Chapter 4: How the U.S. Government Reacted to 9/11

Governmental response to 9/11 can be thought of along two major dimensions that are, eventually, (re)-shaping each other: Ideology and Action.

Ideology: the set of ideas that form the base for governmental action immediately after 9/11.  The ideological component/aspect of the 9/11 response ensures legitimacy for action.

The early Bush administration position on 9/11 was that this is not a crime, this is war.  This enabled the administration to use a powerful image – war – to push through massive government reorganization and mobilize the nation to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, coined as the “War on Terror.”  President Bush wanted to reassure a shocked, saddened, confused and angry nation to resume normal life.  They said, repeatedly and clearly, that this would be a long, enduring war. Very early on, members of congress and others pushed for Unity, to “stand behind the president.”

Also very early on, the administration position on foreign policy was, “You are with us, or with the terrorists.”  Immediately after 9/11, Under Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the ISI Chief:

Armitage said conversation was a “strong, factual” exchange, but said he made no military threats. He said he told ISI chief Ahmad “Pakistan would need to be with us or against us. For Americans, this was seen as black or white.” Armitage denies that he was particularly harsh or rude:  Musharraf, in an interview with CBS News’ magazine show “60 Minutes,” to air on Sunday, said Armitage told Ahmad that without cooperation: “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.”

Bush clearly stated the polarizing message in his address to the nation and later in his address to Congress.

Obama has yet to change this idea.  In many ways, it seems as if he has embraced it (see “New Normal” by ACLU).

Actions were also based on the themes of U.S. strength in the face of adversity, of unity in action, and dichotomy of us versus them. Eventually these themes were merged with the idea of U.S. sovereignty in deciding what is best for its own security.  The U.S. has the right to defend itself, its freedoms and values, which they claim defines democracy generally: America acts not only for itself, but for all nations who are democratic. This is coupled with the administration position on foreign policy stance: “You are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  The theme of fear and looming threat becomes increasingly present in governmental discourse.

Action:  Governmental response to 9/11 is based on the 9/11 Ideology.  Major actions include:

(1)  War on Terror (domestic):  Curtailing of civil liberties with the USA PATRIOT act of 2001 and executive directives, granting law enforcement and government authorities with greater access to private communications inside and outside of the U.S.  Selective imprisonment and harassment of suspected enemies of the state: this mainly affected people of Arab descent or name.

(2)  Expansion of Executive Power:  Powers of the President has expanded, allowing the President to withhold greater amounts of information from the U.S. public, to curtail civil liberties in the name of war.

(3)  9/11 Commission:  One year after, President Bush created an independent 9/11 commission, whose purpose was to investigate the causes of the attacks and suggest remedies for prevention of future attacks.  The 9/11 Commission was created as a result of pressure from families of the victims of 9/11; initially, President Bush was satisfied with the congressional report, but changed his mind when prominent Senators helped to voice claims made by the families of 9/11 victims that an independent commission was needed.

(4)  Government Reorganization:  A dominant 9/11 theme is that airport security lacked sufficient rigor.  To this end, the government took over airport security, leading to the creation of the (a) Transportation Security Administration. One major theme of the investigation into 9/11 was that government agencies were “walled off” from each other: there was a need for greater inter-agency collaboration.  This led to centralizing of authority, including (b) creation of Department of Homeland Security and (c) a national intelligence coordinator, whose job it is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of information between all of the intelligence agencies in the U.S. intelligence community.

“With bureaucracy there is birth but never death.”

—  Philip Mudd, former CIA and FBI analyst and senior research fellow at the New America Foundation


(5)  Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Pakistan):  After the invasion of Afghanistan, the President used 9/11 imagery, and the threat of a new and more devastating 9/11, to mobilize the nation to war in Iraq.  Under Obama, the war shifted focus from Iraq back to Afghanistan.  Obama’s major expansion of the predator drone program – a robotic plane that flies via remote control and can drop bombs – widened the war to the Pakistan border, essentially expanding the Afghanistan war to Pakistan, as well.

The most lasting impacts will probably be the government reorganizations, the expansion of executive power, and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.  Ideologies of Presidential administrations can change with new administrations, though legacies remain.

The Creation of the 9/11 Commission

On November 27, 2002, President Bush signed a bill creating the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the Independent Commission.) The bipartisan Commission, chaired by former NJ Governor, Thomas Kean, had 18 months from the date of that signing to complete its investigation. Its mandate was to investigate the facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the nation’s response.

There was initial opposition to forming an independent 9/11 commission by national leadership.  They felt that such a commission would be used to blame individuals and find individual guilt.  Congress conducted the first investigation in 2002.  It was hailed for collecting information, but was criticized for failure “to synthesize the data into a coherent narrative, to establish itself as a credible interpreter of the event” (58).  It also did not satisfy the growing social movement comprised of relatives of 9/11 victims, of which there were many.  Eventually, the commission was brought about through social movement pressure headed by the Family Steering Committee, comprised and headed by relatives of the victims of 9/11.  The relatives were seen as the embodiment of national grief and personal loss.  From Washington Post, “they used the moral authority they earned from their losses — invoked freely in vigils, at news conferences and in the lobbies of Congress — to shame the government into action.”  They claimed a moral high-ground.  Said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn, “It was impossible for a member of Congress to face the family members and say they wouldn’t do something.”

