The stumbling investigation over what went wrong inside America's intelligence and law enforcement agencies prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks may seem irrelevant to firefighters, but the fire-rescue service has a huge stake in this problem because local fire departments are faced with the...
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They were unwittingly aided by a web of bureaucratic red tape in the agencies that were supposed to stop them. A staff director of the joint congressional committee summed it up by saying, "FBI field offices around the country were 'clueless' with regard to counter-terrorism and al Qaeda and did not make them priorities." This was vigorously denied by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who defended the agency and blamed Congress for turning down his repeated requests for additional manpower and for money to update the FBI's outmoded computer systems.
As for airport security, any traveler could see that the airlines were doing it on the cheap. They hired minimum wage workers, who had little training and lax supervision; security at some American airports had become a bad joke and it's no wonder that the hijackers were able to smuggle weapons aboard the doomed flights. When it comes to assessing blame for what went wrong, the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deserve their share.
It's unlikely that the full story of the government's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks will become known in the foreseeable future. The Senate has voted to create an independent commission that would have the power to investigate every aspect of intelligence and law enforcement actions leading up to the disaster. However, the House Republican leadership and the Bush administration are trying to block it on grounds that a full investigation could compromise national security by revealing too much of what went wrong. It may be left to historians in the distant future to gain access to the documents that will tell the story. Unfortunately, those historians won't be able to question the men who made the crucial decisions and no one will ever be held accountable.
Last month, terrorist attacks by Islamic groups increased around the world and some have been linked to al Qaeda operations. They're still in business and still determined to strike targets inside the United States. Firefighters - and everyone else - can only hope that this country's intelligence and law enforcement agencies have learned the lessons of 9/11 and are more effective today than they were 14 months ago.
Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.