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Cover Story

9/11: 10 Years After

The attacks of 9/11 not only changed America, they challenged and changed American law enforcement.

September 01, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Sgt. Marty Duane of the Port Authority Police Department was one of the many first responders who helped rescue people at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Photo: Newscom.
Sgt. Marty Duane of the Port Authority Police Department was one of the many first responders who helped rescue people at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Photo: Newscom.

For those living in the shadows of flight corridors, the absence of planes in the skies in the days following September 11, 2001, did not go unnoticed. And when flights resumed, not everyone was comfortable seeing them. Some Americans had become aircraft phobic, fearful that at any moment some commercial airliner might be commandeered and transformed into a guided missile.

The immediate costs of the 9/11 attacks were readily apparent once the smoke and dust had cleared: 3,000 people killed, billions of dollars lost, our national sense of invulnerability shaken. The 102 minutes of airborne horrors that permanently changed our landscape and scarred our emotional psyche also inaugurated a war on terror that continues to this day. And this war is different than any other in our history. It is fought by soldiers abroad and law enforcement officers at home. A decade on, it is not unusual to see officers patrolling subways and metro rails with automatic rifles and K-9s.

There are those who contend that the damages inflicted by the 24 terrorists that day have ultimately been surpassed by our own responses to that day's attacks — that many of America's greatest principles have been usurped in the name of protecting them. Critics indict many of the protective measures undertaken as reactionary and opportunistic, and they cite statistics that illustrate an American is as likely to die of a terrorist attack as a lightning strike. Defenders of these measures use those same statistics to bolster justification of their need and efficacy.

Whatever appraisal history eventually accords America's response to the catastrophic events of 2001, its dramatic impact on law enforcement during the last decade would be difficult to exaggerate.

National Security

The ghosts of the Twin Towers and the victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and on United Flight 93 still loom over law enforcement. They loom both as an indictment of the lost opportunities to have prevented 9/11 and as an omnipresent reminder of a need for vigilance.

Congress and the White House have acted on that need, passing numerous acts and resolutions in their joint attempt to address gaps in national security. With passage of the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act in October 2001, a number of obstacles that had historically hamstrung federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in their fight against both domestic and foreign terrorism were suddenly removed. The PATRIOT Act meant that requests for wiretaps, pen registers, traps, and trace devices were granted with unprecedented ease.

Law enforcement can now search e-mail and telephone communications in addition to medical, financial, and library records with unprecedented ease. The PATRIOT Act also expanded the practice of using National Security Letters, a form of administrative subpoena that requires certain people, groups, or companies to provide documents about U.S. citizens without the use of a warrant.

Although the PATRIOT Act gets more press, The Homeland Security Act, passed a little more than a year after 9/11, was perhaps more consequential. It enabled the most sweeping reorganization of federal agencies since the National Security Act of 1947, which led to the formation of the U.S. Department of Defense. The creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought together 22 agencies from a broad cross-section of the federal government to work together to fulfill its mission "to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks."

While subject to their fair share of controversy, the PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security-along with the other legislation and funding appropriations that followed-produced a wide variety of changes that have directly affected state and local law enforcement.

Alan Ferguson, retired Border Patrol agent, appreciates the focus that was placed on immigration issues after 9/11. Immediately following the attacks, U.S. immigration agents experienced a level of concern not seen since the Iran hostage crisis and DEA agent Enrique Camarena's kidnapping in the 1980s.

"America had been caught with its pants down and we didn't know what was coming next," Ferguson recalls.

To enhance its enforcement capabilities along the nation's borders, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) established formal partnerships with state and local agencies. These agencies can now choose to have their personnel trained and authorized to carry out immigration enforcement within their own jurisdictions. Multi-level agency cooperation is also utilized to apprehend and disrupt the activities of transnational street gang members and fugitive aliens, helping to meet the mission objectives of all agencies involved.

Following 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — both spared from incorporation into the Department of Homeland Security — have focused their missions in support of the war on terror.

Due in part to post-9/11 fallout and stinging rebukes of America's intelligence community, the FBI shifted its focus from countering drugs to countering terror, reforming itself from a reactive agency to one that actually prevents crimes.

The Bureau's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), which were established in the 1980s, doubled in number after 9/11. Representatives on the JTTFs include members from the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security; the U.S. armed forces; federal, state, and local law enforcement; the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and transportation authorities.

Independently, the CIA and FBI have greatly enhanced their interagency communications and intelligence sharing — between themselves and among other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies — ending decades of squabbling over ownership of information and data. It is a paradigm shift that has largely been emulated throughout the profession.

Tags: 9/11, FBI, First Responders


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Jonathan Cherney @ 9/11/2011 6:41 AM

Excellent story. We must remember that our law enforcement are the "sheep dogs" of society and must operate in a manner that may occassionally offend or inconvienence the public. We have spent way too much time in law enforcement attempting to "soften" the publics opinion of us, which in many cases has decreased our ability to respond effectively our of fear that law enforcement will be deemed "too aggressive". Every large gathering of citizens is a potential target for terrorism and law enforcement should always have the equipement and manpower to deter such attacks. I would feel much more secure to see an officer armed to the gills patroling our airports, malls, sporting events, etc..., then the alternative of see no evil, hear no evil.

Jim Freeman @ 9/11/2011 10:27 AM

Since When Did First Responders Become the Bad Guys?
Jim Freeman, Freeman Public Affairs

Ten years ago on September 11, first responders were our national heroes. They rushed into New York’s burning towers and the nation’s nerve center for military defense. They saved lives without concern for their own and they suffered terrible losses. They brought order to chaos and let us know that someone had our backs, even in the worst of times.

Since that horrific day, many of our country’s first responders have served with the National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have protected us against domestic attacks from foreign and homegrown terrorists. They continuously put their lives on the line for natural disasters, and on a daily basis, they face flames and bullets, arrest thugs, rescue fire victims, save lives in ambulances, find lost children and keep us safe.

More than ever after 9/11, support from police and fire was sought by every politician even thinking of running for office. No more. Not now. Our first responders are being blamed by extremists for everything from the political mismanagement of cities to budget deficits nationwide. It doesn’t matter that police and fire protected us during good times, paying into their own pensions, keeping cities and states flush with these retirement funds. It’s of no consequence that since the recession, they’ve made concession after concession in the spirit of shared sacrifice. These facts have all been lost amid threats to their very existence. Who needs community police and fire when we can privatize and outsource, when we can make numbers look better on a balance sheet and reward political contributors? Emergency dispatchers from India and mercenaries from Blackwater could do the same job more efficiently and surely for less.

AusFost1 @ 9/11/2011 5:35 PM

Thoughts are with you, USA, on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. It's humbling to watch your nation come closer together than ever before on this day. And comforting to think of those perpetrators burning in hell for a full ten years so far.

Rick @ 9/12/2011 9:13 AM

It's shameful that the Flt. 93 memorial was designed to be a crescent and has other muslim designs incorporated into it; the crescent even points towards Mecca. I remember the controversey surrounding the OK City Bombing and how there was a third conspirator, a middle eastern looking man, that was never brought to justice. I recently visited the OKC memorial and when I got home, I looked at it on Google Earth. There is a crescent there surrounding the Survivor's Tree that points towards Mecca. Coincidence??

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