The Aug. 12, 2002, cover of TIME
September 10, 2015 2:30 PM EDT

Last fall, 13 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Twin Towers, we remarked on the ways anniversaries without a zero or a five get short shrift. As a small way of correcting that imbalance, we gathered 13 of TIME’s most incisive stories about the event and its aftermath.

With that spirit in mind, here’s another story—not included in last year’s round-up—that adds context to a day that continues to echo in the national memory.

On Aug. 12, 2002, TIME’s cover story by Michael Elliott took a look at the inside story of how the U.S. discussed going after al-Qaeda prior to the attack. The conclusion that “‘Washington’—that organic compound of officials and politicians, in uniform and out, with faces both familiar and unknown—failed horribly” is hard not to see, given the irresistible alternate histories that are provoked by the possibility:

Read the whole cover story here: The Secret History. Aug. 12, 2002.

See the rest of the list here on 13 Essential Stories About Sept. 11

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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