Tuesday, February 26, 2013

OUR LIVES, OUR MEMORIES, OUR TOWERS





FEBRUARY 26, 1993: FIRST BLOOD, WTC NYC
FIRST CASUALTIES IN A WAR STILL RAGING 
Evacuated employee of the North Tower on February 26, 1993



(Tuesday February 26, 2013. New York, NY) To the people living in the vast expanse that is our country this date likely has no historical significance.  For many of us living or working in the Greater NYC Metropolitan Area it is different; for some today possesses historic and personal meaning.  Twenty years ago today the first blood was drawn in a conflict that is still taking American blood.  It was on this very date in 1993 that the embryonic seed of what would ultimately mature into a fierce and bitter foe made its presence felt on our shores. 

It was one of those typical raw New York February afternoons with the gunmetal grey sky above spitting precipitation that fell undecidedly as snow and sleet.  The initial reports came just after noon; there had been a large, powerful explosion in the subterranean levels of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  AS FDNY, NYPD and PAPD made their way to the site, an orderly evacuation was already underway.  Aside from the smoke and dust in the stairwells all means of egress were open.  There would sadly be six fatalities and over 1000 people treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries but the majority of the 25,000 people employed in the North Tower would exit the building unscathed.

With the clarity of hindsight it seems incomprehensible that our federal government and its huge, bloated intelligence apparatus, failed to see this event for what it was.  Now that all the dots have been rigorously dusted off and connected it is an outrage that the event that transpired 20 years ago today was not recognized as a harbinger.  That is precisely what it was.  It was the first shot, the first strike on American soil that was an ominous opening salvo in an asymmetrical conflict that has spanned the last two decades.  What was ignited in that Ryder rental truck was more than the crude but moderately effective explosive device assembled by Ramzi Yousef and a small cluster of like-minded zealots from the Muslim communities in Brooklyn and Jersey City: what was ignited was a fuse that would ultimately result in a full blown hot war.

Had Yousef’s truck bomb been parked adjacent to a more vital structural element than it had been the damage to the 110 story tower could have been dramatically worse.  As it was the bomb made the building shudder like a boxer receiving a low blow.  After the initial explosion sent shockwaves outward and upwards throughout the superstructure of steel columns and re-enforced concrete, it shook the force off like a dog shaking a flea from its back.  The brilliance and ingenuity of the design, engineering and construction of the World Trade Towers would not succumb to a device such as that placed in the parking level below.  It would require much more force and energy, greater skill, planning, patience and resolve to topple one of Our Twin Towers.  In a cruel twist of fate eight years would pass before we would witness the forces and learn of the evil men who could and would indeed bring Our Towers down.  They had made their intentions known and had been living among us for some time.  The intelligence failures and incompetence were epic and tragically fatal.
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After his apprehension by US Diplomatic Security Service Officers on February 6, 1995 Yousef was extradited to New York City.  As the helicopter that was shuttling him from the airport to the Manhattan Correctional Facility passed over the World Trade Center, one of his escorts removed the hood that had been placed over his head and said, “Look they’re still standing.”  Yousef’s chilling reply was as arrogant as it was prophetic:“Next time” he said, they would be brought down. 

Despite the fact that Saudi multimillionaire turned self-proclaimed mujahidin, Osama Bin Laden literally declared war on the United States during a TV interview conducted in his mountain lair near the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in 1994, US intelligence dismissed him as a "non-lethal threat". Inexplicably his threats were not greeted with the urgency they demanded from the CIA and FBI.  Bin Laden quickly began to make good on his word by launching a series of attacks on US interest abroad.  From the simultaneous bombings of the US Embassies on August 7, 1998 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya  to the deadly suicide bombing of the USS Cole while fueling in the Port of Aden in Yemen on October 12, 2000, Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network was metastasizing and spreading with small terrorist cells embedded in places from Hamburg, Germany to San Diego, California. Under the direction of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Yousef’s uncle, the years immediately prior to their epic strike on September 11, 2001, elements of what would be a 19 member suicide squad came to the United States to acquire pilot training and refine the details of their closely guarded mission.  We know how that worked out.  It took methodical planning and eight years to accomplish but they never lost their resolve.  This is difficult for Westerners to comprehend.  Time is relative and for our adversary time works to their advantage in this lopsided struggle of cutting edge military hardware and technology versus Dark Ages hatred, bitterness, and vengeance.

