I arrived at FINCA’s office on 14th and L St in downtown Washington D.C. a little before nine o’clock on the morning of September 11, 2001. As I stepped out of the elevator, one of my colleagues, an excited smile on his face said: “Rupert, you’ve got to see this!”
He took me into the office of one of my colleagues who had a TV on. One of the towers was burning. “What the…?” A plane had crashed into the tower. Not a small plane, but a commercial airliner. As we watched, transfixed, another plane came into view, banking at a sharp angle.
The second plane ripped into the south side of the second tower, about 2/3 of the way up. We realized, then, we were under attack. Just thirty four minutes later, a loud BOOM! sounded down the corridor of 14th street. The news commentator told us that a third plane had hit the Pentagon.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” one of my colleagues said. I looked at her, amused at the thought that we at FINCA might be the next target. I told my HR Director to get everyone into the conference room, and to get our Security consultants on the phone. Our security consultant, based in Texas, seemed stunned, in a state of shock. He had nothing useful to say. I realized we were on our own.
We decided to evacuate, send everyone home. Those who had cars would take as many as they could hold, as we predicted, correctly, that the metros and buses would be a disaster. I drove four of my employees who lived in Maryland out to their homes in Silver Spring and Bethesda. On the way through the Washington neighborhood of Chevy Chase we passed a house where a contingent of soldiers was walking up the lawn to the front step of a house where a woman stood, weeping.
Lorraine was trapped on the West Coast, on a business trip, and didn’t get home for several days. My kids at the time were 23, 16 and 13. I think the 9/11 attacks must have had the same impact on them that the Cuban Missile crisis had on me, when I was my son’s age, 13. An event so devastating that, on some level, you never feel safe again. We’ve had our revenge, just in time for 10th anniversary. But when one looks back on everything that has transpired over the past decade, the destruction, the lives lost, and the money wasted, you can’t help but conclude this attack, which costs the perpetrators less than a hundred grand, will remain for all eternity as the most leveraged attack in history.