Another Perspective

Not Knowing

Uncle Pundit has been reading the 9/11 Commission report.

By 7.23.04

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Uncle Pundit looked at me and poured his third cup of coffee. "Group think? What's so bad about group think? Those 9/11 gurus have group thought all their lives. We call it a 'consensus' and that's what politicians reach for, consensus. Without it they'd never have written this report. Any big outfit, like the CIA or the FBI, has gotta group think or they never come to a conclusion about anything."

Uncle P had been reading the 9/11 Commission report. "Those other guys were group thinkers, now weren't they? That Atta and them other greasers all thought alike, and that's what made it work. Total unanimity of purpose. Where you get in trouble with group think is when the thinking is off target, when the premise is all wrong. Seems to me where the bureau and the agency went wrong was not group thinking hard enough, and not putting into the process all the little pieces."

Uncle P had watched all the "exclusive" footage of the killers boarding the Pentagon-bound plane at Dulles Airport (it was exclusive all over the place) and he insisted, "What people forget, and the anchors don't know it apparently, was that on September 11 you could take a box cutter, or one of those new-fangled do-everything tools on a plane. There was no mystery why they passed, even after they got wanded. Those airport checkers weren't ready yet for group thinking.

"There is one type of group thinking that could have saved the day. A pilot and a co-pilot each armed with a pistol and the know-how to use it, an armed crew on each and every plane." Uncle P was squeezing my arm now. "An' you know somethin'? Here it is late summer in two thousand four, and we still haven't figured it out, still haven't got more than 2 percent of airline pilots okayed to keep a gun up there.

"Figure it out. How many of those outrages could have been pulled off back on 9/11, had not the airplane crews been sitting ducks? And why is it that even today the transportation security people still haven't got off their duffs and trained pilots? You know what? [That arm was really hurting now.] If I was younger I'd start a passenger surveillance service -- PSS we'd call it. Ticketed passengers would insist on knowing their pilots were able to defend their plane and if they weren't the PSS-ers we'll call 'em would refuse to board the plane. Inconvenient? You bet. But not as inconvenient as being driven through the Sears Tower some sunny afternoon."

Uncle P's brow unfurrowed. His grip loosened. "You know what. son? I don't see it in all these pages trying to fix blame without blaming anybody. But I am actually proud that we were caught off guard on this. Oh, I know it is a treacherous thought to have, a bad place to visit. But take a long view. We were better then. Our group think didn't allow for zealots to martyr themselves in order to kill us. That kind of thinking was totally alien to us. Hell, the last time anything like that involved an American, Colin Kelly was trying to put his doomed B-17 into a Japanese warship in the early days of the war. And that wasn't the same. The plane was doomed to start with.

"No. There was another big reason we got caught. We weren't ready because we didn't think that way. We thought better of ourselves, and better of them. We were fooled, but for reasons worth trying to find again someday, when this is over."

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.