published Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

9/11's legacy of lost liberty

  • photo
    In this September 11, 2001, file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Eleven years have passed since al-Qaida used a band of box cutter-wielding terrorists to the attack the United States. Many people will take a moment to reflect on what America lost that day in Lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon and in a field in southern Pennsylvania. Far too few, however, will consider what was taken from us as a result of that day, not by terrorists, but by our own government.

America's losses on 9/11 were staggering. Gone were 2,996 lives, $100 billion in property, the New York skyline as we knew it and the sense of security that Americans enjoyed. All of those loses were brought on directly by al-Qaida and its 19 hijackers.

But the losses didn't end there. Americans lost liberties. We lost privacy. We lost trillions of dollars. In many ways, we lost any reasonable claim of a limited, constitutional government. And all of those things were taken, not by a group of hijackers, but by our own government.

In the days following 9/11, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared, "the era of a shrinking federal government is over."

Shortly after the attack, Schumer's prophesy became reality. A new era of big government was born in the wake of 9/11 that continues today, with no sign of shrinking.

The new era of big government can be tracked back to a 14-month period between September 2001 and November 2002. During that time, government launched the War on Terror, ratified the Patriot Act, founded the Transportation Security Administration and created the Department of Homeland Security.

On Sept. 20, 2011, George W. Bush declared a War on Terror, sparking military operations that have, to date, sacrificed the lives of 6,594 Americans and will ultimately cost taxpayers approximately $4 trillion, according to a report by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.

Later, in an 18-hour period on October 12, 2001, both houses of Congress rammed through the Patriot Act. The act imparted the federal government with a disturbing array of new powers, many of which fly in the face of the United States Constitution. For example, the Patriot Act allowed the government to:

• Force records custodians, such a libraries, schools, social work institutions and Internet service providers to turn over records to the federal government without explanation or justification.

• Seize assets from charities, even without probably cause.

• Require the release of records from telecommunications and financial services companies without any court order.

• Spy on citizens using a Cold War-era statute designed for tracking the covert activities of Soviet agents.

• Imprison American citizens without proper due process.

On Nov. 19, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration was born. The bureaucracy, best known for harassing and molesting travelers in airport terminals, not only cost Americans a total of $60 billion since 9/11, but a number of lawsuits are winding their way through federal court claiming that the TSA's screening tactics violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

If that weren't bad enough, the TSA is also bad at doing what it was designed to do. The TSA is responsible for allowing 25,000 security breaches, according to House subcommittee on National Security chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

A year later, in November 2002, the Department of Homeland Security was formed. Since it's founding, Homeland Security has cost taxpayers nearly $700 billion. The cabinet department has spied on Americans, been engaged in inappropriate data mining on American citizens and illegally intercepting mail. In addition, a Homeland Security database meant to track people who are considered threats to national security has been filled with members of groups that comprise about one-third of the American population, including pro-gun, anti-death penalty, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment, anti-war and Tea Party activists, according to information compiled by the Cato Institute.

It was bizarre and disturbing when the government's response to 9/11, one of the biggest failures in the history of government, was to implement even more government.

Since 9/11, and largely as a product of the government's response to the terrorist attacks, the federal budget has doubled from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3.8 trillion today. To put it another way, in 2001, the federal government spent $6,752 per person in America. This year, the government will devour $12,090 for each American.

In fact, as hard as it may seem to believe today, the federal budget was balanced in 2001 with a $127 billion surplus left over. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2012 budget will finish $1.1 trillion in the red.

The price tag of the federal government's response to 9/11, including domestic spending and the War on Terror is now estimated at over $5 trillion, according to The Fiscal Times. This money came from the pockets of taxpayers -- and will continue to for years to come. It also came from lenders, such as China, and from the printing press, which led to a devalued, inflated dollar.

The sheer number of people constituting the federal government workforce has grown dramatically, as well. From 2000 to 2012, the population of the United States has risen 11.7 percent. Over that same time period, the number of federal workers (excluding U.S. Postal workers) has increased from 1.78 million in 2000 to 2.21 million in 2012, or 24.2 percent.

Perhaps the worst result of government's response to 9/11 was the total disregard for Constitutional rights resulting, not only from the aforementioned Patriot Act, Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, but from the precedent that these bureaucracies set. Rights have been removed, rejiggered, ignored and trampled to the point that the Fourth Amendment has become a historical footnote, rather than an ironclad restraint on federal powers.

In the weeks and months after 9/11, it was poplar to declare "the terrorists did not win" as Americans returned to daily life, as if the American lifestyle was the reason for the attack. But it wasn't.

America wasn't subjected to terrorist attacks because America had too much liberty or too many freedoms. It wasn't because America was too rich or too powerful. The attacks, according to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida masterminds behind the terrorist attacks, were due to the U.S. military and economic sanctions against Iraq, the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia and America's support of Israel.

In that sense, the terrorist did not win. America has continued to trip over itself to defend Israel, even when Israel is the aggressor. The age of expansionist American foreign policy is still alive and well. In fact, the 9/11 attacks led to military action which cost a total of 300,000 lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to numbers compiled by OWNI, a French media website. In the terrorists' attempts to make U.S. to become more limited and less intrusive in its foreign policy approach, it's fair to say they lost convincingly.

But Americans have lost, too. That loss didn't come to terrorists or to radical Islam. That loss came to our own government.

