Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Anniversary stories are a particularly chintzy form of journalism, and I'm grateful to the Times today for not going overboard on the 9-11 anniversary. (The amusingly irrelevant Poynter Institute and its professed shock aside, perennial anniversary stories can become, over time, as empty and forced in sentiment as Hallmark anniversary cards.)

There was, however, an important story in the paper today -- not a commemorative waddle through the oft-said, but rather a sharp and crucial piece on the op-ed page by Kurt Eichenwald, who used to be one of those bylines you looked for when he was on the staff of the Times.

Eichenwald's article examines the chronology of a series of urgent memos and other warnings from the C.I.A. to the Bush White House in the months right before the horrific, spectacular Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Yes, we've known about the memo of Aug. 6, 2001, in which Bush's daily presidential briefing file began with a top-secret warning: "Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S." Famously, Bush and his cronies chose to shrug off that warning -- fixed, as they were, in the stubborn and absurd mind-set that Saddam Hussein was the enemy, not Al Qaeda.

Not well-known, though, are other briefing memos from the C.I.A. that Eichenwald describes preceding the Aug. 6 one, posing warning after warning that an Al Qaeda attack was coming, and that agents of the terrorists were already in place in the U.S. planning that attack, with potentially "dramatic consequences." These also were ignored by Bush and his cronies, to the profound frustration of officials and agents in the C.I.A.

You might want to read the Eichenwald piece using this link, because as it appears in the print edition of the paper it's a little difficult to read. Someone on the op-ed page thought it would be a good idea to allow one of those infernal "graphics" people to set the article in negative type (white letters on a black background), in two twin columns meant to resemble the fallen towers. But as I said, it's difficult to read in pribnt because somebody got too cute with the graphics.

And incidently, along with the online interest, there have been some sharp demurrals in reaction to the Eichenwald article, which is evidently part of the promotion for a book he has out. Essentially, the criticism is that all of this stuff was already on the record.

Anyway, I'm glad for the subdued 9-11 news-pages coverage, if only because I don't have to read some reverential reporting on the reappearance at the site of the odious Rudy Giuliani -- you know, the faux warrior and Vietnam draft-dodger who installed his palatial, shockingly luxurious "emergency command center/tryst pad" inside one of the World Trade Center towers after that complex had already been attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists in the 1993 bombing that killed six and injured more than 1,000.

Meanwhile, the breathtakingly expensive memorial at the World Trade Center site continues to be a source of controversy and scandal.

And it raises questions about what, exactly, we are commemorating at this complex -- the horror and valor of 9-11, or the excessive, freedom-choking security-industrial state that it spawned.

In Slate, Mark Vanhoenacker has this compelling article looking at the issues of the stringent, ridiculous security that greets visitors to the memorial, and what those measures signal as the cost to a free society.

Among the past articles he links to in his article is a piece by me in this space, which I wrote last spring after a visit to the memorial. Here it is:


A Visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York Where Silly Security Shows That the Terrorists Did In Fact Win

"Remove your belt!"

I'm passing through the crowded security checkpoint at the new 9/11 Memorial on the site of the World Trade Center ruins in lower Manhattan and I realize this goon in a blue shirt that says "SECURITY" is yelling at me.

He is also poking some kind of a wand into the tray holding my camera and cellphone, knocking them around a bit before they pass through the magnetometer.

"Be careful with that stick you're banging my camera with," I tell him.

"Remove your belt," he repeats loudly, in a tone that not even the rudest TSA screener would dare to use at an airport. He glares at me in a way that says, "If this was Guatemala, you'd be on the ground right now, pal."

Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial where, given the absurd degree of pointless security that abounds, the terrorists have clearly won.

There is not a sign, and barely a reminder, of the courage and fortitude shown by New Yorkers on that terrible day as those huge buildings crumbled and all of those people died at the hands of religious-fanatic murderers who were determined to bring this great city to its knees.

No, there is just the security, the fear that is so obviously on display, now that the actual threat is gone.

You need to go online and arrange a pass and a time to visit the memorial site, which is dominated by two giant sunken pools with waterfalls cascading into the pits where the Twin Towers each once stood.

I know that ground well, because I worked for years at the Wall Street Journal, pre-Murdoch, when Dow Jones was based at the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center. When I go there today, I see not those holes in the ground, so tastefully designed to eradicate all memory of the offense of the horror, but the vast and unspeakable emptiness in the air. All of that mass, gone, and yet I still feel it there.

The security, I am deeply saddened to say, spoils any sense of reflection or reverence at the site. Instead, the fear is everywhere, in the humorless faces of all those rent-a-cops, all those real cops, all on guard. All that law-enforcement presence, and for what?

Against what?

I wanted to tell the hump who ordered me around at the metal detector, Listen, Skippy, you are aware, are you not, that this place has already been blown up? That there is nothing left to destroy? That the threat to American freedoms is from the likes of you in your quasi-military blue uniform and your Guatemala militia manners? The terrorists have moved on. There is no opportunity at this place now.

The New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has given interviews about the security at this site and come up with little more than an expressed concern that some people might be so overwhelmed with grief that they might feel the impulse to jump into one of those reflecting pools. I am not kidding.

"People might commit suicide," Kelly said in one interview. "We're concerned about the possibility of somebody jumping in. This is what we're paid to think about."

It does not matter, because common sense has died, that anyone with a desire to end it all can merely cross the street, stroll a block west, and hop a low railing right into the churning Hudson River.

No, we have a memorial at the World Trade Center site, the site of such courage and resolve when the enemy was real, and the memorial is to fear. And to the growing security state. And in a very sad way, it is a pathetic tribute to the murderers who sought on 9/11 to make that hideous statement about the vulnerability of America.

I'd post a photo or two of the site that I took yesterday but I cannot. As I left the security area, I turned around to snap a picture, and one of the glowering rent-a-cops blocked my exit.

"You can't take a picture. You have to delete it," he ordered me.

I insisted that he call an actual police officer, and two responded. Yes, they agreed, I would have to delete the picture.

I wasn't sure how to do that, so the rent-a-cop took my camera and did it for me. Deleted all. And then dropped the camera, which no longer functioned properly.

This, of course, would be an illegal act in America. But not here, I guess. Not at this tasteful memorial to fear, where the security state rules.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Contact the ACLU. They have repeatedly sued (and won) against police departments confiscating cameras and or photos.

(Red light camera Stephen)