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September 11, six years later

Glaskowsky republishes an open letter he wrote the morning of September 11, 2001.

I woke on September 11, 2001 to the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the loss of UA Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

I went in to work that morning, but nobody was getting any work done, and I couldn't concentrate, so I went home again.

While watching the news coverage, I wrote and emailed a letter to the San Jose Mercury News and several nationally-recognized newspapers. I don't actually know if my letter was printed anywhere else, but the Mercury News contacted me later that day and printed it as a guest editorial in a special edition published on September 12.

Last year, over on Blogspot, I published the editorial as the Mercury News printed it.

That version was lightly edited, mostly for length. There were some significant points omitted, but I can't complain. It was an honor to be selected for inclusion in the Mercury News' coverage of the tragedy.

This year, I'd like to publish the original letter. Although there are minor changes I'd make in hindsight, this version is just as I sent it on September 11.

The United States has long pursued a policy of preventing terrorist attacks by watching terrorist organizations and intercepting their agents before they can act. With some notable exceptions, such as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, this policy has been highly effective. Many other attacks have been successfully prevented.

This policy, for better or worse, is likely to be another casualty of today's attacks. The United States will now adopt the policy many of our allies follow of suppressing terrorism through direct action against suspected terrorists. We should expect to see a broad range of our police and military assets acting against suspected terrorist organizations, their facilities, and their leaders.

These actions will certainly compromise our ordinary desire to respect the rights of those suspected of criminal acts. We are likely to relax our standards of probable cause, evidence, reasonable doubt, and punishment. Our actions, in short, will follow military standards, not civilian standards.

We must accept the necessity of a military response, because today's attacks were acts of war against the United States. At the same time, we must not allow our country to fall into two traps: we must not act against foreign governments, and we must continue to respect the rights of all persons who do not represent an immediate threat to this country.

Nevertheless, there are steps we must take immediately here at home. We must take all necessary steps to secure the commercial aviation industry. Tom Clancy warned us in his book Debt of Honor of the potential for using commercial jet aircraft as weapons. We, and our allies, must consider assigning armed air marshals to every flight operating near US cities and strategic US assets overseas. We must have a way to distinguish between aircraft having ordinary in-flight emergencies and those that may have been diverted by terrorists-- and we must be willing to prevent a diverted airplane from reaching its target.

We must also reestablish a national civil defense capability. We chose not to implement an effective civil defense during the Cold War, preferring instead to rely on the policy of deterrence to prevent a full-scale nuclear war. No such war took place, and no such war is now possible. Instead, we face a threat that cannot be deterred. Only a civil defense program can protect the civilian population against this new threat. There must be well-supplied shelters in every neighborhood, proof against chemical and biological attacks. A civil defense program is also our only viable response to non-strategic nuclear attacks delivered by ships or civilian aircraft. We can't prevent such an attack, but we can be much better prepared to respond to one.

The United States also needs a strategic defense. Today's attacks were terrible, but we have other enemies who may one day gain access to strategic nuclear weapons that could cause tragedies a thousand times larger. We can, and we must, deploy a system to intercept such weapons, even if the system is not perfect.

It has long been apparent to military experts that our country is highly vulnerable to large-scale terrorist attacks. Today's attacks show that at least one terrorist organization was also aware of this vulnerability. Every terrorist in the world has now learned the same lesson. Fortunately, so have the rest of us. We must accept that our world has changed, and take the steps necessary to protect ourselves without losing sight of the democratic principles that distinguish us from the cowardly murderers who committed these despicable acts.

As I said on the Blogspot post:

Today, I would only add that when I said "we must not act against foreign governments" I was referring to legitimate governments that posed no direct threat to the US. On Sept. 11, like most people, I didn't understand the nature of the Taliban government in Afghanistan; today, I consider it to have been a terrorist organization and a legitimate target of U.S. military action.

Otherwise I think these comments are as valid today as they were six years ago.