Those two jetliners, striking the World Trade Center. People leaping through their high-floor office windows. And then those mammoth Twin Towers collapsing like sandcastles. It was like a science fiction movie. And yet it happened.
It has changed all of us. Ten years later, the terror has become a low-grade, chronic fear that New Yorkers live with.
Fear has made normally cynical New Yorkers more accepting of authority, especially law enforcement authority. Fear has also made New Yorkers gullible in accepting what they tell us.
First there were Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik. Following the 9/11 attack, many viewed Giuliani as the only person capable of leading the city. The Queen of England granted him an honorary knighthood. Time magazine named him Man of the Year.
New Yorkers thought him so indispensible that he sought to extend his mayoralty for three months, a move that all but one of 2001 mayoral candidates supported, including Michael Bloomberg.
But by 2008, Giuliani's luster had faded. Initially the Republican presidential front-runner, he ended up receiving but one delegate vote.
Then there was Kerik. He, too, was considered indispensable. After being elected mayor, Bloomberg he said he would try to convince Kerik to remain as police commissioner.
Bloomberg announced that he had assigned Ray Kelly to persuade Kerik. Kelly said he himself had no interest in the job.
Well, Kerik is now serving four years in federal prison on corruption charges.
And Kelly is on track to become the longest-serving police commissioner in the city's history.
While the public is tiring of Bloomberg, Kelly has become a cult figure.
Many New Yorkers view him now as the only man standing between the city and another terrorist attack.
Both civilians and law enforcement officials stand in awe -- and fear -- of him, not unlike peoples' reaction to J. Edgar Hoover in his prime.
In a January, 2006, interview, the new head of the FBI's New York office, Mark Mershon, said, "My first business call was to Ray Kelly. He took the call. He knew who I was."
After attending a news conference with Kelly about a terrorism subway threat, Mershon said that as he was driving home, FBI Director Robert Mueller called him. "He said, 'Mark, I hope you don't mind. I just called Ray Kelly to thank him for working together."'
Many people refuse to utter a word of criticism of Kelly. This seems especially true of black politicians, despite Kelly's Stop and Frisk policy, which many see as directed against black New Yorkers.
Many of the same politicians criticized the same policy under Giuliani.
Although the police handcuffed two African-American city officials at the West Indian Day parade, they both sounded deferential towards Kelly.
"Let me just say it wasn't the police commissioner who threw me to the ground and shoved my face into the grass," said Kristen John Foy, communications director for Pubic Advocate Bill de Blasio."Ray Kelly is a man of honor, he's a man of good character."
Ditto Black City Councilman Jumaane Williams. He accused the NYPD of racism in his arrest but seemed to shield Kelly from blame.
"The commissioner came to where we were, actually, after we were released to personally find out what happened," said Williams. "I'm not sure if he said exactly it was wrong, but he did seem very apologetic that it occurred."
Last week, the Associated Press [with a slight assist from this column], continued its reporting on the CIA's influence within the NYPD, particularly its systemic spying on virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City.
While this column had reported that a former CIA agent, Larry Sanchez, worked as an Assistant Commissioner in the NYPD's Intelligence Division, the AP pointed out that for part of that time, Sanchez was actually on the agency's payroll.
The AP also reported that another agent, currently on the agency's payroll, has succeeded Sanchez at the NYPD. However his role is different than Sanchez's.
"This senior officer's assignment is part of a program that gives him an opportunity to observe the best practices, leadership lessons, and management methodology of a large organization also involved in the fight against terrorism," says an official familiar with the CIA's involvement with the NYPD. "He is not serving in the same role that Larry Sanchez did."
A CIA spokeswoman added that the agency's focus "is overseas and none of the support we have provided to NYPD can be rightly characterized as 'domestic spying' by the CIA."
The agency asked NYPD Confidential not to reveal the name of NYPD's newest CIA member.
The AP's reporting is a watershed moment in New York. First, it indicates that no one outside the NYPD is monitoring a municipal agency that in its anti-terrorism measures is being run as a mini-CIA.
Its reporting also raises questions that a former top NYPD anti-terrorism expert has postulated: What safeguards are there to ensure that the NYPD does not break the law? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the NYPD does not become a rogue agency?
Unfortunately there do not seem to be any outside mechanisms.
Kelly has justified the NYPD's pro-active spying by citing the 1986 Handschu agreement, which places minor restrictions on the department use of undercovers and police informants.
That agreement was modified in 2002 by federal Judge Charles Haight to give the police more leeway in its anti-terror investigations. A year later, Haight modified his modification after he learned that the police had improperly questioned arrested anti-Iraq war demonstrators in their prison cells, asking about their friends, colleges they attended, political affiliations and feelings about Israel and the Middle East.
But Haight's language was so obtuse and convoluted that there remains disagreement about what his modification means.
Kelly and other department officials have also justified the spying by referring to numerous terror plots they say the department has foiled. The number of these plots shifts up and down, depending on who is speaking and when. This week the number is 13.
Kelly has also cited the importance of an undercover officer in an Islamic bookstore who he says helped stop Shahawar Matin Siraj from bombing the Herald Square subway station during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.
Kelly has not raised the fact that the police department paid an informant $100,000 to egg Siraj on.
A Brooklyn jury convicted him, nonetheless, and he is currently serving a 30-year prison term.
Although Kelly provided two armored personnel carriers to help the FBI arrest four men from upstate Newburgh for plotting to blow up two Bronx synagogues and an upstate military facility, he has said little about that case recently. Perhaps that's because it's come out that an FBI informant had promised to pay the four hundreds of thousands of dollars to carry out the plot.
Though the presiding judge criticized the FBI's methods, the four Newburgh men were also convicted.
The AP's reporting has also forced Mayor Bloomberg to say comment publicly for the first time about the police department's spying on Muslims.
This is what Bloomberg -- who a year ago had supported attempts to build a mosque at Ground Zero -- said: "If there is a community where the crime rate is very high, to not put more cops in that community is ridiculous. If you want to look for cases of measles, you'll find a lot more of them among young people. That's not targeting young people to go see whether they have measles or not."
Makes perfect sense, no? Didn't the CIA use a vaccination drive as a cover to find bin Laden?
Despite Bloomberg's inane remark, perhaps it will encourage the city's newspapers to force all the current mayoral candidates to respond to the subject of the NYPD's Muslim spying.
But don't count on it. What has been the newspapers' reaction to the AP's reporting on the NYPDs massive Muslim spying? Of the lack of outside monitoring of the department? Of the possibility that the NYPD might be violating the law?
Both the News and the Post are in lockstep defending the police. The Times appears to be pondering.
As the Post succinctly put it: "Survival comes first."