While agreement reached on 9/11 museum.
President Obama visited the Pentagon to mark the anniversary of 9/11 Tuesday, saying, "This is never an easy day." Thousands gathered to mourn in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, construction will resume at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum after the museum and the Port Authority came to an agreement Monday. All work at the memorial was halted last year over disagreements about funding, financing, and oversight. The federal government also announced it will add cancer to the list of illnesses linked to 9/11—making many former Ground Zero workers eligible for financial compensation.
Immediately after 9/11, rumors emerged of someone who had ‘surfed’ the debris to safety. A Discovery Channel documentary on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy told the story of survivor Pasquale Buzzelli, who may or may not be the surfer.
When Pasquale Buzzelli regained consciousness on Sept. 11, 2001, the dust of what had once been the World Trade Towers still billowed over Manhattan and fires burned in the rubble of what had once been the skyline’s most striking features. Among the men and women who bravely climbed into the wreckage to find someone, anyone, who might have survived, the hope of pulling even one person out burned brighter. For a time that hope gave birth to rumors of miraculous things.
Among the most cinematic was that of a World Trade Center “surfer,” someone who had ridden fragments of the building down from the highest floors as it fell, and somehow escaped unscathed, or at least alive. It was a story that was in many ways a measure of what Americans wanted and needed to believe in the immediate aftermath of a disaster that defied comprehension.
On Tuesday night, the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary that showed the need to believe the miraculous had intruded on the tragic that day and has not dimmed by the passage of years. The hourlong film, titled The 9/11 Surfer and which promises to find out “what really happened” regarding this figure of urban myth, does little more than wrap the survival of one extremely fortunate man, Pasquale Buzzelli, in the garments of a story Americans always wanted to be true but that never quite panned out.
And while NBC’s Savannah Guthrie said on Today before the documentary aired that Buzzelli’s tale is a “survivor’s story that is just now being publicly told for the first time,” the tale of how Buzzelli endured the collapse and was discovered in the open air by firefighters had been told multiple times in prominent publications in the intervening years.
Neither Buzzelli nor the Discovery Channel returned requests by The Daily Beast for comment on the documentary.
According to the documentary, as well as other press accounts of Buzzelli’s activities that day, the 34-year-old Port Authority engineer made his way to work in the North Tower and exited the elevator onto the building’s 64th floor shortly after American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the structure. He and his fellow employees did not begin to evacuate the building until after the South Tower had collapsed at 9:59 a.m. Buzzelli made his way down stairwell B, one of the building’s three exit stairways. He had reached the 22nd floor, he says, when the building began to collapse. He threw himself against a wall and curled into the fetal position, then, after a brief freefall, blacked out. He woke up again three hours later, he said, atop the rubble of the tower.
By that account, Buzzelli had fallen to about the seventh story—a drop of 200 feet.
On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, former FBI agent Ali Soufan talks to John Avlon about the Obama administration approach to al Qaeda, how the invasion of Iraq opened ‘Pandora’s Box’—and what more the U.S. needs to do to win the war on terror.
Terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1 and on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it can be easy to forget that the terrorist’s war on us hasn’t stopped.
Ali Soufan, former FBI agent, security consultant and author, in Afghanistan in 2002.
The good news is that we have made measurable progress in this fight—not only with the elimination of bin Laden, but also with the more than 45 attempted jihadist plots foiled in the last 10 years.
The Obama administration’s strategic decision to intensely focus on the destruction of al Qaeda has proven especially effective to date, providing a useful contrast to the more unilateral, boots-on-the-ground approach of the Bush administration. This should inform our domestic debates.
And so on this anniversary, I spoke to Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent, security consultant, and author of the award-winning Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda to get his take on the Obama counterterror doctrine. How would he sum it up in a sentence?
“Total elimination of al Qaeda.” Soufan said. “They are hitting leaders of al Qaeda, and anyone who is known to be plotting against the United States. But at the same time they are trying to stop all the incubating factors that help terrorist recruitment, funding, P.R. and so forth. They are hitting them on different levels. A lot of people see the success of the drones … but the global partnerships that have been created have been effective—and that includes law enforcement, diplomacy, economic aid, educational programs, and definitely boots on the ground when needed, i.e., killing Osama bin Laden. So I think it's more comprehensive in nature.”
