My son called me that morning.
“Dad! Have you seen what happened?”
“Turn on the TV!”
I was in the headquarters of the world’s greatest intelligence organization, but was not yet aware of the most savage attack on our country since Pearl Harbor.
The Operations Center was electric, but not chaotic. I did a tour there and knew the professionals at the respective desks were moving like the precise machine they were trained to be. There was neither time nor need to inform the rest of “the Building” what had just happened. It was not untoward for the news media to be so quick to report, even to elements of the country’s intelligence network.
I had a private office and a TV, I seldom used, but I quickly turned it on when my son called.
The images appeared instantly. One of the towers was smoking and we were being told a plane had crashed into it. About that time, information was being flashed across the agency’s internal secure systems. Just facts, no speculation. But two thoughts were common throughout the complex: it was no accident and we knew who did it.
As members of my team came into my office to see the latest, we shared a variety of thoughts and emotions. One woman, heartbroken as were we all, said “this makes you reconsider bringing children into this world.” In a moment of clarity rare for me, I replied what I was thinking; “No, this is EXACTLY why we need to bring children into the world, or this kind of thing will end America.”
Before long, we watched as the second tower was hit and our hearts fell through the floor. But what did NOT fall that day or in the 18 years since was our resolve, love of country or dedication to the mission.
Across the system were passed bits of information and even some rumors about other targets that might be hit.
Outside phone lines were overwhelmed and since cell phones are not allowed in the buildings for obvious security reasons, calling, or being called by, loved ones became impossible.
Then came the word that our building was targeted. It was certainly plausible. The complex is distinct from the air and compromising it would have seriously crippled American intelligence collection and support to military operations.
There was neither time nor the logistical design to evacuate the thousands of nonessential personnel in a staggered scheme. (“Nonessential” means those not required for emergency or special operations) As a result, hundreds of vehicles streamed toward the bottlenecks that were the entrances to the gated parking lots immediately adjacent to the main buildings.
As I sat in my car, traffic frustrations adding to my growing anger at the animals that perpetrated the attack, I kept trying to call my brother on my cell phone retrieved from the glove compartment. He worked in downtown DC, so the attack on the Pentagon added THAT panic to the emotions that were already annihilating my composure. Because cell phone connections in Maryland, northern Virginia and DC were congested to the point of shutdown, fear for my brother’s safety became increasingly severe.
I had already broken through the traffic jam and was enroute home when, after 9 or 10 attempts, my call finally got through to him. He was fine. The relief was complete, but resolving that fear opened the vales for those other emotions to blow through my system.
My anger led the way as I railed to him about the “*******s who did this to us.”
“I WANT ENOUGH BLOOD TO FLOAT A CARRIER BATTLE GROUP!” I screamed at my sympathetic and far more composed and rational older brother.
We are now 18 years removed from that day. We know more about the circumstances and the perpetrators. We have taken actions to bring justice to those “*******s” and those who supported them. But you know What?
I still feel the same way.
God bless America. May He not allow us to forget.