U.S. government response to the September 11 attacks

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Bush speaks with Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in a televised telephone conversation.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. government responded with immediate action (including rescue operations at the site of the World Trade Center and grounding civilian aircraft), and long-term action, including investigations, legislative changes, military action and restoration projects. Investigations into the motivations and execution of the attacks led to the declaration of War on Terrorism that led to ongoing military engagements in Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq. Clean-up and restoration efforts led to the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, and federal grants supported the development of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Rescue, recovery, and compensation[edit]

Within hours of the attacks in New York, a massive search and rescue (SAR) operation was launched, which included over 350 search and rescue dogs.[1] Initially, only a handful of wounded people were found at the site, and in the weeks that followed it became evident that there weren't any survivors to be found. Only twenty survivors were found alive in the rubble. Rescue and recovery efforts took months to complete. It took several weeks to put out the fires burning in the rubble of the buildings, with the clean-up not being completed until May 2002. Temporary wooden "viewing platforms" were set up for tourists to view construction crews clearing out the gaping holes where the towers once stood. All of these platforms were closed on May 30, 2002.

Many relief funds were immediately set up to assist victims of the attacks, with the task of providing financial assistance to the survivors and the families of victims. By the deadline for victim's compensation of September 11, 2003, 2,833 applications had been received from the families of those killed.[2]

War on Terrorism[edit]

In the aftermath of the attacks, many U.S. citizens held the view that the attacks had "changed the world forever." The Bush administration announced a war on terrorism, with the goal of bringing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to justice and preventing the emergence of other terrorist networks. These goals would be accomplished by means including economic and military sanctions against states perceived as harboring terrorists and increasing global surveillance and intelligence sharing. Immediately after the September 11 attacks U.S. officials speculated on possible involvement by Saddam Hussein.[3]

Because the attacks on the United States were judged to be within the parameters of its charter, NATO declared that Article 5 of the NATO agreement was satisfied on September 12, 2001, making the US war on terrorism the first time since its inception that NATO would actually participate in a "hot" war.[4]


Following the attacks, 762 suspects were taken into custody in the United States.[5] On December 12, 2001, Fox News reported that some 60 Israelis were among them. Federal investigators were reported to have described them as part of a long-running effort to spy on American government officials. A "handful" of these Israelis were described as active Israeli military or intelligence operatives.[6]

In a letter to the editor, Ira Glaser, former head of the ACLU, claimed that none of those 762 detainees were charged with terrorism. "The Justice Department inspector general's report implies more than the violation of the civil liberties of 762 non-citizens. It also implies a dysfunctional and ineffective approach to protecting the public after Sept. 11, 2001.... No one can be made safer by arresting the wrong people".[7]

Domestic response[edit]

Immediately after opening the hunt on Osama bin Laden, President Bush also visited the Islamic Center of Washington and asked the public to view Arabs and Muslims living in the United States as American patriots.[8] However, Islamophobia, or the fear of, hatred of, or prejudice against the religion of Islam or Muslims in general, still rose. A 1600 percent surge in incidents of harassment and hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and South Asians was reported in the days following the attacks.[9]

Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, creating the Department of Homeland Security, representing the largest restructuring of the U.S. government in contemporary history. Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, stating that it would help detect and prosecute terrorism and other crimes. Civil liberties groups have criticized the PATRIOT Act, saying that it allows law enforcement to invade the privacy of citizens and eliminates judicial oversight of law-enforcement and domestic intelligence gathering. The Bush Administration also invoked 9/11 as the reason to have the National Security Agency initiate a secret operation, "to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and people overseas without a warrant."[10]

National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)[edit]

On June 6, 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft proposed regulations that would create a special registration program that required males aged 16 to 64 who were citizens of designated foreign nations resident in the U.S. to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), have their identity verified, and be interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted. Called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), it comprised two programs, the tracking of arrivals and departures on the one hand, and voluntary registrations of those already in the U.S., known as the "call-in" program. The DOJ acted under the authority of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which had authorized a registration system but was allowed to lapse in the 1980s because of budget concerns.[11][12] Ashcroft identified those required to register as "individuals of elevated national security concern who stay in the country for more than 30 days."[13][14]

The processing of arrivals as part of their customs screening began in October 2002. It first focused on arrivals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria.[15] It handled 127,694 people before being phased out as universal screening processes were put in place.[12]