“We joke sometimes that Obama does a lot of the same tactics as George Bush, but he keeps his mouth shut,” Soufan says. “The Bush administration’s war on terror wasn't actually working because most of our allies around the world—including England, Germany, other European countries, and the Muslim world—did not have the same concept of the war on terror. So, it makes it difficult when you have a strategy that your partners are not buying into. No. 2, it was wrongfully viewed in the Muslim world as a war on Islam,” said Soufan.
Soufan clarified that he doesn’t “want to blame everything on the Bush administration. I think you have to put yourself in their shoes at the time. But the two things I disagree with the Bush administration on, the invasion of Iraq and EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), because it just created a lot of problems to our reputation around the world.”
A soldier whose firefighter father died saving others on 9/11 reminds us of the importance of always observing that dark anniversary, writes Michael Daly.
As we come to the 11th anniversary of 9/11, a Special Forces operator in Afghanistan on his sixth deployment has a standard signoff to his emails.
Robert Nickelsberg / AP Photo
“America is not at war. The U.S. military is at war. America is at the mall.”
Last year’s elaborate ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks carried an underlying sense that this was a milestone from which we were moving on. Nobody is talking about President Obama and the first lady coming to the memorial to observe the 11th anniversary.
But now is when we need our leaders to lead, to ensure that we remember and reflect on this date and only because we owe it to the thousands who were murdered at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard the downed plane in Pennsylvania. We also dare not forget because the war continues on, no matter how badly we want to put it behind us.
We still have enemies who spend every waking hour scheming of ways to blow up that mall of imagined peacetime.
'John Avlon, former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, leads a tour near Ground Zero.'
“They’re just regrouping,” says another soldier, a Special Forces sergeant who honors me by calling me Uncle Mickey and asks that he not be named for security reasons. “It’s obviously not over for them.”
Eleven years later al Qaeda is still a threat.
Eleven years after 9/11, al Qaeda is fighting back. Despite a focused and concerted American-led global effort—despite the blows inflicted on it by drones, SEALS, and spies—the terror group is thriving in the Arab world, thanks to the revolutions that swept across it in the last 18 months. And the group remains intent on striking inside America and Europe.
An attack in Kenya by the al Qaeda–affiliated Al-Shabab is a reminder, as the nation remembers 9/11, that the terror cell is mutating. (Getty Images (3))
The al Qaeda core in Pakistan has suffered the most from the vigorous blows orchestrated by the Obama administration. The loss of Osama bin Laden eliminated its most charismatic leader, and the drones have killed many of his most able lieutenants. But even with all these blows, bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still orchestrating a global terror network and communicating with its followers.
Most importantly, al Qaeda’s allies in Pakistan, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which attacked Mumbai in 2008, are under no pressure. They continue to enjoy the patronage of the Pakistani intelligence services. Lashkar-e-Taiba has a global network with cells in America, England, and the Persian Gulf. Just this summer, the Saudis arrested a key Lashkar operator planning a new mass-casualty attack and extradited him to India.
But it is in the Arabian Peninsula that al Qaeda is really multiplying. Its franchise in Yemen has staged three attacks on America, including one at Christmas in 2009—the infamous “underwear bomber—that almost succeeded in Detroit. Its brilliant Saudi bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, is alive and has trained a cadre of students. The Yemeni regime is weak, the country is spinning into chaos, and al Qaeda is exploiting it. Now the U.S. is using drones almost as much in Yemen as in Pakistan.
'John Avlon, former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, leads a tour near Ground Zero.'
The al Qaeda apparatus in Iraq, despite being decapitated several times, carries out waves of bombings every month. It has proven remarkably resilient. In North Africa, al Qaeda has allied itself with other Islamist extremists and taken over more than half of Mali, an area bigger than France. There it is training terrorists from Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, and elsewhere. It has raided Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenal and is armed and dangerous.
A new al Qaeda franchise has emerged in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where it is trying to provoke a war between Egypt and Israel. American troops in the multinational force keeping the 1979 peace treaty are at risk.
Mayor, governor squabble over price tag.
The loved ones of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, will go at least another year without a museum at Ground Zero as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo argue over who will pay for maintenance. The spat also includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who with Cuomo oversees the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site. Until the three can work out their differences, work is stalled on the museum to commemorate the lives lost in the terrorist attacks nearly 11 years ago.
One World Trade Center now rises to 1,271 feet, surpassing the Empire State Building as New York’s tallest building and symbolizing the city and the nation’s recovery from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Unnoticed by all but an observant few, a blackbird has been busily building a nest with twigs and grass and bits of plastic at the 9/11 memorial, even as the ironworkers have been no less busily erecting the new tower there with steel.
