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Shifting Parameters of Protection, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

It is reasonable to argue that the events of September 11, 2001, changed the world radically and immediately, and in ways beyond even the most traumatic global circumstances of the past.  Within a single day, the world’s premier power was placed in a position of extreme vulnerability, just as the absence of an enemy state as actually prompting the devastating attacks amplified this new and pervasive awareness.  The World Trade Center fell, the Pentagon was the target of an air strike, a hijacking went terribly wrong in Pennsylvania, and a very different nation was forged in the processes.  Beyond any other response, there was a national, instantaneous, and dramatic shift regarding security against terrorism.  The Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other agencies and policies were rapidly empowered and enacted to secure the United State from any further such threat.

Thirteen years later, then, the questions must be asked: are we indeed more safe, and have the multiple efforts of the government adequately secured the safety of the U.S.? The following will explore this crucial issue, and note the trajectory of the responses to 9/11, as well as the complex, and often controversial, repercussions of them.  Certain realities are to an extent irrefutable, as the idea of terrorism continues to haunt the nation, which reflects an ongoing sense of vulnerability likely inevitable.  As will be seen, it is as well inescapable that the security measures in place since 9/11 directly limit or call into question constitutional rights and basic liberties.  Information retrieval and sharing, largely enabled by modern technologies, are forces underscoring the issue of security interests as outweighing civil rights, and the debate goes on.  Ultimately, what will be seen is that, while the U.S. is safer today from terrorist threats, the inherent nature of terrorism must weaken this safety, and the reality exists that there can be no truly effective protection against assaults which defy traditional models of aggression on this scale.

National Security Prior to 9/11: The Airlines

It is typically difficult for Americans to recall or comprehend the nature of national security prior to 9/11 chiefly because, for the general public, this was not an overt concern.  Before the events of that day, and in regard to travel alone, Americans enjoyed what today seems like a complete freedom to move through airports, train and bus stations, and carry whatever belongings they desired.  Security was in place in most travel modes, but there appears to have been no real emphasis on it, or consistent adherence maintained to it. Checking in for a flight, for example, typically involved no process more taxing than arriving shortly before departure, checking in briefly at the gate, and boarding.  A brief look at several statistic indicates the enormity of the changes prompted by 9/11.  Before the day, fewer than two percent of all airline bags were examined; afterward, virtually all of the 700 million pieces of luggage moving through airports are either x-rayed, opened and examined, or swabbed to detect explosive chemicals.  Prior to 9/11, 37 air marshals were in place as covert security agents on board domestic and international flights; by 2004, thousands were employed daily, as the number remains as high today (Dempsey, 2010,  p. 131).  This also, of course, does not reflect the multiple security technologies installed in airports after 9/11, nor the immense shifts in training and numbers of security personnel.

This is not, however, to suggest that there were no security concerns prior to 9/11, and in regard to the pivotal factor of air travel as creating security vulnerability.  In the 1960s and 1970s, incidents of hijacking greatly increased public and governmental apprehensions, and it was seen that important risks required addressing.  The media at the time, broadcasting these incidents, exacerbated public fears, which in turn translated to airline and governmental response.  In 1970 President Nixon announced that his administration would work with airline carriers to devise and install x-ray equipment and metal detectors, and that the U.S. military would be involved in these efforts.  Importantly, the air carriers had no choice in what were essentially federal mandates. Similarly, the Anti-Hijacking Program of the Federal Aviation Administration was then created to devise more effective checkpoints, if with minimal impact on the average passenger (NRC, 1996,  p. 6).   Long before 9/11, then, and largely forgotten by travelers today, there was something of a heightened interest in providing security at airport checkpoints. Hijacking, while not necessarily viewed as a threat to national security, was still perceived as demanding the intervention of the Department of Defense.

