"It's sobering stuff," Goss says. "We hear about people who want to do lethal damage, and they're already here. They're virtually everywhere."
Eleanor Hill, staff director for the September 11 investigation, says Graham grew more and more agitated after hundreds of hours studying raw intelligence.
"He thought about all this deeply and carefully, and he reached some very disturbing conclusions," Hill says. "When you see the actual threats we're dealing with, it's pretty frightening. You realize how many zealots there are who want to do horrendous things to us, and you realize how vulnerable we are."
In fact, some of Graham's confidants say he was deeply affected by the strain of his intelligence work. "It really got to him," his brother Bill says. "I've never seen him so down. One day, he asked me: Bill, how do you relieve your stress when you're really uptight?" Goss had his own problems. He says he suffered from exhaustion while obsessing about al Qaeda, and suggests that Graham's congenital heart problems may have been exacerbated by stress as well. "I'm not a doctor, but it certainly doesn't surprise me that we both had health problems last year," Goss says. "You can't imagine how hard it was."
Even Adele Graham says her husband, while steady on the surface, was privately haunted by the specter of another attack. "I could see the stress and strain on Bob," she says. "That was a scary time . . . I think it took a toll on him." Adele insisted that he get a full physical before announcing his candidacy, which may have saved his life.
These days, Graham is trying to project presidential vigor after his post-operative convalescence, and he betrays no hints of inner turmoil. "I think I'm freer of anxiety than most people," he says. "I tend to be a fatalist." He hasn't bought duct tape. He hasn't even tested his congressionally issued gas mask.
But in his matter-of-fact manner, he continues to make chilling statements about radioactive "dirty" bombs, nuclear proliferation and the countless variety of unsecured American targets. A few grams of anthrax in a few envelopes emptied his office building for three months; what would a few tons of anthrax in a shipping container do? Terrorists have tried to attack Washington before; why wouldn't they try again? There are thousands of reservoirs and lakes that supply water to Americans; how hard could it be to poison one? There are "significant" numbers of Islamic militants inside the country; what's to stop them from blowing themselves up?
"I tell people: As you go about your day, look at all the vulnerabilities in your community, your workplace, your home," he says. "Drive under a bridge. Walk into a building . . . My point is it's impossible to secure our homeland without doing away with our liberties."
That's the cheery message Graham has been sharing with his friends. He's encouraged some of them to read The Age of Sacred Terror, a frightening book about the rise of militant Islam. "He's got me scared for my children and grandchildren," says his neighbor and former campaign manager Aaron Podhurst. Arva Moore Parks, a Miami historian and a close friend of the Grahams, says she's never seen Bob so worried. "I wonder: What's got him so frightened? What does he know that I don't know?"
Somewhere deep inside Port Everglades, a gate is open. There is not much inside the gate, just a few hundred empty cargo containers. There is not much outside the gate, just a secure section of Fort Lauderdale's bustling port. But that gate is supposed to be locked. And it is now Sgt. Mike Kallman's job to notice mini-discrepancies like open gates. "I'm not comfortable with this," he says, calling into his radio to grill an underling at the Broward County Sheriff's Office. "I'm all about vigilance."
Of all the things that frighten Bob Graham, seaports frighten him the most. More than 3 million cruise-ship passengers passed through Port Everglades in 2001, and no one knows exactly who they were. More than 2,000 ships unloaded containers at the port, and no one knows exactly what was in them. Port Everglades handles most of South Florida's fuel, but until September 11, port security focused almost exclusively on drugs. It was an open port, and motorists often cut through en route to the beach.
"It's a new world now," says Richard Kolbusz, a U.S. Customs Service official at the port. "We've overhauled every single thing we do. And you know what? We still could be vulnerable."
Graham has been concerned about ports since 1997, when he spent his 326th workday at Tampa's port and was stunned by its porous security. Containers were never screened. Random cars drove right up to ships. Graham persuaded President Clinton to appoint a commission, and began pushing legislation to harden ports. But terrorism was only a secondary issue for Graham back then; he was mostly concerned with drug trafficking and smuggling.
It was only after September 11 that he began to focus on the multiple terrorism nightmares that could converge at ports: cruises hijacked, terrorists smuggled into the country, suicide attacks on a port's massive petroleum tanks, radioactive dirty bombs or even atomic bombs smuggled into the country in containers. Last January, Graham spent his 375th workday inspecting containers at Port Everglades, and he asked a lot of worst-case-scenario questions.
"Thousands of containers come into the U.S. every day," he says. "If someone slips a dirty bomb with a geopositioning device and a means of detonation in with some golf shirts, there's less than a 3 percent chance of that box being inspected. There's a 97 percent chance that terrorists could blow it up."
Have a nice day!
Graham's seaport bill finally passed last year, repositioned as an anti-terrorism measure. And on a recent tour of Port Everglades, security officials showed that the port has gone to impressive lengths to harden itself since September 11. They wanted most of the details to be withheld, but here's an example: There are now three checkpoints where anyone entering the port must show official ID, and three chase cars waiting with their engines running 24 hours a day in case someone blows through a checkpoint. But the officials all emphasized that while their efforts might prompt terrorists to choose a softer target, there's only so much they can do to stop determined enemies who are willing to commit suicide.
Kallman would not give the details of a recent analysis of a potential "catastrophic event" at the port, except to say that it would reverse long-standing population trends in fast-growing South Florida. "We've raised the bar," says Capt. James Watson, who supervises Coast Guard operations at the port. "But you take a scenario where someone's willing to blow himself up, that's a very scary scenario. The senator's right."
It is a stomach-churning experience to talk to terrorism experts about Graham's prognosis of doom, because most of them think another dramatic attack is practically inevitable in the relatively near future. "Graham's absolutely right: We're incredibly vulnerable, and the next one will make September 11 look like kid's play," says Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Everyone in the anti-terrorism community is convinced that it's just a matter of when, not if," says Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterintelligence chief.
Graham is by no means the only Cassandra in Washington. Shelby and Goss are just as worried. Vice President Cheney, FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet have all issued scary warnings of further attacks. Former senator and terrorism analyst Gary Hart can make Graham sound like a cockeyed optimist, and he might run for president, too.
But life goes on, even on orange alert. It isn't perfectly normal life -- at least not in Washington or New York -- but honestly, does terrorism really overwhelm your existence? Do you really spend more time worrying about al Qaeda than you spend worrying about your leaky faucet or your meddling boss or your kid's soccer schedule? Are you planning to move out of Washington? If you believe the experts, it might be a rational thing to do. But most people don't function that way.
Even before September 11, it was no secret that terrorists posed a serious risk to Americans. They had already tried to blow up the World Trade Center and had successfully destroyed two U.S. embassies in Africa. Authorities had even foiled an al Qaeda plot to fly planes into buildings. But bureaucratic reports full of ghastly premonitions gathered dust, and the attacks ultimately came as a gruesome shock. After September 11, of course, commentators promptly declared that the age of denial was over, but everyone knows that simply wasn't true. Denial is still a powerful force on a planet where everyone eventually dies. Americans are obviously more conscious of their vulnerabilities now, and the concept of deterrence that kept the Cold War from going hot is clearly less relevant to conflicts with zealots who welcome their own demise. But most Americans prefer not to spend their days thinking about apocalyptic attacks. It's no fun. So after September 11, that job fell to people like Bob Graham.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Speaking of the risk of terrorism, Sen. Bob Graham says. "The gun is still loaded."
(Photograph by Grant Delin)