9/11 Attacks & Homeland Security: Changes and Future

The beginning of the 21st century marked a substantial change in the world of global security as the threat of terrorism became more imminent than ever before. The attacks that occurred on 9th September 2001 in New York City have changed the people’s perception of their security and safety, causing the government to focus on strengthening the national security of the United States. The 9/11 events took the lives of nearly three thousand people, which made them the most profound act of religious terrorism in the history of America.

An extreme Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda took responsibility for the attack, prompting the United States to begin the war on terror, which is still on-going. As the international efforts to eradicate terrorist networks took place, another set of strategies had to be employed to secure the nation’s borders and prevent future terror attacks. Over fifteen years after the events of 9/11, there are still gaps in U.S. national security, as shown by the June 2016 Orlando club attack. Whereas Al Qaeda has lost the vast portion of its power, a new threat has risen – ISIS – which uses a different framework and strategy to achieve similar goals.

To improve the processes for the prevention of terror attacks in the future, it is crucial to understand the developments of national security that took place after 2001. This project aims to develop a detailed understanding of the impacts that the 9/11 attacks had on homeland security management in the U.S., including changes to legislation, public safety strategies, and prevention techniques, as well as to outline the effects of these changes on public safety; based on the information obtained from printed sources and the interview, the project will also outline the prospective challenges faced by public safety management today, specifically with regards to terrorism.

The Attacks

The terror attacks of 9/11 were mainly driven by Al Qaeda’s desire to retaliate for the U.S. support of anti-Islamic forces in the Middle East. In early 1999, the leader of Al Qaeda Osama Bin Laden, and his affiliates began the planning of the attacks, developing a list of possible targets in America (DHS 7). Later that year, the hijackers obtained the necessary travel documents to enter the United States; tourist visas were used to enter the country (DHS 7).

They were able to enlist in-flight courses and conducted cross-country surveillance flights in preparation for the attacks (DHS 7). Some of the hijackers were apprehended by the police in the summer of 2001 for traffic violations (DHS 8); however, none of them were considered a threat to the nation’s security and they were soon let go. On the morning of 9th September, the hijackers went through all the security checkpoints at four airports, despite carrying knives and other concealed weapons in their luggage or clothes (DHS 8).

Eight of the hijackers were selected for random checks by the airport security, and two of them were flagged as suspicious, however, they were not prohibited from boarding their flights (DHS 8). The hijackings occurred just after 8 am on 9th September, when “flight attendants and passengers began reporting hijackings of the aircraft via airphone” (DHS 8). Two of the airplanes crashed into the buildings of the World Trade Center in New York City, another plane crashed into the Pentagon (Post 248), and the last one did not reach its destination in Washington, D.C., crashing into a field in Pennsylvania instead.

The DHS notes that “Throughout the morning of September 11, 2011, air traffic control operators, military personnel and first responders on the ground lacked situational awareness of what other agencies were doing to address the developing crisis” (8). Indeed, the 9/11 events indicated a clear lack of several essential strategic components: security measures for travel, information sharing, cooperation between emergency management forces, and an effective plan for responding to the attack.

A comprehensive border protection strategy would have prevented the terrorists from entering the United States, whereas appropriate airport security measures would have stopped the hijackers from boarding the flights. The attacks showed not only the imminent threat of terrorism but also the weakness of the U.S. national security, which called for a range of federal-level changes.


Homeland Security

The first step in improving public safety by preventing further terror attacks was the initiation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The department was founded by the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and became the largest governmental organization in the United States, comprised of 22 different agencies with a combined employee count of 180 000 people (Mabee 386). The DHS became responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive strategy to prevent, prepare for, and respond to threats effectively.

Air Transportation Safety

One of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was to enhance security measures for all modes of transportation (DHS 16). The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) of 2001, established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which became part of the DHS in 2002 (DHS 5). The TSA worked to improve airport security measures by applying comprehensive screening of all the passengers’ luggage, body scanning, additional screenings, random checks, and behavior analysis to detect suspicious individuals and possessions (DHS 4-5).

Visa and Immigration Restrictions

Strengthening immigration policies to prohibit entry to suspicious persons and organizations has been among the priorities of the government in the aftermath of the attacks: “With few legal constraints and considerable deference from the courts, immigration law and policy quickly emerged as ground zero in the so-called war on terror declared by the Bush administration not long after September 11” (Johnson 576).

