WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America hardened. Barriers and bollards sprouted up, surveillance cameras captured our daily lives and we learned if we see something, to say something.
DHS, DNI, TSA – an alphabet soup of agencies created in a reinvention of America’s security. However, 20 years later, the question still remains: Are we safer?
“I don’t think Americans have to live in fear, but we should be clear-eyed and realistic about the world that we live in right now,” said Javed Ali, a former counterterrorism official.
That world is different from the sunny Tuesday when Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and slammed three of them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Passengers fought back and downed a fourth headed for the nation’s capital.
U.S. intelligence officials say the foreign threat to America still exists but it isn’t as grave as in the past two decades.
“Those groups’ ability to launch the types of spectacular, coordinated mass casualty operations directly into the United States is much lower, or it’s been reduced to a significant degree,” said Ali. “But that doesn’t mean the threat is zero because these groups still at their core believe in attacking the United States.”
The new, urgent threat — as stressed by the intelligence community — is homegrown.
“Domestically, lone actors and small cells with a broad range of ideological motivations pose a greater immediate threat,” said Avril Haines, director of national intelligence.
Bad actors inspired by ISIS or anti-government, anti-democracy motivations are attacking Americans at an increasing rate. And in different ways. Homemade bombs in Boston. Guns in Charleston and Orlando. A car attack in Charlottesville.
Even the Jan. 6 riot and still at-large perpetrators who planted pipe bombs — and the threat of a truck bomb recently near the U.S. Capitol — brought revived fears of domestic attacks.
One Center for Strategic and International Studies investigation found 94% of terror attacks last year were based on a “domestic-focused grievance.”
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“Over the last 20 years, the threat has evolved. And there are new challenges now. And we really need to stay focused on adapting to those threats,” said retired FBI agent Phil Andrew.
That means finding a new way to fight terrorists on their own turf — no longer sending American troops and boots on the ground, but guided missiles and drone strikes — but also protecting our homeland, officials say.
The head of Homeland Security said this week that old threats haven’t gone away, and new ones have emerged but that as a whole, the country is better prepared.
“I do think we’re safer. Because we have built an entire architecture of security, we have built the capability to screen and vet travelers coming to the United States, we have offices, agencies and processes that are focused on our nation’s security. And we have extraordinary people dedicated to it,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alexandro Mayorkas.
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