Lessons Unlearned

Officials and security contractors in New York City appear to have, again, forgotten the lessons we were all supposed to learn in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.

Remember, those attacks were not the first at the site. In 1993, an al Qaida operative drove a truck bomb into the parking garage under the building. Six people were killed in the blast, and more than 1,000 people injured. The bombing was called a “tipping-point” in our understanding of the global terror threat and our response to it. New security measures were put in place. Bold statements about the security of the World Trade Center were defiantly made. It would not happen again.

More than eight years later, it did happen again, in exactly the same location – but the results were far, far worse. Terrorists called our bluff and showed the U.S. they could not only strike again, but at the very building that inspired all those grandiose statements.

New Yorkers who watched the Freedom Tower go up over the past 10 years, on the footprint of the World Trade Center towers, got to listen to more speeches about the message being sent to terrorists with the construction of this new building – expected to be the third-tallest building in the world, once it is completed. The construction proved we had not been defeated, they said. Security features at this site would be the best in the world, they said. Every lesson learned in 1993 and 2001 was being incorporated into this new wonder.

And, yet, many who walked the streets of Manhattan as the shadow of the Freedom Tower grew could not shake the feeling that what was being built was a giant target – a dare. Public sentiment did not always match the flowery phrases of politicians.

Last week, someone took that dare, and officials are incredibly fortunate it was a 16-year-old boy from New Jersey, apparently without evil intent. Justin Casquejo reportedly made it through any number of holes in security at 1 World Trade Center in his trek to the roof. Yes. The roof. He made it all the way to the building’s spire. By his own assessment, the last line of defense between Casquejo and the pinnacle of what should have been one of the most secure buildings in the world was a single “inattentive” security guard he had no trouble evading.

We have learned nothing, then. Lessons from two previous attacks have been discarded, and threats taken no more seriously than they were 25 years ago. Tenants of the Freedom Tower should probably thank Casquejo. Perhaps his act of trespass will shame officials and contractors into finally understanding exactly what kind of example they are setting for the rest of the world.