To those who don’t remember the events of September 11, 2001, it can be difficult to convey the sense of dread and uncertainty that followed. As horrible as the attacks were, many of us wondered: What’s next?
It was in this context that Congress quickly passed, and President George W. Bush signed, such legislation as the USA PATRIOT Act, less than two months after 9/11. While that law was drafted with the best of intentions—strengthening the nation’s defenses against potential future attacks—in practice, authorities overwhelmingly use it to circumvent Americans’ basic freedoms like privacy and due process.
Similarly, less than a month after the attacks, Bush signed an executive order establishing the Office of Homeland Security. The office would “coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.”
But that was apparently not enough: In June 2002, Bush proposed an entirely new Cabinet department dedicated to “transforming and realigning the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland.” Bush’s proposal promised that by consolidating multiple agencies under a single director, the new department would “improve efficiency without growing government.”
In November of that year, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and brought nearly two dozen disparate agencies, including the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the U.S. Secret Service, and the Coast Guard, under its purview. The newly incorporated department officially opened 20 years ago today, on March 1, 2003.
The department’s stated intent was to prevent terrorist attacks and protect the homeland. Twenty years later, what is there to show for it?
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