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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.

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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.

empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
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)

Next Story

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei: Company Can Withstand Increased US Pressure

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei.

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A Huawei company logo at Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. VOA

By Joyce Huang

Despite the U.S.-China trade deal signed last week, the two countries appear headed for more confrontation, especially over high science and technology.

One of China’s highest-profile tech executives, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei. But he vowed that the world leader in building 5G networks is prepared to withstand further restrictions on its foreign markets and suppliers.

Analysts say his remarks suggest that the Chinese may be ready to directly confront Americans in the global competition for high-tech advancements, which are seen at the core of trade frictions.

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Ren Zhengfei, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Huawei Technologies gestures during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Tech war is on

“He [Ren] is fully aware that the tech competition between the U.S. and China will escalate. The U.S. has no plan to cut China some slack simply because they have just signed the Phase 1 deal. Both are now entering the battleground of their tech disputes,” said Lin Tsung-nan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Beijing’s critics say Huawei acts as a virtual arm of the Chinese government, benefitting from favorable policies and funding that have sped its expansion around the world. They warn countries that allow Huawei to build their new wireless data networks that they are giving Beijing’s authoritarian government enormous influence over their security. Instead, U.S. officials argue, countries should trust American, European, Korean and other companies.

Provisions in the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement aim to root out Chinese state policies that encourage intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. However the deal leaves open questions about enforcement. Many, including Huawei chief Ren, remain skeptical that the countries will reach an agreement on such issues.

Speaking to the audience in Davos, Ren said he believes the United States will escalate its crackdown on Huawei, but that the impact will be minimal as the company has adapted to restrictions imposed since last year.

Huawei and its 46 affiliates were targeted in 2019 after the U.S. government concluded that the company has long engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security. Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, is fighting an extradition case in Canada stemming from allegations she committed fraud by lying about Huawei’s relationship with an affiliate doing business in Iran.

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Richard Yu (Yu Chengdong), head of Huawei’s consumer business Group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones “Mate 30” and “Mate 30 Pro” in Munich, southern Germany. VOA

Huawei’s Plan B

Analysts have mixed views about the long-term impact of the blacklisting on Huawei. Ren said he is optimistic because Huawei has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its own core technology over the past few years, including chips and software. Last year, the company released its own operating system, called HarmonyOS, though, so far, it hasn’t been installed in any of the company’s smartphones.

It has also released a flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, without licensed Google Android software. Sales in China have been in line with expectations, although its global sales target of 20 million units is yet to be met.

But Professor Lin said the ultimate challenge facing Huawei lies ahead.

“The real test will come after the U.S. completely cuts off [Huawei’s] access to American technology and relevant exchanges. Huawei will then have to prove if its products, manufactured based on its so-called plan B, will continue to be competitive in overseas markets,” the professor said.

More tech restrictions

After having restricted Huawei’s access to American technology, the United States is reportedly looking to introduce a stricter rule that could block Huawei’s access to an increased number of foreign-made goods.

Media reports said the United States plans, among other things, to force Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, to limit its supplies of 14 nanometer chips to Huawei.

Washington is also lobbying other countries, such as Britain and Germany, to bar Huawei — which it accuses of spying for the Chinese government — from the buildup of their next-generation mobile networks known as 5G.

Whether U.S. allies will be persuaded to block Huawei from building their 5G networks remains uncertain, but Lin said the stakes in the standoff are clear.

“If China succeeds in using Huawei to dominate [the global 5G network], the free world will gradually fall into China’s high-tech iron curtain. That’s why the U.S. has turned aggressive in blocking Huawei, which has strived after having had copied code from Cisco’s [router software] technology a decade ago,” Lin said.

Escalating tensions

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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver home with her security detail for an extradition hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court. VOA

Song Hong at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said he’s worried the U.S. may widen its target to include more Chinese tech firms.

But he said Beijing is adapting to the new reality by gradually cutting its dependence on the U.S. technology.

“China has greatly strengthened its tech capabilities. I think Huawei’s [Ren] speaks on behalf of most Chinese businesses. That is, if you try to block me, I have no choice but to work to find other solutions,” he said.

An executive from China’s tech sector, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said he’s not worried that the U.S.-China tech war will escalate. But he said China should respond to U.S. concerns.

“The U.S. has made a great contribution [to the world’s tech development] and now come up with some requests. I find that reasonable, right? I think China, as a responsible country, should respect and communicate well [with the U.S.] on a reasonable basis,” he said.

Warning from Meng’s case

While tech executives look at how the long-term competition between the two countries will play out, the fate of Meng — the daughter of Huawei’s founder — will impact relations in the short term. Canada has begun week-long court hearings to determine whether to extradite Meng to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

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Meng, who was arrested in late 2018 in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, said Lin of National Taiwan University, the United States has succeeded in sending a warning to those who have harmed or plan to go against U.S. tech interests.  (VOA)