Consider for example the psychological experiences of personnel whose jobs take them to the scenes of terrorist bombings, in order secure the site, succor the wounded, recover the dead, or to conduct forensic investigations and deal with desperate and bereaved loved-ones who come to the site. I was told by several such personnel that you never forget the distinct smell of the site of a terrorist bombing. Yet these field professionals described their job as intensely rewarding and themselves as privileged to perform them.
Another vital class of counter-terrorism officials – often caricatured in fictional treatments – are the intellectuals. Intelligence analysts, targeting officers, and other “brain workers” immerse their minds daily in the malevolent worldviews of terrorists. As a result their own worldviews can become more somber. They experience frustration and anxiety when their hard-won insights are not acted on. They fear analytic failure, dread missing something critical. Their successes are anonymous and often secret. Every successful terror strike is an opportunity to experience guilt, self-doubt and failure. Yet they are passionately dedicated to their work and believe it is vital.
One terrorism analyst described to me working at his desk inside the Pentagon on 9/11, running out of the building after the plane struck, then pushing his way back into the burning building with some colleagues over the strenuous objections of first responders. They needed to get back to their desks and assist in the frantic analytic efforts to understand what was happening to the Nation that day. He said that for him and many other terrorism analysts: “Every day after that was 9/12.”