9/11 Twenty Years On and On and On….

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

There are any number of 9/11 retrospectives right now using the “20 years on” locution (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and on and on and on). This is one more of them. For me, the event of 9/11 is only the spark that flashed along a long-laid fuse to the powder keg what was the Iraq War, an enormous strategic debacle, albeit very profitable to some[1], that is still playing out. I remember the day myself; for some reason, I turned on the television and there were the Twin Towers, burning. I was living in Philadelphia then, and later that day I handed my laptop bag over to security at Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse Square, and when the guard returned it to me, it was bricked, and I lost a lot of work that was important to me. Great metaphor.

While at the bookstore, I had turned several particularly offensive Bush and Republican hagiographies face down; it seemed the only possible form of defiance. The political atmosphere in 2000-2003 is almost impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t lived through it; overheated and airless, like a church basement in winter during and endless coffee hour with the doors and windows nailed shut. After Bush v. Gore in 2000, liberal Democrats went into a sort of numbed trance; for a couple of years[2], literally the only mainstream dissenting voice was Paul Krugman, through whom I found Atrios, the great Philadelphia blogger, who was gave me an entree into the blogosphere, for which I will be forever grateful. If you want to know the stories that somebody blogging about the run-up to the Iraq War would have posted about a daily basis, Mother Jones (of all places) has a useful timeline, going back to the 90s. Vanity Fair (again, of all places) has a timeline for the Bush Administration. Disinformation is not new, not at all.

My view, after the Twin Towers fell, was that 9/11 was obvious blowback, a term we actually used back then. I thought then Mehdi Hasan thinks now: 9/11 was a crime, and should be handled as a matter of law:

Surely, in retrospect, for anybody whose mind and spirit are not consumed by greed or the lust to kill, it would have been better to capture the perpetrator(s)[3], and put them on trial in the Hague, as we did in fact do with Milošević. More economical, more supportive of that famous “rules-based international order,” enormous soft power good for decades to come. But that is not the route our country took.

This will not be an analytical post. I will present no theory of how 9/11 turned into Iraq, why we did what we did in Iraq, or why it turned out so horrifically. Rather, I will look only at individuals. First, at people affected by the Twin Tower’s fall; then, at public figures in power then, who, shamefully, are still in power today, twenty years on and on and on. I’ll also comment briefly on a few entities, like the New York Times, also in power then and now. In all cases, my commentary will be shallow and superficial, even lazy. That’s because I want you to join in with your own stories and commentary! There was a lot going on at the time…


Let’s begin with “Field of Art: An Ohio Farmer’s Life-Size Tribute to 9/11 is Planting Seeds of Unity for 20th Anniversary.” Here’s the field:

From the artist:

[Wilbur Meyer, a farmer in Brookville, Ohio is] also a volunteer firefighter, and his “God Bless America” field picture was also an effort to honor those fallen on that September day.

“We wanted to bring light to a lot of people’s day, especially right now with the current climate in the United States, it’s nice to bring some positive things.”

Well, this doesn’t bring light to my day — except for the technical aspects, which the article discusses — but it’s important to remember that for some people, it would.

From someone who breathed Manhattan’s air that day:

From a games designer:


Interesting because the Bush Administration was driven by an evangelical power surge.

From a Yale epidemiologist:


What he remembers, after the smell of the burning buildings.

From an Army officer:

But ending on a heart-tugging note:

I hate that “We don’t deserve dogs” meme, but in this case, it seems right.

Public Figures

Let us now turn to the march of folly by a few public figures, all of whom should feel great shame, and all of whom should long ago have been driven from public life.

Thomas Friedman (still a columnist at the New York Times). Here he is in 2001:

And in 2003, on our war aims in Iraq:

Listen to it all, to get a sense of where the press was at the time.

David Frum (Hero Of The Resistance™, Senior Editor at The Atlantic).

The sanctimony! It b-u-r-r-r-n-n-n-s!!!!! Frum, of course, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. In fact, Frum wrote the speech that Bush used to justify the war:

[Bush’s] famous 2002 “axis of evil” State of the Union speech amed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of the axis of countries that “pose a grave and growing danger….

The speech was widely perceived, as Alex Wagner of the Arms Control Association wrote at the time, to be Bush “setting the stage for military actions against one or all of these states in the next iteration of the administration’s war on terrorism.”

This turned out to be mostly correct: The speech was indeed part of the administration’s political groundwork for launching a war against Iraq. David Frum, the White House speechwriter credited with the “axis of evil” line, wrote in his memoir that the speech was designed to build a case for invading Iraq.

According to Frum, White House head speechwriter Michael Gerson approached him in December 2001, just three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, to write the speech. “Here’s an assignment,” Gerson told him. “Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?” According to Frum, “His request to me could not have been simpler: I was to provide a justification for war.”

Tellingly, the White House asked for the speech months before the Bush administration “revealed” intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that would serve as casus belli for the invasion.

This suggests, as several investigations of Bush administration decision-making have independently found, that the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq irrespective of any links to weapons of mass destruction or the 9/11 attacks, and then later sought justification.

Dave, good job, both the speech and the “understanding” becoming “less certain with each passing year,” a sentence that in a just world would have been spoken from the dock at the Hague Tribunal.

And who can forget President George W. Bush (Elder Statesman)? Here he is, in 2001, standing on top of Twin Towers’ rubble — and, no doubt, body parts — with his bullhorn:

In 2008, an Iraqi does what we should have done:

George W. Bush today:

Finally, Bill Clinton:

It’s almost like Murder on the Orient Express, isn’t it? Plot twist: They all did it.

Institutional Entities

First, the New York Times, running interference for warmongers in 2001:

And running interference for warmongers now:

The Onion did much, much better:

Second, the press generally. From Responsible Statecraft, “Day of reckoning for the media handmaidens of war“:

For many critics, the very low point of the media’s pusillanimity came with the firing of talk show host Phil Donahue just one month before the first bombing of Baghdad in March 2003.

The longtime talk icon has always insisted he was sacked because of his vocal opposition to the coming invasion (ironically his slot was temporarily filled by an extended “Countdown: Iraq” show hosted by Lester Holt). “They were terrified by the anti-war voice,” he told Democracy Now 10-years later. “We weren’t good for business.”

According to former Minnesota Governor and Navy Seal Jesse Ventura, his own show on MSNBC was also canceled after a three-month run in 2003 because the network found out he had been publicly opposed to invading Iraq. Ashleigh Banfield, then at NBC, was literally reporting on the 9/11 attacks in New York when one of the towers collapsed behind her. She says her clock started ticking after she gave a controversial speech at Kansas State University criticizing war coverage in 2003 and sending a memo to her colleagues urging them “not to wave the banner and cover warfare in a jingoistic way. It didn’t sit well with my employers at NBC…I think they overacted. I was banished.”

This was hardly an NBC problem. Corporate media conformity after 9/11 was so powerful that the Bush administration was not only able to push through some of the most constitutionally questionable federal law enforcement powers in modern times, but launch two wars within a year and half of each other.

After supporting the Afghanistan operation in 2001, the establishment of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, and passively reporting the first signs of detainee torture by American forces, the media then gave the Bushies and their neoconservative surrogates a soapbox to promote the Iraq invasion in 2003. In the lead up to Iraq, according to one study, 75 percent of the guests and panels on the major networks were current or retired government officials toeing the administration line. “Major newspapers and magazines gave them prime space to make their case, including the possibility that 9/11 had been ‘sponsored, supported and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein,’” said Bill Moyers in a 2007 documentary called “Selling the War.”

