Mark Rossini tried to stop 9/11. But he ran into a psychological barrier which we all deal with regularly. If those around him didn’t allow this one thing to dominate their actions, thousands of people would’ve been saved.
The word cork can mean so many things.
Cork is a device for plugging holes, a porous texture and a color in the family of brown. It takes context to know which meaning the word takes on in a sentence. The phrase nine eleven was the same way, until 2001.
It could conjure thoughts of the iconic Porsche 911 in Carmine Red. Nine eleven might have made people consider the emergency phone number system implemented in the late 1960’s in the U.S.
But now the phrase causes most people imagine two planes crashing into the World Trade Center Towers. Like me, most people see the images of people fleeing in the streets as the giants of finance crumble to the earth and melt from the skyline.
The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 caused a huge ripple in the sea that is the world. For those of us who were raising young families during that time, it shook our feeling of security and safety to it’s core. We wondered what the world would look like when our children matured. Would the U.S. still exist as it did that day, and just how long would this new war, fought for old reasons last?
It was a defining moment in the lives of Generation X. Up to that point the Challenger disaster, Rodney King riots, O.J. Simpson trial and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal were likely the most memorable events of our lives.
But 9/11 changed everything. Suddenly we were thrust into politics, religion and chaos. We had never witnessed an event that killed thousands of people in a single day. Our generation had never seen the beginning of a war of that scale. We had never had so many unanswered questions dumped upon us in such a short amount of time.
One of those questions, which was asked over and over again was, “How could this happen?”
It seems the answer was simple.
CNN breaks down the timeline this way.
September 11, 2001
– Nineteen men hijack four commercial airlines loaded with fuel for cross country flights, to carry out a terrorist attack on the United States orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
— 8:46 a.m. ET (approx.) – American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The plane is piloted by plot leader Mohamed Atta.
— 9:03 a.m. ET (approx.) – United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The plane is piloted by hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi.
— 9:37 a.m. ET (approx.) – American Airlines Flight 77 (traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles) strikes the Pentagon Building in Washington, DC. The plane is piloted by hijacker Hani Hanjour.
— 10:03 a.m. ET (approx.) – United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashes in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The plane is piloted by hijacker Ziad Jarrah.
What Really Happened?
That is technically what happened. But the question is not in reference to the timeline of the day. The question is in reference to the fact that 19, highly unskilled and very questionable men walked through multiple lines of security offered by the U.S. government and killed thousands of people on American soil with almost no trouble.
How did that happen?
How did 19 guys with box cutters accomplish such a heinous crime, with the CIA operating mainly out of the country and the FBI functioning inside our boundaries, and utilizing a budget of tens of billions of dollars?
The answer is they walked through a psychological quirk that existed within the agencies. It is not an oddity or rare. In fact it something for which most of us have the capacity. This quirk was best demonstrated and discovered in an experiment on how animals related one thing with another.
1965 was not a good year to be a test animal. Martin Seligman was much crueler to dogs than would be allowed today. His test started by ringing a bell, then shocking a dog immediately thereafter. He was attempting to prove the association the dogs developed with the bell and the pain of the shock, which he did. Eventually the dogs would flinch from he sound of the bell, even if no shock was administered.
But the second part of the test was the most interesting.
He built a large pen with a short wall dividing the pen into two sides. The wall was short enough for the dogs to see and step over easily. Seligman then placed a dog on one side of the pen.The floor of that side had been set up to become electrified. He administered a shock to the dogs and what happened next was, well shocking.
If the dog had previously been jolted during the bell experiment, it would just lay down and take the jolt. During the bell experiment the dog had no control over the treatment. It had learned that the shocks were out of it’s control. In the dog’s mind there was nothing it could do to stop the pain. So it would just lie down until the shock ended.
If the dog had not been shocked it would simply jump to the other side of the pen, safe and happy. What Seligman uncovered was what he coined learned helplessness. Seligman had unknowingly trained those dogs to believe the shocks were a condition of existing. The dogs thought there was nothing they could do to stop the shock. So even when there was a clear and available opportunity to leave, they did not. They were trained to be helpless.
In the decades following the research, learned helplessness has also been found in humans.
We will often do nothing if we have been taught or trained that nothing we do matters. Sometimes we feel it’s impossible to affect change or find something better, so we sit in the painful situation, hoping it will go away. We find ways to cope with the feeling of helplessness in the form of mood-altering chemicals, hobbies or sayings to occupy our mind and make us believe we are not in control. Things like, “the rich get richer,” or “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” and “if it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all” lead to the same learned helplessness the dogs felt.
