“Compelling and visionary. DiMercurio’s characters run as deep as his submarines themselves!”
--Joe Buff, author of Crush Depth and Thunder in the Deep

"DiMercurio really knows his subs...his characters step right off the sub deck and onto his pages."
--Larry Bond

"A Master Rivaling Tom Clancy."
--Publishers Weekly

--San Francisco Examiner

--Associated Press

"Superb storytelling."
--Virginia-Pilot/Ledger Star

The Hidden Meaning of 9/11

by Michael DiMercurio, [IMAGE]2006


I couldn’t help myself from tuning into a streaming video feed of CNN’s coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, synchronized into real time. The video was eye opening but not just because of the obvious things. Here are the first things I noticed:

  • As American Airlines Flight 11 rocketed south over Westchester County on the way to Manhattan, CNN had on a fluff piece about maternity fashions. The bare swollen belly of a pregnant model filled the screen as the hijacked jet approached the island.
  • At the instant of impact, CNN had gone to a commercial.
  • Incredibly, after the commercial, there was a business piece on the air about Boeing stock.
  • The fires were already raging when CNN finally tuned in. Until the second plane hit, as if it were an odd but routine high-rise building fire, CNN continued to display the Dow Jones, NASDAQ and S&P index reading on the screen.
  • CNN at first didn’t have much of an idea what had happened, merely repeating that “unconfirmed reports” had it that a small plane had flown into the World Trade Center. After a minute of floundering, CNN’s VP of finance was put on the phone. The man had a window office a mile away and saw the first impact. He insisted it was a commercial jet with two engines.
  • For the eighteen minutes between jet impacts, CNN thought that a wayward navigation beacon had somehow directed the plane into the building – ignoring common sense, visual and instrument flight rules and the crystal clear visibility.
  • Ten minutes after United 175 exploded into the south tower, CNN was still scratching their heads that malfunctioning navigation equipment or autopilots put the planes into the buildings. A caller even handed them the answer, stating that the second plane’s wings were wiggling and that it deliberately turned into the south tower, and that it was a kamikaze pilot. Yet still CNN anchors refused to recognize that the crash as deliberate. Finally some clear thinking staffer at CNN read the Associated Press wire, which said the FBI suspected that the first flight was hijacked.
  • It took almost twenty minutes after the AP wire of the hijacking became known that CNN said the word “terrorism.”
  • When the south tower collapsed, CNN thought it was another explosion. No one thought the building had come down.
  • When CNN did finally understand that the south tower had collapsed, they commented about how sad it was that only one building would remain standing.
  • When the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines flight 77, CNN finally got it right that it had been a coordinated terrorist assault.
  • I’m not saying that CNN was incompetent. They actually did one of the best jobs on the air that day, and five years later had the guts to put their real time news on the air.

    [IMAGE] So how should we interpret our 9/11 naiveté? And were our leaders as stunned and surprised as CNN and the American people were? Many people have wondered about the extent of the government’s foreknowledge, and if someone in power “allowed” the attack to happen, as allegations have been made about Roosevelt evacuating the aircraft carriers from Pearl Harbor and letting the Japanese take their best shot as a means to get America into World War II. Several elements point to this not being the case.

    Later, the 9/11 came to be blamed on a “failure of imagination.” Government agencies and officials couldn’t imagine a time-on-target suicide attack being so successful, and no one wondered what would happen if airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center.

    But fiction authors did. Late in CNN’s morning coverage, author Tom Clancy was asked about the events of the day. At first, I wondered if CNN were truly desperate, asking a fiction writer to comment on the catastrophe, but Clancy gave the best and most cogent analysis of anyone on the air that morning. He mentioned that one of his novels depicted a hijacked jumbo crashing into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress, decapitating the government. Maybe Osama likes Tom Clancy novels.

    I ran into this phenomenon of fiction writers being out front myself. One of my novels, written before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, described a cruise missile with a nuclear “dirty bomb” as its warhead launched by a submarine belonging to a uniting dictator of a pan-Islamic West-hating organization called the United Islamic Front of God. The Islamic dictator was called “The Sword of Islam” and carried a dagger in the belt of his robes. Just like our pal Osama later did. The target of the dirty bomb was Washington, D.C.

    It was chilling to get an email from a U.S. Army soldier stating that this novel was found in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. It was apparently well-read and dog-eared.