Episodes of hijacking continued, however, and by 1972 stronger actions were implemented.  Today’s security measures, in fact, are still largely based on the requirements issued by the FAA in that year, devised in conjunction with federal regulations and ordering all air carriers to employ one or more of the following screening measures: behavioral assessment, identification check, magnetometer, and a physical search.  The airlines complied, but there was little in the way of consistency or control in place.  Security was generally conducted casually, and this drew immense attention when, in1988, the destruction of Pan American Flight 703 triggered a greater governmental reaction.  The President’s Commission on Airline Security and Terrorism was developed as a direct response to this (NRC, 1996).  Nonetheless, it appears it would require the attacks of 9/11 to generate an accurate assessment of the security measures in place before it, and these have been noted as significantly weak.  Extensive studies affirm that, before 9/11, airport security was greatly impaired by low wages paid to screeners, defective equipment left unrepaired, and a rapid turnover of security personnel (Penn, 2013, p. 72).  It has also been seen that convicted felons were able to obtain jobs as security officers through both loopholes in the hiring processes and the consistent need for new personnel (Dempsey, 2010,  p. 131).  The earlier years of hijacking then spurred significant concerns regarding airline security, but the efforts in place were at best minimally effective.

Internal Issues Pre-9/11

Issues of air travel aside, national security in general terms was a very different matter prior to 9/11.  The government then certainly possessed extensive resources for surveillance and the monitoring of private behaviors, both in terms of technology an departmental function, as in the FBI and CIA.  Nonetheless, legal, social, and political elements largely kept these in check, at least in terms of overt and/or widespread applications.  Terrorism was certainly a term in use and the hijacking episodes reinforced the idea that private individuals or organizations, rather than hostile nations, could easily pose a serious threat to national safety, but there was no real identified antagonist. Consequently, national security was essentially decentralized and unorganized; there was no core mandate in place enabling anything resembling a full usage of surveillance processes, as the public was intensely wary of intrusions into individual liberties (Ericson, Haggerty, 2006,  p. 131).   For example, since 1947 a variety of Acts have enabled the FBI to employ National Security Letters to obtain information, financial and otherwise, in the course of investigating terrorist threats.  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 in particular allowed the Bureau to request pertinent information from banks, other financial institutions, and Internet service providers.

The key here, however, is that the FBI could only request such information; the courts have been willing to accept reasonableness as the standard for permitting such requests, but this was removed from any actual authority of the Bureau (Donahue, 2008,  p. 236).  There was very much in place a social wariness of intrusion, which translated to scrutiny on any such efforts made by the FBI, at least in terms of overt operations.  Institutions, and primarily individuals, were still assured of basic constitutional protections, and the onus on the FBI and other governmental agencies was to supply valid motive for requiring the information.  It is in fact arguable that a post-Civil Rights ideology remained a societal standard, in that, particularly after the Watergate scandal, there was a conspicuous lack of trust in governmental motives.  More to the point and before 9/11, the weight of the law as employed by even the most powerful agencies favored basic constitutional rights.  Put another way, and hijackings notwithstanding, national security was by no means seen as so urgent, the idea of transgressing or modifying individual rights could be entertained.

Consequently, the pre-9/11 reality appears to have been one of evolving concerns regarding national security, with intermediate – and often disorganized – efforts created and implemented to address the issue.  Some of this disorganization, or lack of focused response, was due to internal conflicts within the federal government itself.  In plain terms, and dating from the Nixon administration of the 1970s, there were issues between Congress and the presidency regarding the former’s right to establish national security commissions.  A congressional report of 1975, in fact, clearly asserts that such commissions, presumably filled by presidential appointees, would be wholly inadequate in addressing the issue.  At the same time, and as will be addressed shortly and going to executive office incentive, presidents have traditionally sought to create national security panels – removed from congressional authority – simply because the importance of the subject allows them more latitude to act than is true of domestic policy affairs (Farson, Phythian, 2011, pp. 116-118).  Before 9/11, then, the issue of national security was essentially transitional and marked by disputes over authority likely enabled by the lack of urgency of the matter.

