The 9/11 victims America wants to forget: The 200 jumpers who flung themselves from the Twin Towers who have been ‘airbrushed from history’
The following is the text of a letter from Expedition Three Commander Frank L. Culbertson (Captain, USN Retired), reflecting on the events of September 11.
I haven’t written very much about specifics of this mission during the month I’ve been here, mainly for two reasons: the first being that there has been very little time to do that kind of writing, and secondly because I’m not sure how comfortable I am sharing thoughts I share with family and friends with the rest of the world.
Well, obviously the world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked by …. by whom? Terrorists is all we know, I guess. Hard to know at whom to direct our anger and fear…
I had just finished a number of tasks this morning, the most time-consuming being the physical exams of all crew members. In a private conversation following that, the flight surgeon told me they were having a very bad day on the ground. I had no idea…
He described the situation to me as best he knew it at ~0900 CDT. I was flabbergasted, then horrified. My first thought was that this wasn’t a real conversation, that I was still listening to one of my Tom Clancy tapes. It just didn’t seem possible on this scale in our country. I couldn’t even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in.
Vladimir (Dezhurov- Russian cosmonaut) came over pretty quickly, sensing that something very serious was being discussed. I waved Michael (Tyurin – Russian cosmonaut) into the module as well. They were also amazed and stunned. After we signed off, I tried to explain to Vladimir and Michael as best I could the potential magnitude of this act of terror in downtown Manhattan and at the Pentagon. They clearly understood and were very sympathetic.
I glanced at the World Map on the computer to see where over the world we were and noticed that we were coming southeast out of Canada and would be passing over New England in a few minutes. I zipped around the station until I found a window that would give me a view of NYC and grabbed the nearest camera. It happened to be a video camera, and I was looking south from the window of Michael’s cabin.
The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. How horrible…
I panned the camera all along the East Coast to the south to see if I could see any other smoke around Washington, or anywhere else, but nothing was visible.
It was pretty difficult to think about work after that, though we had some to do, but on the next orbit we crossed the US further south. All three of us were working one or two cameras to try to get views of New York or Washington. There was haze over Washington, but no specific source could be seen. It all looked incredible from two to three hundred miles away. I can’t imagine the tragic scenes on the ground.
Other than the emotional impact of our country being attacked and thousands of our citizens and maybe some friends being killed, the most overwhelming feeling being where I am is one of isolation.
I guess the fatigue and emotional strain got the best of me. I couldn’t stay awake and continue to write. Today was still difficult, but we started getting more information, plus we had the honor of talking directly with the Center Director, Roy Estess, who assured us that the ground teams would continue to work and ensure our safety, as well as the safe operation of the Station.
We also heard from our Administrator, Mr. Goldin, who added that the partners in the Program are all totally committed to continuing safe operations and support. These were never questions for me. I know all these people! The ground teams have been incredibly supportive, very understanding of the impact of the news, and have tried to be as helpful as possible.
They have all been very professional and focused though I can’t imagine the distraction of this type of news coming in and the thought that government buildings might be at risk. They never skipped a beat, even when relocating control centers. And a group of senior personnel and friends gave us a pretty thorough briefing on what was known and what was being done in the government and at NASA on Tuesday afternoon, which was very helpful and kind of them to do in the midst of all the turmoil. The Russian TsUP has also been supportive and helpful, trying to uplink news articles when our own assets were inoperable, and saying kind words…
My crewmates have been great, too. They know it’s been a tough day for me and the folks on the ground, and they’ve tried to be as even keeled and helpful as possible. Michael even fixed me my favorite Borscht soup for dinner. And they give me plenty of room to think when I needed it. They are very sympathetic and of course outraged at whoever would do this.
I know so many people in Washington, so many people who travel to DC and NYC, so many who are pilots, that I felt sure I would receive at least a few pieces of bad news over the next few days. I got the first one today when I learned that the Captain of the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon was Chic Burlingame, a classmate of mine. I met Chic during plebe summer when we were in the D&B together, and we had lots of classes together. I can’t imagine what he must of gone through, and now I hear that he may have risen further than we can even think of by possibly preventing his plane from being the one to attack the White House. What a terrible loss, but I’m sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end. And tears don’t flow the same in space…
It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming. I know that we are on the threshold (or beyond) of a terrible shift in the history of the world. Many things will never be the same again after September 11, 2001. Not just for the thousands and thousands of people directly affected by these horrendous acts of terrorism, but probably for all of us. We will find ourselves feeling differently about dozens of things, including probably space exploration, unfortunately.
It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are. And the knowledge that everything will be different than when we launched by the time we land is a little disconcerting.
I have confidence in our country and in our leadership that we will do everything possible to better defend her and our families, and to bring justice for what has been done. I have confidence that the good people at NASA will do everything necessary to continue our mission safely and return us safely at the right time. And I miss all of you very much. I can’t be there with you in person, and we have a long way to go to complete our mission, but be certain that my heart is with you, and know you are in my prayers.