On April 30, 2012, the rising steel frame of One World Trade Center is expected to become the tallest building in New York City and in the Western Hemisphere (Don Emmert, AFP / Getty Images)
Her construction work in a tree at the edge of the south reflecting pool now seemingly done, the blackbird was settled upon the result early yesterday afternoon as her fellow builders on the other side of the memorial prepared to make One World Trade Center surpass the height of the Empire State Building.
Two steel columns lay ready at the new tower’s base, both emblazoned with “1271 Ft.” in big white letters, or 21 feet higher than the main structure of the iconic skyscraper uptown. A cop who had trained with SEAL Team 6 inscribed other numbers on the steel with a white marker.
The second inscribed date is largely forgotten by everybody save special forces operators and the families of the dead, in particular the widows, four of whom were pregnant when their husbands perished in the helicopter crash.
The first inscribed date is viewed as an anniversary of historic importance by almost everybody, most vocally by political operators of the commander in chief who ordered the raid that killed the murderous mastermind of 9/11.
Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s John Avlon on the significance of 1WTC’s historic rise.
The pear tree at the Sept. 11 memorial was among the last living things to be pulled out of the rubble. Michael Daly pays a spring visit and remembers those who died.
Nothing manmade at the Sept. 11 Memorial this week was remotely as stirring as the blooming of what has become known as the Survivor Tree.
The Survivor Tree, Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at the World Trade Center in New York (Mark Lennihan / AP Photos)
The tree is always a compelling sight for being the last living thing pulled from the smoking ruins and for having grown back from a charred and splintered stump to a full 30 feet.
But as a Callery pear, it is also one of the earliest trees to bloom and it has now done so for the first time since the memorial opened. The 225 other trees there are swamp white oaks that still stand stark as winter. The contrast makes the Survivor Tree’s flowering all the more startling; life renewed and continued in an already surprisingly early spring at a place of still unimaginable loss.
The delicate white blooms drew crowds of visitors around the tree on Thursday. They seemed to momentarily forget the rest of the memorial, many taking pictures and posing in turns. A woman turned to Port Authority Police Lt. John Ryan.
“Can you take a picture of us please?” she asked.
The woman handed Ryan her iPhone and stood with her family in front of the tree, smiling without seeming at all inappropriate in this place of still unimaginable loss. She then took the iPhone back and inspected the result.
“That’s beautiful,” she said.
Former lawmakers again stir suspicions that the hijackers had help. The evidence is murky, but critics believe that American investigators have not dug hard enough.
Since 2002, when former senator Bob Graham led the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) into the 9/11 attacks, he has insisted that members of the Saudi government played a role. But he’s had a hard time getting others to listen.
The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 (Robert Giroux / Getty Images)
“There’s no question in my mind that the Saudi government was involved in 9/11,” the Florida Democrat tells The Daily Beast. “But there’s still so much we don’t know. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to have lost interest.”
The issue was revived last month when The New York Times reported that Graham and former senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat from Nebraska, had given affidavits in an ongoing lawsuit against Saudi Arabia over compensation for families of the 9/11 victims. “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in the affidavit. In a separate affidavit, Kerrey said, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
In the weeks and months following 9/11, allegations that Saudi royals supported the suicide hijackers’ plot were investigated extensively by Newsweek and many other media outlets. In its final report, the 9/11 Commission, which is separate from the JICI, found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi individuals funded” the 9/11 terrorists.
Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, tells The Daily Beast, “We looked quite carefully at [possible Saudi involvement] and even sent investigators over there, and we found no hard evidence of any linkage to the hijackers. At the end of the day, you have to have hard evidence. Having said that, I will also say that despite our thorough investigation, a lot of questions about 9/11 remain unanswered.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Graham says, “The three primary questions that remain for me are: what was the extent of involvement by Saudi officials in 9/11, what was their motivation, and why has the U.S. government gone to such lengths to cover it up?”
Graham believes Washington should launch a new investigation that would attempt to answer these questions. He says the 9/11 Commission’s final report does not exonerate the Saudis, and insists that neither the media nor federal law enforcement ever got to the bottom of the plot.
Abdullah Azzam, an angry Palestinian almost unknown in the U.S. who inspired Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, was killed two decades ago, but his ideas won’t die.