Third, liberal Democrats. From the same source:

But while these few independent forums on the left and the right struggled for attention, liberal moderates dominated the networks, top newspapers, and magazines, and were absolutely critical in swaying elite opinion in favor of Bush’s second war That included voices like Fareed Zakaria, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and the New York Times’ Bill Keller, who penned a column entitled “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk-Club.” Michael Kelly wrote an essay for the Washington Post supporting the impending invasion as a liberation of the Iraqi people from under the “boot” of Saddam Hussein. Tragically, he was the first American journalist killed in Iraq two months later at the age of 46.

Fourth, CEOs:

Safe to say that in a just world all these entities would have far less power than they do today. CEOs especially!


I don’t really have a conclusion for this parade of horribles; suffice to say I watched it all unfold, and blogged about a lot of it in near-real time. Funny how many of the characters are the same, how similar the playbooks are, how groveling the press still is, and how disinformation pervades and corrupts all. Meanwhile, dull normals pull bodies out of the wreckage.

Oh, and as for 9/11: Ralph Nader was right:

So it goes. Readers, please feel free to share your own recollections….


[1] Of course there was the oil:

But it’s not clear how well the “carving up” really went, at least for the United States.

[2] Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 came out only in 2004; I remember the view of people mingling outside the theatre was “Finally! Somebody said it!” Al Franken’s Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them came out only in 2003. Before that… Paul Krugman.

[3] I am being deliberately vague. However, this is not a 9/11 thread. So, as far as steel beams and aircraft fuel, or buildings that pancake, don’t even think about going there.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. enoughisenough

    Thank you for being there then, and thank you for being here now. The clarity you’ve consistently had, along with Yves and Ian Welsh, and a handful of others, has helped me keep the media lies and gaslighting* at bay.

    *this term is being misused lot. To be clear, I mean being told that you aren’t seeing what is literally right before your eyes – that you’re the delusional one for seeing reality.

    (as per the film. -“the gaslights keep going on and off, and it’s stressing me out!” -“no they aren’t, it’s all in your head”)

    1. Geo

      I second this. Thank you for this and all you do to help both inform and enlighten. There’s a lot of darkness out there in our news landscape and NC is one bright beacon of light.

  2. Susan the other

    Thinking back on the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the dissolution of the USSR. And the bankruptcy of the Russian economy. When our best and brightest decided to go to Russia and show them how to become a neoliberal capitalist democracy – but all they achieved was hard-core Russian mafia capitalism and a devastated population. And our geniuses sort of said, (after they took their own loot) “Oh well, we tried.” It was a timely joke on capitalism. An awakening. It made our truly smartest guys gradually realize that capitalism doesn’t work unless there is a dedicated population behind it. The tragedy that was already in progress, however, proved that ‘blame the stupid Russians’ attitude to be vacuous and lazy – our own democracy and our own capitalist economy was rapidly being eaten alive by the imperative to make profits by exploiting people and the environment by effectively using bubble economics. It will probably be an article of faith going forward that capitalism doesn’t work unless there are valuable things to accomplish and invest in. So since we had none, we had our Fall in 2008 and we are still living in the ruins. My point is that our long purported cold war against communism/socialism and our goal of freeing up private capital to go anywhere at any time, and the requirement that no laws can interfere with it… all that utter nonsense destroyed this country and imploded it like the Twin Towers; and it made no difference who we were at war with or for whatever reason. We lost the cold war because we backed a lazy idea. The socialist countries are now winning and we are talking about “job guarantees” and maybe catching up with the rest of the civilized world in healthcare and education. Etc. We lost because we were too arrogant to face reality. To admit that free market capitalism isn’t perfect and it needs to be controlled by the state. The 100 Years War of the 20th century has been a great tragedy. Brought to us by the lunacy of neoliberalism. Lunatic enough to fly passenger jets into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers and use it as an excuse to go to war for uncertain reasons.

  3. ambrit

    I remember seeing the Twin Towers burning on television when I was on an out of town job. My first thought was; “When and where will the next attack be?” I really wanted to get home then. But, surprisingly, there were no follow up attacks.
    Later, when I watched Bush the Younger give his “War on Terror” speech, I immediately thought of Orwell’s 1984. Permanent war was now on offer. With all that Orwell had predicted in his book. Now it has almost all come true.
    With TDS, we have our “Two Minutes Hate.”
    With all the social media ‘filtering’ going on, we have a privatized “Ministry of Truth.”
    With the “New Entertainment Media,” we have our “Eternally On Televisors.”
    With the Domestic War on Terror we have “Big Brother.”
    I fear that this “War” will only end in the defeat of the United States, and or it’s dismantling.

  4. Zephyrum

    Lambert, thank you very much for another dose of reality. The US these days is surreal. One third of the country wants us to agree that 2+2=5. Another third demands 2+2=3. Your answer determines your allegiances, your identification friend or foe. It is refreshing to come to Naked Capitalism where adherence to truth is not considered a moral violation.

  5. urblintz

    Someone is conspicuously missing from this story:

    Joe Biden Didn’t Just Vote for the Iraq Invasion—He Helped Lead the March to War

    “In the wake of September 11th, Biden stood as a leading Democratic voice on foreign policy, chairing the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As President Bush attempted to sell the U.S. public on the war, Biden became one of the administration’s steadfast allies in this cause, backing claims about the supposed threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and insisting on the necessity of removing him from power.

    Biden did attempt to placate Democrats by criticizing Bush on procedural grounds while largely affirming his case for war, even as he painted himself as an opponent of Bush and the war in front of liberal audiences. In the months leading up to and following the invasion, Biden would make repeated, contradictory statements about his position on the issue, eventually casting himself as an unrepentant backer of the war effort just as the public and his own party began to sour on it.”


  6. Geo

    As that Twitter post says, many people’s politics shifted that week. People like Christopher Hitchens who turned radical war-hawk (his former mentor Gore Vidal talks venomously about who Hitchens became in later interviews before he died). Though, I still appreciated Hitchens voice and respect his willingness to be waterboarded and change his opinion on it after the experience.

    Journalists that should be the head of news departments at any of our major media establishments if truth in reporting had any merit in the news business would be Jonathan Landay and his team at during that time (formerly Knight-Ridder in the early days of the war reporting). They were the only sorta-establishment news team to expose the lies of the Bush admin. Of course, instead of being elevated and celebrated in the industry McClatchy closed its foreign bureau back in 2015 and the team is scattered in various roles elsewhere. No good deed goes unpunished… and no idiocy/shilling/lying/demagoging goes unrewarded it seems.

    Like you and so many others I turned to blogs for news and commentary at the time. Zakaria’s warmongering was the trigger to make me cancel my Newsweek subscription I’d relied on for years for my news. Oddly, so many of the blogs I relied on have become unbearable: Crooks & Liars, AllHatNoCattle, ThinkProgress, Alternet, etc. The end of the Bush era and rise of Kos/Tanden/Brock style Dem cheerleading (and profiteering) was the turning point. The Clinton/Sanders primary followed by TDS was the nail in the coffin. Fortunately I found NC around that time and you’ve all been my tether to sanity.