From their website:  “In the fall of 2001, Family Steering Committee (FSC) members began the first of many trips to Washington D.C. to demand that Congress create legislation for an independent investigation into the September 11 th terrorist attacks. The FSC obtained the support of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Richard C . Shelby (R -AL) and Representatives Tim Roemer (D-IN), Chris Shays (R-CT), and Chris Smith (R-NJ). While some family members lobbied in Washington , others relentlessly faxed and phoned members of Congress and the White House.”

From Washington Post:  “It is no exaggeration to say that yesterday’s reorganization of the nation’s intelligence structure would not have happened without Fetchet, Ashley and the 10 other self-appointed representatives of Sept. 11 victims’ relatives who formed the Family Steering Committee. Though they started out with little understanding of politics or national security, and they did not truly represent the thousands of victims’ relatives (in fact, many other relatives opposed the legislation), they used the moral authority they earned from their losses — invoked freely in vigils, at news conferences and in the lobbies of Congress — to shame the government into action. “Would we be here except for those two? I don’t think so,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), one of the legislation’s sponsors, said after thanking Fetchet and Ashley. “It was impossible for a member of Congress to face the family members and say they wouldn’t do something.” “I agree,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the co-sponsor. “They had the moral conviction.” The family members’ public complaints pressured President Bush to drop his initial opposition to a Sept. 11 commission and his subsequent reluctance to meet with all 12 commission members and to share with the panel his most sensitive intelligence briefings and the testimony of White House officials. Loud criticism from the family members also moved opponents on the Hill to retreat from efforts to curb the commission’s budget and deadline. In recent weeks, the family members scolded holdouts until the legislation passed. “President Bush must use his political capital to overrule the obstructionists and garner support from the House Republicans,” Fetchet said at a news conference Monday. “In the memory of the 3,000 precious lives lost on September 11th, we the families will continue our mission of making our country safer. We hope our government does the same.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49646-2004Dec8.html

In “Responding to Surprise,” Wirth argues that the 9/11 commission had learned from the experience of the investigations after Pearl Harbor.  On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the US naval and air bases on Oahu.  This launched a dozen investigations.  The one with the most authority was the Joint Congressional Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, ending in 1946.  Their point was to expose the way government processed intelligence.  Individuals were blamed for their role in the intelligence failure.  These investigations became the focus of political debates between Republicans and Democrats.

The 9/11 Commission wanted to blame systems, not people.  Strange for an individualist culture like US, but in light of the Pearl Harbor investigations, this was 9/11 commission’s focus.

The 9/11 commission became political theatre.  Testimonies by officials were broadcasted on the news and were the fodder for screaming Sunday morning political talk shows for over a year.  The questioners wanted to appear to be incisive and critical, but wanting to stop short of blaming people publicly.  Among the highlights were testimony of NSA Rice and former WH Counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke.  Bush and Cheney declined to talk to the commission on the record, but they met with them privately and without recording. Other administration officials past and present wanted to use the 9/11 commission as a soap box, a forum for their ideas.  For example, Rumsfeld’s testimony was part of his agenda to reform the Department of Defense. “The world of Sept. 10 is past. We’ve entered a new security environment, arguably the most dangerous the world has known. And if we’re to continue to live as free people we cannot go back to thinking as the way the world thought on Sept. 10.”

Ultimately, the 9/11 commission, like the one from Pearl Harbor, had recommendations for reforming the intelligence community.  Pearl Harbor commission created the CIA.  9/11 commission “called for clarifying the FBI’s authority to investigate terrorist groups, eliminating CIA regulations that hindered use of informants linked to terrorist organizations, placing terrorism high on the agendas of officials at the CIA, FBI and NSA, and establishing new reporting procedures to quickly disseminate terrorism-related information to all interested officials” (56).

Creation of Homeland Security Department

In January 2003, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge became secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  DHS was comprised of more than 20 agencies and 180,000 employees within the US government. Agencies included the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration and the Border Patrol.

Creation of National Intelligence Coordinator

From Wright’s The Spymaster:  “Over the past sixty years, frustrated Presidents and lawmakers have commissioned more than forty studies of the nation’s intelligence operations, to determine how to rearrange, reform, or even, in some cases, abolish them. Most of these studies have concluded that the rivalries and conflicting missions of the warring agencies could be resolved only by placing a single figure in charge. Yet, until September 11th, there was no political will to do so. In 2004, after the 9/11 Commission recommended the appointment of a powerful overseer, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or O.D.N.I.  Until the 2004 law passed, the nominal leader of the intelligence community was the head of the C.I.A. Now the agency reports to the D.N.I., just as the intelligence branch of the Coast Guard does.”

