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After 9/11, America Still In A Never-Ending War To Ensure Safety

For the past 18 years, there is one question that has rarely strayed for long from the minds of a majority of people living in the US: Are we safe?

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Covered in dust, ash and falling debris on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York City Transit's express coach #2185 could have been written off and sent off to scrap. It was decided, however, to rebuild her as a symbol of NYC Transit’s resiliency and a rolling example of the dedication of the agency’s employees. Wikimedia Commons

For the past 18 years, there is one question that has rarely strayed for long from the minds of a majority of people living in the US: Are we safe?  Question of safety was etched into the American psyche following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew two planes into New York’s World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, while a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

“I looked out the window and I could see a mountain of concrete and steel just falling past the window, almost like in slow motion, like a curtain going down at a theater,” said Frank Razzano, who witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower from his New York hotel room.

“I ran to the opposite side of the room and pressed myself against the wall and thought that those were the last few minutes that I was going to have on Earth,” he told VOA in 2013.

Since that day, the need to keep the U.S. safe from attack has been a constant for Americans, no matter their personal politics.

empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
U.S. Department of Homeland Security election security workers monitor screens in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 6, 2018. VOA

Top priority: protection from terrorism

According to a Pew Research Center survey, from 2002 through 2018, at least 7 in 10 U.S. adults said protecting the country from terrorism should be a top priority for both the president and lawmakers.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the officials responsible for keeping the country safe say progress has been made.

“If you were to step back and think where we were … we are so much better off than we were on 9/12,” Frank Cilluffo, who worked in what was initially known as the Office of Homeland Security, told VOA.

“I think, by and large, the career civil servants and I think the 22 legacy agencies have recalibrated quite well to it to meet today’s demands and threats,” said Cilluffo, who now heads Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security.

But Cilluffo and other veteran officials called upon to make sure the U.S. would not again fall victim to a 9/11-type attack admit getting there was not easy.

empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
Empire State Building, NYC. Wikimedia Commons

One of the first steps was to create the Department of Homeland Security, which brought together key agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Secret Service.

It was the first step in an effort to correct what some experts and lawmakers had identified as a key weakness that allowed the 19 terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to succeed — a failure of government agencies, some of which had vital bits of information about the plot, to communicate critical information and connect the dots.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

Determining mission

“Even then there was a challenge associated with trying to figure out what our mission profile really needed to be and the priorities within that mission profile,” said retired Admiral James Loy, who served as the new department’s first deputy secretary. “What was the business of this new department and how were we going to set about pulling it off?”

They settled on five words: awareness, prevention, protection, response and recovery.

“Those five words became the license, if you will, for all of us to continue doing what we were doing and begin the process of trying to do other things collaboratively that had never been done perhaps by this particular gathering,” Loy recalled at a gathering of former DHS deputy secretaries Wednesday.

There were also adjustments that had to be made by the many officials who came to DHS either from the military or the intelligence community.

“I found out that everything I thought I knew about the role of the federal government in dealing with security was wrong,” said Jane Holl Lute, who served as a DHS deputy secretary under U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Your relationship between the public, government and fear is very different,” she said.

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The 9/11 attacks. Wikimedia Commons

Instead of concentrating on carefully gathered information from well-placed spies or sources, DHS had to learn to partner with civilians.

“The men and women of this country know an enormous amount about what’s happening,” Lute said. “We actually found out that streetcar vendors in Times Square in New York have pretty valuable information.”

Lute and other former and current officials are confident that the government has been able to find ways to reach out to civilians and even to private businesses.

Still, as the threats have evolved to include disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks, they say more will need to be done.

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‘Woefully inadequate’

Some officials also see shortcomings despite yearly budgets that have more than doubled since Congress set aside $19.5 billion for Homeland Security in 2002.

“If you look at the infrastructure of the department, it is woefully inadequate,” said Paul Schneider, another former deputy secretary. He added that so much money is tied up in mandatory programs, such as disaster relief, that there is little left to make needed improvements.

“There’s CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] Border Patrol stations that look like, you know, a 1950s cowboy movie of the Pony Express,” he said.

But one of the biggest challenges for homeland security officials may be overcoming the language that so many in the U.S. have come to associate with the department — the war on terror.

“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there,” former President George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress nine days after the 2001 attacks. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

It was a powerful message in the wake of tragedy. But former officials, like Cilluffo, admit it is a war that can never really be won.