    Regarding the observation that many of the same people behind those wars are still in power: Back in 2005 I picked up a book on the Iran-Contras. It was written by Al Martin and it’s poorly edited and at times reads like the ramblings of a conspiracist but it’s still one of the better books I’ve found on the subject. It’s also a book that at one point angered me to the point where I actually punched a wall and fumed – went for a two hour walk to cool off and ponder what I’d just read. So many of the people behind the scenes of the Iran-Contras were later in the Bush Admin/PNAC and were responsible for the wars. It was like they used Iran-Contras and learned from their mistakes, not that it was wrong, but how to better execute illegal wars. That was the Bush Admin’s training ground.

    Also, on the tinfoil hat side of things the book also asked if it’s reader really though Bush Jr’s many businesses in the 80’s actually went bankrupt, or, if it wasn’t more reasonable to believe they were fronts for laundering money for his dad’s illegal wars and were shuttered after serving their purpose.

    There’s not much I agree with Roger Stone about but I do agree with him when he said the Bush family is the worst crime family this country has ever had and they should all be in prison. Ironically, he’s the one who ended up behind bars.

    And, I might often go down tinfoil hat alleyways of conspiracies but, as all the above clearly shows, there is no truth in official narratives anymore so why anyone wouldn’t be lead toward conspiratorial ponderings is a mystery to me.

    1. flora

      I recommend Kevin Phillips 2004 book “American Dynasty. Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.”

      Chapter 6 is titled “Armaments and Men: The Bush Dynasty and the National Security State”, and begins with WWI. (yes, WWI)

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Flora.

        This book is useful reference for much of what goes on today, not just when the family was prominent in politics, and as a base document to map the deracinated global elite and their business interests and networks. I dip into from time to time and use to assist researchers.

      2. KLG

        All of Kevin Phillips’s books are good, and this may be the best effort of his multi-work penance for being a prime mover of the Southern Strategy in 1968!

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > . The end of the Bush era and rise of Kos/Tanden/Brock style Dem cheerleading (and profiteering) was the turning point.

      It was indeed. Some in the Blogosphere wanted to replace the press; others wanted to join the press (Ezra; Matt). Then came social media, which cannibalized different blog functions and made them all worse, while introducing the dopamine loop as a business model, plus (now) censorship.

      Fortunately, there are some old school bloggers still in there punching!

    3. Rory

      Thank you for your term “conspiratorial ponderings.” Any thinking and mildly informed person has to have been asking him/herself for at least the past 20 years”WTF is going on here?” Regardless of the conclusions one reaches, the ponderings are inescapable.

  7. David

    I came back to the office after lunch, and somebody said “look at the TV. There’s been a plane crash in New York.” And as I watched, I saw the second plane hit, and we all looked at each other dumbly. I had to take a flight out of London that afternoon, and the airport was deathly silent, full of people crowded unbelievingly around the few televisions in the departure lounge. In the hotel that night, flight attendants were crying in each others’ arms.

    To me, the main change in the few years that followed was the overwhelming impression of moral luxury that these events afforded to the educated, liberal middle classes, who for decades had been obliged to support human rights and international law, whilst condemning aggression and war. Now, at last, it was all right to hate foreigners. Now it was all right to cheer as the bombs fell and the bodies disintegrated. Now it was all right to cheer on the troops and find excuses for military aggression, and even massacres. Now it was all right to let out all the pent-up violent impulses, and taste the pure joy of undiluted anger and fury, and give in to the blind desire for revenge. What a relief.

    It had started a few years earlier, when the fighting in Yugoslavia (or rather the media coverage of it) had caused previously rational people to lose their minds. Lifelong pacifists turned into slavering militarists. Human rights lawyers advocated the imprisonment of suspects without trial. International lawyers demanded that western powers invade a sovereign state. When Slobodan Milosevic was sold to the Hague by the new Serb government in 2000, some pundits asked why a trial was even necessary. I’m sure that if they’d been able to, groups of human rights activists would happily have stoned him to death in public. After Kosovo in 1999, the liberal intelligentsia had sold its soul to the demon of neocolonial aggression, and none of its witterings in 2003 were in the least bit convincing.

    And so we got the “right of intervention” and we got the “responsibility to protect”, and small nations began to look fearfully over their shoulders, in case they were next. The problem is that, if the Right, or most of it, has realised that these wars are a waste of time, I’m not sure that the same is true of the Tendency Formerly Known as the Left, itself the victim of a leveraged buy-out by Liberals in the 1990s. If your heart is pure, after all, and your motives are good, it doesn’t matter if your brain is out to lunch, or how many people die.

    1. coboarts

      “Now it was all right to let out all the pent-up violent impulses, and taste the pure joy of undiluted anger and fury, and give in to the blind desire for revenge. What a relief.” – dang dude, here it is.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, David.

      I was about to pop out for lunch at 13:40 and thought to check my Bloomberg terminal for the news.

      1. Irrational

        Watched it on the TV on the trading floor, still remembering that the first plane could – just could, however unlikely – been an accident and watching dumbfounded as the second one hit.
        What has the US has become in response – and Europe is fast emulating – is unspeakable.

  8. Juneau

    A horrifically tragic day that brought us the hearts and minds of the world, which was turned on its head to make money for the few, wasting all the good will that was sent our way that year. I feel immense shame about this still. I was at a NYC hospital and we all watched the towers fall. I slept on my office floor after we cleared out beds for wounded that never arrived. I drove home at 2am with the highway all to myself except for endless silent vehicles with flashing lights…All of those photos of the missing on the walls, police directing traffic with tears in their eyes….just a sad, sad time. Thank you for a clear eyed review of the aftermath.

    1. Pat

      I live near the former St Vincent’s. It was the nearest hospital. Depending on where you stood on the street or on my roof you could see the the area in front of the ER entrance. Staff waited outside ready to meet the wounded and get them into the hospital. I knew it was hopeless watching them lose hope of seeing wounded survivors. It is truly horrible that no wounded coming was worse than an overcrowded ER. Some of the staff took to meeting the people walking north to make sure they were okay, some weren’t. But…

  9. Acacia

    Thank you, Lambert. For me, living in Europe at the time, 9/11 was seen from the outside. My immediate response was the same: it was blowback (h/t to Chalmers Johnson for that term), and it was a criminal action. The worst part was the way most of my USian friends didn’t see it that way, and how deeply the event divided us all. Some friends took the position that we were all victims of international terror, that we had done nothing to deserve such an attack. If I dared to suggest that this was blowback, now reaching the imperial metropol, they became enraged. The other broad USian reaction was that 9/11 was a casus belli, and there was no question that some country — anyone that defied us — should be bombed into the Stone Age, invaded, and destroyed. Many people I had thought were “liberals” took this view. I noticed that the French media started talking about la psychose, but it wasn’t until I visited the US a few months later that I discovered what this really meant. One friend memorably described it like this: “the day after 9/11, we woke up, turned on the TV, and we told that America was now at war. We were at war with some countries, not sure who all was on the list yet. We were definitely at war with the UN, for not agreeing with us, and any countries that didn’t support our war — we were at war with them too.”

    9/11 for me was an important turning point in the decline of the American Empire, a sort of slump in the collective consciousness that sucked millions down into hatred, confusion, and bloodlust.

  10. flora

    Thanks for this post. I still remember the EPA assuring everyone that NYC air was clean and safe, nothing to worry about, after the towers collapsed, pluming out huge clouds of debris. No, EPA, the NYC air was not safe. A friend’s formerly excellent health was ruined by breathing that “safe” air for weeks. Friend wasn’t a first responder, wasn’t near the towers when they collapsed, but that cloud of debris dispersed over the city and hung in the air for some time. I add the EPA to your list of truth-benders.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Was it ” the EPA ” which truth-bended about the dust? Or was it Republican political commissars assigned to rule the EPA who truth-bended about this? What was the name of the Bush appointee who headed EPA? Wasn’t she there to be a political commissar on behalf of business?