The heart of the attack on America 10 years ago was a small cell of fanatics led by Mohammad Atta, the so-called emir of the Manhattan raid, who created the group among fellow Muslims living in Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1990s. The Hamburg cell was inspired by the father of modern Islamic terrorism, Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who still inspires attacks on America around the world but is virtually unknown to most Americans.
Abdullah Abu Azzam (AP Photo)
The Hamburg cell provided three of the four pilots who flew their hijacked aircraft into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania farm. Atta, an Egyptian, was the group commander and the link to al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An architecture student, Atta was by all accounts a very determined and ruthless person. He built the Hamburg cell around him and provided it with its ideology and mission. Osama bin Laden was so impressed by Atta when he met him that he immediately decided the Egyptian was the man for the Manhattan Raid, as al Qaeda calls the 9/11 attacks. Atta recruited the other two pilots, a Lebanese and an Emirati from the United Arab Emirates who were also students in Hamburg.
Atta and his comrades were disciples of Azzam, a man little mentioned in all the 9/11 anniversary documentaries but who was the father of the modern global jihad. Born in the Palestinian West Bank when it still belonged to Jordan in the 1950s, Azzam grew up with an abiding hatred for Israel. In 1967 his family fled east across the Jordan River after Israel took Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War. He was educated in Islamic law and philosophy in universities in Amman, Damascus, and at Egypt’s al Azhar University, one of the oldest universities in the world and the most prestigious in the Muslim world. Azzam met bin Laden in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1980 when Azzam taught at a Saudi university. Bin Laden fell under his spell.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Azzam was one of the first Arabs to go to Pakistan to help the mujahideen. Bin Laden came to join him in Peshawar, Pakistan. Working with bin Laden, Azzam set up a guest house for foreign Muslims to come to and join the war. This partnership would be the germ of today’s al Qaeda. Azzam also helped set up the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which attacked Mumbai in November 2008. And he was a central figure in the creation of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which now rules Gaza, helping write its founding charter.
Throughout the 1980s Azzam traveled around the world, including to America, to urge Muslims to join the “caravan of jihad” in Afghanistan. He developed the idea that Muslims should fight one truly global jihad against their enemies, first Russia and then America, rather than many narrow separate national fights against their immediate rulers. Azzam wrote dozens of articles and books extolling the need for a worldwide battle against Islam’s enemies, and his book The Defense of Muslim Territories is perhaps the seminal work of the global jihad. His works also glorified suicide operations and martyrdom, the essential elements of al Qaeda’s tactics. As one former head of Israel’s secret intelligence service, the Mossad, told me years ago, Azzam is both the father of the global jihad and the most important intellectual inspiration of the jihadis’ war on America. Today terror groups around the world often praise Azzam’s inspiration for their work and name their attacks in his honor.
Azzam was assassinated in 1989 in Pakistan. Who did it is still a mystery, although the best evidence points to the Jordanian intelligence service. But his writings were devoured by the Hamburg cell and are must-reads for any jihadist today. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani who built a car bomb last year and tried to set it off in Times Square, has said Azzam was his inspiration. The Jordanian triple agent who blew himself up in a CIA base in Afghanistan in December 2009 was a disciple of Azzam and said his mission was in part revenge for Azzam’s death. The list of his disciples includes Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born operations commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
At least one member of the original Hamburg cell is still alive and working in al Qaeda’s Pakistani hideouts. Said Bahaji, the son of a German mother and a Moroccan father, is now high on the target list as we try to defeat the al Qaeda core group for good.
The ceremony at Ground Zero reminds us of the unthinkable pain of those who lost loved ones—and why they should be allowed privacy. Lee Siegel on the problem with public grieving.
We are mortal beings, limited by our human nature, and we often cannot fully inhabit another person’s pain until we see some aspect of our experience reflected in that pain. I had my children somewhat late in life, and watching, on television, the ceremony at Ground Zero, I felt some final barrier in me fall when one small boy spoke to his father, who had been killed on 9/11, and said that he never knew him “because I was in my mom’s belly.” Something in me gave way. I could not stop sobbing, and I suddenly I felt connected to all these people, to these men and women and children who had been torn apart on that day. Through the narrow, selfish portal of my own fear and dread, I felt, for a moment, the tidal force of what these people were enduring.