The "call-in" registrations began in December.[15] It initially applied to nationals of five countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan, who were required to register by December 16, 2002. On November 6, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) set a deadline of January 10 for those from another 13 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. On December 16, it set a deadline of February 21 for those from Armenia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.[16] It later included those from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.[15] It eventually included citizens of 23 nations with majority Muslim populations, as well as Eritrea, which has a large Muslim population, and North Korea.[12] Failure to register at an INS office resulted in deportation.[17] Those found in violation of their visa were allowed to post bail while processed for deportation.[12] The program registered 82,880 people, of whom 13,434 were found in violation of their visas.[12] Because nationality and Muslim affiliation are only approximations for one another, the program extended to such non-Muslims as Iranian Jews.[13] The program was phased out beginning in May 2003.[12]

The program received a mixed response. Some government officials pronounced the program a success. They said in the course of the combined programs, registration upon entry and that of residents, they had arrested 11 suspected terrorists, found more than 800 criminal suspects or deportable convicts, and identified more than 9,000 illegal aliens. DOJ general counsel Kris Kobach said: "I regard this as a great success. Sept. 11th awakened the country to the fact that weak immigration enforcement presents a huge vulnerability that terrorists can exploit." DOJ officials said fewer than 5% of those who came in to INS offices to register were detained.[15] James W. Ziglar, former head of INS who left the agency early in 2002, in part because of his differing opinions about the program with Ashcroft, said his objections to it had been proven correct: "The people who could be identified as terrorists weren't going to show up. This project was a huge exercise and caused us to use resources in the field that could have been much better deployed." "As expected, we got nothing out of it." Although Homeland Security officials said that six men allegedly linked to terrorism were arrested as a result of the call-in program, that contention was challenged by the Sept. 11 commission, which found little evidence to support that claim.[18]

In 2011, DHS suspended the program on efficiency grounds, stating that all NSEERS information was now collected from other sources. It completely glossed over the program's civil liberties costs and did not communicate with those harmed by the program, according to the ACLU.[19] NSEERS was finally officially terminated in 2016 by the Obama administration in order to make it more difficult for president-elect Donald Trump to achieve his goal of introducing a Muslim registry.[20]


Collapse of the World Trade Center[edit]

An illustration of the World Trade Center 9-11 attacks with a vertical view of the impact locations. Many architects and structural engineers have analyzed the collapse of the Twin Towers.
September 13, 2001: A New York City firefighter looks up at what remains of the South Tower.
9/11 Commission Report

A federal technical building and fire safety investigation of the collapses of the Twin Towers was conducted by the United States Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The goals of this investigation, completed on April 6, 2005, were to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the WTC disaster. The investigation was to serve as the basis for:

  • Improvements in the way in which buildings are designed, constructed, maintained, and used
  • Improved tools and guidance for industry and safety officials
  • Revisions to building and fire codes, standards, and practices
  • Improved public safety

The report concludes that the fireproofing on the Twin Towers' steel infrastructures was blown off by the initial impact of the planes and that, if this had not occurred, the towers would likely have remained standing. The fires weakened the trusses supporting the floors, making the floors sag. The sagging floors pulled on the exterior steel columns to the point where exterior columns bowed inward. With the damage to the core columns, the buckling exterior columns could no longer support the buildings, causing them to collapse. In addition, the report asserts that the towers' stairwells were not adequately reinforced to provide emergency escape for people above the impact zones. NIST stated that the final report on the collapse of 7 WTC will appear in a separate report.[21]

Internal review of the CIA[edit]

The Inspector General of the CIA conducted an internal review of the CIA's performance prior to 9/11, and was harshly critical of senior CIA officials for not doing everything possible to confront terrorism, including failing to stop two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, as they entered the United States and failing to share information on the two men with the FBI.[22]

9/11 Commission Report[edit]

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, was formed in late 2002 to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, including preparedness for, and the immediate response to, the attacks. On July 22, 2004, the 9/11 Commission Report was released. The commission has been subject to criticism.