Hatred, as misguided as it often is can serve as a powerful uniting force and motivator.  Adhering to a strict form of Islam and its rigorous practices and the concept of jihad as well as the harsh doctrine of Takfir and al-Takeyya Bin Laden and his mentor, a former Muslim Brotherhood zealot, the Egyptian physician Ayman Zawahiri, Bin Laden had found safe haven in post-Soviet war era Afghanistan that was largely under control of the ultra-strict Islamists known as the Taliban.  It was from this remote ancient location that Bin Laden’s war on America was launched.  To this day there are approximately 55,000 American troops in Afghanistan locked in an intractable guerrilla war with the remnants of Al Qaeda, a resurgent Taliban, and battle hardened, tenacious Afghan tribes who have expelled all foreign troops from their homeland for millennium.

It is important to recognize that the virulent strain of Islam that is manifest by Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban is not accepted by the overwhelming majority of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims. Islam is one of the three major religions tracing their roots  back to the Middle East.  Muslims the world over have renounced Bin Laden's twisted interpretation of jihad and have absolutely no association with or connection to any militant, radical or terrorist activities.  Quite the contrary; Islam is a religion with a strong doctrine of peace, goodwill, non violence and acceptance.  Our conflict is not with Islam, Muslims or Arabs.  It is with a comparatively extremely small group of men adhering to a bastardized version of sacred Islamic text.

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But today is not the time to analyze the monumental failures by our intelligence community.  It is probably also inappropriate to examine the fledgling group of radicals who would evolve into al Qaeda and their poisonous roots to the so-called “Blind Sheik”, Omar Abdel Rahman, who fomented hatred from his grimy mosque in Journal Square, Jersey City.  All those facts, relationships, and connections are known today.  A wealth of solid journalistic accounts, books, studies, and the highly respected 9 – 11 Commission report have filled in all the blank spots in that larger than expected picture. 

Today is about remembering; remembering and taking stock of the lessons (if any) learned in the last 20 years because there certainly is much to remember and many, many lessons that have been taught.  It is arguable if our government and intelligence community have learned anything.  One fact that should be apparent on this 20th anniversary of the first attack on America in New York City is that those we fight and seek to do us harm do not tell time in the same form or fashion we do.  These are rabid extremists still aggrieved over the Crusades; while time, development, and modernization may have passed them by, they are conversely technologically savvy.  They have used technology to their advantage in their efforts to recreate the Caliphate, a radical Islamic ideal rooted in antiquity.

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For anyone who was in the North Tower or responded to the emergency calls in an official capacity on February 26, 1993, today holds a host of memories.  The experiences of that day forever changed those people as profoundly as it did for all those present on September 11, 2001.  Some of the changes enacted by the Port Authority and the tenant companies in the Twin Towers were responsible for saving an unknown number of lives on that gorgeous Tuesday morning eight years later. 

In the wake of that first terrorist attempt to topple the Towers strict sanctions were imposed regarding access to the underground parking and service levels as well as the WTC Plaza itself. Tenant companies assigned fire marshals who regularly staged fire drills and evacuation procedures that would serve them well on 9-11-01.  Years of constant drilling allowed for a remarkably orderly evacuation when the “big strike” hit. 

In the intervening time between February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001, our adversary carefully plotted and planned.  They identified and exploited our security weaknesses in the immigration process, air travel, and civilian flight training just as they took into account our default position that had been complacency and our misplaced trust in the federal government to protect us here at home.  The profound differences from that first attempt to the collapse of the Twin Towers are as clear an illustration of their tenacity as there can be.  That is precisely why we need to remain on guard; we must never again allow inconvenience and complacency compromise our security and safety.

