WE'VE tried to be patient, but eight years and counting is a long time to wait. After helplessly watching the televised horror of hijacked planes incinerating buildings in New York and Washington and learning about a crater gouged into a Pennsylvania field, we, the people, resolved that it never happen again.
And we expected our government to fulfill those expectations with appropriate precautions and oversight.
In hindsight, we learned that there were explicit warnings about the type of terrorist attacks that shattered our assumptions of invincibility. To our dismay, we discovered that our alphabet soup of security agencies from the CIA to the NSA and the FBI had dropped the ball.
Information about planes being used as weapons to destroy key American targets was known. But we were told that nobody "connected the dots" about the impending threat. Further investigation revealed a big problem with intelligence and law enforcement agencies not communicating with each other, let alone coordinating action to prevent disaster.
Lots of money was spent improving airport screening and other security measures, and a massive government bureaucracy was established, ostensibly to keep the homeland safe. That was more than eight years and 3,000 deaths ago, and we're still waiting for government to get it right.
Disturbing lapses in protection persist. It's as if the collective guard that went up with the flames of 9/11 went down without anybody noticing or caring.
But the suicide bomb that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan caught worldwide attention. So did the foiled bombing by a Nigerian man of a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas.
The episodes are glaring examples of how much we're still in the dark about al-Qaeda and its affiliates and how impotent our government remains safeguarding us against terrorist threats. In the attempted airline attack, the NSA was aware last summer of a terrorist plot hatched in Yemen and employing a Nigerian. And it turns out the bombing suspect's father even confided fears about his son's intentions to the CIA in Nigeria.
Yet, in the same way parts of the U.S. counterterrorism network didn't talk to each other before 9/11, intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies didn't share details about the radicalized Nigerian until he tried to bring down a plane with nearly 300 passengers and crew. In hindsight, President Obama called the failures that allowed the bombing plot to proceed "systemic."
In a blunt admission of fault, he said the government had "sufficient information to uncover this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack." But, borrowing an eerie phrase from post-9/11 days, Mr. Obama conceded that intelligence agencies "failed to connect the dots."
The problem was not failing to collect intelligence, the President stressed, it was failing "to integrate and understand the intelligence we already had." Didn't the 9/11 commission reach a similar conclusion about the U.S. intelligence community underestimating, overlooking, or territorially guarding information that might ultimately have thwarted the September attacks?
Didn't anyone learn anything from that nightmare? Incredibly, as the President was meeting with agency heads over what went wrong with the most recent U.S. security debacle, the White House was promising that there would be no resignations by senior intelligence staff.
Why? Evidently the government fiefdoms charged with protecting the public retain the same insulating, limiting cultures that preceded the terrorist attacks in 2001. Change from the top, motivated not by political expediency but national security, ought to be implemented.
It's time government got it right. Our patience has worn thin.
Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org