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Sept. 11: One year after

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  Boston Mayor Thomas Menino also turned down an invitation to visit the emergency operations center. In Boston, says Buckingham, "politics still ruled." (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

My side of the story |   Continued

n September 18, Kinton and I left the operations center to begin a terminal-by-terminal checkpoint inspection. On the way, over Kinton's radio, we heard that a pilot approaching Logan had declared a mayday, saying he had a "control problem." Post-September 11, that meant one thing to us: a hijacking. At breakneck speed, we drove through the south security gate and onto the airfield. We could see the plane, significantly off-course, fly over the air traffic control tower. Kinton leapt from the car and said repeatedly, "Get down. C'mon, get down," as we watched the plane struggle over Winthrop Bay. It landed safely on Runway 27, a mechanical problem the cause of the pilot's mayday call.

The next night, we experienced another surreal moment: the bin Laden family airlift. My staff was told that a private jet was arriving at Logan from Saudi Arabia to pick up 14 members of Osama bin Laden's family living in the Boston area. "Does the FBI know?" staffers wondered. "Does the State Department know? Why are they letting these people go? Have they questioned them?" This was ridiculous. But our power to stop their arrival or departure was limited. Under federal law, an airport operator is not allowed to restrict the movement of an individual flight or a class of aircraft without going through a byzantine regulatory process that had, to date, never succeeded. So bravado would have to do in the place of true authority. Kinton said: "Tell the tower that plane is not coming in here until somebody in Washington tells us it's OK." He then repeatedly called the FBI and the State Department throughout the night. Each time the answer was the same: "Let them leave." On September 19, under the cover of darkness, they did.

As each day brought more news accounts of security checkpoint problems, the media frenzy built. We spent a lot of time trying to separate fact from rumor. It was widely reported that a Logan ramp pass had been found in one of the terrorists' cars. A Chicago newspaper said another hijacking out of Logan was thwarted, citing a flight number that didn't exist. Yet another story reported locally said that a pilot "described as Middle Eastern" had been given a tour of the Logan tower just days before the hijackings. The first two stories turned out to be baseless, the other misinterpreted, but the perception of an airport out of control was growing.

I was on my way to Worcester to meet with local officials and review security measures for the Worcester airport when I got a call from my office. Following a media report of another security problem at Logan, the governor was ordering the newly formed Carter Commission - originally charged with conducting a sweeping review of "organizational challenges" at Massport - to do a seven-day security review of the airport and report back to her with immediate steps to implement safety improvements. I understood the impulse. There was a bad-news story, and the governor wanted to be on the offensive. But I was in the midst of hiring an Israeli counterterrorism expert to make security recommendations at Logan, and my staff was working around the clock to ensure that the new FAA rules and our own voluntary measures were airtight. Moreover, while the Carter Commission, charged with reviewing Massport operations in the wake of the attacks, was composed of accomplished appointees, not one of them was an expert in counterterrorism.

For the first time since the attacks, I grew very angry. I was a team player, but Swift and her aides had to understand this wasn't a game. I called Stacey Rainey, Swift's closest adviser, and in a tone barely concealing my outrage, made the case for letting Massport proceed with its own plans. I also asked another Swift political adviser to weigh in. A few hours later, Swift's chief of staff called me to say the governor was backing off. I'd won one, but it was a hollow victory.

or weeks, I was doing five to six media interviews a day. I wondered how many ways I could be asked if I was going to resign. Each morning as I dressed for work, I pinned a red, white, and blue ribbon on my jacket. A Massport firefighter had made them in commemoration of her fallen New York colleagues. I was beginning to feel like a pariah because of the critical news coverage, but wearing the ribbon made me feel some solidarity with the pain of other Americans.

Even this small token of patriotism brought scorn, however. A Boston columnist sneered that I was wearing the ribbon "like a shield." The words cut deeply. A friend wondered why I didn't have a flag on my house, as many of my neighbors had. It was a simple question with a complicated answer. Deep down, I felt some people didn't think I deserved to have a flag on my house. I guessed others thought that I, of all people, should have one. So I took off the pin, put a small "God Bless America" sticker on my car window, and sought comfort in working side-by-side with my tired but determined airport colleagues.

In the past, my faith had always helped me through difficult times. My husband and I come from different religious backgrounds, but we diverge most in our individual conception of how God acts in our world. I had always believed that God acts directly, that if you pray for help, you will receive it, that "when a door closes, God always opens a window." My husband believes in a more distant God, a God with unexercised power that leaves human beings to chart their own course. I talked with my mother, a deeply faithful Catholic, about the hijackings, and she said, as if to comfort me, "God always has a reason." I said sharply: "How can you believe in a God that would let this happen? I refuse to believe that God had the power to intervene and chose not to. I refuse to believe in that kind of God." God was still there, but out of my reach.

I often felt very alone. In politics, when someone's in trouble, the natural instinct is to stay away, lest the flying mud hit the wrong target.

I attended a City Hall Plaza memorial service for the flight crews, sitting just a few rows below the governor and other constitutional officers who were onstage. A few people I knew from the State House nodded hello, but others looked away, as if they hadn't seen me. Bette Midler sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" as white doves representing each Boston crew member who had died in the attacks were released and soared overhead.

As soon as I returned to my office, the phone rang. It was Attorney General Tom Reilly. He had seen me at the service, he said, and was struck by "the pain on your face." He continued: "This isn't your fault. I'm sorry this is happening." I quietly thanked him for calling and hung up the phone.

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