NEW YORK—At 8:46 a.m. today, as it has every Sept. 11 since 2001, Ground Zero goes silent, marking the moment the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Five more moments of silence follow until noon: one at 9:03 a.m. marking the plane crashing into the South Tower, one for each of the towers falling, one for the moment a plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one for the flight that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
New Yorkers who have stayed in the city in the last 12 years have a forgetfulness about the horror of the attacks that allows them to go about their lives each day on the streets around Ground Zero. But ask them about 9/11 and many will tell you it was the worst day of their lives.
On the 12th anniversary, the attacks haven’t faded in New Yorkers’ memory. At police precincts and firehouses around the city, photos of the fallen appear with flowers. Tourists swarm the newish memorial at Ground Zero, lines wrapping around blocks of lower Manhattan. Construction crews buzz, too, as the Freedom Tower nears completion and gleaming new buildings slowly replace the ones destroyed in the radius of the two towers’ collapse. This year, construction workers capped the Freedom Tower with its spire, making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
The anniversaries for 9/11 have all passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration: He was elected weeks after the attacks and has overseen dramatic changes and growth in the city over three terms. This 9/11 anniversary will be his last as mayor, and the city voted for his successor in primaries yesterday.
Two days before the anniversary, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly warned against “complacency.”
“The analysis of the police department, the intelligence community, our recent experience tells us that New York remains squarely in the crosshairs of global terrorism,” said Kelly in remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The threat of terrorism is as great if not greater today than it was before the World Trade Center was destroyed.”
Kelly indicated the threat was greater because Bloomberg was leaving office. He said none of the mayoral candidates had requested a briefing on the terrorism threat. Bill de Blasio, the leader in Tuesday’s Democratic primary (it is undetermined whether he might face a runoff), said he had requested a briefing at the end of August without any response. Other candidates said they had planned on requesting a briefing if they won the nomination. De Blasio has indicated he would not keep Kelly as police commissioner. Joe Lhota, the winner of yesterday’s Republican primary, has supported Kelly.
Kelly’s department has come under fire recently for its intelligence gathering tactics targeting mosques. He said his department, in conjunction with federal agencies, has foiled 16 terror attacks in New York. One plot against the Brooklyn Bridge was foiled through intelligence gained from the harsh interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Kelly has said in the past.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) recently did an unnerving operation where it released harmless gases into the subway system to track their spread, part of a preparation for a chemical attack. That, unfortunately, is not a fantastic scenario: One of the plots the NYPD has foiled involved releasing cyanide gas into the subway system. Police officers also randomly establish checkpoints in the subway system to search backpacks, and the city has radiation detectors to track a dirty bomb.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, stepped into the Kelly debate on Monday, signing a bill into law that requires out-of-state law enforcement officials to inform local authorities about any counterterrorism operations 24 hours in advance. That law would cover Kelly’s surveillance operations, some of which have in the last 12 years overflowed into neighboring New Jersey.
“As a former U.S. attorney appointed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I strongly believe we need to do everything in our power to prevent terrorist attacks on our country and keep our people safe,” Christie said in signing the law. “I also believe we must protect and maintain civil liberties, especially those of the citizens in New Jersey’s Muslim community. This bipartisan legislation will help us reach that balance.”
Bloomberg has been careful about keeping politics out of the anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero: He doesn’t allow politicians to speak, reserving the ceremony for victims’ families and the reading of the nearly 3,000 names of victims.