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Essay: 9/11: The USA PATRIOT Act & Homeland Security Efforts to Protect the US

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  • Published: 25 February 2023*
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  • Tags: Terrorism essays

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September 11, 2001 was a huge turning point for national security in the United States. That day will forever be a day the United States people will always remember. During the 9/11 attacks, two Boeing 757 airliners crashed into the Twin Towers. The other two planes used were also Boeing 757s. One crashed into the Pentagon and the other, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The days when American citizens were free to travel without fear of terrorism acts are gone. The word terrorism is an everyday word in people’s vernacular. Prior to 9/11, there had not been an attack as aggressive or volatile since the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The entire world watched one of the most well-planned and well-executed acts of terrorism in history carried out as it happened, live on television. Two commercial airplanes flew into each of the World Trade Towers, both full of innocent victims, and the world watched as the Towers fell. This attack clearly showcased the lack of national security measures being taken in the United States. Our security towards international terrorism on American soil was extremely unacceptable. Following 9/11, several agencies were created to ensure that a tragedy of this caliber would never happen again. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration changed the way Americans dealt with terrorism. To this day, they are still considered to be the most vital aspects of protecting the country. Among those changes also came new pieces of legislation called the Homeland Security Act and The United States Patriot Act. We attempted to use the Patriot act to gain authority by law to conduct wire taps, view emails, text messages, and phone calls of individuals that were suspected of terrorism. However, The United States Patriot Act was received with some negative feelings by Americans who felt it was implemented to spy on innocent civilians. Some people believed it was taking away one of our Constitutional rights, the right to privacy. In the past, a wall was created between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering. This wall had been opened and I believe The Patriot Act helped to open this door. All of the changes made to the country’s national security were completely necessary. It was a sign that darker times were ahead, and changes had to be made. Stricter guidelines to be able to fly by airplane were being implemented by the TSA. Changes such as “no-fly lists” have made it almost impossible for a threat to board an airplane. National security has vastly improved since these attacks and the United States has prevented many terrorist plots ever since.

Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, commonly referred to as the USA PATRIOT Act, was presented by Congress and passed by the current president at the time, George W. Bush, to prevent any future attacks on the United States such as those events that took place on September 11, 2001 (Thornburgh, 2004, p. 807). Under the Bush administration, Al Qaeda was not taken as seriously as it should have been. When the attacks on 9/11 happened, Bush’s first thoughts were to go after Iraq and Saddam Hussein. To prevent such future attacks, the PATRIOT Act “attempted to increase the flow of information from the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI (Sievert, 2006, 323). This attempt was made in hopes that the various federal intelligence agencies would “provide [a] more effective use of intelligence in fighting terrorism” (Thornburgh, 2004, 805). The PATRIOT Act also made some changes to FISA both in language and interpretation; the PATRIOT Act “eliminated a dichotomy that should never have been promulgated in the first place” (Sievert, 2006, p.325-326). Overall, the USA PATRIOT Act is a necessity for the safety of our country. The biggest issue that arose since the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act is the question of civil liberties versus security. Many people feel that the expanded authorities the government has under the USA PATRIOT Act violates their “right to privacy”. The complaints follow suit with the dilemmas with the FISA Act. However, just like the FISA Act, the USA PATRIOT Act is designated to protect people. As with all things, there are abuses and those abuses should be dealt with accordingly. However, the overall goal/mission of the act provides more good than bad. While the American public received the Act indifferently, most likely because in a way the act lowered the standards to do surveillance such as criminal wiretaps, the PATRIOT Act, so far, has done what it was established to do in preventing devastating attacks in the United States (Sievert, 2006, 327).

