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Probing 9/11

[from the July 7, 2003 issue]

Bruce DeCell was sitting at the far end of the third row in a Senate hearing room. He held a photograph
of a smiling man in formal attire so the important people on the dais before him could see it. Next to the
image was a name: Mark Petrocelli. A caption read, Tower I—92nd Floor. We Love You. We Miss You.
Petrocelli was his 28-year-old son-in-law. He had worked for a commodities firm across the street from
the World Trade Center. Days before September 11, he had been promoted from phone clerk to trader
and was in Tower One that morning for his first meeting as a broker.

DeCell, a 53-year-old retired New York City cop who lives on Staten Island, was grim-faced as he
watched-or witnessed—the second round of public hearings held by the independent 9/11 Commission,
created by Congress to investigate what happened before and on that awful day. While Democrats and
Republicans in Congress have been squabbling over whether to investigate the missing (so far) weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq, the 9/11 Commission has been getting on with its work. On this day in May,
Bogdan Dzakovic, an aviation security expert and whistleblower, was testifying before the ten
commissioners about airline security problems that existed on September 1 I—and continue. These
weaknesses, he said, have often gone unfixed because federal authorities cave in to pressure from the
airline industry. While Dzakovic spoke—"It's only a matter of time before terrorists figure out [the new
security arrangements] and blow up fifty planes in one day"—DeCell had a thousand-mile stare, but he
was intently listening. "If I did anything like this as a policeman," he muttered, "and killed 3,000 people,
with this much evidence against me, I'd spend 100,000 years in jail."

DeCell wasn't just speaking about airline security screw-ups that permitted nineteen people to hijack
four airliners and turn three of them into deadly weapons. He meant everything that had gone wrong on
and before September 11. Bad intelligence. Inadequate law enforcement. Lousy immigration procedures.
Insufficient air defense preparation. Poor emergency planning. After the attacks, there was no wholesale
examination of all that, almost no responsibility assessed for mistakes. And there has been no
government-wide review to determine whether post-9/11 changes in policies and procedures have been
effective. The House and Senate intelligence committees did conduct a joint inquiry that examined the
intelligence failures of 9/11, but the investigation's final report has been bottled up for months, with the
Administration battling to keep parts of it classified. The 9/11 Commission's mission is to go beyond the
joint inquiry, compile the authoritative account of 9/11 and issue recommendations that will help the
nation avert a future catastrophe. 6/19/03