January 1, 2017

"MEN OF CORNWALL STAND YE READY" (profanity alert):

THE REAL HEROES ARE DEAD : A love story. (James B. Stewart, 2/11/02, The New Yorker)


As Susan Greer was walking her golden retriever one morning near her home, in Morristown, New Jersey, she heard footsteps behind her. It was just after six, on a warm Saturday in late July of 1998; she liked the quiet and the early-morning light. The footsteps came closer, and then a jogger passed her. He was tall and somewhat heavy, and appeared to be about her age--she was fifty-six. What really caught her attention was his feet. He had no shoes on. It wasn't like her to say anything to a stranger, but curiosity overcame her, and she asked, "What are you doing jogging in your bare feet?"

The jogger didn't stop, or even turn around. "I need to know what it feels like to run without shoes," he shouted, and explained that he was writing a play, and it was set in Africa. Then he was out of earshot. Even though Susan hadn't glimpsed his face, something about his voice made an impression. She felt sure the same could not be said about her. She hadn't bothered with any makeup that morning and was wearing old shorts and a T-shirt.

The next morning, she and the dog, Buddy, were again on their walk when a dark-green Lincoln Mark VIII pulled up, and a man inside said hello. She recognized the voice from the previous day. "Why not come to breakfast?" he asked.

Susan saw that the man had an open, friendly face and a direct gaze. "I can't--I have the dog," she said.

He seemed genuinely disappointed, so Susan proposed an alternative.

"Why don't you come have coffee on the patio," she said. She gave him the address of her town house, just around the corner.

Within the hour, she was pouring him coffee. He said that his name was Rick Rescorla, and he seemed eager to talk--so eager that Susan doubted he was paying much attention to her end of the conversation. (She was later surprised to learn that he remembered everything she'd said.) Rescorla told her that he was divorced, with two children, and was living in the area to be near them. He had been married for many years, but he and his wife had grown apart, and when he felt his children were old enough they'd divorced. His name wasn't really Rick, he explained, but hardly anyone called him by his given names, Cyril Richard. He had grown up in Hayle, a tiny village in Cornwall, on England's southwest coast, with his grandparents and his mother, who worked as a housekeeper and companion to the elderly. He'd left Hayle in 1956, when he was sixteen, to join the British military. He'd fought against Communist-backed insurgencies in Cyprus from 1957 to 1960, and in Rhodesia from 1960 to 1963.

These experiences had made him a fierce anti-Communist. The reason he had come to America, he said, was to enlist in the Army, so that he could go to Vietnam. He welcomed the opportunity to join the American cause in Southeast Asia and, for a long time, had never questioned the wisdom or morality of the war. After fighting in Vietnam, he returned to the United States, using his military benefits to study creative writing at the University of Oklahoma, and eventually earning a bachelor's, a master's in literature, and a law degree. He had met his former wife there.

Now he was spending his free time trying to write, mainly plays and screenplays. The play he had mentioned the previous morning, "M'kubwa Junction," was set in Rhodesia, he said, and was based on his time there. Few of the native Rhodesians had worn shoes, which was why he had to feel what it was like to run barefoot. And all his life, he said, he had worked out and kept himself in good shape. He seemed self-conscious about his weight, and explained that his body had swollen because of medical treatments. He had prostate cancer, and the cancer had spread to his bone marrow. He said that he didn't know how much time he had to live, but, whatever was left, he intended to make the most of it.

As Rescorla was rising to leave, he turned to Susan and said, "I know we are going to be friends forever." After saying goodbye, she cleared the cups and led Buddy into the house. When she glanced at the kitchen clock, she was surprised to see that it was eleven-thirty; four and a half hours had passed. [...]

