America Says Goodbye to Innocence
It is no question that the events of 9/11/2001 changed the United States forever. Gone forever are the days when American citizens are free to fly on an airplane without fear of acts of terrorism. In fact, the days are forever gone when terrorism isn’t an everyday word that a third grader would know as commonly as the word ‘war’. He may not understand its meaning or implications entirely, but he knows what it is and also understands that it is a bad thing, at the very least.
In the history of the United States, there has not been foreign aggression within the borders of the country since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The entire country – the entire world – woke up on September 11, 2001, to watch one of the most well-planned acts of terrorism in history carried out on American soil as it happened, broadcast live on television. The world stood in horror. Every person, at least every adult, who was alive to see it can tell you where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, and what their thoughts were because of the depravity of the acts. According to one poll, 97% of Americans could recall exact events from that moment thirteen years ago – more than the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two commercial airliners flew into the sides of each of the World Trade Towers, full of fuel and full of innocent victims, and the world continued to watch as the Towers fell.
These terrorists weren’t carrying bombs or guns. The security agents at the airports who cleared them had no reason to think that they would be anything other than ordinary passengers boarding the planes as they walked through the metal detectors. Because of the events of that day, the days of a simple stroll through a metal detector in order to gain passage onto a commercial airliner are also gone.
Since that time, there have been numerous attempts by terrorists to inflict harm upon innocent victims in railway systems, on other airplanes, in normal passenger vehicles that carry enough explosive to blow up city blocks, and wrapped around the waists of radicals who were willing to die by walking into an innocent place of business and blowing themselves up while killing as many others as they could when they did. As recently as 2009, a terrorist attempted to blow up an airliner with explosive chemicals in his underwear.
The face of America has forever changed since that day. Once secure and safe within her borders, America now sits on watch for the next intended act of harm. Homeland Security makes every attempt to inject security measures into every aspect of the day of the average citizen. Metal detectors guard the entrances of high schools. Security agents ride aboard every airliner undetected but trained to act in the event of a similar incident. Troops are spread globally, searching for the unknown enemy who doesn’t reside in a place, but in a belief. How does one declare war against a belief?
The Homeland Security Act
It is no secret that the United States was completely unprepared for an attack of the magnitude of the attack on the Twin Towers. America was completely broken, afraid and looking to its government to secure its borders and to provide protection. In the months following the attack of September 11, as the country attempted to pick itself back up, Congress pushed through the Homeland Security Act in an effort to present an organized effort to pick up the pieces. The intent of the HSA was to attempt to begin the effort of defending this great nation from any further terrorist attacks.
The passage of this 484 page document was the biggest change to the organization of the federal government in over 50 years. The Homeland Security Act was passed on November 25, 2002, combining the efforts, authorities and powers of over twenty federal agencies into a single entity. Among the agencies included are the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and many others. All agencies combined were given federal authority to act in and among themselves as one entity to insure the safety and security of the United States borders.
The freedoms once enjoyed and identified as unique to Americans were stolen on the day the Towers fell. Because of the historic horror demonstrated with one goal – to eradicate American freedom and to instill their religious beliefs – the government was forced to begin actions to attempt to detect further terrorist activity which removed some of the freedoms that Americans have enjoyed for hundreds of years.
Surveillance of the daily activities of common American citizens became government information, gathered because of the USA Patriot Act. Private conversations could no longer be considered private. Library records, college applications, ethnic origin data, and even a person’s favorite color could all be considered by surveillance personnel and analyzed for risk possibilities, responsible for deterring any further attacks on American soil.
And so the proverbial “Catch 22” began. In order to remain safe, either all Americans, including those who intend harm, enjoy the freedoms that Lady Liberty promises to all, or America sacrifices those freedoms in the name of security. Civil liberties groups began to object immensely from the beginning to the intent and the authority of the Homeland Security Act. An increase in government power and strength as well as protected government interests began to look too much like a government that didn’t resemble the America once known, loved and respected. Many who objected to this law referred to it as a “law of unintended consequences”. The consequences weren’t necessarily unintended as much as an exchange for the safety and security of the borders of the United States in a world that no longer tolerates the freedoms that American has flagrantly and adamantly claimed for over two decades. The once “free” United States no longer exists.
The Total Information Awareness Project
One of the most controversial and deliberated elements of the HSA has been the Total Information Awareness Office. Established by initiatives from Admiral John Poindexter, former United States National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and Brian Hicks, research was immediately funded to develop this program. The Total Information Awareness Office was given an initial budget of $200,000,000, along with a directive from the Pentagon to achieve a status of total information awareness. This project is known as the Defense Advanced Research Project. It became one of the most controversial, invasive efforts put into place by the U.S. Federal Government.
