Ten Years After 9/11, America’s Safety Still in Doubt
Senior Editor, CNBC
Without a direct terror strike on the U.S. homeland, and with the death of Osama Bin Laden, it might be easy to assume America is a safer nation since the 9/11 attacks.
But anyone who believes the U.S. is smothered in a blanket of security does so, analysts say, with more hope than certainty.
"I'm skeptical of anyone who can answer the question 'Are we safer?' with a simple yes or no," said Ward Thomas, a national security expert and professor at the College of Holy Cross. "We are better in some ways, but not necessarily in others."
"We created a whole government department, Homeland Security, but regrettably, we are probably not safer," said Darren Hayes, a professor at Pace University and an expert in computer forensics and security. "There is still much work to be done."
We know what has been done over the past 10 years. Including the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated $1.8 trillion has been spent on various security measures since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
Besides the much publicized tightening of airport security, the money has been used to beef up the number of security officers, increase local police terror training, as well as purchase health-care supplies and rescue equipment across the U.S.
A less-visible and less-expensive security gap on 9/11 has also been addressed, say analysts. "The agencies that comprise our intelligence community—the FBI, CIA and others—are working together much more effectively, and trading information and watch lists," said Benn Prybutok, adjunct associate professor of Homeland Security at Drexel University. "That didn't happen before. We also have greater international cooperation."
That cooperation, analysts contend, has prevented plots, such as the one in Great Britain, where police in 2010 intercepted a toner cartridge with explosives bound from London to Chicago.
Intelligence apparently led the FBI to arrest a 22-year-old man who allegedly placed a backpack on a crowded Chicago street corner, also in 2010.
It's estimated that nearly 30 terror plots have been uncovered over the last 10 years.
"Nine-eleven forced changes that made the U.S. much safer in terms of intelligence gathering," said Ed Hammersla, COO of Ratheyon Trust Computer Solutions, a supplier of cyber security solutions for the government and private industry.
On the ground, the U.S. is much better prepared to handle a terror attack, if one happens, said Susan Cherry, a nurse and clinical instructor in the University of Texas, Arlington, College of Nursing.
"The 9/11 attacks woke up the health-care systems, as did Hurricane Katrina (in 2005)," said Cherry, who was director of emergency preparedness at USMD Hospital in Arlington, Texas, from 2001 to 2006.
"The major shift has been from disaster preparedness to disaster management," explained Cherry. "There's more advanced planning and training now to handle patients. Plus, we have better health-care equipment, including drugs and vaccines to fight biological attacks."
Other first responders are also in a better position to save lives, said Dennis Martinez, CTO of Harris PSPC, a leading supplier of communications and equipment for public safety.
"More firemen and police today are better able to communicate with each other because the technology has been updated," Martinez said, noting the deadly confusion rescuers dealt with as they struggled to talk to each other in the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
"They were all on different frequencies, and now most systems are interconnected," explained Martinez.
While analysts point to improvements, there are still troubling security threats.