TERRE HAUTE —
A lot has changed in the decade since passenger planes were used as missiles to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and to damage the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
The Department of Homeland Security was formed. The Patriot Act was passed, and passed again.
The Patriot Act reduced restrictions on law enforcement’s ability to search telephone records, email messages and financial and medical records, and expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism.
In May, President Obama signed a four-year extension that allows using wiretaps, searching library records and conducting surveillance of individual suspects, called “lone wolves,” who are believed to be involved in terrorist-related activities.
Technology and how fast people communicate is much different. Social networks Facebook and Twitter were not around when 9/11 happened, unlike in August, when an earthquake hit the East Coast. Twitter was used to send reports of the earthquake from up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard.
Cell bag phones were around a decade ago, but circuits jammed at the time of the 9/11 attack. Cellular telephones quickly spread news of the East Coast quake. In addition, in July, a teenager who survived a shooting spree in Norway texted her mother every 5 minutes to keep her updated during the one-man attack.
After 9/11, the Transportation Safety Administration was created. Federal employees, not private companies, check all passengers boarding airlines as well as their bags.
Getting on an airplane now requires passengers to remove shoes — the result of a post-9/11 bombing attempt — plus undergo body screens or stand in a device that detects explosive residue.
There is also a 3-ounce limit on any liquids brought aboard an airliner, once again after a post-9/11 attempt to mix chemicals onboard a plane for use as a bomb. Small items such as pocket knives are prohibited.
Prior to 9/11, you could meet or say goodbye to your loved one at the flight gate. No more.
Yet another security measure now requires passports for travel to and from Canada and Mexico.
Tighter security is evident, too, at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field. A security fence has been installed around approximately 900 acres of the airport’s nearly 1,500 acres of land.
“[The purpose of the fencing] was two-fold. We had an issue of animals on the airport, such as deer. That was 50 percent of the reason, but the other half was increased security,” said Airport Director Dennis Wiss. “The previous fence was easily breached, and now our entire perimeter is fenced and gated, so access is very limited.”
While the Terre Haute airport this year eliminated its flight school with Indiana State University, students immediately after 9/11 had to produce documents proving U.S. citizenship, while foreign students had additional required documentation. Screening is now required for charter planes bringing in football or basketball teams for games at ISU, Wiss added.
“There is much more emphasis on highways and marine ports, as well as airports, so it is not just an airport issue. There is also an emphasis to get to 100 percent cargo inspection, which has not yet happened. We are better than we were 10 years ago; it is just very unfortunate the system did not work 100 percent 10 years ago,” Wiss said.
Other security changes are also evident. People entering the Vigo County Courthouse are now required to place handbags and items from their pockets onto a conveyor belt that passes through an imaging machine, which X-rays the items. People must also walk through a metal detector, and security cameras capture the images of everyone entering the government building.
Indiana driver’s licenses were changed to “secure licenses” with holograms and hard-to-replicate colors.
The terrorist attacks also changed the way fans go to the ball park. For example, outside Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts, fans are separated by gender, then patted down and screened with hand-held magnetometers. Purses and bags also are checked. Nothing larger than a small personal handbag is permitted inside the stadium.
Other changes have come in views on religion and politics, said Matthew Bergbower, assistant professor of political science at Indiana State University
“Americans now have a cautiousness toward religion,” Bergbower said. “We saw that recently with the burning of the Koran in [March at a small church in Gainsville,] Florida, and the opposition to a proposed mosque in New York City that was to be built near [ground zero] of the trade towers” in 2010.
That also led to other protests, including against a mosque center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and a mosque in Sheboygan, Wis., in a former health food store earlier this year.
In relation to the U.S. involvement in wars since 9/11, reaction has been mixed, with a vocal group voicing its objections through protests at military funerals. In Illinois, an existing state law was expanded to move protesters even farther back from military funerals, without totally violating the Constitution’s First Amendment rights, Bergbower said.
“They are good evidence of current events that we are still dealing with in the aftermath of 9/11 from a political side,” Bergbower said.
In addition, Bergbower said political discussions are starting to change a decade after the attacks.
Campaigns for Congress and even for the U.S. presidency are no longer dominated by national security, like campaigns in 2004 and 2006, he said.