Bush also responded to the 9/11 attacks by creating the Department of Homeland Security. The Homeland Security Act created the Department of Homeland Security by combining 22 existing agencies and 170,000 federal employees into a new cabinet-level department—the largest and most complex reorganization of the federal government since the Department of Defense was created nearly six decades earlier (Brook and King, 2007). The primary mission of the Homeland Security Act is to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism, and minimize damage and assist in recovery for terrorist attacks that occur in the United States (Mitchell and Pate, 2003). Since it began operations in 2003, Department of Homeland Security has implemented key homeland security operations and achieved important goals and milestones in many areas to create and strengthen a foundation to reach its potential (Government Accountability Office, 2011). One of the ways it strengthened national security was through border security. Immigration policy is extremely vital in keeping our nation safe. More specifically border policy, which is still to this day a major discussion among the American people, brings many questions and concerns to the table. Since immigration is such a hot topic, there are instances where “ordinances develop into a very emotional and divisive issue”, thus calling in not only the questions of security but also morality (Fuller, 2008). What kind of policy can be implemented, and how can it be used to consider all the circumstances? Immigration is a part of what makes America such an amazing country, but as seen from the attacks of 9/11 and others “the American way of life is threatened by the very openness and freedom that have contributed to her success” (Lytton, 2003, p.2000). The Department of Homeland Security and its many partners across the federal government, public and private sectors, and communities across the country and around the world have worked since 9/11 to build a new homeland security enterprise to better mitigate and defend against dynamic threats, minimize risks, and maximize the ability to respond and recover from attacks and disasters of all kinds (DHS, 2015).

The most immediate changes after the attacks took place in airports across the United States. Prior to 9/11, security had been handled individually by each airport, most of which used private security companies. Two months after the attacks, Congress federalized airport security by passing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created the Transportation Security Administration. According to the official Transportation Security Administration website, “it was created to strengthen the security of all of the nation’s transportation systems and ensure the freedom movement for people and commerce” (TSA, 2016).  Its vision is “to provide the most effective transportation security in the most efficient way as a high performing counterterrorism organization” (TSA, 2016). In an article by Jason Villemez (2014) he talks about the new TSA procedures that included stricter guidelines on passenger and luggage screening. Villemez (2014) discussed “only ticketed passengers could go through security, and an ever-changing array of machinery and procedures were introduced to scan for weapons and destructive items. As new threats were discovered after 9/11, new procedures were introduced, including removing shoes and banning liquids.” Using forms of transportation is still commonly used in terrorist attacks. TSA’s accomplishments to date include developing plans and implementing procedures for using federal workers to conduct security screening at 429 commercial airports; hiring and beginning to train almost 4,000 key security personnel; and implementing more rigorous background checks of employees with access to secure areas of airports (Dillingham, 2002). To help enhance the security of air cargo, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (9/11 Commission Act) mandated the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a system to physically screen 50 percent of cargo on passenger aircraft— including the domestic and inbound flights of foreign and U.S. passenger operations (Lord, 2010). The 9/11 Commission Report defines screening for purposes of the air cargo screening mandate as a physical examination or nonintrusive methods of assessing whether cargo poses a threat to transportation security. If someone has an interest in Homeland Security, there is a good chance he/she has read the 9/11 Commission Report. Reading that report showed clear mistakes that could have been prevented by stronger airport security.

The 9/11 attack was a wake-up call for national security in the United States. Protecting the United States from terrorism is the main objective of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Both organizations have had a tremendous impact on strengthening our national security. The Patriot Act carries the connotation that federal agencies and law enforcement will be able to conduct a search or wiretap anyone they decide. This carried over to a person’s internet use and if the government could monitor anyone’s Internet activity freely. However, this is not the case due to probable cause and court orders being needed for Internet Activity (Sievert, 2007). The Act is necessary in that it greatly reduces the burden of intelligence entities and law enforcements of sharing information and having the proper tools to defend the country. Thornburgh (2005) included this quote: “Take heed lest we walk into a well from looking at the stars”. While theoretically it would be ideal that civil liberties always remained absolute, in reality there are people who want to take them away completely. Defeating terrorism for good is unattainable. Advancements in technology and new ways of terrorism have limited the ability to defeat it. The best the United States can do as far as terrorism deals in the lines of preparedness and mitigation. You can never stop terrorism as a whole, but have the best ability to hinder the acts.

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