  11. ChrisPacific

    I was taking a certification exam in downtown Boston at the time, which I didn’t finish. I remember it was a beautiful day, and I got to experience it quite thoroughly on the walk back to the office, which took about an hour (no public transport was running). For a few years afterward I would get a kind of seasonal deja vu in September when Boston turned on one of its beautiful early fall days. I wasn’t sure on the walk if it was real, or how much of it to believe. The city was liked a kicked anthill, so it was obvious that something big had happened.

    I recall how gracious and sympathetic the world response was. The American response was somewhat different. The initial grief and shock quickly transformed into something like rage. It was an attack on America, and America was going to punch back. Because we didn’t know yet who had done it or who to punch, the world was going to be divided into good people and bad people. (“You are either with us or against us.”) Americans were hurting and angry and they wanted somebody to pay. Ideally it should be whoever was behind the attacks, but if that wasn’t possible or feasible, then anybody on the ‘bad people’ team would do.

    So things were already looking ominous in terms of how the US would respond, and when the propaganda operation began in support of the war on Iraq, my worst fears were confirmed. I think the biggest legacy of the attacks has been America’s perpetual war on the world, or at least that segment of it that fits into the ‘bad guys’ camp, and its insistence that all of its allies join it in that regard.

  12. SierraTrails

    I was at DFW Airport for a training session we were giving on software a client had purchased. Our client had an office on airport property. I walked into the cafeteria and everyone was standing around and watching a television, which was strange, but I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to purchase a couple breakfast items. I went to find a table where I could sit and eat, but no one was sitting, all standing around a TV, so I took a closer look and saw the fire from the first plane to hit a tower. At that time, no one knew what was going on, including the reporters on tv, it was all just speculation. Just seemed to be a freak accident, so people started to go back to their routines.
    I was talking to my clients, who had their backs to the tv by then, and saw the second plane hit the other tower. If I recall correctly, I said something like “Holy Guano, another plane just hit the other tower!!”
    My first thoughts were that something must be wrong with the navigation systems and that’s why the planes were off course and struck the towers.

    Things happened fast after that, and the news media was in a total spin. But, it was time to start the day so we went to our first session. The presenter was a Director form our client company and did his best to start the day. I think he may have made it three minutes before he stopped speaking, and choked up. He was scared, and many in the room followed his lead. Then his phone rang, and he took the call by the end of which he was in tears and said that the USA was under attack.

    Since that was the case, and we were, at most, a few hundred feet from the fuel depot tanks for DFW, everyone was ordered to evacuate .I had a room at DFW where I spent the first night after the attack. I honestly do not recall all the specific events of that day, but by the end of the day there were jetliners parked all over the runways as planes that landed were not allowed to take off due to closed airspace over the entire US. That was a very strange sight that I could see from the windows in my hotel room and it is burned into my long term memory.

    What I do recall from that day, very clearly, was how everyone stuck at the airport all came together in a loving and supportive way. No car? Let’s share. No flight, let’s all get together and take my rental car back to Los Angeles where we were headed. No room in the restaurant to eat, join our table. It seem that the entire country came together in a very wonderful way. It was heart warming.

    Until George W’s speech with the line about “with us, or with the terrorists…” The tenor of everything changed at that moment, and the rest is just a sad and terrible history.

  13. JBird4049

    On corruption propaganda, war, profit, and police powers:

    The collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917.

    The American banks and financiers who would have either lost profit or gone bankrupt if the Allied Nations had lost to the Central Powers, which was quite possible at anytime especially once Russia had collapsed.

    The Committee on Public Information

    The legal censorship of all American media after 1917 once Congress had declared war.

    The Palmer Raids

    Co-opting most liberal or reformist writers, artists, reporters, and politicians.

    The destruction of the Progressive Movement and any adjacent or leftist organizations, including politicians with expulsions and imprisonment who did do what what the government told them to do (Or what their superiors said was the patriotic thing to do.)

    The United States got dragged or tricked into the First World War and it was done again for this “War on Terror,” Iraq, and Afghanistan profitable murder spree.

    History certainly rhymes, doesn’t it?

  14. VietnamVet

    This is about as reasonable and accurate description of 9/11 that the indescribable day can get. Like the university lecture cancelled when JFK was shot, I remember the acrid smoke from the Pentagon, the day after. Every trip south across the 14th Street Bridge since and seeing the Starburst Air Force Memorial where the smoke drifted up from the building reminds me of that day.

    Yesterday had no other purpose than the Imperialists trying to keep the forever wars going. Three things are never mentioned; 1) no one was fired or even demoted after 9/11, 2) the blowback was due to the Carter Doctrine of using military force in the Persian Gulf to protect the oil supply plus his arming of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union, and 3) after the Kabul debacle and the loss of Central Eurasia, this is a now a multi-polar world. The hegemon is no more.

    The US government has gotten even more incompetent and corrupt in the last twenty years. Since Joe Biden declared the unvaccinated as the cause of the crowding of hospitals so the vaccinated cannot get healthcare, a civil war is inevitable. The truth vanished. Facts don’t matter. Like 9/11 or firing on Fort Sumter, one trigger event and the succession of the American States begins.

    1. neo-realist

      Factor in states in addition to TX prepping anti-abortion legislation to neuter Roe and a possible republican theft of the white house in 2024 if the voter suppression isn’t stopped, and maybe succession happens in the mid-decade.

  15. Tom Doak

    I was on a plane today, and as we landed, the flight attendant came on to ask us to pause and remember 9/11.

    And then to give a round of applause to our brave troops.

    The linking of those two thoughts is the great crime.

    1. ambrit

      Check and double check.
      I worked with an Afghanistan Campaign vet who was IED’d. As he put it; “One minute I was driving the Humvee, the next I woke up in a hospital bed in Q8.” A middle aged middle class looking woman once “Thanked Him For His Service”(TM) and he turned to me after she had left and whispered; “It takes all my willpower not to punch those people when they say that.” He wasn’t the only veteran I met who had that attitude.
      One of my brothers in law was a shore patrol in Kuwait City. My sister said that it took him over a year to come to terms with what he had seen in the psychiatric ward of the military hospital there.
      War is a racket, by any means.

  16. Elizabeth

    I was in SF when my boss called that morning and asked had I heard the news -no, so I turned on the TV and saw what was happening. He said don’t come to work today. I watched in horror all day and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It took weeks for me to get over seeing planes crashing into towers with my eyes closed.

    George Bush was someone I considered a criminal even before he was president – when the war cries started I felt disgust and anger -Afghanistan was invaded for revenge – Iraq was invaded for oil which is what I thought. There was a massive demonstration in SF against the Iraq war, which I was part of. As the years went on, I came to believe that 9/11 was part of the plan to get us into the ME wars. It certainly “united the people” (at least most) for a cause.

    I couldn’t bear to watch any of yesterday’s speeches (just seeing Bush, Obama and Clinton was enough to turn my stomach). Twenty years on has made me feel so sad for this country, its lies, its jingoism, its cruelty – mostly its barbarism.

    Lambert, thank you for a refreshingly honest post. Honestly is in short supply these days.

