On a Tuesday like any other, with fall coming on and the kids
settling into school, the United States of America was struck a
series of terror blows so searing they could change the nation's
sense of itself as profoundly as did Pearl Harbor or the worst days
of the Vietnam War.
The US is used to feeling invulnerable. Bombs, smoke, and a
banshee chorus of rescue vehicles were for other, weaker, less
Now the very idea of America, as expressed in its symbolic
buildings, has been successfully attacked. Going forward, one
overarching debate will likely involve how that idea - of openness,
of freedom of movement, of confidence in itself - may change.
"The big issue here is how much we will feel forced to close down
our society now," says Stansfield Turner, former director of the
Central Intelligence Agency.
The scale of the attacks was such that they were difficult to put
into perspective. They created a whole new historical context of
The terrible efficiency with which they were executed astounded
even hardened terrorist experts. Two hijacked airliners slammed
into the twin towers of the World Trade Center within minutes of
each other. Shortly thereafter, another hijacked craft hit the
"To be able to make these attacks within an hour [of each other] -
that shows an incredible degree of organization or skill," says
Stanley Bedlington, a retired senior analyst at the CIA
The terrorist organization responsible must have been planning
the attack for some time. That makes it unlikely the hijackers
entered the country recently.
The implication: terrorist cells of long-standing organization
are likely at work within the United States.
"They were seeded here and waiting," says a former CIA
counterintelligence officer who asked not to be named.
President Bush vowed that whoever carried out the deeds will be
"The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no
mistake: We will show the world that we will pass [the test],"
President Bush said.
But in the short run, the explosions shut down the nation's
political and economic nerve centers. They accomplished the first
task of any terrorist: that of sowing fear and panic among
The two 110-foot towers, a defining aspect of New York's skyline,
collapsed shortly after they were struck. At the time of writing,
American Airlines said it was missing two aircraft, carrying a total
of 156 people. United Airlines was also missing two jetliners. One
had crashed outside Pittsburgh, according to airline officials, and
the other had crashed in a location not immediately identified.
Hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11 bound for Los Angeles
were heard by air-traffic controllers instructing the pilots in
English from inside the cockpit, according to a flight controller
in the regional air-traffic-control facility handling the flight.
"One of the pilots keyed their mike so the conversation between
the pilot and the person in the cockpit could be heard," the
controller says. "The person in the cockpit was speaking in
English. He was saying something like, don't do anything foolish.
You're not going to get hurt."
Also overheard was a request for a flight path to Kennedy - but
the controller, who was not controlling the plane himself, is
unsure whether the pilot or hijacker made the request. …