American citizens continued to dispute the rights of the government to invade their personal communications and actions. Civil liberties groups continued to protest and government officials were listening. How could the U.S. Government identify terrorists without this information? Yet, surveillance of private citizens with no just cause was also unjustifiable. Senator Russ Feingold felt the pain of his constituents, as well as the pain of a broken and violated nation.
On January 16, 2003, he led the path by invoking legislation suspending IAP activities and the Total Information Awareness program until a thorough review could be conducted. This review would carefully analyze the privacy issues of the citizens of the United States. The implications, becoming entirely too similar to activities conducted in George Orwell’s book, “1984”, as well as claims that the program would violate the liberties afforded by the Fourth Amendment, also added to the decisions to reassess the program and suspend any funding until it could be carefully reviewed and justified.
This led to further action taken by Senator Ron Wyden, prohibiting the IAP from operating within the U.S. The President or Congress would have to specifically certify that the operation of such an organization was vital to the security of the United States and offer detailed explanation. The legislation was passed and became law as of February 2003.
Continued Controversy – Safety or Liberty?
Because of continued controversy and demands for privacy from a variety of civil rights groups and citizens of the United States, the program was given a new name – the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in May, 2013. As a response to members of Congress who opposed the violation of American citizens’ privacy without just cause, DARPA created and presented a report to Congress on May 20, 2003. The report justified the continued use of surveillance, claiming that common citizens were not the emphasis of their activities. They claimed to be lawfully gathering information and research with the sole intent of gathering information only concerning terrorist-related activities and networks. Thus, public surveillance of common citizens continued with a newly named project to defend the purpose. Citizens continued to oppose these actions, recognizing the ability of this system to abuse or misuse information and violating basic Constitutional rights.
By monitoring telephone conversations, day-to-day movement, Internet usage, and other personal activities, the TIA was able to configure this information and use technology specifically for the purpose of analyzing it to assess risk. The intent was to detect and identify potential terrorist acts and proactively deter them, but at the expense of the freedoms previously enjoyed by common citizens.
As shock from the terror attack made visible to the world began to wear off and Americans, specifically government agencies, began to grasp the reality of the situation globally, an architecture of counter-terrorism information began to form within government agencies, redefining their roles and their authority.
Using data-aggregation software and other technologies, the TIA integrated information that would link individuals using descriptive and predictive ideations through what can only be called data mining. Programs used include the Genisys, Genisys Privacy Protection, Evidence Extraction, Link Discovery, and Scalable Social Network Analysis Programs. Desperate for an answer, the TIA used any means possible to identify terrorists or terrorist groups who might perpetrate further attacks on human soil or abroad.
Continued controversy stayed in the limelight and on the front pages of every major newspaper while government officials continued to try and find a suitable compromise that would insure the safety of American citizens without further compromising their privacy. The House and Senate prohibited any further funding for the TIA project, adding provisions to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2004. One of the primary elements included in the findings directed the IAP to be terminated immediately as acting program manager for the TIA. Congress did stipulate that some data could continue to be collected by secret intelligence agencies, as long as the activities were not purported on American citizens within U.S. borders.
Civil liberties groups continue to debate what should be allowed and what should be considered violation of the Constitution. The federal government continues to do the same. Provisions in the initial Homeland Security Act create a plethora of issues to be handled by the government, while keeping the borders safe and protecting the rights of its citizens. An example would be a provision in the HSA which does not allow, by law, for a US job to be eliminated because of a cut in a government-funded program. If there are workers for the programs that are terminated or eliminated, the government must provide them with an equitable job.
Of further concern is indication that the HSA intends to continue conducting mass surveillance but is attempting to do so within the parameters of the law. Matrix, a private company based in Florida has developed data-collection software that is able to access private-sector records in the billions from American citizens; it can do so in a matter of seconds. Because it is personal data in the hands of a private company, there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment. Tom Ridge approved $8 million in funds to assist other states in connecting with the Matrix’s data servers.
Current National Security
Today, thirteen years after the act of terrorism that forever changed the face of America, regular, every day American citizens are no more safe than they were on that day. A terrorist regime that is willing to die in order to achieve their objective is an impossible threat to eliminate. The United States and other countries who face this problem are not at war with a place or a country; they are at war with an ideology – terrorists exist in every part of the world.