Family members visit the south pool of the 9/11 Memorial during the 10th-anniversary ceremonies of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site. (Getty Images)
You watched this ceremony, you watched people get up in pairs and read the names of the dead and then speak their unspeakable pain to the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives and companions who were murdered or who died on 9/11, and you were almost shamed by their dignity and their composure. And you were struck by something else, by a realization that became stronger as the ceremony went on. Their pain was unsharable. After the ceremony, each one of them would go home and be alone, once again, with the memory of the touch, the voice, the smell of the people they loved so much and whom they would never see again. You realized that there was an incommensurability between the private pain of the loved ones and the public commemoration of that pain. You realized that whatever public rituals exist for the expression of grief, grief stays solitary, following the bereaved person through the day, into bed, into the search for sleep.
President Obama reads a Bible passage following a moment of silence.
And as you sat there, unable to keep yourself from weeping, stunned by the enormity of the loss of that day, you had to bite your lip from time to time, as you hoped that the people left behind, their hearts broken, could find their way to peace when the cameras stopped rolling and the ceremony ended. You recalled some of the shriller voices over the past few days, strangely self-centered voices, that spoke of the grief caused by 9/11 as an “affirmation” of being American, of American liberty, of the necessity to ferociously defend America. You felt that there was something obscene and disrespectful about this because the grief was not general on that day; it was private and particular and experienced only by the loved ones of the people who died in the attacks. And for all their love of their country, they did not feel “American” when the phone rang, or the doorbell rang, and their lives changed forever, permanently, unalterably. They did not think of liberty, and armies, and the sacredness of democracy. They did not experience an “affirmation.” Something in them broke. As you watched the ceremony today, you realized that some part of them was still broken, and would always be broken, and would never become something that meant anything more than the senselessness of sudden violence and death and an inexplicable absence.
You watched the ceremony in New York City today, and you realized that there were two ceremonies. There was the public attempt, with cameras and speeches by public dignitaries, to make something positive, and even inspiring, about the chaos, and the screams, and the slaughter of that day. And there were the poor lost souls. One part of them will always be lost, no matter how strong and successful they have been since that day. Their grief deserves, demands, to be remembered by all of us as private, as sacred and unappeasable to each person in his or her own way, as existing beyond the public realm and as being taboo for public purposes. We must never forget these people and the people who were taken from them. We must remember them always, and we must leave them alone.
The way New York's police and fire departments communicate was a problem on 9/11—and despite progress, there's more to be done. Wayne Barrett reports.
I am a member of one of America’s larger and still very active 9/11 interest groups. I wrote a book about it.
Called Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, it started out as something quite different. My coauthor, Dan Collins, and I sold HarperCollins in 2002 on a book about Rudy and four other pivotal, New York, 9/11 figures, but it wound up becoming my second Giuliani book by default. We thought that by 2004 or 2005, there would be a rebirth story at Ground Zero to tell, but as we approached the due date, zero had happened at Ground Zero. Some of our other original subjects, especially the Kings of the Promised Comeback, Gov. George Pataki and developer Larry Silverstein, also zeroed out. Meanwhile, Rudy, knighted for 9/11 valor by the queen and Time, was, according to the early polls, on his way from the Towers to the White House.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tours the damage in lower Manhattan Sept. 12, 2001. (Stan Honda / AFP-Getty Images)
So we did a book that was begging to be done. Larger than Rudy, it is a catalog of everything that went wrong in the city’s preparation between the two attacks on the World Trade Center, and all the screw-ups in the response that day. I am happy to report, in the Tina Brown spirit of Newsweek’s cover this week, that the city under Mike Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Office of Emergency Management Director Joe Bruno has been quite “resilient” in the effort to make New York safer, in stark contrast with Giuliani’s shockingly indifferent response to the less deadly warning shot of 1993, the very year he was elected mayor.
You may notice an omission on the list of vigilant New York officials. As effective as Bloomberg has been at OEM and the NYPD, he has never taken on the challenge of reform required at the FDNY, instead installing at its current helm, for example, a department functionary already faulted by former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau for his mismangement role in the lead-up to the worst fire debacle of the Bloomberg administration, the 2007 scorching of the Deutsch Bank building next to Ground Zero, which cost the lives of two valiant firefighters marching six years later in the footsteps of their fallen 9/11 brothers.
One mark of Giuliani’s wilfull ignorance of the terrorist threat was that the number of NYPD detectives assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force was the same on 9/11 as it was on the day of the first bombing almost nine years earlier—a mere 16 or 17. That was in a department swollen by 5,000 additional cops hired in the Giuliani era. In a department cut by 6,000 under Bloomberg, more than 100 detectives are assigned to the task force, and they are a small part of the counterterrorism army Ray Kelly has deployed here and around the world. John Lehman, the former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan who was the 9/11 Commission member most critical of the Giuliani preparation and response, told me that Kelly’s counterterrorism force “is probably the best in the world,” adding “if I was president, I would be regularly briefed by Kelly’s unit.”
