Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)
Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked five years ago, and can you tell us your thoughts when you first heard the news?
When the first tower was attacked, I was preparing to teach my American Politics course at West Point. Watching the second plane strike the south tower, my first thoughts were of the severity of the crisis, the fate of those trapped, and concern about the possibility of follow-on attacks—what and where else would the terrorists strike. The discussion in class that day with the cadets, who are now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, dealt with the rescue and recovery efforts and what the attacks might mean for the military’s future.
I also spent several nights working on the rubble of the World Trade Center. The scene, its smell and heroic efforts of the first responders has never left me.
Given your expertise in terrorism studies, has the federal government made significant progress in making America safer, and if so in what ways?
The federal government has made progress in making America safer. Today, agencies are postured more proactively than prior to 9/11. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has re-oriented itself from a law enforcement organization that focused on solving crimes to one that is charged with preventing terrorism. Bureaucratic barriers have been removed, allowing intelligence to be more freely shared between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. Finally, the federal government has assisted first responder organizations in expanding their capacities.
In your view, has 9/11 proved to be a watershed event—five years on, are we prepared to handle new terrorist threats such as those recently discovered in London, or are we still lagging behind? If the latter, what further measures should be taken?
It is too early to declare 9/11 a watershed event. There is no doubt that the impacts of that day have been far ranging. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, we have seen the largest reorganization of government since World War II; unprecedented levels of federal and state funding have been allocated to the issue; cities and localities have developed response plans and citizens are more aware of the issue than ever before. Yet the real challenge for our government and citizens is whether we can remain focused on the relevant issues for the long term. This is not a public policy problem where we treat the symptoms episodically. Instead, we must work harder to understand the underlying causes and motivations of terrorism and ultimately work to reduce those motivations.
The difficulty posed by the new terrorist threats such as those just now discovered in London or in the 7/7 attacks on London of last year, is that these terrorists are not like Mohammed Atta or Ramzi Yousef (the latter led the 1993 World Trade Center attack), who came from abroad to attack the United States. These recent cases were perpetrated by British citizens, people who were raised in the country they attacked—a development that poses new difficulties for our counterterrorism efforts.
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