informed of the first plane hitting the World Trade Centre when he was on his way to visit a Florida elementary school. Shortly afterwards, an aide told him that a second plane had hit the World Trade Centre, and that the US was "under attack". His immediate response was to read a book called The Pet Goat to a group of schoolchildren for nearly seven minutes.

While the President was prevaricating, it now emerges that fear and chaos were developing in the bunker beneath the White House where Ms Rice had retreated with Vice President Dick Cheney and most of their staff.

Communications systems were failing, forcing staff to use unsecured phone lines to organise their response to the disaster, she claims. "There were so many people in the bunker that the oxygen levels started dropping, and the secret service came in and said 'we've got to get some people out of here'," Rice recalled. "They literally went around telling people they weren't essential and they had to leave."