Current Issue

Sept. 14, 2011

Vol. 112, No. 1


Thoughts on a tragedy: Lessons learned in the decade since 9/11

Published in the September 14, 2011, issue

PAW asked 11 alumni and faculty members with different perspectives on the events of 9/11 to respond briefly to the question: With the passage of a decade, what is the most important lesson to be learned from Sept. 11 and its aftermath?

Sharing information

By Christopher A. Kojm *79

Courtesy National Intelligence Council

Chris Kojm *79 is chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which provides intelligence analysis to the president and senior policymakers on national-security issues. He was deputy director of the 9/11 Commission and president of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a nonprofit organization ­dedicated to education about the 9/11 Commission’s ­recommendations.

From the standpoint of
the intelligence community, the most important lesson from 9/11 to this very day is the importance of information sharing. The 9/11 Commission identified 10 key instances in which the sharing of intelligence between agencies could have made a critically important difference in disrupting the 9/11 plot. Its recommendations were aimed at improving unity of effort across the intelligence community and across the U.S. government, particularly the sharing of all terrorist-related information.

Illustration: Francesco Bongiorni

Since that time, the culture of the intelligence community has changed in significant and positive ways. Promotion to senior assignments now depends on joint duty — working in a position outside one’s home agency, and learning how to make the whole equal more than the sum of its parts. As the director of national intelligence has said, no one had to order agencies to work together in the effort leading up to the May 1 raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. The mission required close collaboration among many partners, and it happened seamlessly.

While information sharing has improved dramatically since 9/11, important information in many cases still is not shared in a manner so that all who work in a pertinent community of interest can collaborate in addressing common problems. The WikiLeaks episode further complicates the challenge of information sharing: How do we share effectively, and yet minimize the risk of massive and damaging unauthorized disclosures?

The sense of mission and purpose in the intelligence community is clear. The unfinished work of information sharing, however, still remains before us.
Post Comments
4 Responses to Perspective

Peter Suedfeld '63 Says:

2011-09-13 09:23:43

Let me quote: "The Constitution is not a suicide note."

Leanne Tobias *78 Says:

2011-09-13 11:09:30

Chris and I attended the Woodrow Wilson School at the same time, so I especially appreciate his wise words. In this piece, Chris has drawn lessons from September 11 that will allow us to move forward together more powerfully and effectively. Chris's advice on information sharing and coordination within and between groups is relevant in numerous settings, ranging from the family, to the workplace, to companies and government agencies, and between allies.

John Mason '66 Says:

2011-09-27 09:30:02

The sad events of September 11 have been used to underwrite the war in Iraq, with its fiction of WMD's; the erosion of civil liberty, under the peculiar use of "homeland" to refer to our country; and the use of torture by Americans, with expressions of contempt for the Geneva Convention. It is painful to contemplate.

John McKenna '57 Says:

2011-09-27 13:51:07

Because I teach theology, I refer my comments about 9/11 to God with Moses in the Exodus tradition of Israel's history among the nations in God's creation. Moses, it is recorded, had five objections to the Voice interacting with him in the event of the Burning Bush in Horeb. They were: 1) Who am I to go? 2) Suppose I do go and do what you have commanded me, they will want to know your NAME. What shall I tell them? 3) They will not believe me? 4) I do not speak well! 5) Send somebody else! I think as God's servant and Israel's prophet, Moses embodies with his objections the history of Israel among the nations as witness to the Living God the Lord is as the Great I-AM He is. Listening to all the questions and conjectures about God from those who survived and witnessed the event of 9/11 in our nation's history, I heard many of the same objections to Him. I believe we need to understand that He as the One He is as the Great I-AM He is will not be who He is without us, and thus I seek to understand why the event occurred just as Moses and Israel has to seek to understand why the Voice in the Burning Unconsumed Bush is who He is yet among us, who He is as our Savior and Judge. I trust PAW readers will want also to seek Him in these times!
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CURRENT ISSUE: Sept. 14, 2011
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