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In our national conscience the attack of 20 years ago pales in comparison to the monumental sequence of events 8 years later.  How could it not.  September 11, 2001 was as profound a day in American history as there has ever been.  But there were those who perished on February 26, 1993; there were scores injured some severely, and our confidence was rattled, our sense of security questioned.  Every man and woman who exited the North Tower that day was carried or walked out of that enormous building a different person than they were when they walked in that morning to go to work.  We owe those victims as much homage as we do the thousands who perished on 9-11-01.  In a sense they were victims of a forgotten battle in an undeclared war, that in no way diminishes the price they and their families paid.  In some way it elevates it because they did not lose their lives for naught; they died so others would live the next time those Towers needed to be evacuated. 

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There are a group of men, long forgotten, except by those of us who vividly recall the circumstances that lead to the construction of the Twin Towers and those who actually built them.  What came to be the most iconic architectural masterpieces in a famed skyline of impressive edifices, the Twin Towers were modern marvels of design and construction ahead of their time in many ways.  From the earliest days of development of the site with David Rockefeller spear-heading those efforts he partnered with men of a caliber, vision, and integrity the likes of whom collectively this City will not ever see again.

Austin Tobin, the all-powerful leader of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, saw what Rockefeller envisioned and labored tirelessly for years before the first shovelful of earth was excavated from that 16 acre plot.  The selection of the little-known architect Minoru Yamasaki proved to be brilliant not only for his lean minimalistic design but for the wide open spaces that transferred much of the weight bearing to the exterior columns.  The up and coming structural engineer, Leslie Robertson utilized framed tube -boxed girder precast units anchored to the central core which housed elevator and utility shafts and stairwells.  The combination of these novel structural elements gave the buildings stability and strength that surpassed heavier more conventionally erected skyscrapers. 

The Karl Koch Erecting Company, engineers including Leslie Robertson from Skidmore, Owens & Merrill, General Contractor Tishman Realty & Construction Company, the irrepressible Port Authority Superintendent of the massive project, Guy Tozzoli are just a few notable unsung heroes of the finished product that came to be The World Trade Center as are the thousands of, riggers, operating engineers, steel workers, and skilled tradesmen of every variety whose efforts and sweat made a dense set of blue prints become reality.

Actually, by the recognized codes and standards of their day they were “over-built”.  Wind tunnel testing and computer modeling (very new at that time) proved the Towers to possess a flexible strength able to withstand hurricane force gales and the impact of a slow moving 707, one of the largest commercial airliners of the 1960’s.  We know today that those building absorbed the force of Yousef’s truck bomb and the two 767’s fully loaded with jet fuel.  In the case of September 11, it was the raging fires that caused the steel members to warp and buckle which ultimately led to their collapse.  The impact of huge jet planes travelling at an estimated 500 to 600 hundred miles per hour at the moment of impact shook the fire resistant protective foam off the surfaces to which it had been applied.  No one ever anticipated the magnitude and forces of the impacts on 9-11.  If not for the fires there would have not been subsequent load failure.  It can be said that the architecture and engineering of the Twin Towers allowed many thousands to evacuate to safety.  Buildings of inferior design and construct no doubt would have claimed far many more lives than were lost after both of the Twin Towers were hit.

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Our Towers were toppled, our family and friends lives lost, and thousands of psyches bear scars while hundreds of First Responders suffer from the toxins inhaled working on the recovery efforts after 9 – 11, yet our spirit and resolved never wavered.  The Towers were of us and we of them; we shared them with the world but they were ours.  Anyone who was touched by the fear and horror of that day 20 years ago or the madness and death of 8 years later knows just how personal our relationship with those buildings and that place was and remains.


To all those we lost
and all those who survived
and all who remember,
Bless 





TAGS: WORLD TRADE CENTER TRUCK BOMB 1993, RAMZI YOUSEF, AL QAEDA, OSAMA BIN LADEN, DAVID ROCKEFELLER, AUTIN TOBIN PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK & NEW JERSEY, GUY TOZZOLI, LESLIE ROBERTSON, MINORU YAMASAKI, KOCH ERECTING COMPANY, SKIDMORE, OWENS & MERRILL,  NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, 9-11-01, TWIN TOWERS, WORLD TRADE CENTER PLAZA, WTC



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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You told the whole story and you told it very well. I have a feeling it is a story that will never end, but I would so love to be wrong about that. DMJ