9/11: 18 years on, are we any safer?

It’s an unspeakable tragedy: Thousands of Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

To say that day changed America does not even begin to describe the effects of the abhorrent action of radical Islamists.

It has now been 18 years, and we are still dealing with the aftermath of those awful events. With the war in Afghanistan still raging and Islamic terrorists continuing to threaten the United States, it’s difficult to go even a day without remembering the day everything changed.

(Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

When the planes struck into the Twin Towers, many were frozen in fear, glued to the nearest television set. Others were preparing for more attacks. The fear of a common enemy that day and the months that followed created a nationwide panic like no other — it also brought people together over their shared shock and anxiety that such a thing could happen on U.S. soil.

But are we safer now than we were then?

The answer to that question is complicated. While we have not seen another 9/11 since that unforgettable day, we are still have men and women in harm’s way in the Middle East not only fighting al-Qaeda, but also the Taliban.

While President Donald Trump is more interested in peace and ending the war once and for all than his predecessor, tensions still run high. A recent meeting between the president and Taliban leaders at Camp David was canceled after the Taliban committed an act of terror that left one U.S. citizen dead. The act was committed to gain an upper-hand in negotiations.

The cancellation of the meeting also followed the Taliban releasing a video where they defended 9/11.

“This heavy slap on their dark faces was the consequence of their interventionist policies and not our doing,” a voice in the video says as United Airlines flight 175 is seen hitting the World Trade Center, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The video was released by Al-Emara, the media arm of the Taliban.

Then there’s ISIS, a threat that has only been exposed in recent years. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has said in recent interviews that the rise of the violent and radical Islamist group is due to the fact that the Obama administration created a vacuum in Iraq when they abruptly withdrew troops to meet a deadline, rather than planning out a more strategic exit.

“I think the Obama administration, President Obama’s administration, had made the decision to leave Iraq despite what the intelligence community was telling us would happen,” Mattis recently said. “The intelligence community was very clear. They forecasted the rise of a group ― you and I know it as ISIS, and we should have taken their advice on board.”

While these latest developments in the Middle East confirm the fact that a war that has cost billions of dollars and thousands of American lives still rages on, what of U.S. soil? Are we more exposed? Has the creation of groups like Homeland Security helped to evolve the United States into a more prepared nation?

Yes, but again the answer is still complicated. With the rise of digital media, the world of terrorism has grown far more complex. One of the greater concerns today is the rise of domestic terrorists sympathetic to the cause of groups like Al Qaeda.

Just look at the recent arrests of alleged terrorists made by the FBI. With groups now able to radicalize someone through a screen, the new threat of American citizens joining anti-American causes has risen.

“American Citizen, an Alleged ISIS Sniper and Weapons Instructor, Indicted for Providing Material Support to ISIS.”

“Queens Man Planning Knife Attack Charged with Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS.”

“Maryland Man Facing Federal Indictment for Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS and for Interstate Transportation of a Stolen Vehicle.”

These arrests and more show that the threats may be more quiet today, but they are still out there.

Then there’s air travel. After terrorists were able to take command of planes with box cutters, security got tighter — a whole lot tighter. While people could once walk through an airport smoking a cigarette and open carrying, you now can’t even make it past security with a water bottle.

That increased security of restrictions of freedoms at airports is not going away anytime soon either. Facial recognition software was recently launched at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

While the technology has not expanded, it is one more move by TSA to use biometrical features to thwart terrorism.

Homeland Security defended the technology by saying it increases the “ability to compare the passenger’s live facial image at the checkpoint against an image taken from the passenger’s identity document for passengers who opt to participate.”

TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement last year that the increased security is part of an ongoing effort to “stay ahead of the threat.”

But again, this doesn’t mean the threats have disappeared.

For instance, an American Airlines mechanic was arrested for allegedly sabotaging a plane. His motivation? The guy needed some overtime.

“Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani is claimed to have glued foam inside a tube that would disable navigation systems in an aircraft at Miami International Airport, in Florida,” The Daily Mail reported.

Luckily, no one was injured on the flight to Nassau, Bahamas, on July 17 because the pilot became aware of the issue after he powered up the plane.

While the mechanic was seemingly not motivated by terrorism, it brings to mind the fact that we are never truly safe when we fly. Exposure is always an element essential to air travel. We can minimize it, but it’s always there.

A plane recently crashed shortly after taking off from the Hendersonville Airport after experiencing mechanical issues. The pilot tried to make it back to the airport, but the plane crashed and caught fire. One passenger died at the scene and another died at the hospital.

And that is not the only plane crash that has led to deaths.

“Amazon Prime Air 767-300; N1217A; flight 3591; near Anahuac, TX: The aircraft was on a cargo flight from Miami, FL to Houston, TX and crashed into Trinity Bay about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of its destination. The two crew members and one passenger were killed,” Air Safe reported about a February plane crash.

While there is increased security around commercial flights, smaller planes can sometimes fall through the cracks.

The fear struck into the hearts of Americans is still very much alive when you consider the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, the continuing commitment of radical Islamists, as well as people’s willingness to hand over some freedoms when it comes to things like flying.

Have our responses made us safer? Sure. We have not seen a terror attack like 9/11 in the last 18 years and, God willing, we will never see one again.

What is changing, however, is the attitude Americans have as a whole to the effort of combating terrorism. After nearly 20 long years, nationalism has risen within the country. Donald Trump was elected to office because he spoke of rebuilding America and tackling immediate threats to the economy and citizens like illegal immigration and the shipping of manufacturing jobs overseas.

He has also referred to the effort in the Middle East as “endless” and made clear he wants to see an end to the conflict and for the United States to have a more limited role in the Middle East.

His recent efforts at a peace talk proved he is willing to follow through on those sentiments.

We have also seen courts increasingly push back on federal security measures.

“In Virginia, a federal judge invalidated the Terrorist Screening Database, a watch list secretly compiled by the government, which subjects those listed to heightened security vetting before they are permitted to board commercial aircraft,” National Review reported this week. It’s only the latest example of the judicial system stepping in to combat what some see as an infringement on the freedoms afforded to American citizens by the Constitution.

The United States will forever be changed by 9/11 and the efforts to properly respond to the attacks and defend the homeland rage on and on, even to this day. But we have reached a turning point in attitude. The country is ready to turn the page and refocus its efforts on citizens here. What comes next after this turning point is anyone’s guess.

Zachary Leeman

Staff Writer
[email protected]

Zachary Leeman is originally from Maine, he served in the United States Army Reserve for six years. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Zachary Leeman

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