No evidence ever emerged that failures by airport officials contributed to the attacks: At the time, box cutters, the weapons the terrorists used, were legal to carry on planes, and airlines, not airports, handled security checkpoints. But in the intensity of that moment, that did not matter. Joseph Lawless, the airport’s director of security, who had formerly worked as a driver to a Massachusetts governor, was transferred two and a half weeks after the attacks. A month after that, Ms. Buckingham resigned under pressure.
Eventually, journalists moved on. But Ms. Buckingham could not. Twenty years later, she remains pained by her treatment those six weeks, something she described in a new memoir, “On My Watch.” At 36, her career in politics was finished. Though she had lost her job, her role as the head of the agency drew her into wrongful death lawsuits that continued for a decade. She sought treatment for depression and PTSD.
And for years, she heard from strangers who blamed her for the attacks. “So, when are you going to apologize for 9/11?” asked a man who called her desk years later. “When are you going to apologize so this city can move on?” Her thoughts became so tangled that she began to ask herself whether it really was her fault.
Mr. Lawless said he would not comment for this article, out of respect for the victims.
‘This ain’t bean bag’
It is impossible to understand this story outside the context of Massachusetts politics, which is famously rough-and-tumble.
On the morning when two Boston planes destroyed the World Trade Center, the acting governor of Massachusetts was Jane Swift, 36, who had been elevated to the position when Paul Cellucci was made ambassador to Canada. Asked to recall this period, Ms. Swift recalled an old aphorism about politics: “This ain’t bean bag,” a standard response to those wounded by negative campaigning. It means, basically, “stop complaining.”
Ms. Swift, a Republican, was a punching bag for the news media, among other reasons for asking aides to babysit and using a state helicopter to get home to western Massachusetts. She was always alert to where the next roundhouse blow might be coming from. It was a “dirty little secret,” for example, that the fastest land route to Boston required a brief detour over New York roads.
“I used to say to my state troopers, ‘If you crash and I die, you drag my dead carcass over the line, because we’re all in so much trouble,” she said.