Ten Years After 9-11: How Much Safer?By Sandra Knispel | Published 12 Sep 2011 08:05am |
Ten years ago, the American public by and large had no idea who Al-Qaeda was and what their hatred of the Western world propel them to do. That all changed instantly on the morning of 9-11-2001. MPB’s Sandra Knispel takes a look at how U.S.-focused terrorism has changed in the last decade.
“That is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of Al-Qaeda. And that is what he has to say about the media. ‘We’re in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our ummah, of our new group of jihadists.’ ”
Carl Jensen is the director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies. He spoke recently at the university’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.
“I’m a little hesitant to ever count anybody out. There were many times over the last 150 years when we said the Ku Klux Klan was gone and was a non-entity and they’ve had varies resurgences over time," Jensen said. "I think the interesting thing to me about Al-Qaeda is how it has changed and how it has tried to adapt to the social media revolution and to the fact that a lot of its hierarchy has been killed or captured.”
Ten years ago, there was no Facebook, and no widespread use of cell phones with video capability. And while you may be busy filming your toddler’s first steps and uploading the results for grandparents and friends, those technological advances have not been lost on terrorist groups either.
“They have cellphone videos. They are all over the Internet. In the year 2007, they released 97 videos, which was five times the number that they had done in 2005.”
A 22-year FBI veteran who had been a supervisory agent in the Behavioral Science Unit and a forensic examiner, Jensen tells stories that border on the comical if they were not so serious. For example, the one about Al-Qaeda’s latest foray into the world of publishing with its very own magazine. But don’t be fooled by the deceptively- innocuous title.
“Inspire Magazine. One of the articles is called ‘Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.’”
I asked Jensen if terrorist threats still keep him awake at night.
“Well, certainly not like it used to. I think we’ve done better. We’re getting better. The question is: ‘Is it still a possibility?’ And the answer is: ‘Sure it is.’ “
Of course, fighting terrorism inevitably has opened up Pandora’s box. Fellow panelist, Matthew Hall, is a University of Mississippi law professor who used to be an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.
“One of the unfortunate aspects on the war on terror has been [the] abuses of power. That’s not a surprise. I’m not saying anything everybody doesn’t know.”
At the Department of Justice, Hall specialized in national security and counter-terrorism matters in the Civil Division's Office of Immigration Litigation.
“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused many U.S. service members to lose their lives; U.S. contractors have lost their lives. Not to mention uncounted thousands of civilians in both countries. There are huge costs from the war on terror and one of those costs is abundantly some measure of privacy and civil liberty.”
When earlier this year, during the so-called Arab Spring, demonstrators overthrew non-democratic rulers in Muslim countries, many Western commentators rejoiced. But according to terrorism expert Hall that may not necessarily have made things safer for the U.S., at least not in the short run:
“Many people have said that we were actually safer in the cold war in a static bipolar world with two super powers and that what we have moved to is a multilateral world, a far more chaotic world. A world that requires a far more nimble, sensitive response by the United States to developments in small countries than the sort of monolithic thinking we had during the Cold War era where all we needed to respond to was the Communist threat.”
Yet, with Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders dead, and improved security measures, hasn’t the U.S. become a safer place a decade after the terrorist attacks? Again Carl Jensen.
“We will never be perfectly safe. And I think that we as a society have to understand that. And we also have to understand that it is incumbent upon us to realistically assess what those risks are.”
Maybe, the only real comfort then lies in statistics. Remember that your risk of dying in a plausible terrorist attack is much, much lower than your risk of dying in a car accident, drowning, burning to death, falling, or being murdered. How’s that for solace?
Sandra Knispel, MPB News.
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