Rescorla's office at Dean Witter was in the World Trade Center. The firm, which merged with Morgan Stanley in 1997, eventually occupied twenty-two floors in the south tower, and several floors in a building nearby. Rescorla's office was on the forty-fourth floor of the south tower. Because of Hill's training in counterterrorism, in 1990 Rescorla asked him to come up and take a look at the security situation. "He knew I could be an evil-minded bastard," Hill recalls. At the World Trade Center, Rescorla asked him a simple question: "How would you take this out?" Hill looked around, and asked to see the basement. They walked down an entrance ramp into a parking garage; there was no visible security, and no one stopped them. "This is a soft touch," Hill said, pointing to a load-bearing column easily accessible in the middle of the space. "I'd drive a truck full of explosives in here, walk out, and light it off."

As a result of Hill's observations and his own, Rescorla arranged a meeting with a security official for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which managed the building. "They told Rick to kiss off," Hill recalled. "They told him, 'You lease your stories, you worry about that. The rest of the building is not your concern.' " (A Port Authority spokesman says that security "took into account all known threats at that time," and "was better than in most office buildings in New York.")

Less than three years later, on February 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the basement of the World Trade Center. As soon as Rescorla got all of the company's employees out of the building, he called Hill. "Did you see what happened?" Hill had just seen the footage on TV. "Get your ass up here," Rescorla said. "I'll buy your ticket." Hill flew to New York, and began working as a consultant to Rescorla. He helped Rescorla do an analysis of the security measures at the Trade Center, and commented on drafts. When Rescorla and Hill began their work, no arrests had yet been made, but Rescorla suspected that the bomb had been planted by Muslims, probably Palestinians, or that an Iraqi colonel of engineers might have orchestrated the attack. Hill let his beard grow and visited several mosques in New Jersey, showing up at dawn for morning prayers. He fell into conversation, speaking fluent Arabic, taking an anti-American line and espousing pro-Islamic views. Radical anti-American and militant Islamic views weren't hard to coax out of his fellow-worshippers. His interviews formed the basis for much of Rescorla's analysis, which concluded that the attack was likely planned by a radical imam at a mosque in New York or New Jersey. The prediction proved uncannily accurate. Followers of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Muslim cleric in Brooklyn, were convicted of the bombing.

According to Hill, Rescorla concluded that because the World Trade Center was the tallest building in New York, situated at the heart of Wall Street, and a symbol of American economic might, it was likely to remain a target of anti-American militants. At Hill's urging, he told his superiors that, while the bombing of the Trade Center and numerous other recent acts of Islamic terrorism had been technologically unsophisticated, Muslim terrorists were showing increasing technological and tactical awareness, and were getting better. Hill's research had uncovered the existence of groups, connected to some of the New Jersey mosques, whose goal was to travel around talking to young people and recruiting the radicals among them.

Rescorla and Hill also sketched a scenario of what the next attack might look like. The city targeted might be New York, Washington, or Philadelphia, or even all three. Drawing on his research for the novel on the air-cavalry unit, Rescorla envisioned an air attack on the Twin Towers, probably an air-cargo plane travelling from the Middle East or Europe to Kennedy or Newark airport, loaded with explosives or chemical or biological weapons. Rescorla also discussed his theories with another close friend, Fred McBee, a fellow-writer he'd met at the University of Oklahoma. He told McBee that he'd spoken up at company board meetings about unconventional threats, such as "dirty" bombs, small "artillery nukes," and anthrax. He followed events in the Middle East closely. "He assumed that it would be the terrorists' mission to bring the Trade Center down," McBee said.

Rescorla concluded that the company should leave the World Trade Center and build quarters in New Jersey, preferably a three- or four-story complex spread over a large area. He pointed out that many employees already commuted from New Jersey and would welcome the change. He warned that Manhattan's limited bridge and tunnel connections meant that it could be easily cut off, and transportation and communications disrupted. Moreover, the World Trade Center space was expensive compared with real estate in the suburbs.

The World Trade Center lease didn't expire until 2006, however. Rescorla and his colleagues stayed in Manhattan, and in the meantime Rescorla worked out an evacuation plan for the company's twenty-two floors.

Posted by at January 1, 2017 9:42 AM

  

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