Lehman drove New York’s Giuliani-fawning tabloids nuts at a 2003 commission hearing when he took on the NYPD commissioner Kelly replaced, currently jailed felon Bernie Kerik, and Giuliani’s fire and OEM commissioners, all three of whom were then working at Giuliani Partners, the marketing arm of Rudy’s 9/11 legend. “It’s not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city,” said Lehman at the New School hearing, referring to the “command and control and communications” breakdowns on 9/11.
Like the other commission members, Lehman is now part of the National Security Preparedness Group, which issued its nine-point report card this September, isolating the most vital of the 41 commission recommendations that remain “unfinished.” Ironically, the first two on this list of continuing “vulnerabilities” are precisely the ones that Lehman referred to at that hearing: “command and control and communications.” The preparedness group’s brief report surveys our national failings, without any specific reference to New York, the once and future prime target. The report’s assiduously apolitical analysis of our inability to make real progress on the communication issue points a finger at no one in particular. But President Obama is pushing a bill that would provide a dedicated radio spectrum to public-safety agencies that literally every major law-enforcement or fire organization in the country supports and that won 21 to 4 bipartisan support in a Senate committee in June. Why has it gone nowhere so far?
It’s taken 10 years, but Ground Zero finally has an official 9/11 memorial. And it is a powerful experience, writes Nick Summers.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, as it is officially known, won’t be all things to all people. But it will be a lot of things to a lot of people. A place to mourn the dead. A place to look down into fountains and up into the sky, tracing where the planes struck. A place for tourists to pay their respects, and a place for suits to eat Chipotle at lunch. A nice place to attract new residents to a neighborhood that needs them; a sad place for widows and momless kids to mark the birthdays that could have been. A place to complain about the committee-made architecture replacing the boxy towers we didn’t know we loved; a place to marvel that a moving memorial was built at all. A place to curse Osama and the decade he made, and a place to transfer from the PATH train to the A/C/E subway line.
The memorial grounds will open to family members of the dead on Sept. 11, 2011; everyone else will gain entry the next day. What they’ll find are two square waterfalls, marking the footprints where the World Trade Center towers stood, each with a smaller waterfall laid into its base. You can’t see the bottom from standing height. Water flows into water, never filling a void. Ringing the falls, the names of the dead are punched clean through sheets of bronze. They are arranged by algorithm so that victims are placed next to the people who mattered to them; the non-alphabetical arrangement means that office best friends are adjacent, and firefighters in the same company remain together; there is a same-sex couple and their toddler, with a tangle of last names, the dads above the boy.
Susan Walsh, Pool / AP Photo
Around the waterfalls are more than 225 swamp white oaks and one callery pear, a tree that survived the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and at whose base President Obama laid a wreath after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May. The oaks can grow to 70 feet. The site architects want them to baffle the sound of traffic and dampen the Hudson River wind, which can rush into the waterfalls and spray the unsuspecting mourner. The memorial, museum, and plaza sit on eight acres. Eight more acres of the original World Trade superblock are given to new towers, the largest of which, One World Trade, is set to top out, in 2013, at 1,776 feet, making it the tallest structure in the United States.
Memorial designs are contentious to begin with, and this one played out in New York City, where real estate is both cutthroat and gridlocked. One of the fiercer battles was over the level of the memorial. The original site plan called for it to sit 30 feet below the street.
“We had to bring the site up to grid, because before, it was cut off. It would have been a memorial ground, but it would have been only a memorial ground, and it would have atrophied over time,” Michael Arad, who designed the memorial, told Newsweek. “It would have suggested that the past is something that we set aside and don’t interact with on a day-to-day basis in New York. If this is like a scar, in the fabric of the city, it’s a scar that we don’t hide, it’s a scar that we don’t flaunt, it’s a scar that’s just there and it’s part of who we are. I actually think that the experience of visiting the memorial will be enriched by the presence of the normal life of the city, the office workers—like the office workers that died that day—sitting on a park bench, taking a 10-minute break with a friend. You’ll have neighborhood residents walking through here with their kids.”
“It’s meant to be something you just cross into,” says Joe Daniels, the memorial’s president and CEO. “But when you step on the memorial surface, you’ll know it.”
