5. New Domestic Security Measures
The Bush administration initially resisted the idea of an all-new federal department to bolster domestic security, but eventually championed the Department of Homeland Security. This was mostly a consolidation of existing agencies such as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Customs and the Secret Service. The most visible agency created under the DHS was the Transportation Security Administration, which took responsibility for airport screening away from private contractors. At the same time, many people realized that the military had been unprepared for a threat launched from inside the country because it had been focused on potential attacks from abroad. As a result, the Department of Defense created a new Northern Command specifically tasked with defending the U.S. homeland from attack.
4. Aggressive Military Response
The Bush administration was determined to strike back at Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, which had holed up in Afghanistan with the support of the militant Islamist Taliban government. Less than a month after 9/11, Operation Enduring Freedom was launched Oct. 7, 2001, with air strikes and the deployment of special operations troops. American and coalition troops worked with indigenous Afghan forces such as the Northern Alliance to push the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of the cities and toward Afghanistan’s eastern wilderness border area with Pakistan. Although bin Laden and some of his top leadership escaped during the mountaintop battle at Tora Bora, the military strikes caused significant damage to al-Qaeda and toppled the Taliban from power. The March 2003 invasion of Iraq that ended Saddam Hussein’s regime will be controversial for years to come, but Operation Iraqi Freedom inflicted extensive damage on al-Qaeda and other affiliates that flocked to Iraq to battle American forces. The operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as lesser-known operations in the Philippines and the Horn of Africa have kept militant Islamists on the run.
3. The Patriot Act
On Oct. 26, 2001 President Bush signed what quickly became known as the Patriot Act (an acronym for the act’s tongue-twisting name, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). The law expanded the investigative tools available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to combat terrorists. Phone and e-mail intercepts and medical and financial records became more accessible to investigators. While controversial among some groups, especially civil libertarians, the Patriot Act became an important tool for agencies such as the FBI, CIA and NSA in the War on Terror and its critical role was reaffirmed when President Barack Obama signed a four-year extension of it May 26, 2011, saying, “I think it is an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat.”
2. Less Favorable International Climate for al-Qaeda
The Arab and Muslim world has traditionally responded favorably to strength and power. This tendency, sometimes referred to as backing the strong horse, was especially evident after 9/11 when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were widely seen as ascendant. This was reflected in positive opinion polls and a spike in parents choosing the name Osama for their newborns. Today, it’s a much different story. Years of setbacks at the hands of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have exposed al-Qaeda as a vicious, fallible movement capable of great violence not only against Westerners, but Muslims as well. Countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that had either supported or looked the other way began to do more to combat terrorism when they recognized it was in their own self interest. Although still violent and unstable, fledgling democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq provide a counter point to the theocratic totalitarianism preached by al-Qaeda.
1. Increased Use of Human and Electronic Intelligence
Bureaucratic reorganization is one thing, but one of the most important changes in the U.S. since 9/11 has been one of will. After 9/11 the top priority of the U.S. government was to prevent another spectacular attack on the homeland. There was an acute fear of an even more devastating attack using weapons of mass destruction such as biological or nuclear weapons. The Patriot Act helped pave the way for tougher measures that would help thwart future attacks. Controversial programs such as rendition — which allowed the CIA to transport terrorists to foreign governments for interrogation — and enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding, yielded useful intelligence on the enemy. Technology was also brought to bear in the form of surveillance satellites, cyber-space software that can eavesdrop on email communications, and unmanned drones armed with the latest electronic sensors. Years later, former Vice President Dick Cheney summarized the U.S. government’s change in mindset in the aftermath of 9/11. “From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.”
The most famous moment in the United States’ enhanced surveillance efforts came May 2, 2011, when, acting on intelligence reports, the Navy’s SEAL Team Six raided a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden.