Analysis: The U.S. Government Still Isn't Ready for a Catastrophic Terror Attack

A helicopter flies over the burning Pentagon Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. A helicopter flies over the burning Pentagon Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Tom Horan/AP File Photo

I write this on the bright and sunny morning of September 11. Exactly 12 years ago, I was on my way to Dulles Airport. As I drove on the access road, convertible top down, I marveled at the beauty of the day. When I parked and went inside to get my boarding pass, the counter was abuzz with the news that, apparently, a small plane had wandered off course and hit the World Trade Center. I took the van across to the United terminal, and watched the news coverage for a bit while I waited to board my plane -- and saw the news that a second plane had hit the towers.

On the jet bridge, we were stopped and turned back -- air traffic had been frozen as it became clear that this was not some errant pilot but something bigger. I retrieved my car and drove home, and turned on the television and watched, transfixed and horrified.

By late afternoon, the news was that United Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania and that brave passengers had thwarted hijackers from their terrorist mission. What made UA 93 different from the other flights that hit the Pentagon and the Twin Towers? It had left Newark, New Jersey, 45 minutes late, giving its passengers an opportunity to communicate with the outside world and learn that they were a part of a suicidal terrorist plot, not a standard hijacking.

United 93 had been scheduled to leave at the same time as the flight that devastated the Pentagon. If it had not been delayed, the odds are that it would have reached its destination, which, I calculated that day, would likely have been the symbol of American democracy, the Capitol of the United States. That beautiful morning, the House of Representatives was in a pro forma session, but the building and its environs were filled with members; in the pre-security era, people were gathered on the steps, lawmakers were holding press events outside on the lawn, and several committees were meeting inside. If a giant commercial airliner loaded with jet fuel had hit the cast-iron dome, the building would have collapsed, and a combination of molten metal, large chunks of marble, and burning fuel would have rained down on the people inside and out.

Read more at The Atlantic.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.