    While none of us would ever want to give terrorists a leg up, it wouldn’t hurt to infuse the governmental planners with a little of a fiction author’s imagination – and perhaps his clairvoyance as well.

    But WERE our government officials as clueless as CNN anchors? And if they were, is there meaning in that cluelessness? In the moments after the first plane hit, President Bush was in a classroom in Florida emphasizing reading. Perhaps the government’s version of a fluff fashion model segment. After Bush had been informed of the first crash, he went on reading to first graders for another nine minutes. For that kind of reaction, you have to imagine more than just “a failure of imagination.” You’d need to see that what our government suffered was what we in the nuclear Navy called the “oh sh**” factor.

    The “oh sh**” factor happens when an emergency arises out of nowhere, an emergency so whacky and unprecedented that it leaves you stunned and paralyzed. Four hundred feet below the Atlantic, I was running a nuclear reactor drill, surrounded by three senior officers, each having a decade-and-a-half of experience in operating nuclear plants. I and another officer had less experience, but were still sharp, and we stood behind a seasoned reactor operator, the best on the ship. It was a drill, but was still a true “casualty” because the reactor was actually tripped out and we were trying to recover it (if you can do it without sinking, that’s a good thing).

    Suddenly something happened that no one had ever thought of, drilled, talked about or even theorized, and it caused a reactor runaway reaction. In the cold light of the post-emergency investigation, it was clear that someone should have hit the kill switch and “scrammed” the reactor. That one button would have made everything safe. No one even thought about it during the two minute freak accident. And although all the signs were there on the instrument panels to see, we all froze. If the automatic protection circuits hadn’t acted as designed, the nuclear power spike and resulting steam explosion – a “prompt critical rapid disassembly” – would have blown open the hull and we would have coasted all the way to the rocky bottom of the cold Atlantic two miles beneath us.

    That feeling of all your thought processes coming to a complete, paralyzed stop is the famous “oh sh**” factor. It is the reason that we drilled on every catastrophe or crisis we could think of. And if I learned one thing from the Navy, it was that what you sweat goes fine. It’s what you don’t think of that comes to get you.

    This came to mind a month ago when I was watching a comedy movie in a dark theater with my five year old daughter. I’d always wondered what I would do if she were to choke, as it was one of my parenting fears. Suddenly she laughed and choked at the same time, and by the dim light of the screen I could see her eyes bug out in panic, and the choking sound stopped. Before a tenth of a second passed I grabbed her, and while running down the aisle steps toward better light, gave her the Heimlich four times, but as I could see in the light at the exit, she was still choking and absolutely terror stricken – as was I. I began to wonder if I had the stones to do an emergency tracheotomy with a pocket knife, and why I no longer carried one – terrorists were the answer to that one, as all my knifes were long since confiscated by airport security. I knew that nothing could stand between me and my daughter’s survival, not broken ribs and not the frightening idea of making a hole in her throat. With one last titanic squeeze I gave her the Heimlich one last time, and she projectile-vomited all over me. It was the happiest sensation I think I’ve ever had. She was still terrified, and her chest was sore for days, but the little one was safe and sound. We returned to the movie, but she was afraid to laugh for fear of choking again.

    Where was the “oh sh**” factor then? It didn’t happen, because I’d mentally rehearsed what I’d do in that moment. Had this happened before everyone was educated on how to do the Heimlich maneuver, that story would have had a tragic ending.

    Here’s why I think our own leaders suffered the “oh sh**” factor:

    The president continued reading to first graders for nearly ten minutes after the Flight 11 impact. After the first plane hit, the south tower was not evacuated. People returned to their desks and didn’t live to regret it. Despite the FAA knowing that a coordinated hijacking was going on, no fighter jets made it to the hijacked flights on time. At supersonic speed, fighter jets could have either forced the hijacked flights down, or destroyed them before they could be used as air-fuel ultra-high energy missiles.

    The inertia of the “oh sh**” factor paralyzed the U.S. government in the heat of the moment. The sins of our government happened long before with our lily-livered approach to taking down terrorists.

    Unfortunately, having gotten a taste of victory on September 11, the Islamic militants will escalate. The next one will be a nuclear, biological or chemical attack. Why do I make it sound obvious? Because the Islamic militants covet it so much, and they’ve proved that what they envision, they can make reality. So far in this war, it has been the terrorists who have the advantage of imagination. Today, in America, the term “WMD” is now derided as a mere lie allowing us to topple the Iraqi government. But within half a decade, it will have a different connotation.

