Lives not the only toll of 9/11

  • By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
  • Sunday, September 4, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

If you want to kiss your husband goodbye at the airport gate, you can’t.

If you check out books from a public library, investigators could look at what you read.

If you planned to visit Naval Station Everett on the Fourth of July, you were out of luck.

If you go to Canada, you need a passport or other identity documents showing citizenship to return to the United States.

If you take pictures at a public place, you might raise police eyebrows.

And if you left a bag on the floor at the airport, the progress of other air travelers might quickly come to a stop.

“If they see a bag unattended for a few minutes, standard procedure is to call a breach and every checkpoint is closed. That’s standard procedure,” said Perry Cooper, media officer at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

It is another country — different from the one we lived in before Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to thousands of lives, Americans have lost a lot since the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and brought death and destruction to Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

We have lost freedoms, privileges, even everyday situations Americans used to take for granted.

At the airport, where Cooper said 18,000 workers and airline employees are also subject to high-tech security, the flying public is screened with X-rays and full-body scanners that emit radiation. Unless you’re a ticketed traveler, you can no longer watch a plane take off or land from the gate area.

And along the northern border, where the Department of Homeland Security oversees U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a predator drone flies from Grand Forks, N.D., to conduct surveillance.

“Following the attacks, we changed the way the U.S. protects its borders,” said Mike Milne, public affairs officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Seattle. “The No. 1 mission became protecting Americans from terrorists and terrorist weapons, and at the same time keeping the U.S. open for business.”

With no terrorist attacks in the U.S. approaching anything like the magnitude of 9/11 in the decade since, Milne believes curbs on freedoms have been well worth the price.

Since Homeland Security was launched in 2003, “we have done a huge amount,” he said. Technology, infrastructure and people have been added. Customs and Border Protection has more than doubled its work force, from 10,000 to 20,000 overall and from 300 to 3,000 on the Canadian border, Milne said.

A passport or enhanced ID showing citizenship has been required by U.S. and Canadian travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea since 2009 under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Air travelers from Canada needed the documents beginning in 2007, a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

“Going from here to Vancouver and back takes a little ID you didn’t have before. I think that’s a pretty cheap price,” Milne said.

Travel — including those complicated Transportation Security Administration air passenger rules regarding 3.4-ounce containers of shampoo in quart-size plastic zip-top bags — is only the most obvious change in the lives of ordinary Americans since 9/11.

Freedoms are affected in often unseen ways. For civil libertarians, that’s a troubling trend.

“It’s a little bit like the frog in the pot. We don’t quite notice the water temperature rising,” said James X. Dempsey, an attorney and vice president for public policy with the Center for Democracy and Technology. The nonprofit civil liberties group is based in Washington, D.C.

Dempsey shares his views in “Patriot Debates: Experts Debate the USA Patriot Act,” a book published by the American Bar Association.

In May, President Barack Obama signed legislation passed by Congress to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act until 2015. It was first enacted in October 2001. Among the controversial provisions still in effect are roving wiretaps of terror suspects, allowing Internet and cellphone surveillance, and government access to business records. Both require a federal court’s approval.

The “Lone Wolf” provision also remains through 2015. Part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it authorizes intelligence gathering on people not affiliated with any known terror group; it doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens.

Dempsey said legal effects of the Patriot Act have been incremental. “What has grown is the government’s appetite for information,” he said. “A section in the Patriot Act says the government can enter your house or apartment and conduct a search — with a warrant — without telling you.” That is known as “sneak and peek.”

His group is concerned that procedures initially limited to terrorism are being used in other cases. “It’s taking a crisis, a moment of fear, and leveraging it,” he said. Dempsey added that Homeland Security money was used to create fusion centers around the country for law enforcement to “take all this intelligence and connect the dots.” Fusion centers were started to counter terrorism, but now target other crimes, he said.

People who believe the Patriot Act could never affect them may not know that the business records part of the law, Section 15, has also been called the “library provision.”

“It’s kind of chilling,” said Ken Harvey, communications director for the Sno-Isle Regional Library System.

Everett Public Library Director Eileen Simmons said that the government, with a court order, can look at records of what library customers have checked out. Libraries have challenged a gag-order portion of the law, which would not allow them to disclose that a library user’s information had been shared. Still though, libraries are bound to secrecy if disclosure could interfere with a terrorism investigation.

“To me as a citizen of this country and as a librarian, it seems amazing to me that we can do this,” Simmons said.

At Sno-Isle libraries, Harvey said, a new Polaris circulation system allows people to check out and receive materials online. Customers can also create lists of materials they are interested in. “When a person creates a list for the first time, and every time they create a list, there’s a warning,” Harvey said. “It says: ‘The feature you have selected is associated with data in your customer account. Such data may be accessed by law enforcement personnel without your consent.’ “

In the Puget Sound area, we see changes wrought by 9/11 on military bases and on the Washington State Ferries.

Darnell Baldinelli, the state ferries’ safety systems manager, said that since 2001 riders have seen a greater presence of the Coast Guard and Washington State Patrol on and around ferries. Baldinelli said armed patrol boats and helicopters are also used. Dogs are used in vehicle holding areas to check for explosives, including illegal fireworks.

Baldinelli recalled that several years ago pictures of two men, whose images were caught on surveillance cameras aboard ferries, were sent to an intelligence fusion center in Seattle and publicized in the media. “In that particular case, they were never seen again,” he said.

At Naval Station Everett, base officials announced in May that this year’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival, open to the public in the past, would be canceled because of “a heightened security posture attained by all Navy installations.”

Base spokeswoman Kristin Ching said she can’t discuss specific security measures at Naval Station Everett. She said that in October 2001, the base enacted a Department of Defense Worldwide Installation Preparedness Program.

Today, visitors to the base often must provide identification in advance to be placed on an access list for a certain event. Cars entering the base are searched randomly, she said.

The base wasn’t always as locked down as it is today.

Retired Navy Capt. Dan Squires was base commander from 2001 to 2004. He took the helm at Naval Station Everett about a month before the 9/11 attacks. When the base was first built, he said, there was an open gate between Everett Marina Village and the Navy base. After the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, he said, access became more limited. More dogs are now on patrol, Squires said.

Barriers in the water around the USS Abraham Lincoln also weren’t there when the base first opened. After 9/11, Squires said, the Navy first used logs to create a buffer around the ships.

After Sept. 11, 2001, some photographers raised suspicions. Shirley Scheier, a University of Washington art professor, was stopped and held briefly by Snohomish police after she was seen photographing power lines. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington represented her in a lawsuit against the city of Snohomish. In 2009, she received an $8,000 settlement in the case.

“It’s beyond any single thing that’s happened,” said Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington. All together, Honig sees what he calls “mission creep,” where a tactic used to address terrorism evolves into other uses.

“The idea to many people in the federal government, if they say something is needed for national security, then we don’t necessarily have to follow the law. And we certainly don’t have to follow the Bill of Rights,” he said.

Honig said ACLU membership in the state has more than doubled since 9/11, growing to more than 20,000.

Professor Ronald Collins, the Harold S. Shefelman Scholar at the University of Washington School of Law, views security measures since 9/11 through the lens of history. Although he sees a lack of government transparency as troubling, he said the response to 9/11 has been more restrained than in wars past.

“The Patriot Act in its most extreme form does not begin to compare to the Sedition Act of 1918. Our liberties were placed in far greater jeopardy in 1918,” he said. “All sorts of people — aliens, people suspected of being aliens, people who supported any ideology other than pro-American — were rounded up, prosecuted and given stern sentences.”

In 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the internment of Japanese Americans.

“Things could have been a lot worse,” Collins said.

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