Bloomberg News

Obama Says Sept. 11 Didn’t Change U.S. National Character

September 11, 2011

(Updates with Obama quotes, adds earlier observances beginning in second paragraph.)

Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, didn’t alter the nation’s character because “America does not give in to fear.”

“It will be said of us that we kept the faith -- that we took a painful blow and we emerged stronger than before,” Obama said in remarks at the Kennedy Center, closing a day of memorial events on the 10th anniversary of the attacks masterminded by al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. “We are not perfect but our democracy is durable.”

The president didn’t mentioned by name either bin Laden, whom U.S. forces killed in Pakistan in May, or al-Qaeda.

Earlier in the day, Obama joined former President George W. Bush at the World Trade Center in New York for a ceremony attended by the families of victims. Obama was later greeted with cheers and applause when he visited memorials near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, sites where two of the four hijacked airliners crashed. He laid a wreath at each location. Officials in New York and Washington increased security in preparation for the anniversary.

Vowing Justice

Obama began his 11-minute remarks from in Washington with a reading from Psalm 30:5 in the Bible: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” U.S. actions over the past decade, he said, show that “those who do us harm cannot hide from the reach of justice, anywhere in the world.”

The president said the 9/11 attacks created “inconveniences” and debate about war and civil liberties. Still, he said, the attacks didn’t shake American faith in the ideals of open markets, free speech or freedom or religion. Nor did it stop Americans from working in skyscrapers, attending sports events in stadiums, riding in airplanes or sending their children outside to play.

The nation “pulses with optimism,” Obama said.

With U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the nation’s strength would be measured not by staying at war but by helping leave behind “free people and sovereign states,” Obama said. He positioned the 9/11 attacks as but one test for a country that moved beyond slavery, the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Cold War.

New York Ceremony

In New York, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Bush and his wife Laura Bush walked along the perimeter of the north pool of the 9/11 memorial, stopping for a moment of silence.

They were joined at Ground Zero by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Christopher Christie of New Jersey. The men read letters, poems and religious passages as surviving family members recited the names of the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Also honored were the six killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

“They were our neighbors, our friends, our husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children and parents,” Bloomberg said at the ceremony. “They were the ones who rushed in to help, 2,983 innocent men, women and children. We have asked their families to come here to speak the names out loud to remind each of us of a person we lost in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania.”

The New York ceremony, in the shadow of a new skyscraper that will be the tallest building in the U.S., took place while thousands of police officers worked overtime under a terror alert stemming from what Bloomberg called a “credible but not corroborated” threat.

Credible Threat

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, said today that U.S. officials are working “round the clock” to investigate a “specific and credible” threat of a terrorist attack against Washington or New York.

Counterterrorism officials have “some information” about the nature of the possible plans and the people who may be involved, Brennan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. No new information has come to light since last week’s initial alert, a White House official said.

“We’re continuing to attempt to assess the threat,” said Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI’s New York Office, in an interview today. “Even after the Sept. 11 anniversary passes, we will continue to try to determine whether people entered the country with the intent to cause harm.”

A U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly said last week the intelligence concerned a possible vehicle-borne attack, perhaps on a transportation hub or bottleneck, and cautioned that the options may be broader than a car or truck bombing.

Tighter Security

In the days before today’s ceremonies, New York officials increased security with frozen zones, truck inspections and heavily armed police throughout the city. There were increased patrols of transportation networks in and around Washington.

Large concrete blocks were placed at lower Manhattan intersections to prevent traffic from getting close to Ground Zero. Metal barricades lined streets to prevent cars from stopping or parking. Police cruisers took up positions on midtown Manhattan blocks as officers stopped trucks and other vehicles for inspection. Drivers in lower Manhattan and those exiting the nearby Holland Tunnel from New Jersey were being stopped and questioned.

Police increased monitoring of bridges and tunnels, performed more baggage screenings in subways, patrolled outside places of worship and government buildings and conducted bomb sweeps of public garages. City landmarks, including Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station, had heightened security today, as did major events including the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

Terrorists ‘Not Gone’

New York police have stopped at least 13 terrorist attacks since 2001, Bloomberg said. While the killing of bin Laden earlier this year has helped reduce the threat, the mayor said, “The one thing we know is the terrorists have not gone away.”

A U.S. official in Washington said the credible intelligence revolved around a plot possibly hatched by al-Qaeda in Pakistan involving three individuals, including possibly one American. Another U.S. official cautioned that the information wasn’t confirmed. The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence.