Part of the Immigration Reform, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), adopted in 2002, required for visitors from certain countries to provide fingerprints, photographs, and attend interviews before they were allowed to travel to or from the United States (Mittelstadt, Meissner, & Chishti 6). Visa Security Program allowed deploying special agents to high-risk visa application zones to conduct thorough reviews of individuals applying for visas to the United States (DHS 7).

Information Sharing

Another aspect of the DHS strategy was increasing cooperation and information sharing. The Department has created a chain of fusion centers to analyze, spread, monitor, and preserve information about suspicious persons (Monahan and Regan 301). The information about those on the watchlist is available to all organizations within the DHS, as well as to law enforcement and other security agencies. Moreover, Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreements were concluded with the governments of 18 countries, including Germany, to facilitate information sharing, specifically requesting the countries to circulate information about criminals and terrorist organizations members (DHS 7)


Under the 5th and 8th Presidential Directives, the government has also increased cooperation between the different agencies involved in law enforcement, public safety, and preparedness (Caudle 5-6; Kahan 4).


The USA Patriot Act was the initial step in the surveillance system, as it allowed government agencies to search businesses or homes without preliminary notice and consent of the owner. Under the 8th Presidential Directive, surveillance of American residents became part of the National Preparedness Framework (Caudle 12), whereas the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 allowed the FBI and other government agencies to perform warrantless surveillance of Americans international electronic communications.


The interview with a former government official was conducted as part of the research project, and a full transcript of the interview with rationale for questions is attached. The respondent agreed that the effect of the 9/11 attacks on the United States was profound, and stated that the attacks “have put a lot of pressure on the intelligence community,” as they are now required to predict future attacks and threats. Other areas of national security most affected by the events were IT and analytics.

The subject has also emphasized the importance of the USA Patriot Act and the Presidential Directives 5 and 8 in the transformation of homeland security management. However, the respondent stated that creating a separate framework for terrorism management, prevention, and the response would be more efficient than utilizing the all-hazards approach, as stipulated in the Directives. The interview has also asked the respondent to comment on the difference in approaches to domestic and international terrorism and replied that a unified approach should be used to target the two threats due to the increasing difficulties in differentiating them from one another.

The respondent agreed with the previous research results regarding the 9/11 response procedures, claiming that “there were serious problems with coordination and communication.” However, she stated that the lessons learned from the events enabled the emergency forces to improve cooperation to respond to future hazards effectively. One of the most important questions asked during the interview was “What are the main challenges for the national security today?”, to which the respondent stated that the change to the paradigm of global terrorism due to the recent ISIS’ activities poses a problem as it will require altering the existing schemes and approaches.

Moreover, the interviewee identified that to respond to the current challenges, the DHS has to target lone wolf terrorists and decrease the power of ISIS, while at the same time preventing discrimination and the rise of hate crime in the United States. Discrimination, in her opinion, poses a significant threat to the unity of the country and its community, as well as to the individuals from Muslim countries and the Middle East. The results of the interview were used to outline the challenges ahead of the U.S. government.


The Changing Face of Terrorism

In his exploration of the changing face of terrorism in the 21st century, Post produces a description of the four waves of terrorist violence that appeared throughout history (248). The Third Wave, or the Religious Extremist Wave, featured the rise of Islamic terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda, as well as the U.S. domestic terrorist activity by extreme Christian groups (252, 256). Today, however, the paradigm of terrorism is shifting to what Post defines as “the virtual community of hatred” (259).

The viral nature of the Internet, Post argues, allows spreading terrorist ideologies all over the world at a concerning pace, giving rise to lone wolves terrorism (260). He stresses that this type of terrorism is difficult to prevent by the current strategies, as “in the United States, homegrown terrorists come from a diverse group of educational, socioeconomic, ethnic, and family backgrounds” (Post 261).

Local Law Enforcement

Waxman addresses another issue: “In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, local police again mobilized in support of nationwide efforts to combat national security threats, this time jihadist terrorism” (1). The author agrees that increased oversight by law enforcement may be beneficial (Waxman 1). For instance, local police are more involved with the people of their community than the distant DHS forces, which allows them to be effective in identifying threats. However, Waxman also discusses the concerns that arose due to the increased power of law enforcement (1).