“The reality is there’s never an end state,” Cilluffo said. “It’s something that we have to continually adapt, continually prioritize and continually get the job done.” (VOA)

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Development And Protection Of Citizens – Duties Of Elected Political Executive

In a democratic dispensation the first duties of the elected political executive governing the nation are to bring about development of all and ensure protection of citizens

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a policy decision of great administrative value was taken by the Centre to put the newly inducted officers of all these services together for a short 'Foundation Course.' VOA

In a democratic dispensation the first duties of the elected political executive governing the nation are to bring about development of all and ensure protection of citizens from internal and external threats. The political leadership exercises the sovereign power to this end through the bureaucratic machinery — that includes the police — headed by the officers of All India and Central Services who were recruited, trained and placed in various wings of the government to implement the policies flowing from the top. Years ago a policy decision of great administrative value was taken by the Centre to put the newly inducted officers of all these services together for a short ‘Foundation Course’ at what is now the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) at Mussoorie, before they dispersed to join the establishments of their respective services at other places for a full length specialised training.

The foundation course had the merit of letting all probationers know each other and putting them on a common grid of understanding of the great cause of national governance that they were going to share in their long years of public service ahead. It would lay the turf for an assured cooperation among them whenever they would have an occasion to work together in future to carry the mission of governance forward. It all began in 1960 the year of my joining the IPS and I could see the benefit of that participation in my own experience. A long time later when I became the Director Intelligence Bureau, I interacted with the Secretaries at the Centre and the Chief Secretaries in the states whom I had known at Mussoorie — which made the sharing of thoughts with them on matters of national importance so easy. What worked was an understanding that we were all together in serving a higher cause.

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Headed by the officers of All India and Central Services who were recruited, trained and placed in various wings of the government to implement the policies flowing from the top. Wikimedia Commons

Today India is grappling with the challenge of pursuing economic growth of a nation of 1.3 billion people spread across far corners of the vast country and placed in uneven conditions of development. The officers of the Civil Services on whom falls the responsibility of implementing the development policies of the Centre are finding it easier to coordinate the efforts that cut across various ministries and institutions — somewhere because there are no psychological barriers amongst them. In the domain of development they had enough shared experience to put their heads together in a meaningful way. They had knowledge of various facets of what constitutes development — financial, agriculture, infrastructure, forestry, public health and so on. The recall of the foundation course definitely helped in all of this.

While the orientation of Civil Services to the tasks of development is adequate the national scene points to the need for an awareness programme for all Civil Services — as they advanced in their career — on the share of responsibility that would fall on them directly or indirectly, in the sphere of securing the nation and the citizens at large against threats both internal and external. Security for all is also the concern for all and should not be deemed to be something relegated completely to the care of a national security set up and the specialised agencies besides the Police. Warren Christopher, the then US Secretary of State, famously said in 1993 that ‘national security was inseparable from economic security’ and today it is known that the targets of a ‘proxy war’ include economic assets and the industrial life-line — since damaging these weakened the opponent far more effectively than an open war would do. Those handling governance at decision making levels have to have an understanding of the economic dimensions of national security.

ALSO READ: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Measures To Boost Export and Housing Sector

For all of this it becomes a requirement of the time that senior officials across the spectrum of governance — who are adept at handling development — should also be fully informed of the national security imperatives that the governance had to reckon with. A little exposure to what was the state of affairs on the national security front and the developments of strategic import happening in the world outside, in an early stage of their training might prove quite rewarding for them. In the age of knowledge that is upon us ignorance is not a bliss and an awareness of the environ in which the national government was responding to the call of both development and security would be a great asset. A short module of discussion on matters related to national security in the Foundation Course for All India and Central Services would go a long way in providing a minimal basic orientation on the subject that would remain with the senior officers for the future and contribute to a sound decision making by them in later years.

Subjects that would qualify for being included in the presentations by professionals and strategic analysts include National Security Scenario & Policy Responses, Terrorism & Maoism, Disaster Management, Dimensions of Drug Traffic and India’s National Security Set Up & Intelligence Agencies. Every functionary of the government — and even the citizens at large — ought to be aware of their responsibility towards safeguarding national security. We are in an era of covert offensives, an open external attack of the enemy is not the only threat to the nation. Our defence forces are always in a state of readiness to deal with an open warfare. In the Indian context the reality of a proxy war being conducted by a hostile neighbour underscores the importance of our counter-intelligence capabilities that security is all about. Both defence and security have to work together to produce a perfect response. Kashmir has been a testing ground for the success of Intelligence based operations of army and para military forces — the challenge being of neutralising the infiltrated terrorist without collateral damage. Those who man the senior positions in the civil side of the government can benefit from an early exposure to an orientation programme on the lines suggested above. (IANS)