My Memory of the FBI on 9-11...
I'll never forget.
I'd arrived for work at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington and suddenly came down with a splitting headache. So, I decide to walk to the CVS Pharmacy three blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue on 13th Street.
As I'm walking to the store I hear an explosion. I stop in my tracks thinking it must be construction...or at least that's what I hope. After leaving the store moments later, I see smoke billowing up in the area of the Pentagon. I could smell it in the air. But again, I'm thinking construction--maybe someone went a little overboard.
When I got back to the office, my colleagues were hovered around a television set. Watching the news. The two towers were hit. The Pentagon--hit.
First, stunned silence and tears. Then, confusion. Running up and down the corridors to find out who knows what. Then--Rumors.
We heard that a 4th plane was circling Washington and that FBI Headquarters was a potential target. There had been rumors of a potential attack on FBI headquarters circling around based on some suspicious surveillance activity detected near the FBI and other government buildings in the months leading up to 9-11-2011. But nothing substantial--until that moment.
Some of my colleagues said run and get out of D.C. Others said they were going to stay and support the investigation--they knew one was coming and that it was going to be massive. As for me, my son was not even a year old...and all I wanted in that moment was to see his face again.
Scared, pannicked, I got the hell out of there. But I returned the next morning and was assigned to work the counterterrorism task force. If you were a warm body and could put 2+2 together you were assigned to work it. In the days and weeks to come, the FBI would help the world put together the pieces of what had happened. And during the course of the investigation, they gave us all these pins in remembrance.
I cringe when I hear conspiracy theorists talk about what the FBI knew and didn't know. What the FBI could and couldn't prevent. There is not one person at the FBI who wouldn't have given their all to prevent that attack if it was at all in the realm of possibility. Not one person who slept a full night during the course of that investigation. So easy to criticize when you weren't there and you don't have a clue of what you're talking about. The U.S. Government consists of more than these stark white buildings spattered across the D.C. skyline, it's made up of people. American people. Patriotic people who work with purpose every day.
And in a strange twist, but perhaps not, I would spend five years working on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon not two years later supporting the Iraq Task Force and our soldiers in battle there.
What I remember most about 9-11 was...it didn't matter whether you were white, black, Latino, purple, or green, democrat or republican, protestant, Jewish, or Catholic, or whatever.
On that day, we were all Americans. One people. Never more perfectly united...at least not in my lifetime. And nothing mattered more than protecting this country and keeping us all safe.
It's a feeling I'll always carry with me, no matter where I go or what I do. And it's why I'm so opinionated on this blog when it comes to matters of U.S. national security.
I'll never forget.