Mass Tragedy, The Media, and a pointless focus of blame
AP: 1999 Report Warned of Suicide Hijack. That no one cared is no surprise. We weren't paying attention. After Sept 11, people found all kinds of reports on the Web, in public, that warned what Al Qaeda was up to. Hey we're back asleep again. The reports could be out there, but we wouldn't see them. The issue isn't with the government, it's with all of us. We don't want to hear bad news. [Scripting News]
It's not just "not wanting to hear bad news", it's that reams and reams of information come into the CIA and FBI each day. And besides the fact that they're not equipped to handle it (there is a serious staff shortage), if they threw up a red flag every time something did look suspicious, it would eventually turn into the "boy who cried wolf" scenario. The same people that may be faulting the government now for not doing enough with the information that they had may have also faulted the government for sounding off too many vague warnings.
If the public is alerted too much, with no consequence, they stop believing the alerts. Just because we don't see a bridge being blown up doesn't mean that there wasn't a plot against it. For all of their faults, the FBI, CIA, and other such authorities actually do stop bad plots. There's no recognition of that, for many reasons varying from protecting the identity of the agents involved and the [bad-guy] targets they're after to the fact that images of a crashed plane or destroyed bridge rally many more people around the news sources than a picture of a fine bridge with the caption of "DID NOT BLOW UP TODAY", or a bulletin about "yeah, they caught some guy who was planning on blowing up blablabla". Regardless of how much television news may try to exploit its audience (the whole "if it bleeds, it leads" notion), there is a much deeper emotional connection to a large scale tragedy than there is to a seemingly small triumph.
And of course, the perception of tragedy among both the mass audience and those who feed it varies. Witness the response to the Columbine shooting, which was indeed terrible, in contrast to the response to violence in the so-called "inner city schools".
It should be remembered that plots to blow up significant infrastructure like the Jersey-Manhattan Holland Tunnel have been averted. There are many more attempts against the United States than we are aware. And I agree with Dave's posting - the issue is with all of us. We really don't want to hear the bad news (there are still plenty of people in the world with the means and the will to attack us). We seem to forget the good news too (there are also plenty of people fighting and fending off such attacks). It's terrible that the September attacks got through. And while I think that more can always be done to increase our intelligence and protection, in a free society such as ours, the mantra "you can't catch them all" will surely come up again. It doesn't matter WHAT we do. There will always be someone with enough will to break through. It's a sobering thought, but it's proven itself out before. Sadly.
[Personal note: the last time I was in New York was last July, a couple of months before leaving the east coast and a decent income behind. I was in the city often, and this time was there alone. It was extremely hot. I have two favorite memories from that trip - (1) seeing Memento at a midnight showing, while drunk (that didn't really work out ), and (2), walking down Mulberry street and then onto Canal or Grand (I can never separate the two in my mind, no matter how many times I walk on them) between occasional downpours. As I walked along Grand/Canal, I constantly looked to the southwest to watch lightning flashes over Jersey silhouetted against the World Trade Center. I was impressed, that night, of the acts of both Man and Nature. It's still very hard and saddening to think that no one will ever see that image again. And the sadness of that still pales in comparison to the lives lost, and all of the connecting lives that have been affected.]