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Sept. 11, 2001

The War on Terror

Sept. 11, 2001, marked a turning point in American foreign and domestic policy. A month after the terrorist attacks, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act without fully debating its deep impact on civil liberties, particularly on those of ethnic and religious minorities.

Rallying the nation to fight a "war on terrorism" focused attention on Arab and Muslim immigrants and citizens, as well as others who criticized U.S. foreign policy. Public support for surveillance, intimidation, and targeted prosecution has resulted in a psychological corralling of American Muslims and peace activists.

In a move reminiscent of World War I surveillance, the Department of Justice unveiled a plan for the Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS). The government also disclosed the development of the second-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening Program (CAPPS-II). Both of these programs were terminated after protests from a coalition of civil libertarians.

Overt and covert policies, including the Special Registration requirement, the "No-Fly list," aggressive deportations, crackdowns at borders, and surveillance of mosques and homes, echo the repressive policies of the past. Destroyed livelihoods, splintered families, and the loss of a sense of belonging and citizenship are some of the consequences people face as a result of these actions.

The post-9/11 period has seen a dramatic expansion of government surveillance. Law enforcement has received extensive funding for this purpose. With little regulation and poor understanding of constitutional protections, the authorities have overstepped their bounds, especially in monitoring political activity. Many groups and individuals have found out that they have been spied upon; these include peace activists, demonstrators at anti-war rallies, animal-rights groups, student organizations, critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba, and opponents of the World Trade Organization. Federal agencies involved in unlawful surveillance include the Pentagon and the National Security Agency (NSA). Some local and state police anti-terrorism task forces have returned to the days of the infamous police "Red Squads", spying, infiltrating, and intimidating political organizations.

Government agencies and their private contractors have covertly received private customer data from airlines, telephone carriers, credit card firms, and Internet service providers. Congress has begun investigating potential abuses and threats to civil liberties.

Moments in History

2001: Terrorists crash two airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in suburban Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11. One plane, said to be headed to the White House or the Capitol building, is deflected by passengers and crashes in a field in Shanksville, Pa. Nearly 3,000 people die in that day's attacks.

2001: The United States invades Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, beginning the war on terrorism. Congress passes the USA PATRIOT Act.

2002: The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (also known as Special Registration or NSEERS) is initiated, requiring males over the age of 16 from 25 designated countries — 24 of which are predominantly Muslim — to register with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which houses the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. While NSEERS has technically been ended, DHS retains the right to recall any individual who registered with NSEERS at any time for further investigation.

2003: U.S. and coalition forces invade Iraq in March.

2005: The media report that in October 2001, the Bush administration authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept electronic communications without complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The media also report that phone companies have been handing over private customer calling records to the NSA. In December, the existence of a secret Pentagon program called Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) is revealed. TALON databases collect information on anti-war protests and rallies, particularly actions targeting military recruitment.

2006: The USA PATRIOT Act is renewed.

Historians’ Perspectives

Geoffrey Stone
Geoffrey Stone
Civil Liberties and National Security. In the war on terror, we have been told that this is a perpetual struggle ... (1:11)
Ellen Schrecker
Ellen Schrecker
Deportation. Immigrants have many fewer rights than American citizens ... (1:01)
Gary Okihiro
Gary Okihiro
Raising a Ruckus. By laying low, people say, by being model citizens, you gain ... (0:53)
Chris Pyle
Chris Pyle
The Pentagon and Domestic Spying. Very often top government officials do not know the nature ... (1:00)
Quality of Information There's a problem with the quality of information ... (0:41)