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Retracing 'The Path to 9/11'

September 7, 2006 By:
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Thomas H. Kean serves as senior consultant.
How does a nation benumbed and benighted by a nightmare commemorate the fifth anniversary of the tragedy that rained down ash on it like confetti of chaos dancing darkly in the streets?

With hope.

Such is the hope of producers more sanguine than sensationalistic as they set up a series of special memorial movies in anticipation of 9/11/06.

Perhaps the most sensational -- in a qualitative sense -- is "The Path to 9/11," a sadly unsettling account of history with a back-door view; providing some appropriate Monday-night quarterbacking five years after a nation's soul was sacked, its offenders flagged for barbarity of the worst sort.

Based on The 9/11 Commission Report, which showed how society was decommissioned by airplanes used as aerial flamethrowers -- decapitating the twin towers of New York in much the same way Al Qaeda beheads hostages while filming their last moments on earth -- "The Path to 9/11" is one of pitiful bureaucratic potholes, unappreciated insightful government underlings and a destructive déjà vu-of-a-view all over again of how a gang that couldn't shoot straight somehow loaded, cocked and fired right at the nation's heart.

With Harvey Keitel, Shirley Douglas, Donnie Wahlberg and Amy Madigan in key parts, ABC delivers an epic mini-series about an epoch that evokes whispers of that Jewish mantra of "never again."

Remember, this is not just a movie.

ABC well understands the seriousness of purpose here, as "Path" opens up the closed-door meetings that met with hubris and hysteria, showing how the nation's leaders tried to lead by action, and were instead as inappropriately inanimate as their emotions were inarticulately expressed.

Retracing the "Path to 9/11" is in a way a walk in the woods, where missteps trail history: Dick Cheney can duck for cover; Condoleezza Rice is par-boiled, in characterizations that essay the messy misunderstanding of preparations demanded by that day.

How ironic that the series is exec produced by Marc Platt of ... "Empire Falls"?

More importantly, the one who brings the most important chair to the table of talent creating this two-part telemovie of bipartisan effort concluding Sept. 11 is Gov. Thomas H. Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, and one of the genuine "Jersey Boys" long credited with an insightful and meaningful take on the state of the union.

And what better ex-state executive to instigate and investigate when the union needs a clear eyed-statement of purpose and response.

"What we found in that report," states Kean, a consultant on the series, "was 19 people who came into this country to do us harm, and our United States government failed in every way to stop or even slow down the plot at any stage."

Who could plot that the commission's ton-of-a-tome report would become a best-seller? "But it did," notes Kean.

For those who say the book is better ... wait for the weekend; this is no simplistic case of The Da Vince Code coming to the screen, but a revealed code of honor and conduct unbecoming national security.

"What I like so much about this project is it tells a story of the conspiracy, and more people will see this than will ever read our report," states Kean.

Big Audience Important
TV as educational tool? Take a seat, Bart Simpson; this is scarier than your hallowed Halloween hi-jinks. "The lack of coordination or lack of information-sharing between major agencies of state government," as depicted in the mini-series, is one of maxed out bone-chilling fear.

This is more a descent into hell and horror than any spunky spelunkers could depict on the big screen.

But if history does repeat itself, can government officials learn from the past? More importantly, are they willing to learn from the past?

Good question, says Kean: "I think government officials are sometimes not willing to learn from the past unless, perhaps, some of their constituents help them."

Electoral kvetching? It can work. "Government officials are enormously responsive to the public. We had a good wind behind our backs when the commission first came out. We got through the first major reorganization of the United States government in 50 years. People didn't think we could do that."

But what happens when "the wind" isn't at their back? How to proceed when the howl dies down and officials are pelted by harmless hale-storms of insouciance? What happens when "we care" cedes to "who cares?" and apathy epitomizes approaches -- or lack of approaches -- to safety?

"People are distracted by a number of things," relates Kean of cracking the hard-line separating progress and passivity. "We don't want to wait for another attack, and if that happens, I think we'll get those recommendations through very fast. [But] we don't want to wait that long."

Wait is what people are doing ... at security checkpoints, long lines at the airport. Kean connects; he feels their pain -- or at least their impatience. "Having been pulled out [of line] myself twice in the last year, yeah," he understands.

Less understandable is the state of social insecurities: "The agencies still have not gotten together and given one unified checklist" of what they're looking for.

"That's appalling after 9/11."

Time will tell ... and it did in a way serve as precursor for the unpreparedness that greeted 9/11 head on. "The frustrating thing is there were so many points along the way" for 9/11 to be stopped, to have the calendar ripped off the wall and time turned back.

"For instance, the FBI decided once they had put Ramzi Yousef in jail, it was over, basically. We had the blind sheik, and they had Yousef. And, therefore, they had done their job."

But clock-punchers can't beat the clock and what time has in store for those who don't learn from the past.

"There were people who knew that wasn't true," that the job was not finished, "and were fighting for the fact this was a much larger conspiracy, that [Osama] bin Laden, in effect, was the one who financed Mogadishu and Black Hawk Down. Bin Laden was still out there, a real danger. We didn't take it seriously enough."

And even more serious consequences may await an unready, unsteady nation. "I will tell you my nightmare," says Kean. "And that is a terrorist with a nuclear device. That's the greatest nightmare I have, and there are a hundred sites in the world right now that have enriched uranium" and should be capped.

Can they be capped before a nation is forced to deal with the explosive possibility of capitulating to terrorist terms? "We're starting to do it," says Kean of capping the sites.

But at the current rate it's being done, "it will take another 10 to 12 years. We believe if it was the No. 1 priority, we could do it in two or three years and people would be more safe."

Safe to say that maybe, just maybe, if the right people travel the "Path to 9/11" ... Maybe a jog along that "Path" will help jog a certain White House resident's resolve?

Should President Bush be watching this movie? "I hope he'll see it," says Kean.

There is hope. After all, "he watches television." 

 

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