Liberty vs. Security: Domestic Policy Post 9/11
Aditi Adve, Narrator A warning: this program contains graphic descriptions of the attacks of 9/11 and events following, and may not be appropriate for all listeners. This September marks the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. To understand how an event that happened over 800 miles from Champaign-Urbana continues to impact our community, the Uni High Oral History project collected perspectives from community members who lived in Champaign-Urbana, New York, and Washington, DC on 9/11/2001, members of the local Muslim community, veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and university experts. Through the podcast series, “800 Miles from Ground Zero: 9/11's Impact on Central Illinois,” we hope to better understand how 9/11 both divided and brought a nation together. This is “Liberty vs. Security: Domestic Policy Post 9/11,” the third in our series. In this episode, listeners will consider the different ways that 9/11 impacted United States policy, including the adoption of the PATRIOT Act, new flight and travel regulations, and even the handling of library records. From Uni High, I’m Aditi Adve, a member of the Class of 2023. Jeff Brown It is understandable why in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, we felt extremely vulnerable. We'd just seen thousands of our fellow citizens die. And many thousands more be in the vicinity and feel threatened. And then, pretty much the whole country having experienced it through their television sets. There was a really strong desire to protect ourselves and make sure that didn't happen again. Aditi Adve, Narrator That was Jeff Brown, the current Dean of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Gies College of Business, who worked at the White House during the events of 9/11. The sudden feeling of vulnerability felt by Americans throughout the country immediately after the attack led the government to make compromises when it came to personal liberties, but that didn’t come without consequences. Perhaps the most controversial legislation was the PATRIOT Act. Put into place after the attacks, the PATRIOT Act changed the way Americans were surveilled by the government. In particular, Section 215 expanded how the government could collect foreign intelligence information by allowing them to conduct surveillance of American telephone records. This was a major privacy violation for many Americans. In addition, computerization of records inevitably made it easier for the government to access them — including internet providers, medical, and even library records. Al Kagan, an anti-war activist and former African Studies Bibliographer for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, witnessed first-hand the effects of the new act. Al Kagan We used to have paper records in the libraries before we had computers. And so those records were confidential. They were private. But then when the library started using automated systems for everything, including the signing out of books, that meant that there were electronic records for each person who used the library. And that was very open to abuse. That someone could come get a subpoena, or after the PATRIOT Act, they didn't even need a subpoena to look at your library records. I've been very involved in the American Library Association. One of the things we did in ALA was we decided that it would be a great idea for libraries to purge their records. So, as soon as someone brought a book back, that record is then eliminated from the database. So, that gives you more privacy. As long as librarians are continuing to do that, then those records are more private. Aditi Adve, Narrator Many were not aware of these consequences, and some major changes implemented in the PATRIOT-Act were not visible to the general public. In the days after the tragedy, there were concerns from both the government and public about the coming of another attack. Jeff Brown remembers. Jeff Brown If you had asked me on September 12th, what did I think the probability was that we would have another major terrorist attack over the next 12 months, I would have said 99%. Aditi Adve, Narrator While people came to aid the survivors after the twin-tower collapse, cities outside of New York began changing their security measures in fear of another attack. At the capital of the United States, Jeff Brown remembers changes to his daily life. Jeff Brown It was strange to be walking through a US city, or walking into your own workplace and seeing uniformed military with very large guns everywhere. Security perimeter set up, restricted access to things that had previously been accessible to the public. But also all the priorities changed. Suddenly, we were working on topics we would've dreamed of. Like, “building owners can no longer get insurance against terrorism risk because all the insurers walked away and now they're in technical default on their mortgages. How are we going to prevent a complete credit meltdown in the United States?” Aditi Adve, Narrator The sudden increase in vulnerability pushed the United States to create the Department of Homeland Security, one of many measures taken to prevent another terrorist attack Jeff Brown So in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a lot of finger-pointing about how this could’ve happened. When they looked into it, what they discovered is that all these various intelligence agencies each had a different piece of the puzzle. But they weren't willing to share, like they were protecting their own turf or felt that they, in some cases, didn't have the legal authority to share, what have you, so the idea of the Department of Homeland Security was to create a coordinating mechanism that brought these things together and force some intelligence sharing across these different agencies in order to help — hopefully — prevent that kind of thing from happening again. Aditi Adve, Narrator However, with the initial accusation of the attacks being preventable, the United States began to crack down on air travel. Nicholas Grossman, a Political Science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an expert on terrorism and foreign policy, recalls a time where the rules were more relaxed. Nicholas Grossman When I was a kid, the cockpit door was open and they used to be enthusiastic about people — especially with kids —walking up and looking at all the different buttons. Now, they locked the door and you can't hijack a plane. If you look back at it, the plane hijackings used to be — I wouldn't say common — but at least come up from time to time. And there haven't been any since these new protocols were installed. Aditi Adve, Narrator But along with the safety precautions there were also social and cultural changes to how an airport operates as well. Nicholas Grossman talks about some of the changes that also aid in the prevention of terrorism. Nicholas Grossman Probably the biggest change, positive, in terms of preventing terrorism, is a cultural change. People have come to expect it in different ways. They are warier of it, that people don't leave a bag unattended in something like an airport or a train station. Or if they do that, there are reactions to it that treat it as a potential threat. Or, on airplanes — we used to believe that the point of hijacking, the reason why people do it, is because they want to get attention. They want to make a statement. They want to try to get you to give them money. But the point was, they were doing this, and they were trying to live. And so they were trying to get something and live. And so you negotiate with them. And one of the lessons of 9/11 is that, no, they might not be