Civilian aircraft grounding[edit]

For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States and several other countries including Canada were immediately grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the world.[23] The order was given at 9:42 by Federal Aviation Administration Command Center national operations manager Ben Sliney. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, "This was an unprecedented order. The air traffic control system handled it with great skill, as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft soon landed without incident.[24]

Invocation of the continuity of government[edit]

Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders were implemented almost immediately after the attacks.[23] Congress, however, was not told that the US was under a continuity of government status until February 2002.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PICTURE GALLERY: The World Trade Center's Heroic Rescue Dogs". Canine Nation. September 15, 2001. Archived from the original on September 2, 2006. Retrieved September 18, 2006.
  2. ^ Bernbaum, Brian (January 16, 2004). "9/11 Fund Deadline Passes". CBS News. Archived from the original on August 26, 2011. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Roberts, Joel (September 4, 2002). "Plans For Iraq Attack Began On 9/11". CBS News. Archived from the original on September 27, 2009. Retrieved January 8, 2007.
  4. ^ "Statement by the North Atlantic Council". NATO. September 15, 2001. Archived from the original on August 20, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2006.
  5. ^ Bernstein, Nina (April 3, 2006). "9/11 Detainees in New Jersey Say They Were Abused With Dogs". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 12, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. ^ Cameron, Carl (December 21, 2001). "Archive.org link to Fox News.com: Suspected Israeli Spies Held by U.S." Archived from the original on December 14, 2001.
  7. ^ "Arrests After 9/11: Are We Safer?". The New York Times. June 8, 2003. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  8. ^ "unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he would not intern or in any way collectively punish innocent American citizens who happened to share a religion or ethnicity with foreign foes." - Six Days After 9/11, Another Anniversary Worth Honoring Archived 2017-03-30 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Many minority groups were victims of hate crimes after 9-11". December 11, 2008. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  10. ^ VandeHei, Jim; Dan Eggen (January 5, 2006). "Cheney Cites Justifications For Domestic Eavesdropping". Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 20, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2006.
  11. ^ Heidee Stoller, Tahlia Townsend, Rashad Hussain and Marcia Yablon, "Developments in Law and Policy: The Costs of Post-9/11 National Security Strategy," Yale Law & Policy Review, vol. 22, no. 1 (Winter 2004), 197-233, esp. 217
  12. ^ a b c d e f Louise Cainkar, "Thinking Outside the Box," in Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber, eds., Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11:From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects (Syracuse University Press, 2008), 55-6. The program made exceptions for permanent residents, those who had applied for permanent residency status, those on diplomatic passports and employees of international organizations.
  13. ^ a b Naber, "'Look, Mohammed the Terrorist is Coming!'", in Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber, eds., Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11:From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects (Syracuse University Press, 2008), 287-8
  14. ^ New York Times: Eric Schmitt, "Ashcroft Proposes Rules for Foreign Visitors," June 6, 2002 Archived 2017-07-02 at the Wayback Machine, accessed July 13, 2012
  15. ^ a b c d New York Times: Rachel L. Swarns, "Fearful, Angry or Confused, Muslim Immigrants Register," April 25, 2003 Archived 2017-03-01 at the Wayback Machine, accessed July 13, 2012
  16. ^ New York Times: John M. Broder, "Men From Muslim Nations Swamp Immigration Office," December 17, 2002 Archived 2016-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, July 13, 2012
  17. ^ Amaney Jamal, "Civil Liberties and the Otherization of Arab and Muslim Americans," in Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber, eds., Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11:From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects (Syracuse University Press, 2008), 114
  18. ^ New York Times: Rachel L. Swarns, "Program's Value in Dispute as a Tool to Fight Terrorism," December 21, 2004 Archived 2015-05-28 at the Wayback Machine, accessed October 29, 2017
  19. ^ "Homeland Security Suspends Ineffective, Discriminatory Immigration Program". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  20. ^ "Registry used to track Arabs and Muslims dismantled by Obama administration". the Guardian. December 22, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  21. ^ "Reports of the Federal Building and Fire Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster". National Institute of Standards and Technology. October 26, 2005. Archived from the original on November 24, 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2006.
  22. ^ "Deep Background". American Conservative. April 1, 2005. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
  23. ^ a b "Wartime". National Commission on Terrorists Attacks upon the United States. U.S. Congress. Archived from the original on August 12, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2006.
  24. ^ 9/11 Commission Report, p29
  25. ^ "'Shadow Government' News To Congress". CBS News. March 2, 2002. Archived from the original on September 5, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2006.

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