9-11: July 4, 2001; a retrospective comment

Today, July 4, 2013, we celebrate Independence Day, a symbolicly significant day a dozen years ago. On that day, the 9/11 terrorist attack transitioned from planning to exection. Not one government agency recognized that transition and the rapid, increasing activity that followed.

On July 4, 2001, Khalid al Mihdhar reentered the United States, unhindered, for the second time. He traveled alone and was the last of the 19 hijackers to enter the country.  The four designated pilots and Nawaf al Hazmi had been in the country for some time. The remaining hijackers infiltrated in five pairs and in one group of three between late April and mid-June.  Mihdhar’s entry three weeks later completed the infiltration phase of the attack.

The transtion from planning to attack was swift; just two months and one week. Mohammed Atta traveled to meet with Mihdhar and then left the county for Spain to coordinate with Ramsi binalshibh. Atta reentered with ease, the second time that year he had done so. After Atta’s return, plans were finalized, tickets were purchased, and the teams moved to assembly areas near their departure airports. None of that activity caused any national, state, or local agency to sound the alarm.

On the day of September 11, 2001, the hijackers passed through every required wicket to enter the National Airspace System–arrival, check-in, security, boarding, push-back from the gate, and takeoff. They passed through the jurisdiction of multiple national, state, and local agencies with little difficulty. Not one agency hindered their progress.

Once in the air only two agencies were left to defeat, FAA and NORAD. The battle had long since been won; nothing the remaining two agencies did was to any avail. The failure of those last two agencies continues to fascinate people who, out of proportion, believe that failure was paramount.

The fact is that failure pales in comparison to the multiple failure of national, state, and local agencies, across the board. Once Mihdhar arrived on July 4, those agencies had two months and a week to thwart the attack.  FAA and NORAD had less than two hours.

Presumably, national, state, and local agencies have paid extra attention today, a dozen years later, to who might be arriving on the nation’s shores.