I'm a big fan of the "random individual sent in time" scenarios. In this one imagine someone from today is sent back into the body of their childhood self. He appears in his body the first day of school the year that 9/11 occured, so around september 1st. He was not planning to travel and didn't have time to research or prepare.

Lets say further that he worked in the NSA as an adult, nothing high, but a low level analyst, programmer, translator whatever. Enough to know some of their general policies, and particular to have memorized the phone number to his office/cubicle, but not enough to have any deep insider knowledge that he could use to 'prove' he was in a position of knowledge or authority.

He calls up his old work number from an anonymous pay phone and warns them about 9/11. He won't get anyone with authority to do something directly, but surely the threat will be escalated up to important people quickly. He shares what an average individual may remember from the news; the targets hit, the terrorist home country and terrorist group, that they used razor blades and learned to fly but not land etc. However, he doesn't remember the exact flights or airports those flights came from; he doesn't even remember the exact time of the flight (he knows when he learned about it in school, but how long was that from the first attack?)

Could the NSA/FBI have done anything to stop the attack in this little a time frame, and would they from the unreliable warning of a stranger on the phone who's voice just broke? I assume with such a short time line they couldn't stop the terrorist until 9/11, but they could at least evacuate the buildings, maybe instigate some specific screening for middle-east citizens with pilot training bordering a flight in MD/NY that morning and search anyone that domes up for razor blades?

As an add on, if our time traveler went back further, to give a few months warning, would they be any more capable of stopping the attack before it happened?

finally, what are the odds our protagonist could do this without getting massive media attention, either by avoiding being tracked by the FBI or simply because the FBI respect his strongly stated wish to stay anonymous?


closed as off-topic by Frostfyre, bowlturner, Ayelis, Vincent, bilbo_pingouin Jun 16 '15 at 19:41

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Frostfyre, bowlturner, Ayelis
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I was under the impression several agencies knew of the potential for the attack months in advance, but didn't communicate with each other to draw the right conclusion. Also, while time travel may be a part of worldbuilding, I'm not sure if this specific scenario involving time travel is a proper fit for the site. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 16 '15 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also no one will be able to relate to your character. He memorized his work phone number?? lol. (I'm just cynically joking) Like Frostfyre said though, I'm not sure this fits. Maybe you could ask what differences there would have to be between ours and one where 9/11 is avoided or how it would need to be for a student warning to actually account for something. $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Jun 16 '15 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if you are going to modify the question, ask people to answer without googling the details of 9/11. That way their answers should reflect the unprepared-ignorance of your time traveler. As an example, I remember that there were three targets, the towers, the pentagon, and ... (drawing a blank). Looking forward to answering this one... especially if you add in Spacemonkey's bit about "differences". $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 16 '15 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor 9/11 Never Forget. Well... Except the details, because seriously, that was like fourteen years ago. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jun 16 '15 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor the white house, but the plane targeting the white house was crashed by a passenger revolt before it hit. I was counting the two towers as different targets. But I very much agree. When I ask questions like this if someone provide me details I never knew I often use them to expand my own story writing ability, but assume my protagonist doesn't know them (unless I have a very good reason for wanting him to know), because clearly it's not common knowledge if I didn't know it already. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 16 '15 at 18:28

Well, he's got a fighting chance, but not quite the way you're suggesting.

First, as far as warning the feds, I'd say his chances are poor. He just doesn't have enough details, and intelligence agencies just don't move that fast.

But mitigating the effects? Sure. On the morning of the 11th, at about 7:30 AM, he calls in a bomb threat to the two towers. He references the parking garage bombing of 8 years earlier, and claims that he's planted more bombs, with anti-tamper devices. He might even claim something like nerve gas in the air-conditioning systems. He also calls in warnings to the national news networks.

With publicity breathing down their necks, the police would have little choice but to shut down the towers while they investigate. Since the threat occurs just before the start of the workday, evacuation of the building is not so bad - it's more a matter of keeping people out. Even a couple hours of delay would prevent too many people from being inside the towers when the first plane hits, so evacuation would produce better results. Not only that, but with a higher level of alert in place, a precautionary evacuation of the second tower would more likely have occurred, and that would have done even better given the delay between strikes.

EDIT - One slight problem. I overlooked the fact that he's in his childhood body. He'll have to work on disguising his voice to hide the fact that he's a kid. Otherwise, no one will take him seriously.

  • $\begingroup$ I definately has figured he would do this. However, he has to at least try to warn the feds first. I'm wondering if anything will come out of his contact with the feds, or if he has to do everything himself. Though if he contacts the news he risks tipping off the terrorists and hving them just reschedule for another day. Best to simply contact the buildings in general in hopes the news will take a little longer to filter out until the terrorists are already committed to a plan. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 16 '15 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ No, he doesn't need to worry about tipping off the terrorists. A bomb threat in NYC would not affect aircraft loading and takeoff. Of the 4 flights, 2 originated in Boston, 1 in Philadelphia, and 1 in Newark. None of these would have even heard of an NYC bomb threat. And he contacts the media at the same time he calls the police, so news "filtering out" would have no effect. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 16 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ I guess all the people on the planes are still going to die. Does he maintain anonymity with this method? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jun 16 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel - Yup. Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 16 '15 at 18:43

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