Experts Examine Day's Aftermath

In the days, weeks and months after Sept. 11, Americans heard the refrain that their nation would never be the same.

While the Transportation Security Administration and legislation to create the Homeland Security Department are concrete signs of change, several national security and foreign policy experts say many immediate social changes stemming from the attacks are now fading.

Meanwhile, despite the new laws and new commitments to combat terrorism, many of the experts agree that the country needs to begin addressing the roots of the problem in order to effectively prevent future attacks.

Protecting the Targets

The most obvious, and likely the most permanent changes since Sept. 11, have come in the government’s work to combat terrorism.

Building security has been strengthened around the country—airport security is in the process of a complete make-over, and a new “shadow government” is in place to provide continuity in the case of a new attack.

But Juliette Kayyem ’91, executive director of the Kennedy School of Government’s executive session on domestic preparedness, says that the initial response—harden and protect every target across the board—has gradually given way to a more nuanced approach to terrorism.

“We have gone from tremendous unfocused activity—a sort of a Pavlovian response to Sept. 11—to a much more realistic assessment that not every city can be prepared all the time,” she says.

Kayyem says she expects that this reality will cause cities to specialize in different areas of anti-terrorism—biological attacks, for example—instead of setting the broad goal of fighting terrorism in general.

But while local authorities may develop their own areas of expertise, experts say governmental agencies must begin to work together.

The push for a department of homeland defense represents this blurring of lines between different agencies, according to John C. Reppert, executive director for the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School.

“We need to integrate various agencies for defense, and it’s not a concept we had before—all America’s wars were fought far away and we never had to physically defend ourselves,” he says. “This presented us with a very large first step.”

President of the World Peace Foundation and Lecturer in Public Policy Robert I. Rotberg says that the government should turn its attention in the future to consolidating its immigration information.

“We need to be more vigilant, particularly in the immigration area,” he says. “We need to get our computer systems between the FBI, the CIA, immigration and the Coast Guard interreadable.”

Reppert says he believes that the country now needs to examine the training and use of armed forces domestically as a prevention of future attacks, but that such action would require congressional legislation.

“This would develop more non-lethal capabilities, in which we could handle a [terrorist threat] without casualties,” he says.