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) federalized passenger and baggage screening at the nation’s airports.  Following negotiations with pilot unions and passage of the Homeland Security Act in 2002, TSA began deputizing and arming commercial pilots.  According to the TSA website:

“We are 43,000 security officers, inspectors, directors, air marshals and managers who protect the nation’s transportation systems so you and your family can travel safely. We look for bombs at checkpoints in airports, we inspect rail cars, we patrol subways with our law enforcement partners, and we work to make all modes of transportation safe.” http://www.tsa.gov/who_we_are/index.shtm


Arming pilots, securing the cockpit door:  Federal Flight Deck Officers:  “Under this program, eligible flight crewmembers are authorized by the Transportation Security Administration Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service to use firearms to defend against an act of criminal violence or air piracy attempting to gain control of an aircraft. A flight crew member may be a pilot, flight engineer or navigator assigned to the flight.”  This also includes the Federal Air Marshal service.  These are armed individuals whose role is to protect U.S. civil aviation.  FAMs are law enforcement agents of the federal government. This also includes a National Explosives Detection Canine Team. “TSA’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program prepares dogs and handlers to serve on the front lines of America’s War on Terror.   These dogs are bred specifically for the program by TSA’s puppy program… including German Shepherds and Belgian Malanoises.  According to the website: “The program depends on volunteer families in San Antonio and Austin, Texas to raise the puppies between the ages of 9 weeks and 12 months puppies before they can enter explosives detection training. During this time they are responsible for providing the pups with a well-rounded, socialized and nurturing environment..”   http://www.tsa.gov/lawenforcement/programs/editorial_1886.shtm

Terror Alert system, aka Homeland Security Advisory System:

“The Homeland Security Advisory System is designed to guide our protective measures when specific information to a particular sector or geographic region is received.” http://www.dhs.gov/xinfoshare/programs/Copy_of_press_release_0046.shtm

Criticized for being permanently at Yellow, or elevated, with little possibility of ever going to green or blue.  Citizens are not quite sure how to react to gradations in change of color status, from yellow to orange, especially.  This sometimes means that there is a greater than average military presence on airports.


Total Information Awareness (TIA)

The IAO began funding research and development of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program in February 2003 but renamed the program the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in May that year after an adverse media reaction to the program’s implications for public surveillance. http://infowar.net/tia/www.darpa.mil/iao/

From the website:

The most serious asymmetric threat facing the United States is terrorism, a threat characterized by collections of people loosely organized in shadowy networks that are difficult to identify and define.  IAO plans to develop technology that will allow understanding of the intent of these networks, their plans, and potentially define opportunities for disrupting or eliminating the threats.  To effectively and efficiently carry this out, we must promote sharing, collaborating and reasoning to convert nebulous data to knowledge and actionable options.  IAO will accomplish this by pursuing the development of technologies, components, and applications to produce a proto-type system. Example technologies include:
Collaboration and sharing over TCP/IP networks across agency boundaries

Large, distributed repositories with dynamic schemas that can be changed interactively by users

Foreign language machine translation and speech recognition

Biometric signatures of humans

Real time learning, pattern matching and anomalous pattern detection

Entity extraction from natural language text

Human network analysis and behavior model building engines

Event prediction and capability development model building engines

Structured argumentation and evidential reasoning

Story telling, change detection, and truth maintenance

Business rules sub-systems for access control and process management

Biologically inspired algorithms for agent control

Other aids for human cognition and human reasoning


DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ) and terror futures



From Strategic Insights:

“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was born in the uncertain days after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1958. Its mission was to become an engine of technological change that would bridge the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use.  … in 2003 DARPA has managed to make the front pages twice, both times with disastrous results. Earlier in the year Congress moved to scale back the agency’s Terrorism Information Awareness Program (TIA). In an effort to spot patterns of terrorist activity, this program proposed the development of advanced computer systems capable of scanning commercial databases containing information on millions of Americans.

Then, in late July, the Agency backed off a plan to set up a kind of futures market (Policy Analysis Market or PAM) that would allow investors to earn profits by betting on the likelihood of such events as regime changes in the Middle East. Critics, mainly politicians and op-ed writers, attacked the futures project on the grounds that it was unethical and in bad taste to accept wagers on the fate of foreign leaders and the likelihood of terrorist attacks. The project was canceled a day after it was announced. Its head, retired Admiral John Poindexter, has resigned.”

The Pentagon’s new terrorism futures market is suddenly a thing of the past. Only a day after it was disclosed, outraged senators of both parties called today for the immediate end to the online trading bazaar that would have rewarded investors able to predict terror attacks and other global unrest. Pentagon officials raced to oblige, saying it would be shut down posthaste.  Under the Pentagon plan, traders were to be able to begin registering on Friday to trade futures in Middle East developments as of Oct. 1 on a Web site of the Policy Analysis Market, which the Pentagon was operating with private partners.

From A New York Times story:

At a Senate hearing this morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said he first learned of it from news accounts. ”I share your shock at this kind of program,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. ”We’ll find out about it, but it is being terminated.”


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