Arriving for work at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, seemed like any other day. I sat in my cubicle and read through overnight cable traffic. We had increased “chatter” from al Qaeda and had warned of this in a presidential daily brief the previous month, but we had no specific, actionable threats.
At about 8:50 a.m., my outside phone rang. It was a colleague in an outbuilding telling me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Everything about the world changed in that moment and 2,977 lives were lost in an instant — and countless others in the years that followed. I will always carry the guilt that I feel for not being able to see what was coming. I served in Afghanistan and did everything that I could to keep an attack like this from happening again. I lost colleagues along the way.
On 9/11, I was one month shy of 23. I dutifully voted the way my parents did in my first election — as a Democrat — as well as in 2000. However, the events of 9/11 changed that for me. Because of the classified work I did from September 2001 to January 2002, I had the opportunity to work alongside President Bush and came to respect the way that his administration supported me personally and handled Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I voted Republican in some elections that followed. Though there were elements of the party I disagreed with, I felt that the Republican Party’s national security platform was better to protect our country from terrorist attacks.
In the months and years following 9/11, Americans remained relatively politically unified in their support of the war on terror. Certainly, there were those who did indeed believe that 9/11 was nothing more than a government conspiracy, but those marginal voices existed on the fringes. Republicans and Democrats alike were quick to call out these deniers as quacks or insensitive. However, with the recent appointment of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to the Homeland Security Committee, the conspiracy theorists appear to have been mainstreamed and our national security could be in danger.
Though she since has said her viewpoint has changed, in a 2018 YouTube video, Greene expressed her agreement with a QAnon conspiracy that doubted the veracity of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon: “We had witnessed 9/11, the terrorist attack in New York and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania and the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon. It’s odd there’s never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon. But anyways, I won’t — I’m not going to dive into the 9/11 conspiracy. But 9/11 had happened. Our country was very much into a war.”
Greene has no basis for her denials other than online research she conducted. Two years later, in 2020, after being elected to Congress and facing backlash for her comments, Greene backtracked, stating in a tweet that “some people claimed a missile hit the Pentagon. I now know that is not correct. The problem is that our government lies to us so much to protect the ‘Deep State,’ it’s hard to sometimes know what is real and what is not.”
Greene evidently wanted to win her election, and she did — with 73 percent of her district’s support.
Her placement on the Homeland Security and Oversight committees makes a mockery of those who were victims — and continue to be victims — of the 9/11 attacks. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave her and other extremists a legitimate presence in the government and therefore, power. Calling 9/11 an attack orchestrated by our government, rather than what it was — one orchestrated by al Qaeda overseas — could show our adversaries that we cannot form a cohesive policy and national security apparatus to fight potential terrorist attacks.
This threatens to demonstrate to our adversaries that we are weak, and our enemies can and will exploit such weakness. This is not the Republican Party that followed the 9/11 attacks. I know what happened in the Pentagon on 9/11 because I was there.
Tracy Walder is a former staff operations officer with the CIA, where she tracked and debriefed terrorists, and a former Special Agent with the FBI, where she worked in counterintelligence. She now teaches high school history at Ursuline Academy in Dallas and is an adjunct faculty member, teaching criminal justice, at Texas Christian University. She is the author of “The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists.” Follow her on Twitter @cfolmary_walder.