National security was threatened and response arose in these years, but the threat was not perceived as critical as would be the case with 9/11, so it is arguable that the government and the nation addressed it in ways that may best be described as formative.

This then begs the question of national safety at this time, and the comparative degree in terms of the post-9/11 years.  Certainly, the conflict in Washington pre-9/11 regarding authority created communication issues.  There was in a sense a power struggle in place between the FBI, CIA, the presidency largely promoting their ability to act autonomously, and a Congress demanding cooperative efforts.  Meanwhile, and going into the Bush administration beginning in the late 1980s, there was a continued executive branch reinforcement of ground troops worldwide, as the Cold War mentality holding that national security was best achieved by a literal and international military presence was still in place.  The Clinton administration largely maintained the overseas military establishments which were, some protest from Europe and Asia notwithstanding, generally supported by international allies (Kugler, 2006, pp. 500-501).

Then, and crucially linked to the pre-9/11 years, there was the emerging influence of communication technology.  In the 1960s, it was understood that national security was directly reliant upon control of communication, which was then largely centered on telephones and the surveillance of them.  By the late 1970s, the advent of computer systems created a new and enormous resource to monitor and, by the 1980s, the merger between telecommunications and computers was complete. The risks were both unprecedented and critical; suddenly, and even as governmental agencies were seeking to comprehend the new technologies, they were essentially joined by an inestimable population of private citizens, native and international, learning the same systems and gaining access to the information now available to be had.  In very little time, the cyber-threat emerged; any malevolent agent with technological knowledge could obtain the most sensitive information and use it to undermine defenses and orchestrate assaults (Cavelty, 2007,  p. 42).  In essence, a new arms race was on as the FBI, CIA, and other agencies desperately sought to devise protections and simultaneously tap into the intrusions, in order to uncover those behind the threats.

What this translates to is a multiple reality.  There was a pervasive sense that danger was posed in traditional terms, and that actual threats would, random hijackings notwithstanding, emerge in the form of national aggression, best forestalled by maintaining a strong military presence overseas.  This being the case, the U.S. was safer in terms of potential hostilities enacted traditionally. In a sense, there remained the idea that attack could only be conducted in these ways, and representing warfare or conflict at strictly national levels.  At the same time, however, this viewpoint seems to have overlooked the growing tides of anti-U.S. Feeling emerging in the Middle East, and likely exacerbated by that same, U.S. military presence.  Then, and crucially, new technologies were generating inestimable opportunities for both “invasion” and control, and information, rather than force of arms, was evolving to to the core component of national security.  Even as the nation enjoyed some level of safety from traditional aggression, then, the ground was being laid for a new type of hostility which would defy the expected models and, on 9/11, completely revolutionize the ways in which the public and the government perceived national security and acted to promote it.  As will be seen, communication and other technologies would become the most significant element in how national security would be addressed – and threatened.

Post-9/11 Response: Technology and Communication Elements

9/11 virtually changed everything in regard to how national security would be understood and addressed, and this was a change very much based upon the evolving technologies which  constituted so large a part of the new threats of terrorism. One in particular merits attention, simply because no other aspect of American life has been so altered as that of airport security, which in turn reflects technology going to literal examinations of passengers and communicative potentials as well.  Today, and regarding the former, virtually all of the 700 million pieces of luggage going by air are x-rayed by the latest devices, as randomized searches are mandated.  Approximately 15 percent of all passengers are selected to be randomly “patted down,” even as new scanning stations are passed through. Since 2006, liguids and gels over three ounces in size are not permitted in carry-ons, as passengers still must remove belts, shoes, jewelry, and other personal effects before passing through security.  The airlines also conduct randomized searches of security personnel as well, and a great deal of this effort was generated by the Los Angeles airports consultation of Israeli security officers; as the Ben Gurion International Airport is regarded as among the safest in the world, the perception was that its measures should be adopted by the U.S. in light of its own vulnerability to terrorism (Dempsey, 2010,  p. 131).  As of today, and in plain terms, the American traveling by air fully anticipates a lengthy process in which their person and their belongings will be expertly checked.

