Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What more can be said about 9/11?

Today’s reminder of the 9/11 attack on America comes with its traditional images of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and the smoldering Pentagon and the Shooting Star song, “Let’s Roll,” on the radio. We all realize that life in America changed that day.

Aside from an annual memorial, 9/11 also comes with the question: “Are we more prepared for attack than we were?”

An acquaintance of mine told me that yes, we have lost many personal privacy rights, especially with phone and e-mail, but he thinks we’re probably much safer for it. It’s a fair trade-off, he believes.

Still, with as large as our government has become, and with its many tiers and all the personal information possessed and channeled from the driver’s license bureau to your local county, it’s easy to skeptically view government actions as being little more than costly red tape aimed at justifying jobs.

I wrote a daily news article today about Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and his statement to U.S. senators this week updating them about the terrorist threat to the homeland.

Ironically, our government’s worst fears of dangerous cargo involve “a terrorist attempting to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into our country through our sea ports, land border crossings or maritime borders.”

The statement seemed particularly curious coming just days after the DOT pushed the Mexican cross-border trucking pilot program through, defying Congress and a 411-3 House vote at the time.

The U.S., in fact, isn’t interested only in allowing Mexican trucks entry, but is even planning for a Customs and Border Protection program called ACE to let trucks across border checks in 15 seconds. I can’t imagine how an estimated 70,000 shipping units that enter the U.S. every day could ever be inspected by such a system.

More on ACE is available here.

I was a month into my first full-time newspaper gig at a suburban weekly in Belton, MO, on Sept. 11, 2001. My editor sent me out to cover the lockdown at the Richards-Gebaur military base in Belton about an hour after the attacks.

I obtained permission to take pictures of the situation from the local Marine public information specialist, and also talked to the commanding officer as he made rounds later that morning.

Temporary walls barricaded much of the Marine and Army buildings at the base, and anyone entering had to obtain special permission. I snapped some shots of the checkpoint into the base and hopped back into my car to get some more pictures of the day.

Before I hit the seat, six Marines had surrounded my car and told me to freeze. A middle-aged sergeant looked over my identification, my Star-Herald business card and heard my story about getting permission, but he didn’t know what to think. That didn’t stop him from cursing “inky wretch” reporters (my words, not his) and escorting me into the headquarters building for some questioning amongst several other uniformed officers.

I don’t mind telling you that my first military arrest combined with that morning’s tension scared the daylights out of me.

No, it didn’t take long for me to realize how quickly 9/11 changed things. Here’s to hoping we’re all safer.