Contrasting the Oklahoma City bombing with 9/11

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks jolted the United States into new ways of thinking about terrorism, particularly when compared to the philosophies prevailing at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing.
BY VALLERY BROWN vbrown@opubco.com Published: September 11, 2011

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks jolted the United States into new ways of thinking about terrorism, particularly when compared to the philosophies prevailing at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The responses after the attacks are an exercise in contrasts.

Responses in September 2001 and in 1995 highlight the impression of the threat at the time and how agencies thought the threats should be addressed, said David Cid, executive director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City.

It has been a learning experience.

By late April 1995, the 1993 World Trade Center attack had occurred, as had the Murrah Building bombing — two attacks on American soil within two years — one international act and one domestic.

Despite the fact the attacks were not foiled, the conventional wisdom was the country's counterterrorism efforts were working, Cid said.

“There was a rapid resolution of both cases, the investigations went quickly and the people were identified and the cases were resolved to that extent,” Cid said.

When it was revealed in the case of the Murrah Building bombing that the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, was an American citizen, fear and the freshness of the attacks caused law enforcement and the public alike to look domestically for the next threat.

Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks was the FBI's agent in charge during the Oklahoma City bombing.

“After the Murrah bombing occurred, we dedicated a lot of resources to domestic threats,” Ricks said. “The greatest threat was always international terrorism ... it caused our resources to not be as focused.”

Until the 2001 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing remained the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil, and changes here were noticeable immediately. No longer could vehicles drive up and park close to government buildings. When the new federal building was opened in 2004, designers touted the use of shatter-resistant glass used for the first time in a federal building.

The $33 million horseshoe-shaped structure was built with more than $6 million worth of concrete and $2 million worth of steel. Security cameras surround the building, along with concrete and metal posts to stop vehicles from getting too close.

Inhibiting vehicles from getting too close to the building was an important security feature for designers. The explosion that crumpled the Murrah Building came from an explosive-filled rental truck parked on the street in front of the structure.

But stopping commercial airliners from crashing into the Twin Towers wasn't something beefed-up construction could have stopped. It had to be pre-empted altogether.

No information shared

Perhaps the largest critique of the government's failure to prevent 9/11 was its agencies' inability to share intelligence information that could have thwarted attacks.

In the mid-1990s, federal agencies weren't sharing information with other federal law enforcement and intelligence groups. Local police were often excluded completely from the process and weren't even allowed to gather information on possible terrorist threats, Ricks said.

That's in sharp contrast with what has happened in a post 9/11 world.

“After 9/11, everything changed,” Cid said. “People realized we had to subordinate everything to prevention.”

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