For the average citizen, the most obvious changes in daily life have been the changes at airports when flying on airplanes. Airports now require passengers to arrive at least two hours prior to their departure. Hardened cockpit doors have been installed into every passenger airliner in the country and thousands of air marshals “fly the friendly skies” daily patrolling for further acts of terrorism.
Restrictions for travelers are massive and very restrictive. No liquid or toiletry items above a certain size can be carried. All items have to be in clear, sealed bags. No food, snacks or beverages are allowed beyond security. Your little one will just have to fly without his favorite snack, no matter how long the flight takes. Random passengers are selected for extremely invasive screenings, including physical inspection of any place on a person’s entire body, if so chosen by the security officer at the gate.
Despite newer and more modern security equipment, extra security protocol is still in place. Passengers go through inspection, removing their shoes, their belts, emptying their pockets, removing their jackets, and at the discretion of the agents, taken to a smaller, more private screening room where they are asked to completely undress to be searched. Obviously, all of this requires time, which means longer lines at the airport. Frequent flyers have become familiar with the procedures, which helps to expedite time in the lines, but the simple days when flying on an airplane was the most exciting part of the trip are over.
Most public or government building require tighter security as well. American workers have to wear security badges that identify who they are before being allowed to enter. All guests must sign in. No deliveries, flowers, food, or any other type of gift, can be taken to an office – it must be left for inspection at the front desk. Insurance companies have even responded by providing travel protection insurance for terrorist attacks committed either overseas or in the United States. Prior to 9/11/01, this type of travel insurance only covered acts committed overseas.
The changes in America are not just limited to traveling. The normal, everyday “Joe”, who gets up to work and feed his wife and two kids, is now faced with the possibility every day of another threat. The ride on the subway to work is tenuous at best; the cubicle at work, especially in a government building or a building in New York City, remains nerve-racking. Americans have gained a greater respect for police and firefighters, who were the first on the scene when the Towers fell. More Americans are in favor of using torture as a method of gaining information from suspected terrorists.
Various polls and surveys show an increase in American support for a national identity card, as well as extra screening measures for people who appear to be of Middle Eastern origin, which is basically considered racial profiling. Seeing travel sizes of toiletries and being aware of those who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent within these borders automatically incites a feeling of remembrance, thus fear, into the average American.
The events of 9/11/01 are not yet a part of American History. The threat and the ongoing fight against terrorism are continuing still. With the newest threat from the group known as ISIS, Americans are more unsure of their security than ever before. Watching the evening news has become a terrifying event for Americans every day as they watch images of masked terrorists armed with knives holding American civilians hostage and flaunting videos of their beheadings on the Internet. The Earth trembles because of an earthquake or a plane flies overhead, making a loud noise, and people hold their breath, wondering if the next attack is taking place. Americans have been changed psychologically forever.
Those who work for the federal government and in government agencies, either at the Pentagon, in Washington or in New York City, are especially vulnerable. Many who were directly impacted or who still live in New York, especially, suffer from post-traumatic syndrome disorder, having nightmares that they will wake up under a pile of rubble, screaming for help. National Security, with all of the measures and attempts to secure a nation, has not been successful at calming a nation that is continually in fear.
The unfortunate and prevailing truth is that security measures can be implemented in a preventative effort, but only to a point. If terrorist groups are determined to support their beliefs, and they are willing to die in order to do so, finding a way to attack the United States is something that cannot be prevented. Because Lady Liberty stands strong, holding her torch of freedom, those who want to enter our borders are allowed to do so legally. They can become American citizens, despite their heritage or their country of origin.
Once inside the United States borders, all guarantees become mute. Surveillance can monitor their movement and their telephone conversations, security measures can insure that they don’t deliver flowers to a government agency office building without clearance, and the best of intentions and the most intelligent, brave security personnel in the world can attempt to divert another attack such as 9/11. The truth is that these same persons can attend United States universities and learn how to make chemical weapons of mass destruction on their own. They can do so discreetly and once again, undetected attacks are a possibility.
National Security with all of the effort that has been engaged has done nothing more than remove liberties from American citizens who have no intention of harming anyone in the United States. Troops continue to work diligently overseas to strengthen Middle Eastern countries who are also at risk and who could ultimately serve as allies in the War against Terror, but the problem is defining who the terrorists are.
Visual images of troops lines up at our borders, ready to defend us at any cost, are only images. The threat is one that is unseen; America the Beautiful stands proud and more beautiful than ever, under attack by those who disagree with her views of liberty and freedom. Security measures will continue to become stronger with liberties being removed necessarily to find those who are residing within U.S. borders, ready to align an attack at any moment. What are Americans ready to sacrifice – their freedoms or their safety?