  17. John

    I am thinking of the run up to Iraq. The reasons for war seemed to change daily until I concluded that they were taking us into a war no matter what. In their minds it was only pacifying the “cattle”, the people, that it was a good and necessary thing that made all this foolish notion of reasons necessary. They, the highly placed figures in government had no realistic idea of what they were doing. They were are are blind fools.

  18. Even keel

    9/11 is the stupidest memorial.

    I was 19 that day. A sophomore philosophy major. I’ll never know if 9/11 marked the descent of the USA into a fascist hellhole of governmental dysfunction, or if it was always this way, and the textbooks and histories simply lied to me about how it used to be.

    I enlisted in the army in 2003. So I could actually know what Iraq was like. And so that I never felt guilty about other people serving for me.

    The rhetoric I see is amazing. The Portland fire department had a memorial. Makes sense. 9/11 was the day when even the fire department was covered in paramilitary glory. People talk about how America was “shattered” that day. By what? Excuse me, I feel sorry for the people that died, but 3,000 is not a lot of people in this country of 350,000,000. It certainly would never have been a “traumatic” event if it hadn’t been for cable news and the images immediately shipped around the country.

    What are the results of 9/11? Permanent war. Permanent and pervasive surveillance. The ACLU is turned into a temple of wokeness. Militarized police. Drone swarms. Permanent distrust of government. An FBI that is international in scope (yes they are routinely deployed overseas to fight terror) and a CIA that has become domestic.

    The justification of torture.

    A “no fly” list? To the extent people are even considering internal travel controls related to COVID or vaccines, that is directly due to the unprecedented precedent set by the no fly list.

    Bloodlust. Repetitive Public thirsting for revenge.

    “Security” normalized in our schools. People have to take their g-d shoes and belts off to get into courthouses. I can’t bring a pocket knife anywhere- a basic tool. I can’t even bring a laser pointer into a courthouse without advance permission from a judge. (IE I can’t just pack it as a standard tool in my briefcase). This shit is just humiliating to people. It just divides “normals” from the judges and lawyers who can breeze right in.

    What a bunch of BS control freak garbage.

    And people have clearly forgotten. We are on the eve of all of this exiting state being legalized here domestically.

    The domestic war on terror is coming.

    Do you think we won’t have more nighttime raids based on poor intel, like they had in Afghanistan? All those tactics will be practiced here.

    There is no hope. Keep your heads down everyone. Don’t make waves. Go along. You might be able to save your kids.

    1. ChrisPacific

      Excuse me, I feel sorry for the people that died, but 3,000 is not a lot of people in this country of 350,000,000.

      I remember calculating at the time that it was about the same as the number of people who died in road accidents in the US in a month. It was a big deal because the US chose to make it one.

    2. Reds

      There is no hope. Keep your heads down everyone. Don’t make waves. Go along. You might be able to save your kids.

      I was 19 as well when 9/11 happened and in the days/months/years since, I’ve adopted the same view. My wife is 6 years older than me and is coming around to it. When Corbyn became the Leader of the Labour party, I explicitly brought up the fact that if she was going to volunteer she was going to be put on a list and will potentially never be able to get off it.

      But it’s not like we’re not already on a list, we’re actually on the list before the no fly list. Our small part of the resistance was to visit Iran and because of that we always have to talk to an immigration official every time we enter the US. Anyway, Iran is a beautiful country with an amazing people, they had no problem separating American people from American policy. We’ll try and go back, but we’ll have to wait until our child is old enough to make the decision to be put on a list for himself before we go back.

  19. Basil Pesto

    I was 13 and in the air when it happened, flying with my parents via Kuala Lumpur to London, to visit my brother and sister who were living in London and Dublin at the time.

    For the life of me, I can’t remember whether I saw the first images in KL at the airport (in the aftermath, Mum related seeing two Malaysia Airlines employees looking at a TV and smiling/laughing/being unsuitably convivial, but then she was an Islamophobe before it was cool, and her powers of recall and interpretation are famously unreliable in our family). I apprehended that something had happened but I can’t remember if it was clear what, and perhaps my parents had a clearer idea but shielded me and I just went back to my gameboy; I don’t remember being afraid on the second leg of the flight.

    Once we landed in London, though, I had a much clearer idea of what was happening. My most indelible memory is of walking past the morning tabloids on display at the WH Smiths and various other news stands at Heathrow, with the fiery images, and estimates of 20-, 30-, 40,000 dead. It’s still kind of amazing to me that it wasn’t that many killed. We went to our lodgings at the Royal Overseas League (not as fancy as it sounds; in practice it’s a trick for relatively cheap accomodation in central London for people from Commonwealth countries) and I remember watching the news completely absorbed. The spectacle of the thing still gets me. Pandemic has been deadlier many, many times over of course but nothing compares to the spectacle of 9/11, the sense of seeing something that just shouldn’t be, a sudden but complete disturbance to equilibrium. A few days later we went to Legoland.

    The first time I went to NYC was in 2009 and I loved the place and still do. Was also there in 2012 on the 11th anniversary. Went down to ground zero then and took some photos of the crowd but in the back of my mind, I think the whole thing struck me as rather kitsch, not to mention the mawkishness. The museum near ground zero was better. I was also quite taken by the memorial, but then it’s possible that I just have an affinity for spikes of light shining into the sky.

    Anyway, yesterday I listened to The Disintegration Loops. That’s enough for me.

  20. Eclair

    My daughter gave birth to her second child at the end of August, 2001 and my spouse and I traveled from LA to Hoboken, NJ to help out with our toddler grandson and the housekeeping. That morning, the nanny arrived, as planned, at 9 AM and I opened the door for her. She was visibly upset and said that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers; the news had already spread to the bus riders coming into Hoboken. My daughter told her to go home for the day.

    The next few hours are a blur. We listened to the radio in the kitchen as we fed and amused the toddler. We heard news of the second plane hitting. Then my daughter started getting phone calls from friends and neighbors, most of whom either worked or had family working in the city. A friend, also with small children, arrived at the door; she had been on the roof terrace of their apartment building down the block, playing with the children, when she saw the first tower fall. Another friend was on the phone, in tears because she had received a phone call from a close friend in one of the Towers, who had told her there was probably no escape route. Another neighbor, also with a newborn baby, was frantic because her husband worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. (He never came home.) My daughter was trying to call her husband; fortunately his office was uptown. At one point, we all simply stood in a huddle in the middle of the kitchen, arms around each other, sobbing.

    I have no visual images from TV because we did not want the almost three-year old to be sitting in front of the set. I do remember my horrified reaction when the radio announcement came that hundreds of firefighters, racing in to rescue trapped workers, had been in the Towers when they collapsed.

    Later in the day, I ventured out to take a tour of Hoboken and report back to my daughter. I walked down to the train Terminal, where the local EMT’s had set up a massive first aid station, and were handing out bottles of water. Later in the day, streams of ‘refugees’ from the City, bedraggled and exhausted, dust-covered men and women, trudged down Washington Street. Ferries and a flotilla of other boats were taking people out of lower Manhattan, since trains and subways were not running.

    Toward evening, in the twilight of a perfect, crystal clear September day, we loaded the toddler into the stroller, wrapped the newborn tightly in a blanket cocoon, and walked the few blocks to the Hoboken waterfront. Here, along with dozens of silent neighbors, across the waters of the Hudson, we watched the smoke rise from where, that morning, the Twin Towers had stood. I have no photos; it seemed somehow profane to take pictures of a funeral pyre.

