We've just reached the tragic 9/11 attacks is approaching. The last few days I’ve been thinking about the significance of this anniversary. It’s not like it was the “5th” or the “10th.” For some foolish reason, some people act as though an anniversary is less important if it is not a rounded number like 5, 10, 15 or 20. Given people’s short memories I sometimes worry that the 15th or 20th anniversary of 9/11 may fade into darkness like Pearl Harbor. How many Decembers have gone by and we hear about a remembrance on the news about the World War II attack and we just wait until the next news story? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is right. I’m saying this is a picture of our self-absorbed culture. It somehow doesn’t seem significant to many folks because they choose not to understand our history and the sacrifices of many good citizens, soldiers, sailors and marines.
I admit that a few years ago, I didn’t have a good understanding of Pearl Harbor – it was long before my time…and life got in the way as it often does today. Then, I met Mr. Owen, an old man that lived behind me. Over casual “Hello’s” we became friends and would meet at the back fence in the early evenings with our coffee to talk.
Mr. Owen served on the USS Nevada when they came under Japanese attack. He described those years during the war, the day of the attack and the loss of his friends and fellow sailors. After his ship was gone, he served in Adak, Alaska to prepare a front against a coming enemy. It was a significant part of his life as a survivor, but also because of his love and pride for this nation. This important event in history was kept alive by men like him and others to make our nation stronger. It is the remembrance of loss and the pride of a nation that brings people to respond. Many stopgaps are in place today because of those that sacrificed.
So here we are eight years after the 2001 attack. How have we responded? Initially, the world came together and memorial services were held. Many in this nation were impacted so significantly that they changed careers and went into military services, the intelligence community, law enforcement or some other response-related occupation. We all wanted to do something we just didn’t know where to begin. I remember at the time as the Intelligence Chief with the Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama we shared the building with US Customs and the FBI was right across the street. Yet, no one shared information. I began the Homeland Security Group before there was ever a Department of Homeland Security in an effort to educate and keep our folks safe and informed. Was that the answer needed? I’m not sure, but it helped. It’s funny how eight years into this; I still get tips from people that think I’m DHS. That’s ok; it’s encouraging to see people reporting issues of concern. I take the info and get it to the right people.
The US Attorney established Antiterrorism Task Forces in an effort to bring people together. Yet, local law enforcement and responders were often held back because they lacked a secret clearance. In some cases, that condition continues to exist today. Over time, it seemed like there were Task Forces popping up all over the country. I believe some were ineffective and in competition with one another. For others, when a new Task Force was set up, this was seen as an opportunity to reassign some people and still claim participation in the Task Force.
Looking back at the beginning and where we are today, we’re getting there. The FBI set up the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) and during the time when they had Maureen Baginski running their intelligence business, she set up Field Intelligence Groups. Sometimes the bureau still has issues playing well but depending on the office, some good things are being done. I visited the National Joint Terrorism Task Force sometime ago and was encouraged to see a variety of important players across a wide spectrum in that operation, and they are all quality people.
Personally, I don’t really care much what people think of President George Bush. I know he cares for this country and he rightfully realigned our nation’s response structure with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Are they where they need to be? Not yet. In fact, getting and keeping good people has been a challenge often times because of bureaucracy and the old ways of folks that haven’t retired yet. However, the formation of DHS Fusion Centers throughout the country has proven successful. These folks are allowed to do their jobs without having to play “Mother May I” at every step.
From a maritime and port security perspective, the Coast Guard today looks much different that it did prior to 9/11. This service is a continually evolving organization. In fact, they were already in the modernization mode prior to 2001. I remember being involved with the Deepwater Project and the merging of training and specialties to increase their capability to respond. This small service understands response – they live it everyday.
