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The Past vs the Present Private Security Before and After 9/11

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of the devastating 9/11 attacks, and charged with coordinating and unifying the Nation’s homeland security efforts

Today, just past the eighteenth anniversary of those horrible events, the country confronts an evolving challenge of terrorism and targeted violence. While the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations remains a priority for the Department, and for the Nation as a whole, we have made great progress in our ability to detect, prevent, protect against, and mitigate the threats that these groups pose.

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Three years after 9/11, Americans are still thinking and talking about how to protect our nation in this new era. The national debate continues. Countering terrorism has become, beyond any doubt, the top national security priority for the United States. This shift has occurred with the full support of the Congress, both major political parties, the media, and the American people. The nation has committed enormous resources to national security and to countering terrorism. Between fiscal year 2001, the last budget adopted before 9/11, and the present fiscal year 2004, total federal spending on defense (including expenditures on both Iraq and Afghanistan), homeland security, and international affairs rose more than 50 percent, from $354 billion to about $547 billion. The United States has not experienced such a rapid surge in national security spending since the Korean War.1 This pattern has occurred before in American history. The United States faces a sudden crisis and summons a tremendous exertion of national energy. Then, as that surge transforms the landscape, comes a time for reflection and reevaluation

Some programs and even agencies are discarded; others are invented or redesigned. Private firms and engaged citizens redefine their relationships with government, working through the processes of the American republic. Now is the time for that reflection and reevaluation. The United States should consider what to do-the shape and objectives of a strategy. Americans should also consider how to do it-organizing their government in a different way.

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After September 11, a horrified and frightened American public wanted something more to be done to protect the United States from terrorist attack. Responding to this overpowering public sentiment, and to the enormous sense of vulnerability revealed by the successful Al Qaeda strike against the United States, the Bush Administration scrambled to put in place a set of measures that would answer public concerns and improve the nation’s ability to cope with terrorism (Judith Miller, 2003). The agenda of steps and measures that followed were regarded as a program for “Homeland Security” – a program that was regarded, at least initially, as a major national priority. On October 8, 2001, the President ordered the creation on the White House Staff of an “Office for Homeland Security,” headed by a Director for Homeland Security. The first director was the President’s good friend, Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, who was given full public backing by President Bush to take whatever steps necessary to protect the United States from the threat of terrorism. The President also created a “Homeland Security Council,” the anti-terrorism counterpart to the National Security Council

To go along with these new institutional arrangements, there was a new homeland security budget, amounting to several tens of billions of dollars. By July of 2002, the White House had issued a formal document outlining “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” that describes in some detail the objectives and aspirations of this new national initiative (Shane Harris, 2003).

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In fact, fifteen years ago this September 11, 19 terrorists, using four jetliners as guided missiles, killed 2,977 people—and enveloped the country in fear. It was the first sustained attack on American soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which was a far-off military base. This massacre hit the center of our government and blasted away part of our most iconic skyline. It left a stench that New Yorkers could smell weeks later as remains continued to be recovered from the ashes. Suddenly, we were vulnerable. Not just to disease, tornadoes, accidents, or criminals, but to the kinds of enemies that had always threatened others but never us.

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National Strategy for Homeland Security, p. 16.

Judith Miller, “Departing Security Official Issues Warning,” New York Times, February 2, 2003.

Shane Harris, “Senator seeks ban on Defense, Homeland Security Data Mining,” GovExec.com, January 16, 2003.

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