Effects of 9/11 on American Security

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In the period preceding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, American experience with acts of terrorism whether at home or overseas was rather intermittent. Domestic terrorist incidents, bar the Oklahoma City bombing, were largely low-casualty and hence the existent criminal justice and security system was deemed sufficient to deal with them. However, after the devastation occasioned by the September 11 attacks, it became evident that the danger to innocent lives posed by the modern-day terrorism necessitated a paradigm shift in counterterrorism to prevention rather than punishment, which necessitated the revamping of security.

Security before versus after 9/11

 Arguably the most obvious and immediate security alterations after the attacks took place in American airports. Before 9/11, each airport handled its own security, which was a service typically outsourced to private security firms (Seidenstat, 2004). However, just two months after the incident, Congress enacted the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which converted the provision of security at airports into a federal responsibility falling under the purview of a newly-established body known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This entity was tasked with the implementation of stringent procedures that entailed luggage and passenger scrutiny that ensured that only passengers with tickets were allowed through security (Seidenstat, 2004). Furthermore, an increasing array of sophisticated tools and procedures to facilitate scanning of weapons and other potentially destructive things were introduced. With the emergence of new threats, even stricter procedures came into existence with an example being the removal of shoes and the prohibition of liquids. These new procedures reduced the probability of terrorist entry into the USA while making the boarding of aircraft with weapons that could facilitate hijackings nearly impossible. 

Besides the changes at the airports, there were also major alterations in the aircraft themselves also geared at the improvement of security. Before 9/11, pilot cockpit doors were easily accessible, which had facilitated the commandeering of the ill-fated aircraft used in the attacks. However, the introduction of fortifications on the cockpit doors, for example bulletproofing helped to cut off this easy access thus preventing a recurrence of the incident (Seidenstat, 2004). Besides this, pilots were now authorized to apply for federal flight deck officer certifications, which would culminate in a license authorizing them to bring loaded guns onto the plane. This new policy contrasted sharply to the past whereby pilots could not enter the plane while armed thus making them easy targets for would-be hijackers.

Another measure that profoundly affected security in the USA post-9/11 was the reorganization of over 200 government organizations with the most critical restructuring entailing the creation of a new department called the Department of Homeland Security. Before the occurrence of the attacks, public security was a responsibility shared among various agencies, which fell under different departments thus making coordination and information sharing a tricky affair. In fact, some federal agencies like the FBI and CIA had received warnings about an imminent terrorist attack on US soil but these were never heeded because those agencies did not usually share information and the FBI had also flagged Mohammed Atta’s terrorist cell but had yet to make a move (Kean, 2011). The existence of several agencies reporting to different departments was thus identified as one major factor that facilitated the information sharing and bureaucracy that enabled the attacks to take place. The creation of the DHS therefore served to consolidate the operations of all entities involved in homeland security under one roof thus improving efficiency and facilitating information sharing.

The 9/11 attacks were an especially traumatic period for law enforcers and other first responders many of whom lost their lives during initial responses to the attacks. The attacks thrust into focus the growing threat of terrorism to public security thus necessitating the alteration of law enforcement focus from community focused policing to a focus on homeland security (Kim & de Guzman, 2012). This shift in focus has evidently paid off since no terrorist attacks of that magnitude have been reported on US soil since then.

Personal effect of the security changes

One significant effect of the post 9-11 security changes has been how I travel especially by air. The increased number of checks and the longer boarding procedures mean that I must arrive at the airport at least an hour before departure for inland flights and a minimum of two hours when traveling internationally. Besides this, the new security regulations mean that I must carry my identification when flying since the presentation of an identification document is now mandatory during air travel.

Whether the changes have improved safety

The introduction of a raft of security measures in response to the 9/11 attacks has certainly helped to improve security. One stated objective of the security changes was to deter and prevent attack rather than investigate them after their occurrence. The achievement of this goal is evidenced by statistics demonstrating that since 9/11, law enforcers have managed to foil over 60 terrorist plots thus helping to make the USA a safer place (Bucci, Carafano, & Zuckerman, 2013). Besides this, the US has tightened entry regulations with visa applicants subject to much more scrutiny than before. The outcome of these tightened rules is that in the post 9-11 period of between 2002 and 2016, one has a lower likelihood of dying in an attack perpetrated by terrorists than was the case before 9-11. Before 9-11, the annual probability of death through acts of terror was 1 in 16.9 million whereas today that figure stands at 1 in 26.4 million (Nowrasteh, 2016). Consequently, one may conclude that the USA today is actually safer than it was before.

Weakness of US Security

Whereas the USA has done incredibly well in safeguarding herself against the threats of violent attacks, the same cannot be said about the country’s cybersecurity, which remains a significant area of vulnerability. In an increasingly digitalized world, cyberspace is undoubtedly the future frontier for acts of terror. In recent times, the USA has suffered several embarrassing cyber-attacks, ranging from the hacking of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails to the massive US government hack that resulted in the cybertheft of records belonging to over 20 million serving and former government staff (Snell, 2017). These attacks are a pointer towards the weakness of US cybersecurity and one suggestion for improvement is an upgrading and integration of federal systems more so those on the .gov platform to reduce their vulnerability and seal any identified loopholes.


Bucci, S., Carafano, J., & Zuckerman, J. (2013). 60 Terrorist Plots Since 9/11: Continued Lessons in Domestic Counterterrorism. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.heritage.org/terrorism/report/60-terrorist-plots-911-continued-lessons-domestic-counterterrorism

Kean, T. H. (2011). The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Pittsburgh, PA: US Independent Agencies and Commissions.

Kim , M., & de Guzman, M. C. (2012). Police paradigm shift after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: The empirical evidence from the United States municipal police departments. Criminal Justice Studies, 25(4), 323-342. doi:10.1080/1478601X.2012.707014

Nowrasteh, A. (2016). Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis. Washington, DC: CATO Institute Policy Analysis. Retrieved from https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa798_2.pdf

Seidenstat, P. (2004). Terrorism, Airport Security, and the Private Sector. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 275-291. doi:10.1111/j.1541-1338.2004.00075.x

Snell, E. (2017, August 7). OPM Data Breach Controls Improved, Further Action Required. Retrieved from HealthIT Security: https://healthitsecurity.com/news/opm-data-breach-controls-improved-further-action-required

December 12, 2023
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