The outcomes of situations are often what causes pain in humans. It could be the death of a friend, the loss of a place to live after losing a job or the end of a relationship that we wanted to keep that hurts us deeply. Negative outcomes to situations are the source of most human suffering. But it is what we think about those outcomes that determine our mental state.
It is in the moment when we assign blame for the situation that we determine our perspective on what happened. That moment when we attribute reasons for the situation shapes everything. Psychologists have found many types of these attributions, but there are three that we use with devastating results. They result in learned helplessness. They are:
Internal attributions name the person for the outcome, and nothing else.
Stable attributions are attributions that don’t change with time.
Global attributions don’t change across situations.
For example, if a person loses their job, they may assign many reasons as to why it happened. They may think it’s because they are incompetent, their boss was a bad leader or the industry is dying.
When the person who was fired feels incompetent, that is an internal attribution to that outcome. If that person is incompetent, all responsibilities for the outcome lie within the person. That internal attribution can be the beginning of learned helplessness. So if the problem lies solely within the victim of the outcome, the same results are bound to follow that person to the next job.
If the attribution was that the boss was a bad leader, that would be an external attribution. That reason stays with the lost job, not with the person, making a new job a decent solution to the problem. External attributions don’t usually lead to learned helplessness.
That person being incompetent is not, however an example of a stable attribution. One can be better trained, competent in a different field or develop a new discipline to overcome their shortcomings. But, if they attribute their skin color or gender to the loss, that is a stable attribution. Those are things that aren’t likely to change.
A global attribution would be that the person was working at a store which became obsolete, like a record store. Globally, the industry of analog music decomposed to digital music. The industry of any type of physical music such as CD’s is all but gone. If the attribution to the job loss is that the record business is dying, it would be a global attribution. Consequently, if the person assigns that along with an internal attribution that the only thing they know is the record business, it is a recipe for learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness is the mindset that causes people to continue doing something that will never get them the results they want. If the person who lost their job thinks the record industry is dying and they only know that industry, they are helpless. But there are better, realistic examples of learned helplessness. For instance, it is the reason football teams still punt on fourth down.
In American football the team with the ball has four chances to move it ten yards. If the team reaches or exceeds ten yards at any time, those four chances, or downs, start over. When they don’t move ten yards or more in four downs the other team gets the ball right where the fourth play stopped.
Given that the other team may get the ball anyway after fourth down, most teams choose to punt, or kick the ball away. In other words the team gives up the chance to complete the full ten yards, or even an opportunity to score, so they can put the other team in worse field position on the next play. This puts the ball as far away from their end zone, where the other team scores, as possible. So punting makes it more difficult for the other team to score, in theory.
But the numbers say that isn’t true.Math
The math is complicated, but essentially every yard on the field is given a value relative to the potential the team has of scoring from that position. When an astute coach factors in the potential they have of completing the full ten yards with the field position of the other team after a punt, it becomes very clear that punting is a bad idea almost always. Not only is the team giving away 25% of their chance to score, but they are doing it to put the other team in a field position that almost never equates to a big change.
If the other team had to start the next play from where the ball landed on the field it may be a different story. But that isn’t the case. The other team catches the ball and then runs it back from whence it came. This return of the ball back towards the end zone, plus the loss of 1 out of 4 chances to score makes for devastating math.
The science on punting is not a theory, but is proven mathematically, and functionally on the field. But teams still punt, like addicts who need a fix. This research has been around a long time and most professional coaches have at least heard of it. Yet they still kick away the football on fourth down.
David Romer of the University of California, Berkeley and National Bureau of Economic Research who did the research that resulted in this unconventional bit of wisdom thinks he knows why. He says that in the moment the coach chooses to kick the ball away, they are not thinking about winning. They are thinking about their job. He explains that if the team acts conventionally and loses, the coach can blame the players for the loss. But if they act unconventionally and lose, he carries the burden. So, out of fear and learned helplessness, coaches continue doing what they’ve always done, which is wrong.
Well, most coaches anyway.
In 2015, the Kansas City Star wrote an article about a “radical” coach who had changed his philosophy on how the game of football should be played. Jeff Cruce had decided that he would follow the tutelage of people like David Romer and coach Kevin Kelly, who adopted the concept to great results. The article was written early in the season, before the results could be established. But they were fascinated with the radical coach Kelly who was defying the status quo. They explained him this way.
-Kelley, the head coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock since 2003, has won four state titles using his radical brand of football. You’ve probably heard the story: Kelley’s teams never punts — save for the most extreme situations. They always onside kick. And they generally treat football games like one never-ending, hair-ablaze two-minute drill. Kelley’s strategies — and their subsequent success — have made him a cult figure in football circles.
