A Hole in the Heart

Author: Gary Hart

Today, September 11th, will remain a solemn and sad day for the nation for many years to come, possibly forever.  But it bears a particularly personal burden of memory in my case.

For most Americans, especially senior officials of the new George W. Bush administration, it was a vicious Pearl Harbor-like cowardly sneak attack.

In reality, however, it was not so simple.

In an interim report in 2000, and in its final report delivered to the President and the new administration on January 31, 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century warned of terrorist attacks on the nation sooner rather than later and predicted that “Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Composed of eleven senior bipartisan members, the Commission undertook a review of our national security for the following 25 years, a task not performed since 1947.  It was, otherwise, without precedent.  With the late Senator Warren Rudman, I was its co-chair of the Commission for two and a half years.

Our first recommendation to the new administration was to create a new Department of Homeland Security which would principally bring together under one cabinet officer the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and Customs Service, each with a critical role to protect our borders, but each then under a different cabinet department without a common communications system or common data base.  Their coordination to prevent treachery against our nation was casual and informal.  No one had ultimate responsibility or authority

New administrations are busy learning their jobs.  But this urgent report sat unattended and unaddressed in the White House, Department of Defense, Department of State, and National Security Council.

It sat unattended until September 11th, 2001.  Then it was buried.

It must be noted that, when published in January 2001, our report and prediction drew scant attention from the press and media.  They had more sensational stories to report.

In the past 17 years, no one, including the former President, has provided justification for neglecting a clear and present warning a full eight months before our prediction came true.

At the very least, in the eight months following our warning the three principal border agencies could have easily created a common data base and common communications system.  They were not instructed to do so.  No reason has been given for this gross negligence.

The only rational explanation for this negligence is ideological: resistance to “big government”.  How can a new Republican administration explain to its adherents that the first thing it did on taking office was to produce a new Government bureaucracy.

The answer to that, of course, is that the bureaucracies already exist, and national security requires they be brought under one roof and one accountable official.  That’s not difficult to explain.

Conclusion: 9/11 did not have to happen.  3000 Americans did not have to die because of political neglect.  And the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have claimed additional thousands of lives of American troops did not have to follow.

Thus, the heavy heart and frustration of at least one American who helped prepare the warning must follow him to his grave.

3 Responses to “A Hole in the Heart”

  1. JD Kinnick Says:

    One of the things that I admired about the Hart presidential campaigns of ’84-’88 was the support of a strong and changing defense policy.(as a disclaimer Sen. Hart was only Democrat that I ever supported for president). I do plan to see the “Frontrunner” movie starring Hugh Jackman as Sen. Hart and wonder what might have been. I do believe that Sen. Hart would have been a great president who appealed across party lines and and wasn’t tied to the special interests. Take away the super-delegates “monopoly” and Sen. Hart would have been the 1984 DNC nominee and America’s defense policy would have been dramatically different under a President Hart administration.

  2. Paul G Says:

    9/11 DID NOT HAVE TO HAPPEN … SO, WHY DID IT HAPPEN?

    Imagine the enduring agonies of family survivors who saw their loved ones suffer the most awful choice of jumping from a 100+ story skyscraper, or burning to death? Now, multiply that almost 3,000 times.

    “No one could have imagined this!” declared the incumbent president (who repeated the same falsehood four years later when a predictable natural disaster took the lives of about 1,000 people).

    In the first instance, the 1993 bombing of the WTC prompted Gary Hart to urge that decade’s incumbent president to give priority attention to such terrorist acts as likely to be repeated in the new century.

    The result was President Clinton’s tax-payer funded pre-9/11 Hart-Rudman Commission. The unanimous bipartisan commission’s anti-terrorist recommendations for immediate action were tragically ignored.

    Even the New York Times reporter would not allow himself to imagine the Commission’s fears might become reality. “This will never happen,” he declared as he left the Hart-Rudman press conference!

    Senator Hart did not mention that he flew from a Canadian air-traffic controllers’ conference to the White House for a pre-scheduled meeting with the president’s national security advisor to urge action.

    That flight occurred Sept. 6, 2001. Ms. Rice then revealed that the president had delegated his national security portfolio to his vice president. Four days later, Mr. Chaney cut the anti-terrorism budget.

    “After 9/11,” became the near-universal mantra of both the willfully blind national media and federal officials as they hid their failures and capitalized on the unaware public’s naturally reflexive patriotism.

    Both the incumbent president and his likely opponent shared a mutual career interest in keeping the former president’s commission findings buried. Led by media count-downs, avoidable wars followed with tens of thousands killed, millions of families displaced and trillions of tax-payer dollars squandered.

    “9/11 was a failure of imagination!” according to the 2004 post-9/11 Kean-Hamilton Commission, who held over 80 public hearings but declined to call pre-9/11 Commission co-chair Hart (but did meet privately with co-chair Rudman).

    The post-9/11 Commission inquiry occurred solely because a few of 9/11 family survivors demanded to know why our government failed their primary obligation to keep us safe? The resulting 500+ pages’ report includes photos of the terrorists but has no mention of pre-9/11 Hart-Rudman.

    Senator Hart and his fellow commissioners are truly among the most humble of unheralded heroes, whose mere mention makes some media owners uncomfortable and not for the reasons they offer.

    9/11 did not have to happen, but the 2001 White House and major media chose to ignore all warnings.

    Unimaginable as that may be, the enduring agonies of family survivors and war victims are all too real.

  3. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Senator,

    Those of us who know you and your work know that your commission predicted a terrorist attack on our own soil and all the GOP war hawks did was throw that report in a drawer. They were not interested in preventng a war – they were looking for any excuse for one. What we have now is a result of listening to the naive and stupid neocons. What have we gained? What have we lost? I will be in Europe next month and I actually fear being charged with the stupidity of the current administration while I’m there. Is it unpatriotic to tell Europeans that I hate the current US administration? That I’m embarrassed by the US President? I think patriotism is about wanting your country to hold its own and being something you are proud, not ashamed, to call your own. If one’s idea of of patriotism is blind support of the man who won the electoral vote … I’m not interested in any other definition .

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