September 11 is the most studied day of our lifetimes. Almost everyone who was old enough remembers the details—where they were, how they felt, what it meant to them. It remains unforgettable.
The U.S. intelligence community had known some sort of terrorist attack was on the way but failed to focus or to act. After 9/11, there was finger-pointing at President George W. Bush and the White House, between the previous Bill Clinton and Bush administrations, at the CIA, NSA, FBI and even at the Pentagon. The government pledged to do better: to break down barriers to intelligence analysis and sharing, and to organize itself so that such a catastrophic event would never happen again.
But even in the immediate aftermath, there were more powerful emotions that overshadowed the desire for reform. The desire for revenge propelled the administration of George W. Bush to declare a global war. Panic within the government drove the secret agencies to take their own liberties—through warrantless surveillance, torture and secret prisons, arbitrary watchlisting, domestic spying and more. And though reforms did follow, including the largest reorganization of government in 50 years, government performance again faltered. September 11 was followed by other intelligence debacles, from the faulty reports regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan last month: a long line of failures that yearn for accountability.
Polls show that a majority of Americans remain bewildered about the attack, the perpetrators and the reason. And most everyone laments Washington’s political and partisan machinations and the decline of American institutions. However, few connect today’s national friction to the aftermath of 9/11. Yes, the government has (so far) succeeded in preventing another such attack on U.S. soil, but an even greater disaster in endless war and the collapse of civic life sullies the achievement.
And despite legions of blue ribbon panels to review what happened, despite subsequent revelations of wrongdoing, despite administrations promising to do better, the basic reality of government was exposed: No one is held accountable—not a White House official or top government agency director, not an intelligence analyst or FBI agent, not even a lowly airport security screener.
The cost of government secrecy has also been exposed. It nurtures our world of alternative facts and undermines public faith in government motivations and authority. Secrecy has also fed a generational gap, with young people indifferent to or confused about national security, an entire new generation seeking their own agendas with regard to what is vital for the country and the world.
So yes: We will never forget. But a more interesting question at the 20th anniversary is what we should remember—or more, what should we learn?
|READ THE FULL STORY|