Randomization of personal searches notwithstanding, there is as well the significant factor of increased suspicion as generated by information pertaining to certain individuals so traveling.  Airport security is inextricably linked to government agencies today, and surveillance techniques employed by the latter directly go to how passengers move through security checks.  A variety of codes are in place determining risk levels, and these are enabled by the authority vested in the FBI, CIA, and Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) as cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  In plain terms, the Patriot Act of 2001, rapidly enacted on the heels of 9/11, vastly broadened the powers of the FBI to use data mining strategies and investigate individual histories (Ericson, Haggerty, 2006,  p. 131).  The innate sensitivity of these procedures, rendered all the more sensitive by ongoing debate regarding the constitutionality of such investigations, translates to a complex interaction between the security agents in play.  Each essentially takes responsibility for, not only conducting security measures at airports based on the information, but for further securing the underlying processes as privileged.  Consequently, security technology going to actual searching works in league with sophisticated and classified communication technologies.

It is at least reasonable to argue that intelligence gathering and its communication between key agencies is essential in an environment of terrorist threat.  Famously, two terrorists involved in 9/11 were stopped at airport security by metal detectors, but a subsequent wand search revealed no weapons or dangerous instruments, and they were permitted to board (Penn, 2013, p. 80).  That these individuals were partially responsible for the events which would so revolutionize ideas of national security then supports how, as actual screening systems and human judgment may be impaired, it is necessary to obtain as much information about potential passengers as possible.  As will be noted sand as has been mentioned, these communication and informational strategies continue to generate controversy, particularly as years pass and no further terrorism of the 9/11 scale is committed.  On one level, the importance of national security, so imperiled by 9/11, in a sense mandates extremes of response, as the nature of terrorism is such that traditional methods of investigation and procedure are essentially ineffective against an inherently covert threat.  On another, however, it is observed that even these measures may represent only another incidence of arbitrary – and potentially unconstitutional – authority exploiting national anxieties and subsequently ignoring legal due process (Ericson, Haggerty, 2006, p. 131).

It is in fact interesting to note how, as years pass since 9/11, concerns for national safety less powerfully eclipse concerns over civil liberties, and this conflict itself is very much based on how the Patriot Act, and other governmental agencies and policies, empowers the far less restricted usage of information retrieval and communication technologies by federal actors.  Even today, the FBI, CIA, and JTTF enjoy extensive freedoms in attaining and sharing information regarding “suspicious” individuals, and by means once considered in violation of the law: “In 2002., the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, granted the Justice Department broad new powers to use wiretaps obtained for intelligence operations in criminal cases” (Liptak, 2011).  Some maintain that these measures remain necessary, given the inherently unpredictable nature of terrorism, as well as ongoing hostility to the U.S. as evinced by Middle Eastern factions.  The urgency of preventing attacks became after 9/11 the dominant impetus, and prevention, as expressed by then Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, demands a new paradigm in which punishment is secondary to the need to prevent.  Implicit in the viewpoint is that traditional models of investigation, based on longstanding adherence to due process, are inapplicable, and the information age demand an informational response drawing upon whatever resources are available (Liptak, 2011).

For the nation to be safe, it is still widely held, technologies allowing access to information perceived by federal powers as pertinent must then be employed to their fullest extent.

