Remembering The Attacks Of Sept. 11
AUDIE CORNISH, host: From NPR News, this is live special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm Audie Cornish. Today, in the heart of Lower Manhattan, at the foot of the Pentagon and in the rolling fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Americans will honor and remember those lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. We will bring you live to the ceremonies and events of the day. We'll talk with our correspondents around the country and around the globe.
We'll also hear voices of remembrance and reflection. We begin with the story of the day 10 years ago, a day that dawned bright and clear on the East Coast.
CARL KASSELL: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Carl Kassell. President Bush is in Florida today appearing at an elementary school in Sarasota to push his education reforms. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.
CORNISH: The big battle on Capitol Hill was over what to do with the budget surplus. Unemployment was less than 5 percent and Michael Jordan was thinking of coming out of retirement a second time. The first hint that something was wrong came shortly after 8:00 a.m. A passenger plane out of Boston was missing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: American 1-1, the American on the frequency, how do you hear me?
CORNISH: Air traffic controllers in Boston tried, but couldn't make contact with American Airlines flight 11. It would be the first of four passenger planes hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists and ripped off course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2: We just had a plane crash into level 4 of the World Trade Center. Transmit a second alarm and start relocating companies into the area.
CORNISH: Calls flooded New York City's emergency radio system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #3: The World Trade Center tower number 1 is on fire. The whole left side of the building, there was just a huge explosion. Engine 1 (unintelligible)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #4: Engine 1-0.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: Engine 1-0 to the World Trade Center and 60. Send every available ambulance, everything you got to the World Trade Center now.
CORNISH: As news of the crash hit the airwaves and smoke billowed from the North Tower, people turned on their televisions and watched in horror as United flight 175 hurdled towards the South Tower.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1: We seen it from the front angle before, but not from this angle.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE ENGINE AND SCREAMING)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2: Then I hear this big bang and then we saw smoke coming out and everybody started running out. And we saw the plane on the other side of the building and there was smoke everywhere. And people were jumping out the windows.
CORNISH: As the towers burned, two more hijacked planes were in the air. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: United 93, have you got information on that yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #6: Yeah, he's down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: He's down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #6: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: Where did he land because we have confirmation of...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #6: He did not land.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: Oh, he's down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #6: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: Down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #6: Somewhere off - northeast of Camp David.
CORNISH: American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the western wall of the Pentagon. United flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. And less than 2 hours after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, both towers collapsed. By midday, the White House, the National Mall, and other iconic places were under guard of the U.S. military. That evening, President George W. Bush spoke from the Oval Office.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
CORNISH: That winter American troops were on the ground in Afghanistan. Our national lexicon grew to include words and phrases like Taliban, war on terror and enemy combatant. And soon the United States made the controversial decision to plunge into a second war, in Iraq. It would be nearly 10 years before the leader of al-Qaida would be tracked down. President Barack Obama made this announcement in early May.
President BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
CORNISH: Today, at New York's ground zero, we will hear from President Obama and former President Bush. They are among the many people who will speak at a ceremony at the site where the World Trade Center buildings once stood. NPR's Robert Siegel is in New York at the World Financial Center which overlooks today's events and he joins us now. Hello, Robert.
ROBERT SIEGEL: Good morning, Audie. How are you?
CORNISH: Now, you're on the 10th floor of 2 World Financial Center so what exactly can you see from that vantage point?
SIEGEL: Well, the 10th floor is a euphemism for the roof of the building and it overlooks the site. And beneath us is, first, the ground zero itself and then, before it the stage, with its podium and two lecterns from which we'll hear the readings from President Obama and from President - former President George W. Bush, who together with their wives, by the way, have just walked across the stage and they're greeting people. This is an occasion of state. It is not a political occasion.
We expect readings from them, not speeches. The site itself is, of course, now the site of the 9/11 Memorial, which is being opened after today's events. Directly behind the stage where the speakers will be and where the performers - among them, Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Simon will be here today - is the pool, one of the two pools that are the centerpieces of this memorial. Each is on the footprint of one of the two World Trade Center towers.
