But They Perceive Not
And of mankind, there are some who say: We believe in [God] and the Last Day, when they believe not.
They think to beguile [God] and those who believe, and they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not.
In their hearts is a disease, and [God] increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie.
And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only.
Are not they indeed the mischief-makers? But they perceive not.
-- Glorious Quran, S.2:8-12, translated by M.M. Pickthall
Today is August 6th, 2007. Six years ago today, as Sinfonian tells us, George W. Bush, President of the United States,
received, as he does every day, the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB. The 8/6/01 PDB was a little different, though. It contained the words, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." Intelligence gathered over a period of months, if not years, had revealed that Osama bin Laden was readying his al-Qaeda network for an unprecedented terrorist attack on American soil. The PDB was the intelligence community's method for warning the White House and ensuring that all available resources could be brought to bear against al-Qaeda, preventing an historic catastrophe.
Of course, as we all know, that's not what happened. [Bush] read the PDB, set it aside, and turned his attention to other, apparently more pressing matters. And just five weeks later, it was September 11.
Without being conscious of the symbology of the date at all, I just listened again to the first two tapes made of the Manhattan Emergency Response Dispatch (available here, although I got them from the New York Times site shortly after they became publicly available). They're really quite remarkable artifacts, if you know what you're listening to. ("Knowing what you're listening to" in this case requires some familiarity with ERD procedures, codes, and calls.)
For one thing, starting at 2:46 on the first tape, you hear this exchange:
18: Squad 1-8 to Manhattan, kay?
MH: Squad 1-8, kay.
18: [unintelligible] ...battallion that transmitted, it looked like it was intentional. Inform all units going in that it could be a terrorist attack.
MH: 10-4. All units be advised.
2:46 on the tape would have been just before 8:50AM, as the tape starts at 8:46AM.
The second thing that stands out for me is how good at his job the dispatcher was that day. The guy never loses his cool for an instant, unless you count telling some panicky unit on the radio "Units are on their way. Please stand by," after the guy called in three times in as many minutes to demand backup that, by then, wasn't going to come. (You can hear the, "Get off the channel, you panicky SOB," though.) "Manhattan," if you're out there reading somewhere, brilliantly done, sir. I hope you're very proud of yourself. You did better than could have been expected of almost anyone, I think.
Unfortunately, even "Manhattan's" icewater-blooded handling of communications that morning wasn't enough to make everything run smoothly, which is the third remarkable thing about the tapes. By the middle of Tape 2, Side 2 (about 150 minutes into the event, or by 10:30AM or so), there are longer and longer gaps in the tape where there are no incoming and outgoing communications, and where there are, you hear "Manhattan" say, over and over again, "[Unit], you're breaking up..." You can hear the NYC emergency communications system failing, in realtime-on-tape. It's simultaneously sad and scary...
...much like knowing that so many of the voices on the tape (possibly even "Manhattan's") are now the voices of the dead.
And being the possible optimist that I am, I think it could have been, if not prevented, then a lot less bad than it was. And there's an awful lot of blame and opprobrium to go around, spread amongst the mischief-makers of the world who perceive not.