Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shattered Illusions

A tribute to those who fell on September 11, 2001

We hang suspended in the moment as we realize we are under attack.

7:58 a.m. - United Airlines Flight 175 departs Boston for Los Angeles, carrying 56 passengers, two pilots, and seven flight attendants. The Boeing 767 is hijacked after takeoff and diverted to New York.

7:59 a.m. - American Airlines Flight 11 departs Boston for Los Angeles, carrying 81 passengers, two pilots, and nine flight attendants. This Boeing 767 is also hijacked and diverted to New York.

8:01 a.m. - United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 carrying 38 passengers, two pilots, and five flight attendants, leaves Newark, N.J., for San Francisco. It is hijacked after takeoff.

8:10 a.m.
- American Airlines Flight 77 departs Washington's Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles, carrying 58 passengers, two pilots, and four flight attendants. The Boeing 757 is hijacked after takeoff.

8:37 a.m. – NORAD is notified that Flight 11 has been hijacked.

8:46 a.m. - American Flight 11 from Boston crashes into the North Tower at the World Trade Center.

8:53 a.m. – Two F-15’s are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts.

9:03 a.m.
- United Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

- U.S. Federal Aviation Administration shuts down all New York area airports.

9:21 a.m.
- Bridges and tunnels leading into New York City are closed.

9:25 a.m. - All domestic flights are grounded by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

9:30 a.m. – More fighter jets are scrambled from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

9:45 a.m.
- American Flight 77 crashes into The Pentagon.

10:05 a.m. - The South Tower at the World Trade Center collapses.

10:05 a.m. - The White House is evacuated.

10:10 a.m. - A large section of one side of The Pentagon collapses.

10:10 a.m. - United Flight 93 crashes in a wooded area in Pennsylvania, after passengers confront hijackers.

10:20 a.m. – Orders are issued to shoot down any commercial aircraft positively identified as being hijacked.

10:28 a.m.
- The North Tower at the World Trade Center collapses.

Never Forget. Copyright 2015 Laura S. Tinnel.
Never Forget. Copyright 2015 Laura S. Tinnel.
The September morning’s crystal clear blue skies are accompanied by comfortable temperatures telling me that summer’s heat is finally gone. College football season has officially begun, and autumn scenes are now beginning to dance in my head. My sons, ages 6 and 8, are finally back in school: another sign of summer’s passing. My baby is experiencing his sixth day as a 1st grader, and even though he still believes in Santa Claus, he is starting to turn into a little man.

While my sons are busy searching backpacks for lost homework and learning to raise their hands rather than blurting out answers, I am at home working. Oddly, so is my husband: the first anomaly of my day. I sit in my usual spot, typing and nuzzling my mug of freshly brewed coffee, the aroma swirling lazily around my head.

My co-workers are busy in the office churning out computer code while I am beginning my day. I am researching the computer systems used on board U.S. Navy carriers and submarines and at U.S. Air Force bases. This knowledge will soon be shaped and formed into a grand challenge problem for a DARPA-funded research program in strategic cyber defense. I am surprised at the breadth of information readily available on the Internet: names and skills of ship personnel, capabilities and software systems (including version numbers), general locations, etc… It is a true gold mine for anyone plotting evil deeds. I sit contemplating who the adversary might be and what he would do and how.

An instant message interrupts my thoughts: “Turn on the news”. Dutifully, I leave my computer and go to the family room, where I turn on the television. I see a passenger jet sticking out of the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Black smoke billows out. “Joel!” He comes bounding up the stairs from his basement man-cave. We stand speculating on the possible causes of such an accident when a second plane strikes the south tower. The realization that this is no accident strikes us like a head-on collision. We hang suspended in the moment as we realize we are under attack.

Passenger airliners as missiles. Who could have thought it? Whoever “they” are, they are using our own technology, our own system, and our very freedoms against us. It is a masterful plan, hinging on the element of surprise. Incredulously, I begin wondering how many other planes are in the air. Twenty-two minutes pass and a call comes to ground all planes followed by a report that fighter jets have been scrambled. A thick cloud of horror descends upon me at the thought of having to shoot down our own private citizens in our own planes.

And then it gets very close to home: a plane slams into the Pentagon, which is at best 30 miles from our house as the crow flies. Fear and panic grip me. What is the next target? Should we get our sons from school and head west to the mountains? Our sense of safety and security is ripped from us, like the young child whose older sibling spitefully tells him that Santa Claus is a fairy tale.

Life changes. We are afraid to go anywhere large groups are gathered: no malls, no theaters, no ballparks, no museums… We build up a supply of non-perishable food items, acquire a shortwave radio, and keep lots of cash on hand. We keep packed bags in the car trunk in the event emergency evacuation becomes necessary, and we do not let our gas tanks get more than half empty. We know communications will be nearly impossible when another attack comes, so we plan a route and rendezvous point, just in case we are not in the same place when it happens.

Society changes. Airports no longer allow non-passengers beyond security check points. Real silverware cannot be found inside the check points or on airplanes. Previously unclassified, open research becomes restricted from foreign national access. And as for that very detailed information I found on the Internet, it all disappears. But worse, the policies and practices for government viewing of private information changes.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Our society is now faced with a critical conundrum: how can we remain open and free and at the same time protect ourselves from those who wish to exterminate us from the face of the earth?

We now realize that, in a free society, security is an illusion. Much like Neo’s awakening in The Matrix, the 9/11 terrorists did not take away our security; rather, they shattered the illusion. That is one illusion I would have preferred to keep.

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