Today, these agencies and many others are in the midst of ongoing changes seeking to protect our nation. Yet, as a nation we’ll be successful if we’re under strong leadership. You don’t have to look too far to see distrust in our current political environment. Those in leadership positions promise one thing and then get elected and do something else. Our nation is in the midst of economic turmoil while some political leaders seek self-serving initiatives to take the country down further. Those citizens that stand up for this nation and what we are founded upon are seen as “Radicals” for holding lawmakers accountable. We have elected leaders holding more road shows than a Barnum Bailey Circus, rather than pursuing a stronger nation. When they get opposition from those that speak up, attendance becomes limited to only those that will coddle their egos. Freedom of speech should be allowed for every citizen, not just those in political agreement with the elected. When leaders fail to lead, people no longer want to be led and that’s one step closer to anarchy.
Does anybody remember the Oklahoma City bombing? Or is it out of our memory like Pearl Harbor? I hope not. Our nation was attacked on that day and we lost innocent citizens. Today our nation is at a critical juncture where we face the potential for a domestic attack. The FBI recently began taking a closer look at the potential for these events after the killing of an abortion doctor and an attack at the Holocaust Museum in DC. This is important. How many others feel the necessity to act against the legal guidelines intended to maintain order?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, they track over 800 hate groups within the US. Any actions by these groups place our citizens in jeopardy. Yet, when our nation faces continual unemployment, loss of their homes and meddling with their healthcare, there becomes an increased propensity of action by those unwilling to honor our legal system. This comes at a time when our law enforcement and first responders’ resources are continually being cut because of budgetary issues. California is about to release 27,000 felons from the prison system. In a prison environment, a convict survives by becoming aligned with a gang. Those gang members when released into the world strengthen organized crime and weaken our nation.
This is not a pretty picture, but what are we going to do about it? We need to be advocates for responsible government. I recently heard an elected official say that he will vote “his own way” rather than that of his constituents. When our elected officials refuse to represent the citizens, we need to get someone else elected and push the selfish out. We need to be advocates for our law enforcement, and first responders that will be the ones on scene cleaning up the messes caused by others. We need to volunteer our time and get involved in making this country stronger - not through the use of illegal methods but through the proven avenues set forth in our Constitution. We need to report instances that we feel are illegal to law enforcement. If the ACLU steps in and cries rights violations, we need to tell them to shut up. Sitting on the sidelines hoping that somebody will read our minds and intervene on our behalf will only generate actions benefiting others.
It’s unimportant to me if people agree with my political analysis of the state of our nation or not. What is important to me is that we maintain a free society so our kids and grandkids have the same opportunities we’ve enjoyed throughout our lifetimes. Agree or not, our nation currently has plenty of frustrated and displeased people. Mark my words: We will have another domestic attack unless our law enforcement can identify those unwilling to live within the law. These problems exist on both sides of the political aisle. Their actions are wrong but criminals need very little to justify their behavior.
In my book,”Terrorism and the Maritime Transportation System” I describe a variety of current issues that place our nation’s safety in jeopardy. I describe how we need to be responsible citizens. If we are going to claim our citizenship, we need to be participants. Looking back, I almost wish I named the book something else. Many feel it is just about “maritime stuff” and it doesn’t affect them. The fact is, the Maritime Transportation System encompasses our ports, rails, highways, pipelines, rivers, trucks, bridges and more. In many cases, these are soft targets. Take one of these out and our entire nation is impacted economically - at a time when we cannot afford it. When it comes to power, those who own the debt of others are more powerful. Are we fighting for this nation or are we giving the power to others?
As we consider the 9/11 anniversary we should not view this as just a tragic day that happened years ago. It happened to our nation and to our people. We should look at this event as an indicator of the state of the world and how our nation is in a targeting bore sight by others. For me, I can’t rid the feeling of hopelessness and despair some felt as they stepped out the windows of the World Trade Center to their deaths. They felt there was no hope for them. Those leaders from World War II took themselves out of the picture and pursued actions to allow our future generations a free nation with opportunity and hope. The 9/11 anniversary should resonate in our souls with one burning question: “What am I going to do to keep this country strong?”
Anthony M. Davis, CMAS