The actual latitude of these new parameters is perhaps best noted, not in actual FBI or CIA operations, but in the JTTF. This is an extraordinarily diverse organization, national and multi-agency in character, created and maintained to gather and properly disseminate information regarding potential terrorist individuals, collectives, and threats.  Based within FBI jurisdiction and operating within the sphere of the Department of Justice, the JTTF is composed of “cells” of specialized agents in information technology, linguistics, SWAT teams, and international analysts.  Importantly, the organization’s being headquartered in Washington, D.C. only serves to enhance its extensive network, and it fully replies on participation with local police departments in processes of information sharing (Gaines, Worrall, 2011, p. 84).  In a very real sense, the JTTF embodies the post-9/11 response in general, in terms of incorporating agencies at all levels to participate in the multiple processes seen as necessary to secure national safety.  Clearance levels pertaining to information sensitivity are of course in place, but the paramount factor is that this is as broad a network as may be conceived, and one essentially dependent upon how information is gathered, interpreted, and transferred. Moreover, the ongoing existence of the organization reinforces the persistent public and governmental awareness of the need to secure the nation above all other considerations.

In no uncertain terms, information sharing is the core agenda in counter-terrorist strategies, and the FBI, CIA, and JTTF also engage in this in international terms.  In 2002, for example, the U.S. and Europol signed the Supplemental Agreement on the Exchange of Personal Data and Related Information.  This provides U.S. agencies of all kinds, and chiefly the principal security divisions of the CIA and FBI, virtually unlimited access to personal information of any individuals as held by the European Police.  Race, political beliefs and histories, and sexual orientations are accessed, and the U.S. agencies are empowered to interpret threat levels based on whatever they perceive as pertinent (Webb, 2007,  p. 142).  Similarly, joint efforts between the U.S. and Canada reflect equally participatory arrangements; customs agents, police, and immigration officers within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) cooperate with the FBI and CIA in sharing such information freely. There are as well no restriction in place regarding how  the third party, as in cases of the U.S. obtaining information from Canada or Europol, proceeds to employ the information (Webb, p. 143).  It is assumed that the parameters of individual nations will dictate the legality of the efforts, even as post-9/11 reaction continues to challenge constitutional elements of these operations in the U.S.

Realities of Safety

Just as the Patriot Act expanded governmental agencies to unprecedented degrees in accessing and sharing information, then, so too have international entities engaged in furthering the agendas.  This immense reliance on information and communication has had a direct impact on national safety, or perceptions of it, in ways removed from terrorism itself.  That is to say, and as time has passed since 9/11, increasing numbers of Americans resent the intrusions on the lives enabled by the Patriot Act and other counter-terrorism policies.  In a very real sense, there is growing concern over the protection, not of American lives, but of American rights. It is widely noted that, immediately following 9/11, Americans largely supported even the most questionable aspects of the Patriot Act, in terms of granting federal agents with vast discretionary powers.  Since then, dissatisfaction with this discretion has increased from a public no longer in a state of panic (Ericson, Haggerty,  2006, p. 145), and there is a real sense that “safety” applies to the need to protect constitutional rights violated since 9/11.  The Patriot Act contained a Sunset Clause based on the understanding that Congress would need to reinforce the statute, but evidence indicates why this Act remains so controversial.  A 2007 audit by the Department of Justice, for example, found that the FBI had, “improperly, and in some cases illegally, obtained personal information about U.S. citizens” (Cavelty,  2007, p. 105).  It is then hardly surprising the growing numbers of Americans feel that their privacy is threatened, which in turn goes to fundamental issues of safety.  Put another way, risk is present in the individual’s mind when they do not believe they may trust the government as securing their interests and adhering to constitutional law.