They are pools filled with waterfalls. Along the sides of the pools in brass are the names of the victims of 9/11, not just at the World Trade Center, but on all the hijacked planes and in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, as well as the names of those few victims of the 1993 truck bombing at the World Trade Center. And there are trees that are expected to grow to 60 feet, that are all over the site. It's a very moving site.
I saw it from the 34th floor earlier this morning, and now from 10 stories up. And it's going to be, I think, a very remarkable quiet space in what is still a construction site, but in some years be once again be a site ringed by skyscrapers of New York's financial district. Remarkably, by the way, it was a beautifully clear morning 10 years ago. It's not quite as spotless a sky, but nearly. It's a beautiful blue sky this morning in New York.
CORNISH: And essentially, this memorial plaza is open to family and obviously for this event today. Robert, can you describe how tight is security around ground zero and elsewhere in New York City?
SIEGEL: Well, around ground zero, it's gotten progressively tighter. I had to walk from directly across the site on the east side of it to where I am right now on the west side of it and that required walking many blocks north out of my way to get past all the various police blocks. Obviously, vehicular traffic is down to nothing in this part of Manhattan. I wouldn't describe the city truly in a state of lockdown. I thought that yesterday it was brimming with tourists and activity around here.
And elsewhere in the city, it seems to be a pretty busy place, but you see an awful lot of police in the streets.
CORNISH: Robert, stay with us. I want to bring another voice into the conversation. NPR's national security correspondent Tom Gjelten. He's with me here in the studio. And Tom, what's the latest on the reports that we've heard this past week of a possible terrorist threat, actually, for this anniversary?
TOM GJELTEN: Well, Audie, the background to this is - goes back to the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in May when intelligence analysts found evidence that he was interested in attacks on anniversaries. So in theory there's been that concern from the beginning. Then this past week, U.S. intelligence agencies received what they called a specific and credible but unconfirmed intelligence about planning for a terrorist attack to coincide with this anniversary, probably in New York or in Washington. Specific and credible means that it came from a source that they took very seriously and they had reason to take seriously.
Unconfirmed means that they were not able to corroborate that with other evidence, and just yesterday federal officials said they have found no evidence that anyone has tried to come into this country in the last few days. So there is still concern. I'm sure Robert is seeing a lot of security there in New York. I saw it on the way into NPR headquarters this morning, particularly on bridges, but nothing specific yet, Audie, to sort of warrant higher concern.
CORNISH: And do we have any sense of what kind of precautions are being taken as a result of this?
GJELTEN: Well, all over New York and all over Washington you see increased police presence. You see anti you see sniper units. You see all the kind of checkpoints that you would see on a day like this with two presidents in New York and with all the dignitaries expected here in Washington as well at the Pentagon. Obviously, there have to be very high security measures.
CORNISH: And, Robert, can you talk a little bit about the ceremony at ground zero today? It's supposed to begin within the hour.
CORNISH: And do you have more detail on maybe what we'll hear in the opening parts of it?
SIEGEL: Well, you know, there have been anniversaries marked all along and the essence of these commemorations are the reading of the names of those who died on 9/11. And that once again will be the essence of what happens here. In addition to readings by the former presidents who have been also governors the of New York and New Jersey. The port authority which owns the site, which ran the World Trade Center is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
It's a two-state agency and so governors Cuomo and Christie are both taking part. But there also will be moments of silence and the first one will be at 8:46, which marks the moment at which American Airlines flight 511 struck the North Tower and that will be followed at 9:03 Eastern Time by another moment of silence.
CORNISH: And there will be throughout the day, I think at least four more moments of silence...
CORNISH: ...to talk about the various events of that day. NPR's Robert Siegel in New York. Tom Gjelen, thank you so much for talking with us.
GJELTEN: You bet, Audie.
CORNISH: From NPR news, this is live special coverage of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
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