If the memorial is primarily a sort of clean space representing the interests of victims’ families and those who live and work nearby, the museum will be for everyone. From the street, it is an irregular glassy jewel jammed into the plaza, miniature in relation to the 105-story One World Trade. But that is just the opening to a cavernous underground space, which extends far below the memorial, to bedrock. You descend through a hole in the ground along a ramp that recalls the one leading out of the Ground Zero pit during post-disaster excavation. The first overlook is a jolt, a 70-foot drop that exposes a section of the Hudson River slurry wall, which held fast on 9/11, preventing lower Manhattan from flooding. On the floor next to it is the “last column,” the final steel beam removed from the rubble. Behind another giant wall is a space that will hold 9,000 specimen bags containing unidentified victims’ remains, which the medical examiner continues to inspect.
Best known for his roles as Vietnam War vet Lt. Dan in ‘Forrest Gump,’ and astronaut Ken Mattingly in ‘Apollo 13,’ Gary Sinise has played Det. Mac Taylor on ‘CSI: NY’ since 2004. The CBS show has decided to honor the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 with a special episode on Sept. 23 that reveals how Taylor lost his wife on that day of national tragedy. Sinise, a recipient of the Presidential Citizen’s Medal who has been involved in numerous Sept. 11 charities, opens up about the episode and what 9/11 means to him.
There’s a memorial in Brooklyn that honors all the first responders that were killed on Sept. 11 called the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. There are 417 faces of first responders that were lost that day. Back in 2006, they had completed about one-third of that memorial and they ran out of money. A firefighter friend of mine took me out to see it and I offered to try and help them raise the additional money to complete the memorial. They liked that idea, so we put a concert together at Brooklyn College where my band, Lieutenant Dan Band, played, and we raised all the money to complete the memorial, and it was open and dedicated in May 2008.
Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) arrives at the site of the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 in a flashback on the eighth season premiere of CSI: NY, Friday, Sept. 23 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) ( Richard Cartwright / CBS)
I met Anthony Zuiker, the creator of CSI: NY, back in 2004. It was always in his mind that my character, Mac Taylor, was a guy who was very personally involved in what happened down at Ground Zero, and also somebody who had lost a loved one there. And over the years, I’d been pitching an idea to the writers and our showrunner about doing an episode that would focus on the 9/11 anniversary and feature the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. At the end of last season, we weren’t sure if we were going to be coming back or not, but when we left each other we said, “If we do come back, our season premiere has to be this episode since it’s the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It’s time to do this episode.”
Sure enough, we came back for an eighth season and Zachary Reiter and John Dove, both former New Yorkers, were assigned to write this particular episode based on the memorial. There’s an interesting crossover between fact and fiction here, because Mac Taylor is featured as a participant in helping to create this memorial. In this episode, our audience is reminded that Mac Taylor is somebody who lost a loved one in the collapse of the Towers, and for the first time we get to meet her because this episode takes place 10 years ago on the day, and 10 years later on the 10-year anniversary. It’s a very personal episode and it’s our way of paying tribute and honoring the men and women who sacrificed that day in service of the city of New York.
Like millions and millions of people around the country, I was woken up on that day and told to turn on the television by my 8-year-old daughter who came into the room. It was about six in the morning here in Los Angeles, so I spent the whole morning watching television and eventually had to get out of the house because I couldn’t take it anymore.
And like so many people, 9/11 affected me deeply and changed my life in a profound way. I was thrust into a level of public service that I never imagined. Since Sept. 11, I’ve been very active in supporting our military and first responders. I was scared into action. I was frightened for my country; I was frightened for my kids and family; I was frightened for the kind of world we were entering in the 21st century. That was a catastrophic, tragic event that I’ll never forget. We see the images every year on the anniversary, but I’ve met a lot of wonderful, incredible people who’ve lived with that every single day. I felt there was a way that I could contribute to supporting them and helping them, and by doing that, I could somehow heal some of the pain that I felt on that day.
Justice was done in killing bin Laden, but the pain and fear that he caused will never heal in some people, no matter whether he sleeps with the fishes or not. I don’t think we can forget the vulnerability we all felt from that attack when 19 guys with box cutters did so much damage to our country. If it would’ve been the end of the war, I might have understood some of the celebrating a little bit more. But what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was a call to action for many jihadists out there who eat, sleep, breathe, live, seven-days-a-week, 365 days-a-year dreaming and thinking of how they can bring down the United States, so we can’t let our guard down. When we do, we see what happens.
