SALT LAKE CITY — A politician, a historian and a legal scholar agree on one thing about the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States — the long-term impacts of the nation's response to the acts of terrorism are not yet known.
But 10 years after 19 Arab terrorists hijacked four commercial jets, crashing two into the World Trade Center twin towers, one into the Pentagon and a fourth in a field in rural Pennsylvania, the nation has been forever changed by the ongoing and evolving government response to those events, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
The threat is of terrorism and porous borders are real, says Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz. "The challenge is, how do we become more secure and maintain our personal liberties?"
One reponse to that question was the creation in 2002 of the Department of Homeland Security. The department's charge is to coordinate the efforts of 22 agencies responsible for the nation's safety and oversee the country's response to a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The department's creation was the most sweeping reorganization of the federal government since 1947, when President Harry Truman consolidated the armed forces under the Department of Defense.
Some of the agencies under the DHS banner include Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.
Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the nation's sense of a "terrorist" was largely limited to a Muslim extremist from the Arab peninsula. Over the years, authorities have dealt with a number of cases involving homegrown terrorists. And as Chaffetz is wont to point out, the threat of cyberterrorism is growing, where a successful, large-scale attack could readily hobble the nation.
The most obvious changes in practice and protocol over the past decade have occurred at the nation's airports, where the federal government has instituted more stringent passenger screening practices and policies.
Chaffetz has been particularly critical of whole body screening of airline passengers. He argues that other forms of screening are more effective and do not invade personal privacy.
"In the case of TSA, they're overstepping when you trade personal privacy in the name of security. I think we should demand a world that is more secure and less invasive. There are ways to do that," said Chaffetz, a Republican, who considers the United States the safest nation in the world and believes its efforts in the Middle East to contain international terrorism have been largely successful.
Wayne McCormack, professor of law at the University of Utah and the author of a book on terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, said enhanced screening at airports "weeds out the occasional miscreant from our domestic flights."
However, when people board flights to the United States from airports outside the country, there have been occasions when flight crews were notified during a flight that a passenger on an international watch list is on board.
"It all boils down to what is a reasonable amount of resources and what are the known threats," McCormack said.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, appearing at Georgetown University roundtable discussion on the eighth anniversary of the creation of the department in March, said information sharing among international authorities is improving and treaties are being negotiated to ensure information can be shared real-time yet in a manner that protects individual's privacy rights.
"We are the busiest flight area in the world by a large margin. So we need it in a real time, common format. But we also need to manage the data in such a fashion that concerns about privacy are addressed," Napolitano said at the time.
America's policy on immigration and customs also took a hard turn to enforcement following the 9/11 attacks, says Utah State University history professor Kimberly Hernandez.
The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service was placed under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella and transformed into Immigration Customs Enforcement.
Despite the enforcement emphasis and renewed attention paid to international visitors who overstay work, travel and education visas, immigration reform remains a back burner concern, she said. The last serious attempt was a bipartisan effort on the part of political oddfellows Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass in 2006, said Hernandez.
"Right now, we cannot even have this conversation because things have changed so much in the political landscape, with the recession and (Mexican) drug wars," Hernandez said.
While controlling the borders is arguably one aspect of homeland security, many people targeted in enforcement activities "are a completely different group of people than those we became concerned with after 9/11," Hernandez said.
McCormack said border control measures may deter some from entering the United States but "you can evade detection if you're serious, committed and have the resources."
The federal government also deals with the issue of undocumented immigrants by conducting workplace raids or auditing employee records to determine whether workers are authorized to work in the United States.
"We have labor laws. Undocumented workers are not supposed be hired in the first place," Hernandez said.
However, because of workforce demands, the nation's unofficial policy with respect to hiring and retaining undocumented workers has largely been a wink-and-nod arrangement to ensure the hospitality and service industries, among others, have a labor force.
"What would it take, to actually take away the wink-and-nod, would be enforcing the law.
"It would take more government, which is unlikely, especially in this climate when people are calling for less government," she said.
McCormack said it is important to understand that acts of mass terror have occurred throughout man's history. In the book of Deuteronomy, Hebrew tribes are commanded by God that once they reach Canaan, they are to annihilate the peoples they find in cities reserved for them, he said. Later came human slaughter by Mogol hordes and Roman Catholic attacks on Muslims during the Crusades.
"Widespread attacks on civilians have always been around," McCormack said. "The question is, how do you respond to it?"7 comments on this story
McCormack said the United States, post 9/11, squandered an opportunity to address terrorism through international cooperation.
"We blew it. The bottom line is, on Sept. 12, 2001, we had an opportunity to rebuild the way the world thinks about violence, threats and security. We went in the polar opposite direction most people wanted it to go. We tried to meet violence with violence and go it on our own and it's a shame."
• Wayne McCormack, professor of law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, will discuss U.S. foreign policy in a lecture titled, “9/11: a Decade Ago and a Decade to Be,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11 at the Salt Lake Public Library, fourth floor conference room. The address, which is free and open to the public, is part of the Forum for Questioning Minds.