What Americans in general think is an acceptable balance between security and freedom changed after Sept. 11, 2001, according to an East Tennessee State University political science professor.
“We’re accepting much more of behaviors that we would not have been before 9/11,” said Michelle Crumley, assistant professor of political science at ETSU.
Many things changed after the terror attacks, and not just things that may be highly visible or extremely intrusive in everyday life, like the searching of airline passengers’ shoes.
For instance, the executive branch of the government has been strengthened post 9/11. This has allowed agencies like the FBI to focus more on security-related issues and less on crime and fraud investigations, which could leave the American public vulnerable to those things, Crumley said.
Crumley also said there have been criticisms , particularly from civil liberties groups, concerning unchecked domestic surveillance in the wake of 9/11.
“If the FBI or law enforcement agency want to find out an individual’s behavior, what they’re researching, what they’re purchasing, they just have to ask,” she said.
This warrantless search raises Fourth Amendment issues, Crumley said, as these searches have been used in criminal cases as well as against terrorists. The Fourth Amendment was set in place to guard against unreasonable search and seizure, a common occurrence by British authorities prior to the Revolutionary War.
Crumley said these activities may be necessary. But the public allows them to occur.
“Our fear sometimes changes how we assess the threat to our country’s survival,” Crumley said, adding that perhaps the response has been appropriate.
And today, 10 years later, people are still fearful of another terrorist attack, especially in places like New York City and Washington, Crumley said. Evidence of that sentiment was seen recently when an earthquake struck Virginia a few weeks ago. Many people reported thinking it was terrorism before knowing the truth.
The government has also spent a lot of money since 9/11, Crumley said.
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security is directly related to the aftermath of Sept. 11. Crumley said that agency has grown from having 179,000 employees at its creation to 216,000 employees now. Its budget has also doubled. Crumley said the government has spent $400 billion on national security in the past 10 years.
Of course, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came after the events of 9/11. The military has spent $1.3 trillion spent on two those two wars. The human toll since 9/11 not only includes the thousands who died that morning, but the more than 6,000 servicemen and women who died in service to the country since then and the tens of thousands who have been wounded.
“9/11 had a huge cost for this country when it comes to resources and the people, the population, what we’ve sacrificed in wars,” Crumley said.