Leaders Reflect on 9/11
There are certain events that make a lasting impression. Those that witnessed the horrific catastrophe on September 11th, 2001 will never forget, just as past generations never forgot about Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination. Almost everyone can remember where they were and how they felt that day. American Thinker interviewed former policy makers, legislators, law enforcement officials, and intelligence experts as they reflect back ten years later.
Vice-President Dick Cheney
The former VP wanted the prologue to his book, In My Time, to be "a snapshot of that particular day. Any drama is built in because those are the kinds of events we had to deal with on 9/11. Losing 3000 people was an act of war and we were all of a sudden a wartime administration."
A lesson to be learned is that the enhanced interrogation gained actual intelligence. The former Vice-President wants Americans to know that the reports of waterboarding have been over-blown since only three people were ever water boarded and the focus was on "KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), the mastermind of 9/11 who openly said he was responsible for putting together the attack that killed 3000 Americans. It produced dramatic results. We got intelligence we could not have gotten any other way. It has been enormously valuable in saving lives. If I had to do it all over again I would do exactly the same thing."
He wants Americans to understand that the US needs to be prepared to do what is necessary. Citing a recent report that quoted A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani Nuclear Program, Vice-President Cheney is issuing a word of caution. He is very concerned that the report quoted Khan alleging that the North Koreans were able to "acquire technology needed to enrich uranium for the purpose of building nuclear weapons by bribing senior Pakistani officials. Now we are in that arena where you can buy off senior officials from countries or militaries that have the technology. Others can then acquire the technology, pass it on, and sell it to somebody else."
For Cheney, the War on Terror continues and "the US needs to be prepared to do what we have to do in order to protect the nation and our people which means taking out the terrorists before they can launch further strikes against us."
Michael Hayden, former CIA Director
He experienced a mixture of shock, anger, and resolve on that day; yet, felt "blessed as well since I was in a position to actually do something about it. What changed between Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 was our imagination."
A decade has passed and he believes that Americans are safer today because of a cohesiveness of policies implemented in both the Bush and Obama Administrations: the killing or capturing of terrorist leaders and reducing Al Qaeda's ability to conduct the spectacular attacks through renditions, predator attacks, military commissions, indefinite detentions, as well as supporting legislation such as the Patriot Act and limits on which members of Congress the President must brief regarding covert actions.
Hayden emphasized that the intelligence approach has allowed for "the ability to adapt by changing responses as the threats changed. What is important to me is having first shot at the terrorists for intelligence purposes. By far the most important is to initially treat them as combatants and as intelligence assets." Another lesson learned is that decisions such as the Bush interrogation policy should never be over politicized because "changing circumstances require changing our responses. Intelligence work never comes at you at right angles or is completely black and white; it is always grey. Good people have to make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances."
His message to Americans ten years later is that "sooner or later one of these attacks will succeed. We can't overreact. Our response cannot be greater than Al Qaeda is able to create. If there is an attack it will be less complicated, less well organized, and less lethal. Sooner or later something will happen which does not necessarily indicate something has failed. We must remember we are dealing with a learning, adaptive enemy. Instead of fixing blame we must make the needed adjustments."
Fran Townsend, former Homeland Security Advisor
She was personally affected on September 11th since a dear friend, John O'Neill, a former New York FBI counter-terrorism supervisor, died during the collapse of the World Trade Center. Townsend remembers trying him on his cell phone, receiving a page back saying he was ok, and assuming he went back into the buildings to help rescue people.
The lesson she wants to convey to Americans is that a lot of progress has been made, making Al Qaeda less lethal and less potent. She believes many of the great successes occurred on the tactical side including degrading Al Qaeda's capability and denying them territory. However, "we cannot get complacent. The Arabian Peninsula is a short reminder. We must be diligent since they are still intent on killing Americans. Let's not relegate it to the history books yet."
Townsend feels strongly that, "On this tenth anniversary as people look back and reflect on that day we try to recapture some of our ferocious determination. We took enormous inspiration from those smoking piles where men and woman died. I am hoping on this anniversary American inspiration is rekindled by the memory."
John Yoo worked in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel where he played a significant role in developing a legal justification for the Bush Administration's policy in the war on terrorism
As he watched events unfold he thought that America is now at war because of "the level of attack, what was attacked, and the level of violence. Since I viewed it as a war and not a criminal enterprise we would need all our available resources including intelligence and the military."
For Yoo, the most important lesson learned was that the interrogation methods worked because there has not been another successful attack, and points out that going ten years without another attack was highly unlikely. Furthermore, since the war is about terrorism, not between nation states, past rules such as the Geneva Convention do not apply.
His latest book, Confronting Terror, shows different perspectives and opinions regarding the War on Terror. He explained, "Our country was made to re-think fundamental issues on the nature of war and how to fight it."
Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida
His first thoughts were of his family and their safety. After finding out all were safe he eventually spoke with the President, his brother, and told him "I am praying for you to remain strong. My brother knew what he had to do, did it decisively, and did his job well." His next thought was that the World Trade Center was a center of commerce so calls went out to everyone in charge of high profile symbols including the CEO of Disney and the Director of NASA.
He found it "very disturbing that Florida had a connection to the terrorist attacks." Since many of the terrorists learned to fly in Florida, state laws were changed. The new requirements included proof of citizenship or residency to obtain a driver's license. He wants Americans to understand that there is a need to accept additional security as a means of protection.
What he also finds distasteful is that there are those in the Obama Administration that do not recognize that "my brother did what he thought was right. Once President Obama had all the facts he modified his policies to make the country safe which is admirable. Coincidentally it happens to be policies my brother adopted. A little tip of the hat might be nice. I don't think the President and his team benefit from pushing someone else down to make yourself look better, distorting a little bit of the truth, or forgetting parts of history."