    How will the bad guys accomplish a nuclear, biological or chemical attack?

    Let’s turn to a fiction writer for that answer. Imagine, if you will, an airfreight carrier’s freight handlers being conspirators. If a FEDEX or UPS hub were compromised, components of nuclear weapons could be brought into the cargo holds of cargo jets, perhaps packaged in briefcase-sized boxes. Cargo jets could then be compromised by saboteurs. When they took off, the hijackers would wait to take them over until they neared their target cities, then enter the cockpits through the avionics bays. A cargo jet heading for JFK Airport in New York would only turn from its glide slope in the last moments of the flight, and then turn toward Manhattan. The assembled nuclear weapon, worked on during the hours of the flight, would be triggered. A half-megaton hydrogen bomb detonated over New York would make the fuel-air explosive kamikaze attack of 9/11 seem minor. In addition to the physical damage, the economic center of the world would be gravely injured. A nuke detonated over Washington would leave our government helpless and scattered. But New York and Washington would not be the only targets. This time, the hurt will be visited upon the heartland and the west coast. Memphis. Chicago. Denver. Cincinnati. Houston. San Francisco. Los Angeles. And Seattle. Ten 500 kiloton bombs. Ten cities in radioactive ruins. What will the post-nuclear-attack America be like?

    We should vow that we’ll never have to find out.

    How can we fight terrorists like these while preserving the Constitution?

    That answer, again, from a fiction writer. We should use the tactics of the enemy against him. Terrorists have triumphed using cells. Each is isolated from the others, and each have little or no command-and-control from centralized authority. And each is funded, given a mission but NOT the specifics of how to carry out that mission. And therefore, one of them succeeds.

    Imagine, then, funding for American cells of volunteers. These cells’ mission would be to strike and kill key terrorists by any means they can think of. Any means. The only official connection of these cells to the government would be the funding. Cells could arm up with the latest weapons, ammunition and James Bond gadgets. The budgets for these cells would be hotly debated, but also highly secret. A black program like no others ever conceived. Released to do whatever the cell leaders saw fit, however they saw fit, the cells would be the ultimate weapon. They would be accountable only for the ultimate success on their own timeline. No politicians, no Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, no bureaucratic meddling or turf battles between the State Department, the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA or Homeland Security. And no harm to the Constitution of the United States as the Executive Branch worries about overstepping its authority by imprisoning enemy combatants or spying on cell phone calls domestically.

    Is that an episode of “Mission Impossible,” a bad first draft of a thriller outline, or a recipe for success against men willing to do anything to harm us and our way of life?

    I can’t help but wonder what our way of life would be like with ten cities in ashes. Is that just a crazy nightmare? Or recognition that a handful of militant anti-American Islamics killed more of us on a September morning than the Russians did in four-and-a-half decades of the Cold War?



    As hurricane Helen barrels in toward the Virginia coastline, the U.S. Navy’s Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet orders all vessels to scramble to sea, including Burke Dillinger’s Hampton and Peter Vornado’s Texas.

    But this is no mere storm evacuation.

    There is something sinister going on in the eastern Atlantic. The Navy’s eyes are on the ballistic missile submarine force, the “boomer” submarines loaded to the gills with intercontinental nuclear warheads. And the French boomer submarine Le Vigilant has “gone bad,” hijacked by an Algerian terrorist with dreams of completing the circle of revenge and using French nuclear weapons on the French who killed his father.

    As terrorist Issam Zauabri’s forces learn how to employ the nuclear missiles, Vornado’s Texas and Dillinger’s Hampton close in on the threat, but Issam knows how to use torpedoes as well as he does the missiles, and Le Vigilant is one of the quietest submarines ever built. Once the American subs are on the bottom, his attack can proceed on Paris, but since it was Americans who interfered, Issam will save one missile for New York…

    “Compelling and visionary. DiMercurio’s characters run as deep as his submarines themselves!”

    --Joe Buff, author of Straits Of Power, Tidal Rip, Crush Depth, Thunder in the Deep, And Deep Sound Channel.

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    Michael DiMercurio
    Princeton, New Jersey



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