When unknown terrorists staged an unprecedented attack on the east coast early Tuesday morning, it sent shock waves roiling across the country.
"I think all of us are in a total state of shock and disbelief, this is an incredible tragedy," said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who was at a press conference on the capital grounds in Washington, D.C. when tragedy struck only blocks away.
"We were just starting to see the smoke from the Pentagon and the next thing I knew we looked up and saw a commercial airliner bank over the capital and then national security officials told us to seek cover," said Walden. "I don't think I've ever sensed that level of fear before."
U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was also in his federal office when the Pentagon was damaged and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, N.Y. were destroyed. He immediately sent his staffers to safety and attended a briefing with capital police and fellow legislators to discuss how to ensure that the "unknown enemy" didn't earn a further victory by disrupting the "business of the people" any longer than necessary.
Both Walden and Smith said the freedom and openness of American society has always been its greatest asset but, in this case, had also proven to be its greatest weakness. They said future debates among government leaders would have to address how to protect civil liberties while better protecting citizens.
"I think without a doubt there was a failure of the intelligence communiuty to detect an attack this monumental and the American people are owed answers," said Smith.
On Tuesday federal House and Senate officials showed their resolve to get back to work by setting up secure meeting sites around the capital.
"This is an unknown enemy, an enemy without boundaries, who has proven there is no place that is safe but, undoubtedly, we can make our country safer," said Smith. "I think this is one of those moments when time stands still and the horror fo the moment is forever embedded in our minds."