    My husband arrived in Hoboken just before dark; he had left a few days before on a bicycle trip to visit a friend in Pennsylvania. The morning of 9/11, he had departed at dawn and bicycled all day, probably one of the few people in the US who had absolutely no idea of what was happening. Not until he reached New Jersey and noticed streams of fire engines and other emergency vehicles heading toward the City, did he realize that something was amiss.

    We had reservations to return to the West Coast on Amtrak, leaving on 9/12 from Penn Station. Amazingly, Amtrak was running, on time. I have absolutely no recollection of getting from Hoboken to Penn Station, with a bike case. We spent the next three days and nights on the train, arriving in Seattle, on time. No TV, no radio, no smart phones or iPads, and all the newspapers were sold out by the time we arrived at a station. The only indication of the crisis were the perfectly clear skies overhead; due to the total shutdown of plane traffic, there were no hazy contrails.

  21. Edward

    The Bush administration’s WMD claims about Iraq were easy to debunk but the U.S. press would not do this. Many Americans started reading the Guardian to inform themselves on this issue, which did report on the problems with the White House evidence. Actually, the entire world was reporting about this. America was the odd country out with what was essentially a news blackout. Moveon.org was a great help to the antiwar movement. It used the internet to circumvent the news censorship and allowed organizing on a national scale.

    I participated in some lobbying against the war organized by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC). One of my senators, Sarbanes, was on the foreign relations committee. We asked his office to seek to include people like Scott Ritter in the committee hearings who could debunk the WMD claims. They tried to do this but the committee chairman, Sen. Biden, refused to allow testimony from such people. Sen. Sarbanes’ office could not explain this refusal. I was told by EPIC that the Democratic Party leadership had decided to support an attack on Iraq; they felt this issue would then disappear by the next election, and they could focus on economic issues where the Democrats are stronger. There were some good speeches in Congress against the AUMF, especially by Sen. Byrd:


    The U.S. constitution was eviscerated after 9/11. As I recall, the Patriot Act was written by one man with very extreme views. It was not a well thought out document. The constitution was written by an assembly of people who spent much time discussing its provisions, but now Americans are governed by this Act, written by someone nobody voted for. I think the White House gave Congress only half a day to examine the Act before voting on it, so they would not have time to read it.

    There was no declaration of war against Iraq, as the law requires. Instead, Congress voted to transfer its authority to declare war to the executive branch, in violation of the constitution. When the courts ruled that the Total Information Awareness program was illegal, the Bush administration simply changed its name and continued the program.

    These two videos argue that 9/11 was allowed to happen by elements in the U.S. government:



    In one, former NSA executive Thomas Drake states that the intelligence failures were too egregious to write off as mistakes. He feels the 9/11 Commission did not conduct a serious investigation and ignored the most important issues.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The Bush administration’s WMD claims about Iraq were easy to debunk but the U.S. press would not do this.

      I remember playing whack-a-mole with them. They were so flimsy! And as soon as one fell apart, they’d push out another one!

      1. Procopius

        I dunno, I remember only that debunking of the Cheney/Bush claims was so widespread that even here, half way around the world, I heard the reasons why they were lying. I even read that the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research announced that the aluminum tubes were utterly unsuitable for centrifuges and were probably for making rockets. As a retired soldier with an interest in history I knew that for sure you aren’t going to conduct chemical warfare with the output from a mobile lab that fits in a truck, but most civilians probably would not know that. Reportedly hundreds of thousands of people joined in protests against the invasion, although they weren’t reported on. So it seems like many people knew the war was based on lies, but the large majority were caught up in the mob, much like Russiagate. I think the same thing happened in 1917.

        1. Edward

          Democracy Now did a poll of Congressional offices at that time which found that phone calls to those offices were 50 to 1 against invading Iraq. The national press would undercount the size of the demonstrations. In Britain opposition was even more lopsided, about 90%, I think, which didn’t stop Blair from advocating a war.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I remember hearing/reading at the time and very soon after, that a small second-tier minor group of Mainstream Newspapers, the McClatchy Press group, did do all the real research it could, and found out real estimates and information from mid-level fact-finders and analysts within the Intelligence Agencies; and printed any number of news stories in real-time about the actual events and what was and was not in Iraq and elsewhere.

      People think “the press” propagandized for the Cheney (bush) Administration because the Flagship MSM dropped its Cone Of Silence over McClatchy and in a very careful and studied way repeated and spread exactly zero trace of even the littlest thing that McClatchy found out and reported on. So the only members of the Main Stream Public who learned any of this were McClatchy readers. And that would only be a few million or so people, I am just guesstimating. The Flagship MSM is the only “press” that that all the non-McClatchy-reading members of the main stream public know about. And that “press” was basically a DC FedRegime propaganda ecosystem.

      And how many members of mainstream society ever read a blog? One in ten-thousand?

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > McClatchy Press group

        Indeed, the only news organization to get it right, then known as Knight-Ridder, later bought up by McClatchy.

        McClatchy — who own a lot of fine newspapers, like the Miami Herald — is naturally teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while WaPo and the Times, who actively propagated Bush administration disinformation (or, as we called them then, “lies”) have gone on from strength to strength. It’s a funny old world.

        You’re right, I should have mentioned that. There are always edge cases and traitors to their class who do the right thing.

      2. Edward

        Its true, the U.S. press was living up to Dulles’ description as a wurlitzer, a dismal testament to how the press conceives its job. The Columbia Journalism Review also did some critical reporting and criticized the media bias.

  22. The Rev Kev

    It was evening time in Oz when those airliners hit and it was like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. It didn’t take long to work out that this attack must have been months if not years in planning and preparation because of the scale of the attack and that meant that all of the intelligence agencies had totally missed it. Well, there may have been one or two that picked up on it but remained silent for their own reasons.

    The second thing was that this was not only a terrorist attack but was classic terrorism in method as in trying to murder as many people as possible. It was only months later when I read of Osama bin Laden talking about his strategy that I realized why. It was designed to create not only maximum fear but also a rage for revenge. If those terrorist had wanted a “better” attack, they could have hit the Pentagon again, the NSA building and CIA headquarters. That might have crippled American intel efforts back then and left it blind. But they went for mass murder instead.

    Mehdi Hasan had it right when he said that ‘The response to a criminal attack by non-state actors…should have been police work, special ops, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, peace in MidEast.’ Instead we got Dick Cheney’s vision – the rule of men rather than the rule of law. And so much of what we see is his ideas in action. So the “opportunity” was seized back then to heavily police the American homeland and to re-make the Middle East to ensure American dominance in the 21st century. It has been a very dark path taken and some people are still thinking this way-


    And re that Dogs of 9/11. I can’t be sure of course but that dog on the stretcher may have been Bretagne who became the last surviving 9/11 dog. Bretagne was euthanized about five years ago and received an honour guard of saluting firemen on her way into the vets-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0k5yt2H5l4 (1:56 mins)

  23. vlade

    I was 200 nautical miles off Australia coast, diving the beautiful Coral Sea, so I didn’t find about it until about 24 hours later. On the boat I was, there was also an American couple in their 50s, and they were shell shocked. The lady (who was an American Japanese) was in tears until the skipper managed to get to her daughter in NYC over a satellite phone, which was understandable, as she worked in one of the towers. Her husband just kept repeating he thought they would have gone for the Holland tunnel.