With regard to the primary question of whether or not the U.S. public is safer today, and owing to the usages of communication technologies by federal and other agencies, there is an inevitable dilemma; namely, there is no effective means of ascertaining actual risk that has been prevented by the systems, nor any definitive way of knowing to what extent terrorism has been deterred by the responses.  This is inevitable; attacks not made due to strategies in place believed to limit their chances of success must remain unknown.  As to those terrorist plans and successfully countered, nonetheless, the FBI reports an ongoing and significant degree of success.  It emphasizes to the public that a lack of assault does not translate to a defeated enemy; on the contrary, Al Qaeda operations, long identified as the hostile 9/11 force, are being consistently detected and thwarted to the present day: “A review of disrupted al Qaeda plots since 9/11 reveals that the group has continued to focus on high-profile political, economic, symbolic, and infrastructure targets, with a particular fixation on aviation” (O’Brien, 2010).  The FBI goes on to reinforce that affiliated groups, or some inspired by Al Qaeda, have been equally countered before able to strike.  Based on such official documentation alone, then, it is reasonable to argue that the U.S. is indeed safer today, and largely owing to the intelligence operations enabled by communication and information retrieval technologies, individual screenings at airports, and international cooperation in information sharing.

At the same time, this FBI report also – and ironically – reinforces the existing vulnerability of the U.S., and simply by virtue of the nature of terrorism as covert and non-state based.  For example, the report affirms that Al Qaeda operations as known to U.S. intelligence are adapting to counter preventive measures, and focusing more on localized targets within the U.S.  The organization is also more intently recruiting U.S. citizens; a plot was uncovered in 2009 which relied on three Al Qaeda operatives trained in Pakistan and then returned to their native U.S. homes (O’Brien, 2010).  The FBI message is then clear: only continued enabling of the most sophisticated technologies, along with legal processes allowing them to proceed as perceived required, can counter such an evolving and deadly enemy.  This in turn suggests that, if the U.S. is more safe today than it was prior to 9/11, the safety itself is moot, and essentially because the innately diverse structure of terrorism defies conclusive address.  When, plainly, detection and prevention are the keys to safety, safety itself is intrinsically at risk.

Conclusion

In simple terms, the U.S. prior to 9/11, while dealing with national security issues largely arising from hijackings was not a nation equipped to counter terrorism. The devastation of 9/11 immediately and radically altered ideas of national safety, and in short order a vast variety of policies and technologies were put into action.  The latter were more evolved forms of earlier detection technologies, as airport checks became rigorously conducted.  At the same time, the FBI, CIA, and JTTF were empowered to assume unprecedented license in retrieving and sharing information, creating unease about constitutional rights while expanding into international arenas.  The result, at least based on FBI assessment, is that the nation is more safe today. Nonetheless, and as prevention is the keynote in countering terrorism, the dominant reality remains that greater safety cannot be assumed, and this is the case apart from concerns of how privacy rights may be violated in the detection processes.  On one level, the U.S. is safer today from terrorist threats, but the nature of terrorism itself must weaken this safety.  The reality then exists that, despite vast networks of communication in play, there can be no truly effective protection against assaults which defy traditional models of aggression on this scale.

References

Cavelty, M. D. (2007).  Cyber-Security and Threat Politics: US Efforts to Secure the Information Age.  New York: Routledge.

Dempsey, J. (2010).  Introduction to Private Security. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

Donahue, L. K. (2008).  The Cost of Counterterrorism. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ericson, R. V., & Haggerty, K. D. (2006).  The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Farson, A. S., & Phythian, M. (2011).  Commissions of Inquiry and National Security: Comparative Approaches. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Gaines, L., & Worrall, J. (2011).  Police Administration. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

Kugler, R. L. (2006).  Policy Analysis in National Security Affairs: New Methods for a New Era. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Liptak, A. (2011). “Civil Liberties Today.” The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/07/us/sept-11-reckoning/civil.html?pagewanted=all

National Research Council (NRC). (1996). Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues.  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

O’Brien, L. P.  (201). “The Evolution of Terrorism Since 9/11.” Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Retrieved 7 April 2014 from http://www.fbi.gov/statsservices/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/september-2011/the-evolution-of-terrorism-since-9-11

Penn, E. B.  (2013). Homeland Security and Criminal Justice: Five Years After 9/11. New York: Routledge.

Webb, M. (2007). Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World.  San Francisco: City Lights Books.

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