9/11 Experience and Analysis

There is nothing inherently wrong with honest patriotism, but post-9/11 patriotism, as in this scene on the Friday after 9/11, echoes a sense of amnesia and complacency, which is, sadly, very likely to reoccur.
There is nothing inherently wrong with honest patriotism, but post-9/11 patriotism, as in this scene on the Friday after 9/11, echoes a sense of amnesia and complacency, which is, sadly, very likely to reoccur.

On a couple of occasions I’ve take the time to listen to the 9/11 audio tapes, culled from air traffic control and military recordings from the day. From those I have formed some impressions.

  • The U. S. military command structure behaves like a bloated bureaucracy. Despite claims that they have “learned their lesson” from 9/11, I am skeptical.
  • The military has a great deal of difficulty thinking outside the box.
  • Government agencies don’t talk to each other very effectively.
  • Personnel frequently respond to stress with emotions like excitement or frustration, making instructions less clear. Example: “We have a problem with a hijacked aircraft. We need you guys to scramble some F-16s or something up there to help us out.” (Actual quote). How much clearer could this message have been? “Hijacked aircraft, Boeing 767, call sign American 11, request assistance. This is not a drill.”
  • It appears that no one in the FAA or the Air Force has any idea how fast a Boeing 767 flies, because they repeatedly reported American 11 at the same position over a period of 10 to 12 minutes.

    This is the sky over Oklahoma on September 12, 2001. In addition to airliners, airplanes like the ones I fly, which were not part of the terror attacks, were grounded.
    This is the sky over Oklahoma on September 12, 2001. In addition to airliners, airplanes like the ones I fly, which were not part of the terror attacks, were grounded.
  • There were just 14 fighter jets on active standby on 9/11 to protect the entire United States.
  • Military controllers repeated falsehoods with confidence, first that American 11 was “still in the air,” and later that Delta 1989 was a “confirmed hijack.”

A valid premise in all situations speaks to 9/11 even more stridently: if you don’t have real, useful information, shut your mouth.

I know the counter argument: but it was just a normal day. You can’t expect FAA flight controllers and the Air Force to…

Stop right there. I not only expect the FAA and the military to be ready for anything with professionalism and accuracy, as a taxpayer, I demand it. Am I really supposed to swallow that the United States Air Force was essentially ready for nothing on 9/11?

What About Terrorism?
The goals of terror acts like 9/11 are unclear and seem unsuccessful. What … and I mean to ask this without provoking simplistic George W. Bush-esque answers like “because they were evil” … exactly did the terrorist attacks of 9/11 intend to accomplish? Aside from the “feeling” of terror, did these acts actually change anything? A conspiracy theorist might claim that these attacks were staged in order to lead the United States to war, though on whose behalf remains unknown.

I am aware, unlike a lot of civilians, that the eastern seaboard airspace situation is an exercise in controlled chaos even on days when everything goes right, and that there is a sh!tload of air traffic for a fighter jet to sort out, avoid, identify, and, if necessary, attack. I am also aware that a $30M F-15 fighter jet is supposedly equipped with powerful nose radar and IFF that would allow a pilot to thread the needle of that airspace.

An event following the 9/11 attacks became emblematic, at least in my mind, of the wooden, outdated thought processes of the government and the military: the wholesale seizure of nail files and nail clippers from the travel bags of airline passengers. Not only are such items entirely inadequate as a weapon, it didn’t occur to those in charge that a) the using of airliners as weapons was played out, and b) the airliners were taken in strongarm attacks, with box cutters as a relatively minor player.

Wasted Information
Now might also be a good time for me to pontificate about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014. My point is pretty straightforward, although it smacks of idealism: if the human race can upload and download terabytes of absolute, complete, total bullish!t to the Internet every day (cat videos, Facebook status updates, porn, Instagram photos of lunch, and on and on), there is no excuse at all for not having real time flight data from every aircraft in the air at all times. What kind of ridiculous priorities do we have as a species if I can post to the world that I am taking a dump in a Taco Bell in Muncie, Indiana, but a 600,000 pound jet airliner can disappear without a trace?

Listen to the 9/11 audio yourself here…

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3 Comments

  1. “…they repeatedly reported American 11 at the same position over a period of 10 to 12 minutes.”

    When I owned a radio scanner, I recall hearing this same mistake almost weekly, as a dispatcher would continue to report over the air that the speeding car was in whatever location it was originally reported. I would, like you, expect better of someone who managed enough education to escape Seminole County.

    “…did these acts actually change anything?”

    I cannot fathom what they *intended* to accomplish, and maybe I never will. However, what “actually change[d]” is quantifiable enough, isn’t it? The changes include the nail file prohibition you mentioned, and clumps of other changes that make as little sense and many of which are quite a bit more invasive.

    As a photographer, I’m sure you’re aware of the TSA’s “photographers as terrorists” posters from 2010 or so (one example). This never would have happened without an event on the scale of 9/11.

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