For example, in 2004, the New York City Police Department deployed undercover officers to a variety of states to conduct secret surveillance of suspected protesters, such as members of religious groups and anti-war organizations (Waxton 1). This provoked outrage among the civil liberties groups due to the rights abuses and political harassment (Waxton 2). Waxton argues that both the problems and the potential benefits of police involvement lie in the decentralized nature of the U.S. law enforcement: “Sub-federal police agencies […] are as heterogeneous and geographically dispersed as the local American populations they serve” (2).

Besides the abuse of power by law enforcement, the involvement of the police in the counterterrorism efforts causes a decrease in their adherence to community-oriented policing practices, as discussed in the study by Kim and De Guzman (336).

Hate Violence

The increased focus of the government on identifying and eliminating threats of Islamic terrorism has also caused a wave of Muslim discrimination, both by the citizens and by the government agencies. For instance, arguments against the Muslim communities, offered by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, have raised the incidence of hate crimes in the United States (Sidahmed par. 1).

The FBI reports a 67% annual increase in hate crimes against Muslims, with 257 total incidents in 2015 (Sidahmed par. 2). Regardless of their background, Muslim people are perceived to be a threat to the security of the country, and the government’s efforts to prevent undocumented immigrants from the Middle East have become more prominent in the later years. However, Kirk et al. argue that unfair treatment of ethnic minorities decreases the community’s willingness to cooperate with the police, making it yet another threat to public safety (79).

Conclusion: Counterterrorism and the Franciscan Tradition

Overall, the topic of counterterrorism is surely permeating to the Franciscan Tradition and its values. First, the protection of citizens responds to one of the core values of the Franciscans, who aim to build a safe place for all members of the community. Countering the threat of terrorism is essential to ensure that the people of America live fulfilling lives. Moreover, the Franciscan tradition emphasizes the unity of the people, which is adversely affected by the existing discrimination against the Muslim communities. Lastly, the Franciscan Tradition is greatly concerned with the issues of social justice and equality.

However, the recent rise in discrimination of people of Muslim origins by law enforcement is unfair and, in many cases, violates innocent people’s rights. A balanced approach to counterterrorism that would promote the interests of all the members of the community would answer to Franciscan core values and beliefs, while at the same time helping to address the issues that arose in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.


Brill, Steven. “Is America Any Safer?” The Atlantic. 2016. Web.

Caudle, Sharon. “Homeland Security: Advancing the National Strategic Position.” Homeland Security Affairs, vol. 8, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-17.

Johnson, Kevin R., and Bernard Trujillo. “Immigration Reform, National Security after September 11, and the Future of North American Integration.” Immigration and Nationality Law Review, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 575-614.

Kahan, Jerome H. “Preparedness Revisited: W (h) ither PPD-8?.” Homeland Security Affairs, vol. 10, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-17.

Kahan focuses on revisiting the 8th Directive provisions for preparedness to threats.

Kirk, David S., et al. “The Paradox of Law Enforcement in Immigrant Communities: Does Tough Immigration Enforcement Undermine Public Safety?” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 641, no. 1, 2012, pp. 79-98.

Mabee, Bryan. “Re-imagining the Borders of US Security after 9/11: Securitisation, Risk, and the Creation of the Department of Homeland Security.” Globalizations, vol. 4, no. 3, 2007, pp. 385-397.

Mittelstadt, Michelle, et al. “Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade Since 9/11.” Migration Policy Institute, vol. 2, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-17.

Monahan, Torin, and Priscilla M. Regan. “Zones of Opacity: Data Fusion in Post-9/11 Security Organizations.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society, vol. 27, no. 03, 2012, pp. 301-317.

Post, Jerrold M. “Terrorism and Right-Wing Extremism: The Changing Face of Terrorism and Political Violence in the 21st Century: the Virtual Community of Hatred.” International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, vol. 65, no. 2, 2015, pp. 242-271.

Sidahmed, Mazin. “FBI Reports Hate Crimes Against Muslims Surged by 67% in 2015.” The Guardian. 2016. Web.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations: Progress Report. 2011. Web.

Waxman, Matthew C. “Police and National Security: American Local Law Enforcement and Counter-Terrorism after 9/11.” Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers, no. 08157, 2008. Web.

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