Remembering 9/11: Continue to honor those who keep us safe

Published 9:11 am Saturday, September 12, 2009

This week, I stood in Statuary Hall among a sea of other legislators in a ceremony to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

As I stood in the great hall shoulder to shoulder with Republicans and Democrats, I was reminded of the myriad of emotions that were flooding the nation as a result of that day. We were angry, confused and grief-stricken. We experienced sadness of a new kind. We felt unity among friends and foes alike.

The attacks birthed a new sense of patriotism in America. We hung flags on our cars and in our windows, we took time to converse with our neighbors, and we felt a sense of commonality with strangers at the grocery store.

Today, most of us don’t have to think twice to remember where we were when we learned of the planes crashing into the two towers.

We talk about it with our families and friends as we think back to the day. We attend candlelight vigils and remembrance ceremonies across the nation to make it a priority to honor those that lost their lives or their loved ones at the hands of senseless terrorists.

What we too often forget, however, is that sense of sheer vulnerability we felt at that time, as we realized amidst the news reels of smoke, fire, and thick ash, the reality of the threat of terrorism to America.

In our nation, we have systems in place with goals to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism. Our agencies and law enforcement officers are equipped to gather data and share intelligence information from government agencies and departments. They are trained to break down terrorist networks and make it a priority to protect our country and ensure that American families are safe.

In the days and months after 9/11, we were quick to praise those systems and those who worked within them — we applauded their heroic efforts, we admired their courage, we respected their tireless work in protecting us from additional attack.

The systems provided a sense of comfort to us as Americans — we had something we could rely upon to protect us from that vulnerability.

Now, eight years later, the memories and feelings of vulnerability have begun to fade. The thoughts we shared, wondering when and where the next attack would come have gradually been eased away by the comfort of the security we have been fortunate to enjoy.

We see a much different picture than we did just days, weeks, and months after 9/11.

Yet, just a few weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on the crumbling morale at the Central Intelligence Agency, which was described by a former high ranking CIA official as “down to minus 50.” The decline, the report stated, is associated with a string of investigations over intelligence and espionage efforts that resulted from the attacks in 2001.

The public airing of the investigations has created a cloud of controversy over the men and women who choose to serve as intelligence officers, and while many officials continue to serve, there are a number that have sought to leave the field and find new positions. Some worry that the flurry of negative exposure will act as a deterrent from skilled individuals entering the field.

While our security, defense and law enforcement agencies are not perfect, they are in place to keep us safe. Abuses must be addressed, but unfortunately we have become allowed our protectors to become the impetuous target of repetitive investigations driven by political motivations.

Where our nation once hailed their security efforts as brave and necessary, we have allowed systemic cracks in the morale of these critical defenses. We would be foolish, though, to continue tearing down the very systems that are securing our nation and protecting us from future losses as a nation.

How quickly we forget the vulnerability we felt on that day. On the eighth anniversary of September 11, as you think back to the day and the hour that you heard the news, as you watch tributes to those who risked their lives, as you attend remembrance ceremonies in your communities, remember those who commit to keeping us safe today.

Remember the men and women who are on the front lines and working behind the scenes to continue to defend America and to keep us safe.