Devotion to Duty
September 11, 2001
“Nothing will ever be the same.”
– CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin
World Trade Center * Pentagon * Shanksville
On a clear, late summer day, terrorists attacked America. Two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center; one struck the Pentagon, and another—headed towards Washington, DC—crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks claimed thousands of lives and brought home to all Americans a stark reality: our nation faced a deadly enemy, one not only determined to strike but one who saw no distinction between soldier and civilian, man, woman, or child. CIA joined the country in mourning, even as it tracked down those behind the attack.
A group of officers from the National Clandestine Service were in a training course on September 11th; the class was suspended as they started watching coverage of the Twin Towers on a large projector screen. A senior officer stood up and said what everyone felt: CIA would not rest until it brought the fight to those responsible. As he spoke, the scene behind him was the second tower crashing down. At CIA Headquarters, Director George Tenet ordered the building evacuated. Senior CIA leaders relocated to a structure nearby. Officers working in the Counterterrorism Center stayed to direct analysis and operations. Directorate of Support officers quickly set up computers and phones in an empty conference room that would soon function as the command center.
Many involved in the Agency’s counterterrorism efforts say September 11th was the worst day of their lives. But it reaffirmed their commitment to do everything possible to fight the scourge of al-Qa’ida. CIA was uniquely positioned to respond having worked against terrorism since the early 1980s. On September 11th, it was ready to meet the requirements of the President and senior policymakers. The 9/11 Commission’s final report noted that prior to September 11th “no agency had more responsibility—or did more—to attack al-Qa’ida, working day and night, than the CIA.” We had the capability, resources, training, knowledge, and determination to strike back.
For pictures of 9/11, click here.