I always have a certain fear that anything can happen. It’s a dangerous world. Do I still have fears about that happening again? Yes, I do. I know too many military leaders who know too many bad guys who are very determined to try to do harm to the United States. We’re lucky that we have people that live 24 hours a day, seven days a week to prevent that from happening again.
From Lorraine Adams’s novel about terrorists to Galway Kinnell’s poetry, debut novelist and former reporter Amy Waldman picks her favorite novels on 9/11.
This interview, by Eve Gerber, first appeared in The Browser, as part of the FiveBooks series. Previous contributors include Paul Krugman, Woody Allen, and Ian McEwan. For a daily selection of new article suggestions and FiveBooks interviews, check out The Browser or follow @TheBrowser on Twitter.
Amy Waldman reported for The New York Times for eight years. She won an Overseas Press Club Award for her work from South Asia and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the “Portraits of Grief” series. She was also a correspondent for The Atlantic. Waldman is a graduate of Yale and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. The Financial Times called her first novel, The Submission, “the best 9/11 novel to date.”
The Submission, your kaleidoscopic novel about post-9/11 life in New York was informed by your work for The New York Times in the wake of attacks. Please tell us about the experience of reporting on the aftermath of that awful morning.
I spent about six weeks in New York reporting on different aspects of the aftermath—a whole range of stories including ones about children who lost parents, families being notified of confirmed deaths, people sorting through the debris and “Portraits of Grief.” Then, after that, I went abroad to report—first from Afghanistan.
Although you contributed to the “Portraits of Grief” series—part of “A Nation Challenged," which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service—profiling each of the people that died at the World Trade Center, you said you didn’t look back at it while writing The Submission. Why?
As a novelist, I didn’t want to raid details of people’s lives for material. But also, as a reporter, I felt ambivalent about the “Portraits of Grief." The word count left no room for complexity. The project made me ask, how do you avoid reducing the dead to thumbnail profiles? People are much more complicated than can be represented through daily journalism. They deserve to be portrayed and remembered in all their fullness.
What else made you decide to filter the experiences of 9/11 through fiction?
As counterterrorism officials investigate a new 'credible' terror threat, records show there have been at least 45 jihadist terrorist-attack plots against Americans since 9/11—thwarted by intelligence work, policing, and citizen involvement. John Avlon reports.
As news of a new “credible” threat swept across the nation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Americans were abruptly reminded that terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1.
Shawn Baldwin / AP Photo
In the latest case, one report said at least three people—one believed to be a U.S. citizen—entered the U.S. in August to plan a car-bomb attack against Washington, D.C., or New York. The suspected terrorists are thought to have come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, and at least two rental trucks are being sought nationwide. White House officials confirmed that President Obama had been briefed on the "specific" terrorism threat.
Too often, 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks in our nation’s history, we sometimes fall into a false sense of security as a degree of 9/11 amnesia takes hold; a desire to recast the attacks as a tragic isolated incident.
The facts tell a very different story. The record shows that there have been at least 45 jihadist terrorist attacks plotted against Americans since 9/11—each of them thwarted by a combination of intelligence work, policing and citizen participation.
And these are just the plotted attacks that we know about through public documentation—the real number of credible plots is no doubt much higher. No truly authoritative list exists because of the preponderance of classified information, although organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have published detailed lists in the past. An additional problem in coming up with a comprehensive list lies in consistently defining the parameters of thwarted attacks. The plots also are of varying degrees of seriousness, from some that were days from causing mass bloodshed to others that were twisted ambitions caught well before fruition.
The list published below comes as close as I could, using public sources and past lists—and it was reviewed by both government and academic organizations that track terrorist attacks.
Since 9/11, there have been devastating terror attacks in cities like London and Madrid. But America has so far batted 1,000 against the constant stream of civilian-targeted terror threats, though trends show the types of plots are changing to an increase of military targets (think the deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan) and Americans’ training overseas for the purpose of terrorism.
On the anniversary of 9/11, former FDNY chief Thomas Von Essen, reporter Michael Daly, and former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon remember colleagues who lost their lives in the attacks.
While networks documented the 9/11 attacks from afar, people near the scene recorded it up close. Watch video.
In his final speech in Washington on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the president said that while America took a painful blow, it emerged stronger than ever before. Plus, full coverage.
From Lorraine Adams’s novel about terrorists to Galway Kinnell’s poetry, debut novelist and former reporter Amy Waldman picks her favorite novels on 9/11.