Goldmark: Where are we on terror?

Smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the Smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (Sept. 11, 2001) Photo Credit: AP

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Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

You've been reading a lot about 9/11 + 10. I have no choice but to write about it.

My reasons are in part personal. I ran the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for eight years, and during that time, I was responsible for the Twin Towers.

My office for those years -- 1977-85 -- was right there in Tower One. Policemen I had commissioned, employees who had worked for me, died that day. 9/11 was as personal as it can get for me without actually being there.

On 9/11, I was running the International Herald Tribune, a global newspaper based in Paris. As soon as the newsroom told me about the first plane hitting the Towers, I knew it couldn't be an accident. I had lived that moment, or moments like it, in my nightmares for years.

That's the personal side. Consider the rest of today's column a hard-headed look at 9/11 + 10, and where we are on terrorism.

First, a deeply felt salute to the brave, the persistent, and the generous: those who responded, who worked selflessly at the Ground Zero site, who at great risk to themselves did what had to be done without fanfare, without desire for publicity, or -- in many cases -- without recompense of any kind.

Second, give credit where credit is due. The United States put into place a very expensive and very intensive program to prevent hijacking of aircraft, so that they could not be used as weapons again. Most countries followed suit. You and I have done our share of grumbling in airport security lines, but 10 years later, not one commercial aircraft has been used as a weapon and flown into a building or populated area. That's quite a record.

Third, there have been many terrorist attacks since 9/11. Some were thwarted, such as the car bomb in Times Square in 2010. And some unfolded bloodily as planned, such as the attack in Mumbai in 2008. Events such as these are part of life on this planet now. Because weapons are getting smaller, more destructive, and more easily operated by remote electronics, terrorism will continue -- and may accelerate. It's useful to remember that while the history books will say that the modern age of terrorism began on 9/11 in 2001, another more terrifying threshold lies ahead us: the use of a weapon of mass destruction, such as a dirty nuke or the chemical poisoning of a water system, in a terrorist attack.

Fourth, the press has not yet found the right role for itself in reporting on terrorism. It should report far more on prevention and early intervention -- avoiding details, so as not to disclose useful information to terrorists. Prevention, intelligence and early intervention are as much a part of governing ourselves now as budget fights and legislative debates. Regular, in-depth coverage will give us a sense of the range and intensity of those efforts, and will help us grasp how vitally they depend on individuals being alert observers in their own societies.

Last, and most important, a word about the victims. The victims of 9/11 were innocent. They were ordinary people going about their everyday business. It is one thing to shoot at an enemy soldier. It is another to unloose destruction and death upon individuals solely because of the value their death may have in terrifying others. That is the central heartlessness and cruelty of terrorism.

Those who paid that price on 9/11 have earned our prayers. They deserve the memorial we have built to them. Their memory and the memory of their lives cut short so needlessly must live in our hearts on this day, and on all days.

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