interested in living, they might not be interested in negotiating, they might be interested in turning the plane into a missile and not only killing everybody on board, but using the plane to kill other people too. Therefore, some really basic things, like now we lock the cockpit doors. Aditi Adve, Narrator On top of these safety protocols, Muslim Americans and people of color would find themselves facing “random” extra checks. Ammar Bhutta, an immigrant from Pakistan and professor at Eastern Illinois University, was often a target of these new policies. He highlights his experience with traveling out of the country after 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act. Ammar Bhutta I was 25, 26 years old. If you are from a certain country — which, I was not a US citizen at that time. If you were male, between the ages of, I think 18 and 50, you had to go register, get clearance from the federal government to actually board the aircraft, in addition to everything else that was being done. And before you boarded the aircraft, we were actually taken aside into a separate room – searched. And I'm talking about take your shirts off, take your pants off, full search. Empty your pockets, empty your wallets, then allowed to sit in. Not allowed to select a seat in the aircraft, only one will be allocated to you. You get a boarding card, you walk in airplane. Your seat allocation is all the way in the back, and you look around, everyone in the back looks like you. So, it was one of those experiences that really jolted all of us. I know several people who just stopped flying, couldn't go meet families for years until things changed, and it took a lot of time. I think that special clearance even exists today. It was just 2, 3 years ago, we were flying back from Pakistan. My wife got separated for their special clearance, and they asked many more questions than they would normally ask you before, but obviously the nature of the interviews and discussions have changed since then. But that immediate aftermath was quite drastic. And that was based on government policy, so the PATRIOT Act and the use and abuse of the PATRIOT Act led to it. Aditi Adve, Narrator Not only did individuals from Muslim-majority countries feel the change, but those with family members who are not white-passing noticed a change. Professor Patrick Keenan, who specializes in human rights and international law, also discusses the way his daughter was singled out after 9/11. Patrick Keenan My daughter, who's now a senior in high school, was the first person who was randomly searched at our local airport. They just started doing random searches and she was a baby wearing a diaper and I was traveling with her by myself and they said “There's a new system we have. We have to pull people out and do these random searches” And I said, “Okay, I just want to put the baby in the car seat” and they said “No - it was her ticket.” She had her own ticket. “We have to search her,” and they didn't know how to do it. They had to go call a supervisor and there's a manual and then it was all male officers there and my daughter's female. And so they didn't want to have a male officer searching a female baby. They eventually got a female officer to come over and she patted her down and peeked inside her diaper and everything. And it was very strange and that was in 2004, I think. Now, people getting patted down in the airport is totally routine. You don't even think about it. Depending on how you look, you get patted down all the time. My brother has much darker skin than I do. Every single time he traveled for many years, he got singled out. And my sister, the same thing, for extra searches or something else because they have brown skin and basically straight dark hair. They just get singled out. I never do. Aditi Adve, Narrator With extra background checks, traveling out of the country — a process that was once much easier — became much more challenging. Not only did the extra security make traveling difficult, but being able to get a visa became exponentially harder. Bhutta talks about the struggle of needing to renew a visa while traveling between countries. Ammar Bhutta Most of our travels were pushed back. Summer of 2003, that's when I got married. And I got married in Pakistan so, obviously, I had to travel for that. My visa was expiring at that time, so in order to come back, I have to renew my visa. I was working here in Champaign at that time. Usually the visa renewal process used to be, you go in, and you submit your application. Since it was a renewal not a new visa, it usually took 72 hours or something like that to get renewed. It took me about eight weeks, or six to eight weeks, to get it renewed. There was a point during that duration, I figured, “hey, they're not even going to renew my visa, I have my home here, my car is here.” So that was a very real fear for many people I know, myself included. Aditi Adve, Narrator It’s clear that 9/11 continues to heavily influence our government and the lives of multiple members of our community. The subsequent government response to 9/11 echoed through many people as a symbol of absolute power in a supposed democracy. The PATRIOT Act and introduction of Homeland Security are just a few of the ordeals that people across the United States had to endure. Patrick Keenan I think it's impacted all of us in really significant ways. I think it's impacted the way we think about things. It's certainly impacted our day-to-day lives in really big ways Aditi Adve, Narrator Thank you for listening to “Liberty vs. Security: Domestic Policy Post 9/11,” the third episode of “800 Miles from Ground Zero: 9/11's Impact on Central Illinois,” a student-produced podcast by Uni High’s oral history project team. Each episode in this series focuses on an aspect of American life post-9/11, including memories from the days and weeks following the attacks, military and anti-war efforts, changes to domestic policy, and rising Islamophobia. All interviews featured in this podcast were conducted in Spring 2022 by Uni’s eighth-grade class. Please tune in next week to hear about the experiences of Muslims in central Illinois following 9/11, and efforts to fight Islamophobia. If you’d like to listen to previous episodes of “800 Miles from Ground Zero: 9/11's Impact on Central Illinois,” check out the WILL website at will.illinois.edu/illinoisyouthmedia!
One of the direct results of 9/11 was America intervening in the Middle East through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Despite having strong support when they first started, the wars resulted in intense controversies throughout the United States as highlighted in this episode, Liberty vs. Security: Domestic Policy Post 9/11.
Jeff Brown is an expert in law who worked at the White House during the events of 9/11. He provides a key perspective detailing the why behind the implementation of the PATRIOT Act as well as changes to his daily life.
Al Kagan, an anti-war activist and former African Studies Bibliographer for UIUC, witnessed first-hand the effects of the PATRIOT Act and offers the perspective of a member of the American Library Association.
Nick Grossman, a political science professor at UIUC and an expert on terrorism and foreign policy, offers a professional perspective on the cultural change in the United States which moves to prevent terrorism.
Ammar Bhutta discusses his experiences after 9/11 as an immigrant from Pakistan. He was often the target of policies implemented after the attacks.
Patrick Keenan, a professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in human rights and international law, discusses how his family was impacted by new travel regulations.