Pete Hoekstra, the former Congressional ranking member of the Intelligence Committee
He describes September 11th as one of the darkest days "in America's history. I got this deep pit in my stomach as we were evacuating our offices. I saw the tremendous anxiety, fear, and uncertainty in people's faces." Initially my thoughts were that "we did not do a very good job of recognizing the threat of the radical Jihadists. This was not helped by our intelligence community being gutted over the years."
An important lesson for Hoekstra is that America must be prepared and expect the unexpected. He feels the intelligence community is equipped to take the fight to the radical Jihadists.
What worries him daily is that Al Qaeda still has capabilities and the threat is still real. There are radical extremists in Iran, Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern Africa, and possibly with regimes coming to power after the 'Arab Spring.' He wants Americans to remember, "We are up against people who are very creative."
Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee
As he approached the Capital steps to attend a press conference with all the members of Congress he had an eerie feeling and "will never forget the image of military vehicles driving across our Capital streets."
The lessons to be learned included that America was vulnerable. Another lesson is that the media and political figures should not play Monday morning quarterback with the decision to use enhanced interrogation since "the harsh interrogation was used on the hardest, hard core terrorists who would not hesitate to slit our throats. It was done to save lives."
Going forward he wants Americans to understand that the terrorists are still interested in obtaining WMDs either from Libya, Syria, or acquiring them on the black market. He warns that "Americans need to be vigilant since government changes in the Middle East can lead to these weapons be given to the wrong people."
For him, a success story from 9/11 is that the intelligence community had adapted by "changing the way they approach the fight against terrorism. Our intelligence folks get up every day trying to figure out how to stop those whose sole purpose in life is to plan, conduct, or facilitate an operation to kill Americans."
Former FBI And Intelligence Officials
William Bratton, former New York City Police Commissioner and Los Angeles Police Chief now known as "Chairman Kroll"
He was living in New York City on 9/11. His first thoughts were "shock, and trying to understand what it was all about."
After he became LAPD Chief, in 2002, his top priority was to expand the counter-terrorism unit from 50 officers to over 300. Other priorities included the creation of the first Fusion Center, which became a model for the country, and the Suspicious Activity Reporting System. These programs were very helpful in preventing domestic terrorist attacks.
He wants Americans to know the next wave of attacks can come from a self-radicalized American, a lone wolf, or someone motivated by anti-government feelings. Unfortunately, there is "no shortage of ways Americans can be attacked whether using an AK-47 or crashing a small plane in a crowded area such as Times Square. This is a work in progress. It is not so much if there will be other attacks but when. We must not be complacent and must work together, business, government, and communities, to make a difference. "
Bill Harlow, former CIA Spokesman as well as a High Ranking former CIA official
Both were at CIA Headquarters and were transferred to a small building where a secure situation room was set up. They had similar feelings as Hayden: anger and resolve.
The former officials believe Americans are still vulnerable to a smaller scale attack motivated by radical individuals and small groups. "As a country we have to be resilient, vigilant, and not play the blame game since we have to be correct 100% of the time and the bad guys need only to be right once."
A decade later they want Americans to remember, "that awful feeling they had on 9/11 and the prevailing mood that we should do whatever is necessary to prevent a repeat. The finger pointing at each other needs to stop and to understand that there were and may be in the future circumstances in which we need to use tougher interrogation."
Richard Marquise, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent
While stationed in Oklahoma City he heard the horrendous news and thought about his family living in the Washington area and of his son who worked at the Pentagon. It took him hours to discover that his family was safe.
His years of experience have drawn him to the conclusion that "Al Qaeda is weak but their ideas are still strong and resonate with many, particularly the young, disenfranchised, and those seeking a new 'way.' I am optimistic that law enforcement and the communities share information which has allowed us to prevent terrorist attacks."
He is confident that the "current generation of law enforcement and intelligence people remember 9/11 and will always do what is necessary to prevent another 9/11 from happening on their watch. They are driven by it. Personally, that is why I continue to teach and train state and local law enforcement on how to prevent terrorism."
Andrew McCarthy, former supervisor of the U.S. Attorney's Anti-Terrorism Command Post in New York City
As he watched the events unfold on his television his immediate reaction was that terrorists were attacking America. He became frustrated on the days following 9/11 since "all the communications were down. It was excruciating to watch. I tried to detach my emotions and rage as I was trying to prevent the next attack."
He feels the Bush Doctrine was extremely successful since it provided a way to win the War on Terror. He commented, "If you are an Al Qaeda terrorist you spend tomorrow worrying about your survival instead of thinking about how to strike the US. They have not succeeded because of the counterterrorism measures put into effect after 9/11."
An important lesson is to not have barriers in place that formed a 'wall' between the law enforcement side and the intelligence side. This created "us trying to play catch up and deal with the hear and now at the same time."
What he wants Americans to recognize is that "we need to have a good understanding of our priorities, the eradication of Al Qaeda and the rogue regimes such as Iran that support Jihadist terrorism around the world. The reason we have not been attacked is because captured and killed terrorists don't carry out attacks."
As 9/11 becomes relegated to the history books what should be remembered are the fortitude, unity, and Patriotism of Americans in the years shortly after the horrific event. A decade later the country has been kept safe due in part to the response and performance of the military and the security services. A former CIA operative summarized it best; "Americans must remain diligent since the Muslim extremists will target the United States for who we are and what we stand for: tolerance, liberty, and freedom."