No Days of Grace
As someone who took a leadership role in the nation’s fledgling homeland security enterprise from its beginning, Sunday’s news of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of our special forces and counterterrorism agents was bittersweet.
My sense of relief at the fact that justice had finally come for the nearly 3,000 innocent dead of September 11, 2001 and their families and loved ones, was tempered by a couple of sobering facts.
The first is that retaliation by the practitioners of radical Islam is almost certain, and I’m not sure how prepared we are for the threat.
The second is that the immediate sense of euphoria and unity that erupted across the nation on the news of bin Laden’s death was short-lived, and that fact brought back a couple of wistful memories from my first several months in Washington.
On September 11th, I was in my room at a ski resort in Big Sky, Montana, preparing to go downstairs to introduce myself to the leaders and delegates to the National Emergency Managers Association as the new chief information officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Within minutes, as the news unfolded on the television screen, and as I watched the second plane hit the South Tower, I was jolted out of my thoughts and rushed downstairs to see if I could be useful in any way. From that moment forward, life would never be the same, for me or anyone else.
I was new to Washington, DC. I had only been at FEMA for four months before 9/11, and most of that time was spent absorbing volumes of information in preparation for my new duties. As a result, I didn’t know the culture, and the post- 9/11 environment deceived me as to the nature of cooperation within the federal government.
The months in Washington, DC that followed the terrorist attacks were absolutely amazing in terms of cooperation, information sharing, and working together to defeat a common enemy. I was led to believe that it was this way all the time, and I was convinced that we were going to prevail against our enemies because we were united.
Within a few more months, however, the unanimity eroded, the infighting and back-biting ensued, and eventually I was punished because I was committed to the President’s agenda, not realizing that other agendas had taken hold. The remainder of my experience in Washington was disappointing, and left me bitter when I stepped down from the Bush Administration after three years of service.
I had a feeling of deja vu watching the spontaneous celebrations break out all over the country when bin Laden’s killing was announced. I knew it wouldn’t take long before the fighting would commence over who gets the credit, or why this action was carried out now, or who knew what and when did they know it.
I was right. I was wrong about the timing, though. I thought we’d get a few days at least.