The government has done what terrorists never could: take away freedoms, privacy and Constitutional rights that were fundamental to what it means -- or, more accurately, what it meant -- to be American. Government has multiplied in size and exploded in scope. It has taxed, borrowed and spent until it is forever impossible to restore federal spending to what it was before 9/11. While America was not defeated by 9/11, American principles have been beaten to death in the 11 years since.

While terrorists and American principles both lost badly in the wake of 9/11, there is one undisputed winner: big government.

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richarddawkins said...

"according to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida masterminds behind the terrorist attacks, were due to the U.S. military and economic sanctions against Iraq, the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia and America's support of Israel."

Oh great, the old 'chickens come home to roost" twaddle, and on the conservative side of the page.

Islamofacists are clearly rational actors. Therefore, if we just meet all their demands and stop provoking them they'll leave us alone.

Anyone who buys this needs to read Christopher Hitchens' essay on Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates.

It's dusts this silly idea off once and for all.

Not sure if anyone at the paper has noticed but Drew Johnson is not a conservative.

Hes a libertarian, which is altogether different.

So we got lefites on the left side and libertarians on the right side and conservatives are just out of luck.

September 11, 2012 at 12:39 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

A key aspect of the Patriot Act not mentioned here is that it removed FBI agents from white collar crime investigations in a way that prevents their return to that topic. What part of the agency gets an investigator is determined by the federal budget: when more agents are devoted to terrorism-related topics, they have to come from somewhere else. Once strong on regulating white collar crime, the FBI is now weaker on it after the Patriot Act.

September 11, 2012 at 3:14 a.m.
raygunz said...

richarddawkins ,so you're saying you don't mind that "The government has done what terrorists never could: take away freedoms, privacy and Constitutional rights that were fundamental to what it means -- or, more accurately, what it meant -- to be American. Government has multiplied in size and exploded in scope. It has taxed, borrowed and spent until it is forever impossible to restore federal spending to what it was before 9/11. While America was not defeated by 9/11, American principles have been beaten to death in the 11 years since."?

Partisanship trumps patriotism in your world? Shame!

September 11, 2012 at 5:44 a.m.
EaTn said...

Thanks for a very good summary of the post 9/11 political scene. Bin Laden may be dead but his legacy lives on in our loss of internal freedoms and the enormous debt created by the political knee jerk reactions. Many will either forget or ignore this issue when they vote in November.

September 11, 2012 at 6:36 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

The military/corporate complex will be screaming at this editorial. Not to mention the neo-cons who can't wait to start another war for Israel and Jesus.

Best editorial I've seen on 9/11 in the TFP. Good work, Drew.

September 11, 2012 at 7:24 a.m.
Lr103 said...

Now, this is the Drew Johnson reporter to admire. Thanks for a good, insightful piece. Well done. You give honor and grace to that motto To report the news without fear or favor.

If nothing else, 9/11/2001 got Americans right where the previous adminstration were aiming. Living in fear and constant suspicion; on the verge of imploding.

September 11, 2012 at 9:36 a.m.
conservative said...


I agree with everthing you said.

I pegged Mr. Johson as a Libertarian as well after a couple of his first articles.

I agree with Libertarians on most economic issues but strongly disagree with most of their moral issues.

September 11, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

sorry for double post.

September 11, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.

richarddawkins, who cares if they are rational or not? You kick a beehive, why are you surprised you get stung?

Believe it or not, you can give craziness a focus, and that is what US policy has done for decades in the Middle-East. Poking a bunch of crazy people, and giving them justification, which increases their support from others as well as their determination.

But the actual facts in this article? Are somewhat lacking.

Check the actual history of the federal workforce.

Try not to get hysterical when the number is still lower than its max, while the population grows.

Perspective matters.

Besides, if we need anything, it'd be more representatives, the lack of actual representation is telling.

That said, the sentiment of the editorial is correct, in that justification of worse abuses has arisen as a result of tragedy.

Are you surprised? You shouldn't be, people were telling you about that 5-10-15-20-30-40-50-60+ years ago.

September 11, 2012 at 11:03 a.m.
jriddle said...

This is an almost excellent article. I think it falls short only in the rubbish it references from the Cato Institute. The real terrorist threat to the U.S. has ALWAYS been from the domestic far right, not from foreign Muslim reactionaries. Only two weeks ago, during the Republican convention, yet another domestic right-wing terror plot was broken up, one that had emerged from within the U.S. military; this one plotted a murder spree, the assassination of the president, blowing up a dam, and had already murdered two and maybe three people. This is the sort of thing the DHS has tried to track, and that the Cato Institute has trashed it for tracking.

(And, as with every incidnet that doesn't involve Muslims, there has been virtually no press coverage of this latest.)

September 11, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.
NedNetterville said...

The difference between the Times and the Free Press editorial pages has become palpable, and impossible to ignore. Times editorial writers and columnists continues to act like paid flacks for Obama and the Democrats (Pelosi, Reid, etc.), whereas the Free Press editorial and commentary writers tell it like it is whether it burns Republicans or not. Such were the FP negative editorials about Romney and Ryan, which relied on facts rather than merely reworking and publishing the rhetoric of the candidates' campaigns. Meanwhile, the Times can find no flaw in their messiah from Hawaii, not even when he orders drone assassinations of American citizens, spends untold trillions of dollars of our children's and grand children's opportunities, and ruins the economy under mountains of debt.

September 13, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.
rolando said...

Evidently the TFP has changed its policy/rules to now allow images to be posted...pity, that.

Ned -- The TFP executive staff is largely Progressive. As with most of the mainstream media, its reporters follow executive lead.

September 13, 2012 at 4:33 p.m.
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