He is a constant media curiosity — commanding recent profiles from HBO’s “Real Sports,” the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and pretty much every publication that enjoys weird sports stories. He is adored on the Internet. (Twitter is obsessed with many things, but it LOVES coaches who never punt.) And he has become a fascination in the upper echelon of football. Earlier this year, according to the Post, Kelley scored a one-on-one meeting with former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who now works for the Atlanta Falcons.
But for all the attention, Kelley has remained something of a loner — a one-man revolution against the punting fascists of the football world.-
A idea is only newsworthy if it’s rare. And it stays a rare idea when the majority of people would rather sit in the pain of what is wrong than jump to the freedom of success. In the midst of learned helplessness, good ideas like not punting seem radical.
Learned helplessness can cause dogs to sit through a shock, coaches to keep doing what doesn’t work and huge government agencies to shrug their shoulders and say, “that’s the way it is around here” in the face of mounting evidence that danger is coming.
Mark Rossini and Doug Miller
Doug Miller was an FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s Alec Station unit. It was the unit assigned to monitoring Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11. Miller was concerned about Khalid al-Mihdhar who was a known terrorist that had obtained passage to the US. His bosses at the CIA were not.
On Sept 11, al-Mihdhar would help fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
20 months earlier, on January 5, 2000, Doug Miller learned that Khalid al-Mihdhar had a US visa. In December of the previous year the CIA tapped the phone in Yemen belonging to al-Mihdhar which began the snowball of information on him, including his possible link to an attack in 1998 on the East African embassy. So Doug Miller wrote a memo intended for the FBI, explaining that a known terrorist with ties to Al-Queada had a US passport and could be headed to the US. Because the CIA manages foreign matters and the FBI is in charge of domestic issues, this seems the logical course of action. This terrorist is about to leave foreign soil and land right in FBI jurisdiction.
But a CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey blocked the letter from going to the FBI with a note saying, ‘pls hold off for now per Tom Wilshire’ who was deputy chief of Alec Station. Miller was also told that this wasn’t a matter for the FBI. These reactions were the exact opposite of what should have happened. CNN explained the dichotomous event this way.
. . . according to FBI agent Doug Miller who was assigned to the same station, Alec Station (a specific CIA branch that monitored Al-Queda) that director Tom Wilshire CIA was, Tom stopped a cable from Doug that would have relayed information about two top terrorists entering southern California for three months, a crucial hand off to the FBI that usually occurs for every terrorist they know of that is entering the USA. Tom Wilshire stopped the transfer of information, and did so on purpose. Tom had a reason, yet, is failing to reveal what that reason is or why he did it. It was definitely done intentionally.-
Enter Mark Rossini. Mark was an FBI agent temporarily working with Alec Station at the same time as Miller. He was aware Casey and Wilshire blocked the memo and became furious. Rossini was so concerned that the information was blocked, he questioned Casey about the memo personally. In the explanation of events in historycommons.com, Rossini’s interaction with Casey is described this way.
-According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station.-
And so, the term nine-eleven became a moniker for a horrible tragedy, that now seems to have been preventable.
Why did Casey and Wilshire stop this flow of this life-saving information?
In the years that have followed 9/11 there have been many theories. There is the the logical concept that the CIA was attempting to recruit high-ranking members of Al-Queada as double agents, and didn’t want the FBI interfering. Then there is the Truther movement, a fraction of the population who think the US orchestrated the attacks.
There is even a segment of the Truther’s called the No Planer’s who believe the planes were actually holograms surrounding missiles fired by the US. This group seems loosely lead by a man named David Shayler. He is a former British MI5 agent who has a strange resume to say the least. Shayler blew the whistle on devious and illegal activity within MI5 and was considered somewhat of a British hero for a time. But he has since been arrested dressed as a woman going by the name of Delores Kane and then claimed to be the Messiah.
This is How We Do Things
Despite the reason, the CIA had an issue sharing certain, crucial information with the FBI. To the point that when the voice of reason spoke up in the form of Mark Rossini, it was swiftly silenced by the dominant culture of secrecy. “This is how we do things,” is a dangerous, but dominant psychology that can happen in humans.
Especially humans who have been deeply trained that protocol is life, such as CIA and FBI agents.
A note explaining that a terrorist has landed on US soil that must be approved before it is sent to those responsible for protecting the US, is a form of learned helplessness. It is the dog lying in the misery, rather than stepping over the wall into safety.