another excerpt from the book I'm writing on technology, terrorism, and
time at DHS, tentatively titled "Skating on Stilts." (If you want to
read the excerpts in a more coherent fashion, try the categories on the
right labeled "Excerpts from the book." I'm afraid I can't fix the bug
in TypePad that prevents me from putting them in the category in
reverse-chronological order.) Comments and factual quibbles
are welcome, either in the comments section or by email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're dying to order the book, send
mail to the same address. I'm still looking for an agent and a
publisher, so feel free to make recommendations on that score too.
So here I was, thinking about the people who died a few yards away – the people whose deaths drove me back into government. I was taking stock of what I’d actually managed to do for their memory.
The place is nearly deserted. A handful of other people wander the paths. Two youngsters skip up to me. They want to know where the broken limestone is.
I look around. The place is as sterile as a French park. There’s no place for anything broken.
“It’s here somewhere. We have to find it for our class.”
Great, I think. A puzzle and a scavenger hunt. I try sitting on one of the benches. It’s sopping. My pants soak through. I stand. That’s enough. Time to go.
But the puzzle nags at me. The dates are easy enough. They’re birth years. And the benches arcing toward the building are for the passengers on Flight 77. The others are for victims who died in the Pentagon.
I look for my birth year – 1947. Eleven dead. More than any other. That seems fitting. By 2001, we baby boomers had shaped the United States to reflect ourselves. We were what the attackers hated. This is our fight.
I’d known that from the start, from the day of the attacks. I could see smoke rising from the Pentagon out my law office window. And I had at least some responsibility for our failure to stop the attacks.
In the 1990s, after a term as the National Security Agency’s top lawyer, I had spoken out in favor of keeping a wall between spies and cops. The wall was meant to protect civil liberties but it crippled our last, best chance to catch the hijackers before September 11. In August 2001 the wall kept the FBI from launching a full-scale criminal search for the hijackers -- even though everyone knew that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent and intelligence sources had provided the names of dangerous terrorists who had entered the United States.
I’d had doubts about the civil liberties value of the wall. But without the separation, I thought, intelligence agencies would sooner or later face devastating attacks from zealous privacy advocates -- in the courts, in the papers, in privacy circles, and on the Hill. Better to save ourselves all that pain, I thought, and keep the wall high.
It made eminent sense inside the Beltway.
Until the world outside the Beltway broke through, just a few yards from where I’m standing.