As of today twelve years have passed since the attacks on September 11, 2001. I’ll leave it to others to provide remembrances of the events of the day.
Instead, I’ll repeat something I began saying shortly after those events and have repeated often: we haven’t prevented any of the critical success factors that lead to the attacks and, consequently, similar attacks are just as likely as they were on September 10, 2001.
A “critical success factor” for a process is a process without which the process would not take place. Most processes have critical success factors. For the process of buying a house, for example, one of the critical success factors is having money and/or the financing to make the purchase. In addition to critical success factors some processes depend on interrelated clusters of factors, none of them critical by themselves but critical in combination.
Judging by the federal government’s actions over the last twelve years, federal officials believe that the critical success factors behind the attacks included inadequate security theater at airports, Taliban rule in Afghanistan, inadequate gathering of information, and Osama bin Laden. Essentially, I think that’s hooey. I don’t believe that any of those were critical success factors for the attacks.
I’ve avoided delineating what I see as the critical success factors behind the attacks but I’ll give you an example. Once aliens enter the United States we don’t monitor their activities or movements. We lose track of them. I think we’re understandably reluctant to change that but if you consider the events of leading up to the attacks it’s obvious that was a factor critical to their success. As supporting evidence (and evidence refuting that inadequate information gathering was a critical success factor) I would submit the Boston Marathon Bombing of last year. Strict monitoring of the movements and activities of resident aliens would have made that impossible.
One of the things about critical success factors is that inhibiting any of them ends the process. I think it’s arguable that one of the critical success factors behind the 9/11 attacks was the stationing of U. S. troops in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If that’s the case we have already done everything we need to do to prevent a future 9/11 and everything else we’ve done over the last twelve years to that end has been waste motion.
These are things that I think are worth debating so that, at the very least, we understood the trade-offs we’re making. I completely understand why we’re reluctant to intercept any of the critical factors that leave us vulnerable to attack. Sadly, we’ve decided to do things which have very little to do with avoiding other attacks similar to those we experienced on that day. That almost 70% of Americans believe that another attack is at least somewhat likely suggests that many people have an intuitive understanding of the shortcomings of what we’ve done.