A U.S. intelligence alert that federal officials sent to local law enforcement said operatives in the suspected plot might be carrying American documents, according to two people familiar with the alert who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. U.S. officials learned of the threat in intercepted communications among suspected al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, three U.S. intelligence officials said.

Intercepted Conversations

They said the “chatter,” as they described the intercepted conversations, didn’t name the alleged attackers and included only vague descriptions of vehicle-borne attacks.

The observance in New York started with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first jetliner smashed into the complex’s North Tower. Another silent moment occurred 17 minutes later, marking when a second airplane hit the South Tower.

The ceremony, mixed with musical interludes, paused at 9:37 a.m., when a jet hit the Pentagon; at 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower fell, and at 10:03 a.m., when passengers on United Air Lines Flight 93 wrested control from hijackers and the plane crashed near Shanksville.

The final moment of silence, at 10:28 a.m., marked the time when the North Tower fell.

Pennsylvania Ceremony

In Shanksville, Obama laid a wreath in honor of the passengers of Flight 93 and visited with their families.

Cheers and applause greeted Obama when he entered the memorial. After laying the wreath in front of a wall made up of marble panels bearing names of Flight 93 victims, he went to shake hands while the crowd chanted “USA, USA.”

After shaking hands for more than an hour with victims’ families, the president and first lady visited the site where Flight 93 made impact, marked by a large boulder.

At the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta held a commemoration with Vice President Joe Biden and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Panetta cited the more than 6,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Stepping Forward

“In the wake of the attacks, a generation of Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies and respond to them swiftly and justly,” Panetta said. “For 10 years, they have taken on the burden of protecting America, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm, who would threaten our homeland. Because of their sacrifices, we are a safer and stronger nation today.”

Members of each of the armed services laid a wreath for each victim at the Pentagon memorial ground.

Lisa Dolan, a member of the Pentagon Memorial advisory board, said her husband, Navy Captain Robert Dolan, was working in the Naval command center in the building when Flight 77 hit.

The center had already been on alert after the New York attack, she said. A father of a nine-year-old son and a 15-year- old daughter at the time, he was among the 184 killed in the Pentagon attack.

Dolan, who has come back to the memorial every year, wore her husband’s U.S. Naval Academy class ring on a gold chain around her neck. It was found in the wreckage by an FBI agent, she said.

“I know he left it for me,” said Dolan, 50, of Alexandria, Virginia. “Even though it’s 10 years instead of five years or six years or seven, it’s still an emotional time for all the family members.”

Museum in New York

In New York, a museum with artifacts from the destroyed towers and the people who died is scheduled to open a year from today. Together with a memorial, it will create a $700 million commemoration of the attack on half the 16 acres that make up the World Trade Center site.

The focal point of the revival is 1 World Trade Center, a $3.2 billion 1,776-foot building that has reached the 80th of 104 floors. It’s rising by one floor per week and will be completed by 2013, said Christopher Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

Two other towers designed by architects Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, and a transit terminal designed by Santiago Calatrava-Valls, will be completed by 2015, said developer Larry Silverstein. Bloomberg, who is chairman of the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum’s board of directors, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan, devastated by the attack that felled the twin towers, has doubled its residential population since, added 19 hotels and invested $552 million in new parks, streets and water mains, Bloomberg said last week.

“What I’m struck by is how much continuity there is,” Obama told NBC News. “New York is still this incredibly vibrant, dynamic place.”

The memorial on the World Trade Center site, called “Reflecting Absence,” was created by Michael Arad, a city- employed architect whose design was chosen from 5,000 submissions.

It features two waterfalls pouring into pools on the original footprints of the two towers. The pools are surrounded by granite walls bearing the 2,982 names of victims of the two separate attacks at the trade center, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93.

Those who died in 2001 included more than 400 rescue workers. Among them were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers from New York City and the Port Authority. Their names are emblazoned on plaques in firehouses, at police headquarters and in memorials throughout the city and neighboring counties.

--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado in New York, Viola Gienger in Virginia, Catherine Dodge, Jeff Bliss, Kate Andersen Brower, Molly Peterson, Michelle Jamrisko, Seth Stern, Tom Schoenberg, Roger Runningen, Tony Capaccio, John Walcott and Dena Levitz in Washington, Tiffany Kary and Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia and Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, John Brinsley

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net; Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net; Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.


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