W.W. Norton, 567 pp, 2004
It's taken a few weeks, but I've read
this comprehensive and at times boring as dirt account of the terrorist
attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. I don't think it will be
last word on what happened that day and events leading up to it, but
it's a very good start.
It begins with the actual attack told
from several different points of view - passengers and crew on the
doomed planes, air traffic controllers, FAA officials, and NORAD and
military personnel. It also describes how the President and other
government officials were informed and how they responded. For example,
Bush knew before he entered the school that a commercial airliner had
crashed into one of the Twin Towers, but that's all the information he
had. Like myself and many others who first heard the news, he assumed it
was an accident.
After that first chapter, the report
presents an exhaustive history of al Qaeda, its attacks on U.S.
interests throughout the world before 9/11, and how the federal
government has dealt with it. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were
considered threats by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, but
neither could find effective solutions to take them out. Clinton and his
administration did make attempts, but never a serious and whole-hearted
The truth is, terrorism was not a high
priority for either administration before 9/11, for two reasons: The
U.S. homeland had not been attacked (the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
was considered done because its main perpetrators had been convicted)
and the American people didn't consider it a priority. Good or bad,
politicians rarely lead or shape public opinion. Instead, they follow
it, and they never got any serious pressure from the electorate to deal
with terrorism. September 11 changed all that.
So I don't fault Clinton or Bush for the
attacks or for not preventing them. The fault lies with bin Laden and
all terrorist SOBs who think it's acceptable to murder innocents, and in
the recent Russian case, schoolchildren.
The report also includes what the
commission thinks should be
done in the future, and not surprisingly for a bunch of former
politicians and bureaucrats, they want yet another layer of government
bureaucracy, headed by yet another bureaucrat, to coordinate and oversee
anti-terrorism activities. Before 9/11, several government agencies did
not communicate important information that may have uncovered some of
the plot. Sometimes information was communicated but it was not complete
or accurate. So this new government agency will make sure everyone gets
the same information.
That's nice. But I would take a different
approach. I would shrink government and reduce its activities so it can
concentrate on the important stuff, like killing terrorists. Get the
feds out of the retirement and care medical industries. Don't screw
around with local education. Don't waste time on pork projects and
spending programs. Get back to what you're supposed to - protect the
country. Maybe you'll start doing a better job of it.
There is a lot more that the Commission
recommends, but I'm not going to cover everything. Read it yourself and
make up your own mind. For me, the most valuable part of this report was
the blow-by-blow account of what happened that day. Three years later
and it's still chilling. It still pisses me of. It should do the same
for most folks.