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.
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.