September Eleventh

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The attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 were the direct result of the failure of US agencies, ranging from the White House to airport security, to recognize vulnerabilities present in the various symptoms. The reason why these vulnerabilities were not acknowledged and repaired is that these various agencies were trapped in a cognitive dissonance cycle of thinking. After the Cold War, terrorism was seen as a regional problem (9/11 Commission, 92). The majority of terrorist groups were either groups sponsored by governments or militants trying to create governments (i.e. Palestine Liberation Organization). As a result, the tactics used for fighting terrorism were centralized mostly in the Middle East and were restricted to task forces and field training by the US. The US ground forces were almost never used and, when used, were limited to small task force type missions. Furthermore, a majority of terrorist incidents prior to 9/11 usually ended in negotiations (9/11 Commission, 94). Because the government felt that it had a strong understanding of how terrorist situations occurred in the post cold war period, warning signs on the eve on 9/11 were ignored. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had a similar point of view in regards to security. The system they had in place by 9/11 was seemingly successful, for they had avoided hostage situations for 14 years. Furthermore, airlines were under increasing pressure to lower the cost of flights and make checking in and out of airports more efficient, which naturally led to security problems (Easterbrook, 164). The FAA and major airlines felt that there was no reason to fix a functioning system, and was powerless to make changes anyway due to economic pressures.
An uncomfortable state of tension is caused when contradictions occur within the cognitive system. People are therefore motivated to reduce or eliminate this tension state, which is known as cognitive dissonance (Larson, 29). For example, a man who eats 3 hamburgers per day might one day find out that eating food high in fat increases the likelihood of heart disease. Because he likes them, the man believes that eating hamburgers is good (if something is pleasurable, why wouldn’t it be good?). Now he is told to believe that eating hamburgers is bad. Thus arises cognitive dissonance. People have a set of beliefs ...

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...pon. The CIA had communications problems and the FAA found it more important to keep airfare rates low than to secure airport screening processes. The White House made little progress, even during the time of Clinton, to take strong initiatives to wipe out the terrorist threat. The failures of these various groups were the result of cognitive dissonance; no one was willing to accept the information they had as truth. Each organization used selective attention and interpretation to make the new data fit into their cognitive system, and ultimately, predictably, the results were disastrous.

Clark, Richard. Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror. New York City: Free Press. 2004

Easterbrook, Gregg. “The All-Too-Friendly Skies: Security as an Afterthought.” Eds. Hoge, James F. and Rose, Gideon. How Did This Happened?: Terrorism and the New War. New York: Public Affairs. 2001

Larson, Deborah Welch. Origins of Containment. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.1985

National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on the Terrorist attacks upon the United States. New York: Norton. 2004
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