“Now, the dialogue and campaigns have changed. Now, the number one issue is the economy, so national security has gone a peg or two down when it comes to the concerns of voters and the concern of those who campaign for office,” Bergbower said. “The economy has taken over as the dominant issue. We see it more on the news and more in campaign ads and other type of dialogue,” he said.
Also, Bergbower said research after 9/11 shows that while there is opposition to reduced civil liberties, Americans by and large are OK with bigger government and a watchful eye over the public as a tradeoff for security.
For Mark S. Hamm, professor of criminology at Indiana State University, one event changed how terrorism is conducted today, versus a decade ago.
“To me, the leaf changed when Osama bin Laden was killed,” Hamm said. “That was a major event for the West in its fight against al-Qaida, which was responsible for 9/11.”
Still, bin Laden’s death does not mean the threat of terrorism is over, Hamm said.
“We still face a significant threat from people inspired by al-Qaida. Even though bin Laden is gone and the number of al-Qaida central leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan may have been severely diminished, and may no longer have camps where Westerners can learn bomb building and other tactics, these self-starter groups in other countries may pose a danger,” Hamm said.
“Perhaps not the danger on the par of 9/11. We may never see anything like 9/11 again, but bombing against transportation systems is highly likely,” he said. “Bombing against other infrastructure and soft targets, such as malls, hotels and large public gatherings, those are still on the table.”
Another threat is extremists influenced by al-Qaida in Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, Hamm said. “The most serious threats against the United States since 9/11” have come from that region, he said.
As examples, Hamm cited terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the underwear bomber, who was charged in December 2009 for an attempt to blow up a plane, plus a plot to use bombs inside computer printers’ packages headed for Chicago in October 2010. “All came from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.
Anwar al-Awlaki is an American-born Muslim cleric who inspired the underwear bomber, as well as Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with killing 12 people at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, and a car bomb attempt in May 2010 in Times Square, Hamm said.
“These are the most serious threats we have faced. They have been inspired and often coached, via email and the Internet, by Anwar al-Awlaki,” who has dual U.S. and Yemen citizenship. He was born in New Mexico in 1971. He is in Yemen with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Hamm said. His father was the minister of agriculture and a university president in Yemen.
“He is the only American on the [CIA] kill-list,” Hamm said. The Obama administration in April 2010 authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them.
Another inspired attack, Hamm said, came in June 2009 from Muslin convert Carlos Bledsoe, who opened fire with a rifle, killing one soldier in front of a U.S. military recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. Bledsoe had returned after staying 16 months in Yemen.
“Anwar al-Awlaki issues his statements through the online magazine called Inspire, published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” Hamm said. “In that, they are coaching readers, many in the U.S., … you can do everything by staying home and learn how to commit mass murder.
“My point is there has been a tactical shift to lone-wolf terrorism,” Hamm said, versus a tactic involving several people.
“These lone-wolf terrorists are influenced by the ideology of what remains of al-Qaida in its newest form,” he said.
Hamm said the use of a dirty bomb, a type of nuclear device that would spread contamination throughout a large city, is “a nightmare scenario. A more likely scenario is Fort Hood or the underwear bomber, who never went to a Jihad training camp,” he said.
In addition, terrorists are more innovative in attacks, such as a bomber in Marrakesh, Morocco, in May who dressed like a “hippie” carrying a guitar and two bags, which had explosives.
“The hippie symbol throughout the West is a symbol of freedom and acceptance of all cultures. That is stark contrast from stern-looking businessmen who hopped on planes for 9/11,” Hamm said.
Another example is a suicide bomber who hid explosives in a turban, killing the mayor of Kandahar in Afghanistan in July. “This is another innovation, not strapping a bomb on your chest or in your underwear, but on your head. That is a tactical shift,” Hamm said.
In addition to threats from abroad, domestic terrorism remains a threat, Hamm said, such as Anders Breivik, charged with killing more than 70 people in a shooting and bombing spree in Norway in July. He was reported as saying he was attempting to save Europe from cultural Marxism and “Muslimization” from the Labor Party in Norway.
“The point is the threat also comes from anti-government people, such as Jared Loughner, who shot [U.S. Rep.] Gabrielle Giffords [and killed six people in January] in Tucson, Ariz. That has nothing to do with Islamic extremism, but with immigration, with radical right-wing politics, discontent over immigration and unemployment and other domestic factors,” Hamm said.
Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@