Back to the blame. There are many actions I should have taken. I never wrote a letter to the editor, never wrote to my congressional representative or senators, and never demanded that combating terrorists be a major campaign issue in 1996 or 2000. Not once did I contact the media outlets to express my dissatisfaction with the lack of coverage on the obvious looming threat. Instead, like most of my fellow citizens, I focused more attention on ridiculous news such as the coverage of the O. J. Simpson car chase. I failed to place this obvious threat to our national security as a priority in my mind and therefore failed to exercise my duty as a citizen.
Some may justify my naïvete because I had not seen the intelligence the government possessed, but such consolation would be misplaced. After reviewing the now famous “briefing,” I realize I did have the same knowledge as our intelligence community. Generally, I knew bin Laden hated the West and desired to kill Americans, even inside the United States. Anyone reading this knew the same, yet we did nothing and demanded even less of our elected representatives on matters of counterterrorism.
As we pick through the politics and absorb the television drama of the 9/11 Commission, the reality is while several administrations failed to do enough, they did not possess the political capital to take actions necessary to detect and defeat the terrorists’ attacks prior to 9/11. Likewise, Congress fell well short. Americans are appalled that the FBI and CIA did not share intelligence, but let’s not lose sight of why. Since the early 1970s, the American public has demanded, through law and structure, that the government not infringe on our individual liberties. Intelligence collection on our own citizens was unacceptable, which is why the CIA and FBI could not play in the same sandbox. Prior to 9/11, I thought such separation was justified. Again, blame me. I do not mean to marginalize the systemic problems within our overly bureaucratic government, but our continued attempts to assign blame to an individual or specific administration will leave us with a false sense of accomplishment.
The country, from the President down to myself, was not on a “war footing” prior to 9/11. All of us were enjoying the post-Cold War environment, ripe with economic gains and globalizing partnerships. We indulged in reading magazines reporting Hollywood gossip more than the ones describing foreign threats. We picked up the business and sports sections before the front page and international news sections. The facts were visible, long before this commission, for all of us to see. The truth is that we, as a culture, failed to inconvenience ourselves with the steps to ensure our own safety. Even after the murderous events of 9/11, many of us continue to complain about security delays in airports and the invasion of privacy provided by the Patriot Act. Are we looking to blame a single person or agency in exchange for accepting the necessary sacrifices we must take?
If assigning blame is the only way we can move forward to address issues continuing to threaten our security and our nation, then okay . . . blame me!
Lieutenant Pudney is a watch officer for Joint Interagency Task Force South and a student of national security affairs.