Without getting too far ahead of myself – or the availability of Surprise Attack – I think it’s germane to my last post to comment on the 9/11 photo series which has just been released. Those releases provide us with numerous candid photos of various national security principals on 9/11. A great number of the photos are of VP Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. The photos can be found at the links listed here:
One interesting comment I’ve seen is that Cheney’s expressions and demeanor suggest the sort of self-control and possession that is desirable in a leader during a crisis. Such photos can indeed become iconic, in recent years the classic image of LBJ alone at a large board room table, head downcast and apparently weeping has been used to portray him as something of a victim in the Vietnam combat. Being a bit more of a skeptic or perhaps just less charitable in regard to national command responsibilities, I would submit that actions actually speak louder than both words and photos.
In terms of understanding or even relating to what Cheney and other national security leaders were actually doing on 9/11, the photos are somewhat useless outside the context of a timeline, time stamping each photo and more importantly a full understanding of what their operational roles/actions should have been during the attack. That would also allow us to compare them to what their counterparts were doing during other national security crises.
It is also important to know where the individuals actually were when the photos were taken. I’ve already seen some commentary on how little communications and command/control equipment appears in the Cheney photos. Unfortunately the commentary is written as if the VP were in the White House Situation room at the time, which has evolved to the point that it can serve as a command center – and that is most definitely not where either Cheney or Rice were. In terms of actual operational locations, the photo series includes no images at all from the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon – the appropriate place to find the Secretary of Defense, at least while the attacks were ongoing and the threat potentially active. It also contains no photos from Air Force One, equipped to serve as the true center of Commander in Chief activity during such an attack. Based on the new photos alone, a viewer might even conclude that President Bush was actually involved and active personally involved in his role as Commander in Chief during the initial period of the attacks and threat – which would most definitely not be the case.
In terms of true value, images showing the actual front line of national defense would have been far more interesting. That would have included the NMCC, the Situation Room were terrorism adviser Clarke was actually trying to manage a response, the Northeast Air Defense Center (NEADS), NORAD battle control in Florida or NORAD headquarters in Colorado. Of course such locations don’t have staff photographers – fortunately for us some of them do at least maintain audio tapes of operational events and despite a great deal of hesitance those tapes eventually became available. That allows us to cross reference the actual national defense of the day to the recently released photographs, a very educational exercise.
I think you will find the new photo releases interesting, they add to photos of President Bush at the school in Florida which have been available for some time. I also think you will find them especially interesting once you get a chance to relate them to the analysis in Surprise Attack.