Max Modine made his debut here last week as a guest-essayist. Tonight he provides an account of his experiences on 9-11 as a foreigner in the USA.
9/11 Comes to St. Croix
by Max Modine
A friend invited me to attend a wedding in St. Croix, U.S Virgin Islands, in late October 2001, shortly after the U.S launched Operation Enduring Freedom. I was more than a little nervous about flying anywhere in anything — let alone flying internationally — so soon after the horrific events of 9/11. My friend was a Federal Air Marshall at the time and an ex-policeman and former city manager somewhere in southern Florida. It was a last-minute invitation, and I travelled by myself, as he had already made arrangements to travel with his family, originating in Pensacola, months earlier. My flight was due into St Croix earlier than theirs, and we were to meet up at the airport. I had a stopover in Puerto Rico. I’m not American and hold dual citizenships from two other western nations. So altogether I was a little uneasy for any number of reasons.
I arrived at Tampa airport wearing a polo shirt, shorts (no belt), underwear, and a pair of deck shoes sans socks. That was it. Going through security I was required to remove my shoes; I’m not sure why, as Mr. ‘exploding footwear’ Reid had not embarked on jihad yet. I was also carrying my computer bag with any number of business related items and personal stuff. I went through easily, but being forced to remove my shoes left me feeling a little violated. Welcome to the post 9/11 world, lad, I thought.
Some background is necessary here, as this story gets interesting on several fronts. At the time I was managing a large technology development project, manned by a multi-national team from four countries other than the US and including several Pakistani Moslems; ironically my employer later had some issues under Obamacare. One of them held dual Canadian citizenship and was on holiday in Canada at the time and never returned to the project. I’d known him for some time and he was a charming, erudite, well-educated chappie. I’m sure his disappearance was just coincidental, as I was aware he was casting around for new employment at the time, but perhaps the ever vigilant US security services had some play in his non-return. Because of my own country of birth, I’ve been acutely aware of terrorism and its manifestations for many years, and have always kept a weather eye. I understand fifth-column implementation and sleeper cells and the like. I look at everybody when I’m out perambulating and always watch for suspicious behaviour.
Anyway, I digress….
I was leaving home for work on the morning of September 11, 2001 and turned on the radio in the kitchen as noise to keep my dogs company in my absence. I rolled the station finder button looking for a music station and caught something about a ‘plane hitting a building in New York. I tuned in the station, as I was in no rush.
I didn’t listen to the radio much in those days but my ears had perked up, and my instincts are keen. There was little urgency in the reporter’s voice, as it appeared it was still unconfirmed. And then as I listened, more reports started coming in about another plane hitting the Pentagon and one going down in Pennsylvania. It was all I needed to hear. My heart sank. I instinctively knew what was happening and my mind leapt to such things as bombs going off in crowded malls and targeted assassinations as sleeper cells were activated across the country. I bolted out the door, as I was only five minutes from my office and I would be able to get better news on the internet there. Even in those days I didn’t trust the MSM for ‘real’ news.
I arrived at the office and saw that about ten of my guys were crowded around several monitors. My worst fears were realized as the hijackings were confirmed. There was growing unease amongst the foreign workers on my team. I told everybody to go home and collect their families from their jobs and schools. I genuinely feared a rash of what I described above. It didn’t materialize, but I still believe those fifth columnists and sleeper cells exist in America.
In the time it took from when I heard the first reports on the radio till I got in my car — all of a few minutes — my mind had conjured up a panoply of images of the future. More than most, I believe I was capable of imagining how the world and the US in particular would be forced to react to the terrifying new reality. I knew the world would change radically and I knew my own world would be turned upside down as a consequence of my Green Card application being still in process. Most of my worst fears have been realized in the intervening years. My life was indeed turned upside down, but I still looked forward to a relaxing holiday in St. Croix to help mitigate my concerns.
I met up with my friends at the Ct. Croix airport and we were transported to the Buccaneer holiday resort. My friend and a number of male family members and I decided to go to the casino a bit away in Danbury that night. It turned out to be quite exciting. While the others played the slots I found a poker table manned by an attractive young lady. There were two others playing. Two very inebriated middle-easterners, conversing in French but also some English. I think they were of Lebanese origin. The drunker of the two was spewing a tirade of anti-American garbage (mostly related to the righteousness of 9/11 and the unjust ‘Crusade’ against the Taliban). He was very loud. I understand a little French, as did the dealer (who turned out to be British).
I was aware of the less drunk of the two listening to my conversation with her and he picked up some things about my nationality and work background, while his mate grew louder and more obnoxious. I asked them if they were aware that they were in the US Virgin Islands. My blood was beginning to warm up. The more sober of the two tried to ingratiate himself with me by mentioning he had visited both of the countries I hold citizenship from, and in fact we were both in the same business. He said they owned some sort of a computer business in St. Croix. The dealer mentioned she had seen them in the casino before and that their behaviour had been a regular occurrence since 9/11. This was several months later and I was appalled that nothing had been done about it.
My friend the Air Marshall ambled over and sat beside me trying to calm me down. He suggested the pair move their party to somewhere they were more welcome. Shortly thereafter casino security escorted them out. I was livid as I felt these clowns were at the least seditious, and it appeared they were being allowed to walk. My friend remained calm and eventually we returned to our hotel, where he informed me he had contacted the FBI before he had come to my table. He also told me had provided the FBI with my contact information back in Tampa. At the time I wasn’t sure I believed him, but events proved me wrong.
A few days later as I was rummaging through my computer bag in preparation for the trip home I discovered a wrench embossed with my company logo. It was in a leather case and I’d forgotten I was carrying it. The problem was it wasn’t just a wrench. It was a multi-tool wrench and included a knife with a blade about four inches long. And the stalwarts at Tampa airport hadn’t noticed it — this was just prior to the establishment of the TSA under DHS.
My friend was a little perturbed when I showed it to him. He suggested I pack it in my suitcase, and decided we should inform security at St. Croix about its existence prior to the return leg and the laxity of outbound Tampa security. We did this upon arrival, and the supervisor we spoke with asked if I minded if they searched my suitcase as an opportunity to train his staff. I obliged and then watched in bemusement for about ten minutes as four agents failed to find it despite being told it was there, and after I had just randomly pitched it in the case. Eventually I had to find it for them. To this day I do not feel safe while flying, based on this experience. My fear is compounded when I see hijabers waltzing through ‘security’. Imagine how I felt when I heard about Saudi nationals being granted TSA ‘Trusted Traveler’ status under Napolitano — somebody of equal incompetence to the not-so-esteemed POTUS. Fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Several days after my return to Florida I duly received a call from the FBI. A rather authoritarian and charmless male agent took a full report on my experience at the casino on St. Croix. Perhaps as a function of my own uncertain status in the US as a visa worker I was not reassured by the experience. Roughly a week later I received a phone call from my friend suggesting I check an article in the local newspaper regarding suspected arson in the burning-down of a computer related business on St. Croix. A few months later our project shut down. Shortly thereafter I was laid off, and my Green Card application died.