Nightly News   |  September 11, 2011

President Obama remembers 9/11

The president and his wife traveled to all three 9/11 sites on Sunday. But on Saturday, he shared his own reflections of that day with NBC’s Brian Williams.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> you saw the president walking around the grounds here after he toured it, he said this memorial was fitting. and he said it, quote, meets the moment. just yesterday at the white house , i talked with the president about his personal recollections of that day, 9/11, ten years ago.

>> we were driving down lakeshore drive . i was driving down to go to a meeting in the state building . and heard the first report about a plane going into the towers. and assumed it was a cessna or somebody who'd had an accident. by the time i parked my car, got into the meeting that i was attending, the reports were starting to come in that this had been a jetliner and that many people had been killed. at that point, we started evacuating the building. then going to my law office and watching, you know, the towers come down. you know, the images of people falling from the skies and the clouds of smoke and dust settling on everyone. and then going home and -- and holding sasha, you know, rocking her to bed as i was watching the reports of what had happened. you know, i think that for me, like for most of us, our first reaction was and continues to be just heartbreak for the families involved. the other thing that we all remember is how america came together. and so ten years later, i'd say america came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character. we've made mistakes. some things haven't happened as quickly as they needed to. but overall, we took the fight to al qaeda . we preserved our values. we preserved our character.

>> yet you hear that, you think about it differently now? it's just a jet going in a national airport . here we are surrounded by the machinery of office. this is your home base . yet they consider you at your most exposed. it was a game changer and it remains that we will always listen to that sound differently now.

>> well, you know, i -- there's no doubt that airports are a lot more inconvenient. pennsylvania avenue 's shut down. but what i'm struck by is how much continuity there is. there have been some changes since -- since 9/11. some innocence, perhaps, has been lost.

>> earlier, we sat down in the cabinet room where i asked the president about the atmosphere of high alert surrounding this 9/11 anniversary. i came from new york this morning. this is the -- this is the front page of "the post." there's the unveiling of the memorial, the names. yet in front of it is a police officer with an automatic weapon . automatic weapons all over the city this weekend.

>> right.

>> does that kind of sum up where we are here ten years later?

>> well, there's no doubt that we are safer now than we were ten years ago. we are in a much stronger position now than we were then. al qaeda 's on the path to defeat. we've taken out huge chunks of their senior leadership. most prominently, obviously, osama bin laden . but, you know, there's still people out there who would try to hurt americans. who would try to strike at us. and we have to be constantly vigilant.

>> we've been told this threat we're under now is specific, credible and unconfirmed.

>> right.

>> what must you choose not to act on of all the traffic you see, and what do these three words mean when taken together? what are we supposed to do?

>> i think the most important thing the american people should know is, is that for months we've been preparing for this 9/11 anniversary. obviously, each 9/11 we start seeing threat streams coming up. the fact this is the tenth anniversary means that we're seeing more of these threat streams coming up. one particular threat was specific enough and credible enough that we felt it necessary to inform state and local partners so that they could also be prepared. what we want all americans to know is although your government has prepared for it, it's important for everybody to keep their eyes open . we have to honor those who have been fallen. but people should be on the lookout and make sure that if something suspicious is taking place, that you're informing your local law enforcement.

>> part of a conversation with the president. we'll be continuing on "nbc nightly news" tomorrow night. by the way, there was vivid proof today of this zero tolerance security policy on this 9/11. f-16 fighter jets shadowed an american airlines flight from los angeles late today as it came in on final approach for a landing at jfk here in new york. apparently, there were concerns onboard that some passengers spent too long in the restroom. so they exercised undue caution, though there was never any real emergency. once on the ground, federal officials interviewed the passengers involved. there were several assorted other scares at several other airports around the country today. but no verified security threats. of course, anniversaries