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Sept. 11: One year after

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  Believing that her "choices were either to resign or be fired," Virginia Buckingham announced her resignation on October 25. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

My side of the story |   Continued

he day after the terrorist attacks was spent chasing down rumors and listening to the tidbits of the investigation that federal authorities were sharing with us. The first break came when it was discovered that one of the terrorists' bags had not been put aboard a connecting flight at Logan from Portland, Maine. In it was a copy of the Koran, a flight manual, and pages of Arabic writing. Later, a rental car used by the terrorists was found in Logan's central parking garage. Records showed that the car had been in and out of the garage several times in the days before September 11 - disturbing proof of the cool calculation that went into the murderous plan.

When we received word that the FAA would reopen US airspace the following day, September 13, a decision on reopening Logan loomed. The airlines were anxious to get flying again, and thousands of travelers, stuck at airports around the country and the world, wanted to get home. But terrorists had walked through our doors just one day earlier. Were there more out there? I wanted to wait to open. The FAA had been flooding us with new security directives, and I wanted to be certain we had complied completely with them. Moreover, many of the directives seemed to just scratch the surface of what needed to be done, such as banning plastic knives from the terminals and halting curbside check-in. We also wanted the FBI and FAA to assure us that they didn't have any intelligence information that put Logan at risk.

Others in the operations center had the "snowstorm mentality," so called because of the overriding dynamic in our nation's Snowbelt airports that defines operational competence as keeping your airport open (i.e., at least one runway) during a snowstorm. With this dynamic driving it, the operations staff was marching Logan toward a reopening the next day, in concert with other airports around the country.

I took Kinton aside and said, "Tom, this isn't a [expletive] snowstorm; that's not what this is about." Kinton agreed we shouldn't be taking the traditional operational approach. At our staff meeting on September 12, I framed the issue this way: "Opening the airport quickly is not the priority, opening it safely is. What else would you do before we reopened, to ensure we are as safe as possible?" The staff developed a working list of 35 items that we quickly adopted, ranging from checking air vents on the terminal roofs for explosives to deploying a State Police SWAT team, armed with machine guns, to patrol the airport.

We decided to go one step further by requiring the airlines to certify that they had complied with their own new safety directives from the FAA. If an airline refused to produce proof, complaining that only the FAA had the authority to demand it, Kinton said bluntly, "Fine, we'll open, but you're not operating."

I skimmed both Boston newspapers each morning. On September 13, Acting Governor Jane Swift was quoted as saying, "Terrorists got onto a plane [at Logan], so obviously there was a problem." She said this despite a New York Times story the day before quoting aviation experts as saying that Logan followed the same procedures as any other airport. I swore under my breath. The governor was the first to point to Logan as a unique problem; she wouldn't be the last.

Only a handful of airports, including Logan and Washington's Reagan National, still remained closed. In the nation's capital, the highest levels of the federal government debated when, or even whether, Reagan would reopen. I shared our own reopening strategy with Swift by phone, and she said she agreed with our approach and wanted to be kept apprised of the latest developments. But she added, "I don't think I should be involved in the actual decision to reopen the airport." I felt uneasy. First her quote in the paper, now this. The political distancing had begun, aimed at protecting the governor from political harm.

In Washington, President Bush rallied the nation with an emotional speech to Congress and took the political risk of visiting CIA headquarters to embrace and encourage the agency, under fire for possible intelligence lapses. Democratic leaders shunned partisanship and offered unconditional support for the war on terror. In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put aside a bitter political battle with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and became the personification of a city's strength in grief. But in Boston, politics still ruled. We extended an invitation to the governor for her to visit Massport's operations center, but the offer was rejected. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was doing television interviews down the street at the Logan Hyatt, also declined. A week after the hijackings, Menino was quoted in the Globe as saying that Logan's new runway project should be shelved. The Boston Herald quoted a Massachusetts congressman admitting anonymously, "We are embarrassed that two of the planes came from Boston."

By contrast, US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry wanted a full tour and briefing at the operations center on September 13. They gave a pep talk to the federal, state, and local emergency workers manning the center, thanking them for their efforts and giving them an update on the national response. Their questions at a private briefing afterward were incisive and to the point. Kerry, with whom I had tangled politically in the past, most notably when I ran then-governor William Weld's Senate campaign against him in 1996, commented that this was a national problem, not a Logan problem. It was a statement he would make repeatedly over the next several weeks as he led the successful fight to federalize airport checkpoint security. Kennedy said he had told the media earlier that it was counterproductive to search for scapegoats. As Kerry was leaving the briefing, he asked me when we thought the airport would reopen. "I know it's hard, but at some point you just have to make the call," he said and squeezed my shoulder. I nodded. He confirmed what I already knew - the decision was mine to make, and it was time to make it.

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