    As all the planes were grounded, Australian regional airline Ansett collapsed (it was close to collapse due to bad mishandling by its Air NZ parent, and this did it for good). I had two weeks of hols in Australia at the time, and the collapse, with the consequent inability to get anywhere from Cairns meant I “had to” take extra week of leave, and then a bus trip to Brisbane (which is about 1600km, or 1000 miles). It was IIRC about 36 hours trip, and one thing I won’t ever forget was when during the night we were on a road which had burning sugar cane fields on each side, with flames I’d say 6-8m high. So my 9-11 memories are likely much much different than many other people.

    Going back to 9-11, in the NZ where I lived at the time, there was a shock, but I don’t think that anyone expected the US to go and invade anything.

  24. Pat

    I am going to speak to the aftermath. No not NYers looking for anything they could do to help, which they did. No, I am going to talk to the drips and drabs of information that came out that destroyed the justification for the Patriot Act. In truth the run up to the Patriot Act was almost a prelude to the whack a mole propaganda blitz for the Iraq invasion.

    It was another of those bills where most “law makers” didn’t have a clue about all that was in it. It was such a grab bag of domestic surveillance and police state wish list items, as everyone threw in their biggest “screw civil rights” law enforcement wishes. In a matter of weeks it was passed and signed. All justified with if we had these things 9/11 would never have happened because we would have stopped it.

    But, unlike the ability to secure the cockpit which was needed and added in the aftermath, more and more information came out about how our national security apparatus had information and tools that were in place and either ignored or disabled. Sure some of it was not having enough translators of the various Arabic languages, but even with that there were multiple reports of a plot that included both hijackings and the September anniversary involving Al Qaddafi. Multiple countries were warning us that something big was coming down. The flight school and instructors in Florida where several of the hijackers trained, reported them to both FAA and the FBI because they weren’t quite right. Most of the “elder”hijackers/team leaders were known to authorities as having clear ties to Bin Laden. While there was a high security warning about possible hijackings for airports and airport security for much of the early summer they were allowed to lapse by early August despite the known importance of September. What wasn’t allowed to lapse was that top Bush administration officials were not allowed to use commercial airlines, something that started months earlier. We also got the infamous story of Bush throwing a report detailing terrorist threats aside with a “you’ve covered your ass, move on”.

    What became clear the more you looked was the failure to stop 9/11 was not from lack of information or even airport security. The information and adequate tools were there, but our system could not compile and assess the information they already had in a timely fashion. And even the information they had compiled was dismissed, ignored or held too close. They didn’t need new tools, but to use the ones they had.

    As I explained to a member of my family years later, being able to demand my library records or emails without a warrant isn’t going to enable the FBI, NSA, CIA et al to better discover a terrorist plot and stop it if they were unable to figure it out from warnings from Israel and Great Britain telling them about one. Never let a crisis go to waste.

    The acceptance and support of the Patriot Act showed how cowardly and gullible most Americans are. Weapons of mass destruction was a second act.

    1. KLG

      The holdover Richard Clark and others told the Bush Administration that Al-Queda would be their number one “national security” problem and priority. Ashcroft concentrated on pornography and after 9/11 draping the statue in the Department of State. Bush told his CIA briefer that he had “covered his ass” with the “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo and then probably went out to “clear brush” on his horse-less “ranch,” something no sane person does in Central Texas in August…the list really is infinite.

      1. vlade

        First I heard about Homeland Security, I was horrified. It to me smacked so much of the 1984 that I just could not believe that they would be willing to go there. I was much more naive then, but this disabused me of America at the time.

      2. David

        The problem with anticipating something is that your first have to know that it is possible. Nobody had ever used passenger aeroplanes as cruise missiles before, and no-one had even tried. By contrast , there was fifty years’ experience of hijacks, and hostage-taking. It was therefore reasonable to assume that any plot which might have been detected was aimed at some kind of mass hijacking. (Of course the attacks as they turned out would have been impossible to prevent, short of shutting down the civil aviation system of the US for ever.)

        Psychologists have looked at why it is that after events such as these there are always claims that “it should have been seen” or even “it should have been prevented.” Several mechanisms are involved. One is Hindsight Bias, where things that we now see as important, and connections that we now see as significant, are projected forward in time, as though they were equally obvious then. But of course they seldom are. As Bruce Schneier, the systems security guru, has pointed out “connecting the dots” is often impossible, because there is, in fact, no underlying pattern to discover. There is only one that we ourselves project backwards onto incomplete data. Very frequently there just isn’t enough information. There’s a classic psychological exercise (I’ve done it with students) which consists of generating a random pattern of dots on a screen and asking students if they think there’s a pattern or not. Almost always, students see a pattern, even if the data is actually random. There’s even a name for this: Apophenia, the tendency to see connections, and most of all significance, between unrelated things.The human mind hates uncertainty and disorganisation, so the temptation to look back into the past and say “if only we had known …” is irresistible, and seldom (as in this case) resisted.

        1. José

          Algerian hijackers had already tried to use a passenger plane against the Eiffel Tower back in December 1994.

          So, the US ‘Intelligence” services should have been prepared for a similar strike – but they weren’t.

          It’s simply amazing how that aborted strike against the Eiffel Tower went down the memory hole.

          Wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_8969

          1. VietnamVet

            I’ve recommended “The Looming Tower” streaming on Hulu before. It is worth the month free trial. The FBI 20th anniversary release of the heavily redacted document that a Saudi official assisting two hijackers is depicted in it. The US government is so intent on increasing profits it will do anything like avoiding shutting down its borders during a pandemic to avoid rocking the boat and costing corporations money, instead it pilots right into the iceberg.

  25. RabidGandhi

    I was but in the womb on that tragic Sept 11th, so I missed living first hand the attacking planes, the explosions, the President’s suicide, the thousands subsequently killed. But my uncle (who was a closet communist) took in a family of refugees, all huddled into his skimpy 2-BR flat in Saavedra District, Buenos Aires. While he was able to find them a house of their own within less than a year, unfortunately they had to flee again a mere three years later in 1976, when we suffered our own coup, our own repression, our own disappeared people, all of which can only be seen as a continuation of what happened on that horrible 9-11.

  26. everydayjoe

    A plant in the midwest where I was working as an engineer was making “joker cards” of all the politicians who said no to Iraq war. These were deck of cards with photos of Krugman, Democrats etc with Joker printed on top.Such was the climate post 9.11. War drums were beating loudly and dissent was not acceptable.

  27. JohnA

    What always struck me was the certainty with which Bin Laden was immediately accused of the crime. It would have been more professional to say ‘we would like to interview Mr Bin Laden to help with our inquiries’. It would appear the Afghan authorities would have been happy to turn him over, provided some sort of evidence of his involvement was provided. Apparently evidence there was none.

  28. caucus99percenter

    On September 11, 2001, I was visiting a couple in the L.A. area as a house guest. Awoke late (jet lag) and found a yellow Post-It note stuck to the dining table. Everyone had already dutifully gone off to their respective institutions (one was a schoolteacher, the other a college professor; the son still living at home was in school).

    The note read, “[my name] — turn on the TV — the U.S. is under attack.”

    The unreal-seeming day passed with me, all alone, in a cycle of being glued to the TV until coverage became tedious and repetitive, pausing to eat etc., trying to gather my wits about me, breasting waves of disorientation and panic, only to then dive back into TV-land once more to see if there was anything new: rinse and repeat.