September 14, 2001; 22:49
An update to the last letter… Fortunately, it’s been a busy week up here. And to prove that, like our country, we are continuing on our intended path with business as usual (as much as possible). Tonight the latest addition to the station, the Russian Docking Compartment will be launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. On Saturday night (US time), it will dock with us, at a port never used before on the nadir side of the Service Module. This new module will give us another place to dock a Progress or Soyuz and will provide a large airlock with two useable hatches for conducting EVA’s in Russian Orlan suits, which we will do a few of before we come home.
The problem before in dealing with this week was too little news. The problem now is too much. It came all at once when email was restored, and there’s not enough time to read it all! Plus it’s too hard to deal with all of it at once. But I appreciate getting it, and I really appreciate the great letters of support and friendship I am receiving.
We are doing well on board, getting our work done, and talking about things. Last night we had a long discussion over dinner about the significance of these events, the possible actions to follow, and what should be done. After dinner, Michael made a point of telling me that every email he received from friends in Russia said specifically to tell me how sorry they were that this happened, extending their condolences, and asking how I was doing. Vladimir taught me the Russian word for “condolences” after talking to the previous CDR, Yuri Usachev, on the phone in Star City. (Both the Russian and the English words are much too long to pronounce easily.) Very kind people.
For the last two days, the Russian MCC has been good enough to transmit live broadcasts of radio news about the event and associated stories, to make sure I was well informed. Every specialist who has come on the line to discuss a procedure or a problem has at some point extended greetings to me with kind words. Tonight the Russian capcom told us that because of the special day of remembrance in the US, all day people had been bringing flowers and lining all the walls of the US embassy in Moscow, and this evening they were lighting candles in the street outside the embassy. How the world has changed.
People everywhere seem to recognize the senselessness and horror in this attack. And the tremendous loss. Moscow has dealt with these kind of problems in the last few years with apartment and subway bombings, so they are as anxious to get rid of this threat as we are. But the bottom line is that there are good people everywhere who want to live in peace. I read that a child asked, “America is so good to other countries, we always help everyone, how can they hate us so much?”
I hope the example of cooperation and trust that this spacecraft and all the people in the program demonstrate daily will someday inspire the rest of the world to work the same way. They must!
Unfortunately, we won’t be flying over the US during the time people are lighting candles. Don’t know if we could see that anyway. We did, however, see a very unusual and beautiful sight a few minutes ago: the launch of our Docking Compartment on a Soyuz booster. We were overtaking it and it came into view about three minutes after its launch from Baikonur as the sun hit our station, so it was still in the dark. It looked like a large comet with a straight, wide tail silhouetted against the dark planet beneath. Despite some bad lighting for a while as the sun hit our window at a low angle, I managed some video of it as first we passed the rocket, and then watched it begin to catch up as it gained altitude and speed. I filmed until main engine cutoff and booster separation occurred just as we approached sunrise on the Himalayas. An unforgettable sight in an unforgettable week…
Life goes on, even in space. We’re here to stay…
Excerpts of Remarks by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, at the 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony
Well good morning, and thank you all for being here for this very special occasion.
Let me begin by noting, as I did the other day, how privileged I feel to carry on the mission directed so ably over the past decade by a distinguished line of Agency leaders.
Each day when I enter my office on the seventh floor, I see on the wall behind my desk the flag that was recovered from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, the flag that Director Tenet displayed as a constant reminder of our most pressing mission—and the flag from which Director Panetta drew inspiration as he led this great Agency in the effort to rid the world of Usama Bin Ladin.
I suspect that that flag will be there long after al-Qa’ida is defeated. And that it will continue to remind us of the solemn responsibility that we bear and of the great capability that this Agency possesses. For every occupant of the Director’s office—indeed, for all of us at the CIA—that flag will forever be testament to how our Agency rallied in the wake of one of the most terrible days in America’s history.
Nearly ten years ago, the world watched in horror as the enemies of freedom, tolerance and decency struck our nation—its people, its institutions, its symbols. The tragedy of September 11th, 2001 shocked humanity. For those of us working to defend this country at the time, it was particularly devastating.
In the moments after the attacks, the men and women of our Agency and our colleagues throughout the Intelligence Community—just like people in every walk of life, in every part of our country—reached out to family and friends for solace and strength.
And then, with a sense of urgency and determination, Agency officers turned to the task at hand. As the fires still smoldered—in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania—our experts, along with many officers who volunteered en masse for the counterterrorism mission, went to work, tracking the perpetrators of this monstrous crime and helping our nation come to grips with a world that had changed forever. As always, the CIA responded with courage, creativity, and commitment.
Indeed, the Agency met adversity with the spirit Americans have always demonstrated during the darkest moments of our country’s history—exhibiting an attitude that recalled the response and words of General Grant after the terrible first bloody day of the Battle of Shiloh.
