Hijacked

Thomas R. Temin

'For eight minutes and thirteen seconds, between 8:56 and 9:05, this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers at Indianapolis Center. The reasons are technical, arising from the way the software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar coverage where American 77 was flying.'

'American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington.'
'On the morning of 9/11 there was no one decision maker in Washington with perfect information. Various people had various pieces of information, and they were in different locations.'

' 'You know you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck [a cruise missile] by us.... [Y]ou couldn't see any airplanes, and no one told us anything.' ' (F-16 pilot)

'Excerpts from staff statement No. 17 of the 9/11 Commission

By this writing, the 9/11 Commission's staff comments are achieving the status of folklore. But to read one of the reports, No. 17, in its entirety will raise your pulse and get your heart pounding. I was on a westbound, long-distance flight that took off around 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, and to this day I am grateful for those anonymous public servants who, within an hour, guided some 5,000 planes to safe landings.

The government's oft-used phrase, 'lessons learned,' aptly applies here. As you can see even from the brief excerpts above, there are lessons with respect to operational tactics, to communications among federal agencies and about data systems integration.

But the frenzied indulgence of finger-pointing is counterproductive and wrong. Because of a poisonous political climate, the commission's findings are being treated like the airplanes they describe'hijacked and aimed at enemies, be they public employees, the military, the Bush administration, whomever.

It's a dim hope, but one can hope nonetheless that the commission's findings will be used for more than partisan sniping, and instead help keep the policy and program focus on the nitty-gritty of solving problems that surfaced on 9/11.

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