    My friends came home. There was little we could say. At one point I remember sitting down at their piano and playing patriotic songs. The son still living at home, a teenager, had known me from earlier visits since he was a baby; he came up from his gamer’s den in the basement to tell me, “I didn’t know you could play the piano!” He later started college but dropped out to go to Navy OCS and become an officer.

    When flights resumed I continued on to visit friends in urban Colorado and then rural North Carolina. There, in the latter place, a person who had been very dear to me since the hippie era apparently took offense at something I said. The family, with whom I had been very close — even taking my first name as their eldest child’s middle name and speaking of me as their honorary godparent — ghosted me after that, without reply or discussion. Eventually I had to accept that the story of our friendship was over.

    For years after, for me personally, emotional aftershocks from that and other losses and setbacks overshadowed geopolitical developments. I do recall being disgusted enough with the neocons and their wars to start gravitating to online political sites, starting around 2006.

    Only later did the Asperger’s Syndrome aspect in me start venturing forth, playing back memories of media reports and saying, “Well now, lookee here, a lot of this stuff doesn’t add up, and you even knew it at the time, but you were so melancholy and heartbroken and so on, we up here in this part of your brain’s wiring haven’t been able to grab your conscious attention till now.”

  29. Eustachedesaintpierre

    An amazing presentation Lambert – thank you.

    Whatever the truth of building 7 it was the first crack in my then comfortable view of the World, which since then has gradually descended to a level I could then never have imagined.

    It’s been an education & thank goodness for people like yourselves for teaching it.

    All of those involved still thriving like mould under the flloorboards – GFC Obama let’s the bankers off the hook & now it appears that anything goes for those in high places as if they know that they are untouchable.

    I do think that at least part of that they will eventually push it too far, as I don’t think that they can help themselves.

  30. farmboy

    At the time of 9-11, I was starting my morning charting and checking markets with CNBC on in my office. The attacks marked the tailspin into conspiracy whole cloth view that Americans had avoided since WW2 and really allowed press manipulation to transpire unabashedly. Someone made a killing on UAL puts and Bldg 7 was intentionally demolished and the idea the FBI knew all along and someone in the chain of command let it happen anyway. Was it just so unbelievable that it couldn’t happen? The Vietnam War, Watergate, Chile, Iran-Contra all reinforced my disbelief and cynicism. How Colin Powell and the Powell doctrine were subverted and perverted, movie Fair Game gives a fictionalized account of the lying by Cheney and Bush and Charlie Wilson’s War sums up nicely about the whole 20 yrs and US intervention in general, “We f*cked up the endgame.” Necons wanted to tear down Iraq and let it come back on its own, a cruel experiment in libertarian theory. Heart pumping patriotism lives on to this day fueled by military misapplied muscle.

  31. Kengferno

    Amazing recap. Horrifying and important.

    Here’s one you missed. Hunter S Thompson’s astounding essay on, of all places, ESPN.


    “Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”

  32. lyman alpha blob

    My most vivid recollection of that day also concerns the obvious blowback.

    I was living in Seattle at the time and was a regular at a local dive bar. One of the the other regulars, Don, was a huge barrel chested man who worked in demolition during the day pulling buildings apart. After work he’d brush of the dust and come have a couple pitchers of beer to wind down. All the regulars would sit and smoke and drink and talk and roll dice and drink some more. I only learned after knowing Don for a few years that he was also a poet and had a few published works, and he gave me one of his books. And evidently I talked about politics and my disgust with most of it more than I realized.

    On the 11th in the evening after the trade center demolition I showed up at the bar and Don said he needed to talk to me outside since he didn’t want anyone else to hear, but thought I would understand what he meant. We walked outside and sat down on the steps by the sidewalk. Don turned to me and said “We had it coming”.

    RIP Big Don. Gentle giant, poet, and good friend. Sunshine and blue skies wherever you are.

  33. Wukchumni

    We bought a home in one of the finer climes in the City of Angles in March of 2001-a space odyssey, an un-updated 1967 tract home with a view of the Pacific from the bedroom window.

    Right after 9/11 there was a cocooning thing going on, your home is your castle, etc., and thats really when round one of the nationwide housing bubble got going. Fast forward to 2005 and the abode had doubled in value, allowing us to fade away from the Big Smoke with tax free winnings.

    We did great by 9/11, but the country went down a rathole and assumed the position.

  34. Rory

    As far as the morning itself, my first thought after my wife called me to tell me what had happened was, “What goes around comes around.”

    My strongest 911 memory comes from a few days later when a friend and I were driving on the way to a long-planned canoe trip in Ontario’s Quetico Park. For days everyone had been hearing “God bless America” exclaimed more as a demand than a prayer. On a two lane northern Minnesota highway we passed a small church that had in front one of those signs on a trailer onto which individual letters can be put together for a message. The message on the sign read, “Pray for America. God can find answers where we can’t.” Regardless of the nature of one’s religious beliefs, the humility of that message was such a breath of fresh air.

  35. R

    I was in London, working in the HQ of our mobile games startup (We were making pretty cool games – on WAP. VC rule #1: never be too early!). The HQ was my Pitt Club-belonging cousin’s, the CEO’s, Clerkenwell loft (the Pitt is the Cambridge equivalent of the Bullingdon but gloriously starved of credibility because only intellectual arrogance counts on the banks of the Granta, to the extent it had to sell its clubhouse to Pizza Express and skulk upstairs like a public school Mrs Rochester). It was all very trendy, minus his pants drying on an airer (the building was later condemned for inadequate joists in the original conversion from offices so he never made any money on the Clerkenwell boom).

    I had spent the summer in China, travelling down the Yangtze from Chongqing and then around Manchuria and N. Korea border with a friend who edited the China Economic Quarterly (and whose family were a long line of genuine explorers). I had made up my mind to quit when I got back and I was coasting round town since because the weather was fine.

    I went for lunch with friends who had their own flat-panel display start up round the corner, in a greasy spoon in Cowcross Street. I must have seen the news on the BBC news website my Sony mobile with handwriting recognition and a little keyboard.

    I remember coming back and turning on the big television in the flat and sitting there watching it all day, over and over, wondering what the US reaction would be. I had been travelling extensively on business (13x LHR SFO in economy until we opened our Redwood City office and then RTW tickets to cover Asia and Australia) and I decided that to quit and take a domestic job with no flying for the next five years because I could see that the fun had stopped.

    I had a lot of arguments with people about the obvious lies of the Iraq War. I even marched against it, the largest march ever in Britain. My cousin’s sister came with me. The issue split even High Tory types like their family.

    There was a lot of cynical “where America goes, we must go” spouted when Iraq started and cousin’s sister closed ranks with her Banksy-buying, spliff smoking husband, who was nevertheless running foreign spookery for Blair, and both argued with condescending forebearance with me, the crazy cousin with the conspiracy theories. It’s not about the oil, cous’. Oh, right….

    Pitt Club cousin just moved to Charlottesville with wife #2. Sister has a place in Greenwich Village with spook-turned-hedgie but they are hiding out in upstate NY at the lakeside cabin. We don’t really speak any more because Russia Russia Russia and Orange man bad. You could trace the divergence to that day, I suspect

  36. Alex Cox

    I was in Liverpool on the day, and the response of my fellow scousers would have astonished and horrified the pearl-clutchers who think limeys are all quaint cockneys who love America. Two films are very worth watching in 9/11’s dreadful aftermath: Dylan Avery’s Loose Change (passed around as samizat dvds for many months) and Wikileaks’ Collateral Murder.

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