Let me recall the scene for you. Grant was sitting in the rain under a tree late that night, that first night at Shiloh, his army having nearly been driven into the Tennessee River by the Confederate force, his men having sustained very heavy losses. All around in the dark could be heard the cries of the wounded. Then, his most trusted comrade, General Sherman, appeared out of the dark and sat down next to him. Sherman could sense Grant’s mood, and he let a few minutes pass before speaking. Finally, he spoke. “Well, Grant,” he finally observed, “we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”
“Yep,” Grant replied, taking a soggy cigar out of his mouth, “Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”
“Lick ‘em tomorrow”—a response that reflected an attitude that was both relentless and determined. Our officers—in operations, analysis, science & technology, and mission support—have truly embodied those qualities. In fact, only fifteen days after September 11th, our people were on the ground in Afghanistan. Al-Qa’ida’s leaders were soon learn, as others had before, that they had gravely miscalculated the strength and resolve of our nation, and of our Agency.
Honoring their memory has summoned the very best from our Agency. The progress that we have made against al-Qa’ida and its affiliates should be a source of enduring pride. You have carried out difficult missions with daring and skill. Together with our Community and military partners, as well as with liaison services, you have tracked down terrorist plotters and disrupted their operations. Your actions have, without question, saved countless lives around the world. We have not suffered another major attack here at home—and your tireless devotion to duty has been key to that.
Along the way, you’ve transformed how our Agency does business, drawing people and resources more closely together than ever before and breaking down barriers to cooperation. You’ve raised the bar on tradecraft. You collect, analyze, and produce intelligence that, by any measure, is more timely, more accurate, and more effective than ever before. And our ability to act on it has never been stronger.
One of the greatest tributes to your success has come from the enemy himself. We know now that Bin Ladin considered what he called the “intelligence war” to be the greatest threat to his organization.
We will, of course, do everything humanly possible to make our actions an ever-greater threat to al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. The tactics and methods that took Bin Ladin out of action will, with rising frequency, do the same to his successors and sympathizers. The pressure on al-Qa’ida and its affiliates will be relentless.
But given the enemy’s fanaticism, the fight is far from over. Our nation still faces serious danger, and difficult days undoubtedly lie ahead. We at the CIA, along with our partners throughout the Intelligence Community and government, have the responsibility of meeting that challenge. I know that I can speak for all of us in saying that we accept that responsibility with an enormous sense of duty and solemn purpose.
We must, of course, be ingenious and thorough in gathering intelligence, rigorous and precise in evaluating it, bold and imaginative in planning and executing operations, and agile and resourceful in conducting these missions. And, like the nation we defend, we must be resilient in the face of setbacks and resolute in bringing the fight to the enemy, wherever we find him.
On this tenth anniversary of the attacks on the United States—as we pause to remember the victims and heroes of that day, as well as those who have died in this global conflict—we rededicate ourselves to the vital work entrusted to us by our fellow citizens: to protect America from those who threaten it, to help advance our nation’s interests in the world, and to conduct our mission in a way that is worthy of the values of our great Republic. It is my honor and privilege to join you in this great campaign.
Thank you very much.
The new conventional wisdom on 9/11: We have created a decade of fear. We overreacted to 9/11 — al-Qaida turned out to be a paper tiger; there never was a second attack — thereby bankrupting the country, destroying our morale and sending us into national decline.
The secretary of defense says that al-Qaida is on the verge of strategic defeat. True. But why? Al-Qaida did not spontaneously combust.
Yet, in a decade Osama bin Laden went from the emir of radical Islam, jihadi hero after whom babies were named all over the Muslim world — to pathetic old recluse, almost incommunicado, watching shades of himself on a cheap TV in a bare room.
What turned the strong horse into the weak horse? Precisely the massive and unrelenting American war on terror, a systematic worldwide campaign carried out with increasing sophistication, efficiency and lethality — now so cheaply denigrated as an “overreaction.”
First came the Afghan campaign, once so universally supported that Democrats for years complained that President Bush was not investing enough blood and treasure there. Now, it is reduced to a talking point as one of the “two wars” that bankrupted us.
Yet Afghanistan was utterly indispensable in defeating the jihadis then and now. We think of Pakistan as the terrorist sanctuary. We fail to see that Afghanistan is our sanctuary, the base from which we have freedom of action to strike Jihad Central in Pakistan and the border regions.
Iraq, too, was decisive, though not in the way we intended. We no more chose it to be the central campaign in the crushing of al-Qaida than Eisenhower chose the Battle of the Bulge as the locus for the final destruction of the German war machine.
Al-Qaida, uninvited, came out to fight us in Iraq, and it was not just defeated but humiliated. The local population — Arab, Muslim, Sunni, under the supposed heel of the invader — joined the infidel and rose up against the jihadi in its midst. It was a singular defeat from which al-Qaida never recovered.
The other great achievement of the decade was the defensive anti-terror apparatus hastily constructed from scratch after 9/11 by President Bush, and then continued by President Obama. Continued why? Because it worked. It kept us safe — the warrantless wiretaps, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, preventive detention and, yes, Guantanamo.
Perhaps, says the new conventional wisdom, but these exertions have bankrupted the country and led to our current mood of despair and decline.