As soon as the two planes collided with the twin towers of the World Trade Center the question that was foremost in the minds of the spectators and the millions of people around the world is this: who can be responsible for such an appalling act? For the many government officials, political leaders and concerned American citizens the second question came in just as quickly as the firs and they are asking how can this thing happen. For many veterans of the Second World War – and this does not only mean the combat troops – it was déjà vu, circa 1942, as if Pearl Harbor was happening all over again, this time around they witnessed the event as it happened. Many were asking how this thing can happen to the most powerful nation in the world and in response to that question there were a number of Federal policy changes that were made in the years following 9/11.
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There were two major Federal policy changes in response to the public and political backlash of September 11 and these are:
- Intelligence gathering
- Information sharing
There was an assumption that one of the major responsibilities of the American government was to make sure that Pearl Harbor will never happen again. After all the destruction of that famous landmark, America went on to win World War II, became a global superpower, spent billions of dollars in tax payer’s money to upgrade the military and the intelligence gathering capability of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as increasing its clout in the global political arena. Why is it then that a group of terrorists can live within the U.S. mainland for a significant period of time and make plans to destroy an icon of democracy and free trade?
The terrorists were even successful in accessing resources such as the wherewithal to fly airplanes, kamikaze style. Thousands of lives perished in the aftermath of 9/11. But aside from the high death toll the destruction of the World Trade Center created an emotional and psychological impact that Americans will carry for the rest of their lives. All of a sudden it was no longer safe to walk the streets of downtown New York for instance. It was no longer safe to fly the short distance between two cities because no one knows when the next batch of terrorists will strike. This is unacceptable.
The Federal government has to initiate major policy changes. These policy changes must be implemented soon after the 9/11 attacks in order to foil another attempt to terrorize the people. There is a need for policy changes that will provide ample warning when it comes to terror plots. But the information that will be gathered from enhanced intelligence collection must also be given to the hands of the right person in the right agency during the most crucial moments in order to detect and apprehend terrorists. For instance, some of the extremists who commandeered the plane on September 11 were already part of list of people having ties to terrorism. If that piece of information was made available to authorities working in a particular area then he or she could have spotted these terrorists or made aware that suspicious persons are now in the city.
In Michael Turner’s book there is a quote taken from the pen of John Stuart Mill, and this can be used as to understand the essence of secret intelligence work: “There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for purpose of human life” (2005). It simply means that real-life spies need not bother the general public with their excuses for failure. They are not expected to know everything but at least they must know enough to either stop terrorists on their tracks or at least mitigate the impact of a terror attack. There are those who cannot forgive the former administration for their lapses in judgment while others are more tolerant saying that no one could have predicted a very unorthodox way of targeting civilians and causing maximum damage to major U.S. infrastructure. A compromise could have been the reduction of the impact, for instance instead of multiple attacks, superior intelligence gathering methods should have reduced the number of terrorists who were able to enter the U.S. and allowed to join forces with other members of Al Qaeda.
Intelligence is very crucial in the fight against terror. It has to be pointed out though that information gleaned from effective intelligence gathering can be viewed as, “…a particular type of information that helps to inform, instruct, and educate the policy world” (Turner, 2005). While this is easy to understand it is very hard to put it into practice. The nature of warfare has evolved from one that can be described as conventional to a type that can best be understood using guerilla tactics. Moreover, in ancient times the goal of fighting is to amass land and wealth but this time around a small army of recruits will blow themselves up just to send a message about a political or religious cause.
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The enemy is made more complicated and more dangerous by the fact that they are an “evolving threat” (Carafano & Sauter, 2005). They are not only a ragtag army they are well-funded and has the ability to create sophisticated and highly organized groups. The idea of using “cells” allowed them to work independent of each other and even provided them the ability to become a leaderless resistance (Carafano & Sauter, 2005). This simply means that the ancient way of forcing the enemy to bend its knees – by killing their generals – will no longer work in the 21st century war on terror. The moment one “cell” is obliterated another will take its place and since their goal is not to seek, destroy and go home, they are a very lethal group. Religious zealots willing to die as martyrs are unpredictable but no less deadly. These new breed of enemy “soldiers” require out-of-the-box thinking strategies in order to develop effective methods that will be tailor-made for the type of warfare that they wage.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attack the Federal government authorized an inquiry to fully understand how terrorists were able to see and exploit the weaknesses in homeland security. A report was submitted which became popularly known as the 9/11 Commission. The said report revealed glaring incompetence brought about by the inability to gather critical information that could have led to arrests and not just merely suspicion. The report highlighted the fact that a computer system was able to provide scant information about Mohamed Atta, one of the Al-Qaeda operatives who participated in the September 11 attacks.
The CAPPS computer system red-flagged Atta as a possible threat. This is the reason why his bags were held-off before the airport authorities were assured that he was on board the plane. They were afraid that he might have some form of an explosive device in his bags (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2008). But if they would have known that Atta is not an ordinary saboteur they could have held him for a longer period of time pending further investigation. The information that could have allowed authorities to do that was not at their disposal.
This was traced to the political backlash that the Federal Bureau of Investigation experienced during the 1970s when they employed hardball tactics to coax information from suspected criminals. Therefore in the decades that followed the FBI were hesitant to bend be more zealous when it comes to information gathering and their mindset was more on protecting human rights and ensuring freedom rather than the security of the state. All of that changed after the 9/11 tragedy.
One of the radical changes that were made was the creation of the Patriot Act and the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. These two sets of laws allowed the expansion of the surveillance power of security agencies (Posner, 2006). These laws considerably broadened the powers of the authorities especially when it comes to examining private data such as emails of suspected terrorists. It must be said that the Homeland Security does not have the legal rights to go into someone else’s home and gather information. There is still due process but more elbow room is given so that they can work more effectively.
An elite intelligence gathering unit can be a very helpful tool in the fight against terror but it can be argued that their effectiveness can be enhanced if their data can be shared with various agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella. In this regard the Homeland Security Advisory Council proposed the creation of the Intelligence and Information Sharing Initiative: Homeland Security Intelligence and Information Fusion. This program is the management of the flow of information across different level and sectors of the U.S. intelligence community and it is more than a one-time collection of intelligence and even goes beyond establishing an intelligence center or a computer network (Homeland Security Advisory Council, 2005). In other words they will create a culture where information is shared on a more regular basis between disparate government agencies.
In order for that to happen, Homeland Security had to revise the manuals and to create a language for the intelligence community will understand. The problem with having separate groups is the creation of a particular language or lingo that is only understood within a group, outsiders will never be able to penetrate their intricate web of bureaucracy as well as the way they talk to each other. There is also the need to increase interaction with other groups especially those who are in the private industry who will be able to supply up-to-date and relevant data.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror acts the whole world knew that America is vulnerable to attacks staged by terrorists. Their superpower status is of no help when it comes to guerilla tactics employed by a group of men who had nothing of significance compares to regular armies. The United States had to become more flexible. They had to make an upgrade. It is a good thing that they focused on intelligence gathering and information sharing. These are two of the major issues addressed by the Homeland Security Council.
- Carafano, J. & M. Sauter (2005). Homeland Security. New York: McGraw-Hill.& Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
- Turner, M. (2005). Why Secret Intelligence Fails. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, Inc.
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2005). Intelligence and Information Sharing Initiative:
- Homeland Security Intelligence & Information Fusion.