Next month marks the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01, making this an opportune time to look back at the events of that dark day in American history, and to examine the questions that remain unanswered a decade later. In “The Eleventh Day,” husband and wife team Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan do just that, recounting the attacks and how they could have been prevented, before going on to analyze America’s response, and what must be viewed, in hindsight, as an entirely unsatisfying 9/11 Commission Report.
Above all else, the book serves as a reminder how the Bush Administration failed to protect America, willfully ignoring warnings that a large-scale attack on the homeland was imminent. Even before George W. Bush took office, the Commission on National Security made an unsuccessful attempt to get an audience with Bush and Dick Cheney, while outgoing president Bill Clinton stressed to Bush that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda would be his biggest security problem. Condoleezza Rice comes off looking particularly ignorant and incompetent, especially in light of a January 25, 2001 memo (reproduced in the book), which emphasized the urgent need for a meeting of cabinet-level officials to discuss the threat posed by Al Qaeda.
Reading “The Eleventh Day” one gets a clear sense of the frustration felt by members of the intelligence community, who recognized that—in the words of Richard Clarke—a “very, very, very, very big” attack was coming. In fact, CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black had long “had his resignation signed and ready in his desk,” note the authors, believing he’d be blamed for the attack, despite his repeated warnings. Summers and Swan also take care to examine the intelligence failures of the CIA and FBI, which both deserve a share of the blame, as does the Federal Aviation Administration, which knew that the threat of hijackings was on the rise, but kept the danger secret, so as not to disrupt the airline industry.
Refreshingly, the authors also do a fine job of recounting the most prominent conspiracy theories that have been advanced by 9/11 “truthers” (the Twin Towers were demolished using explosives, and the Pentagon was hit by a missile, for example), and expose them for the foolishness they are. And, in the book’s final chapter, they examine questions like: were the hijackers backed by the ostensibly friendly government of Saudi Arabia? (The answer appears to be yes.) And to what extent did Bush cover up Saudi involvement?
Bottom line: “The Eleventh Day” is one of the best and most worthwhile books of the year.