Senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission Farmer presents a dismaying catalogue of incompetence and dissembling before and after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The author makes excellent use of declassified primary-source documents from 9/11—including transcriptions of frantic last-minute phone calls of air-traffic controllers—to demonstrate how a massively funded national-security system, a relic of the Cold War, failed to counter a small band of terrorists. Bipartisan in assigning blame, Farmer believes that failure resulted from a bureaucracy-laden government. Information sharing was not only undercut by the constitutional separation of powers, but by boundaries between the CIA and FBI, even by limiting intra-agency recipients only to those on a “need-to-know” basis. He shows that the Clinton administration never sufficiently applied its pledge to warring national-security and law-enforcement players to “reinvent government,” and that the Bush administration ridiculously claimed that by the end of the morning of Sept. 11, military and aviation officials were effectively coordinating responses. Communication on 9/11 was atrocious, the author notes, making all the more ironic the contentions of people like Richard Clarke “that their actions in those critical moments made a difference.” The Department of Homeland Security merely widened the gulf between policy-makers and those on the ground struggling with crises—a fatal flaw underscored by the egregiously poor response to Hurricane Katrina.
An important systematic brief on how an elaborately constructed national-defense system was penetrated, and why lessons of that day for disaster response remain dimly understood.