THE 9/11 COMMISSION
A NATION TRANSFORMED
At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001,
the United States became a nation transformed.
An airliner traveling at
hundreds of miles per hour and carrying some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel plowed into the North
Tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, a second airliner hit the South
Tower. Fire and smoke billowed upward.Steel,glass,ash,and bodies fell below. The Twin Towers,
where up to 50,000 people worked each day, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later. Why did they do this? How was the attack planned and conceived? How did the
U.S. government fail to anticipate and prevent it? What can we do in the future to prevent similar
acts of terrorism?
that same morning, a third airliner slammed into the western face of the Pentagon. At 10:03, a
fourth airliner crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. It had been aimed at the United
States Capitol or the White House, and was forced down by heroic passengers armed with the knowledge
that America was under attack.
More than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center; 125 died at
the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The death toll surpassed that at Pearl Harbor in December
This immeasurable pain was inflicted by 19 young Arabs acting at the behest of
Islamist extremists headquartered in distant Afghanistan. Some had been in the United States for more
than a year, mixing with the rest of the population. Though four had training as pilots, most were
not well-educated. Most spoke English poorly, some hardly at all. In groups of four or five, carrying
with them only small knives, box cutters, and cans of Mace or pepper spray, they had hijacked the
four planes and turned them into deadly guided missiles.
Not a Surprise The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but
they should not have come as a surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of warning that they
meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers. Although Usama Bin Ladin himself would
not emerge as a signal threat until the late 1990s, the threat of Islamist terrorism grew over the