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Terror Attacks of 9/11/01 Continue To Impact Daily Life

5:41 PM, Sep 8, 2011   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - Ten years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America you've no doubt noticed that we hold our soldiers and our firefighters in higher esteem.

There are also other changes which are obvious at airports where you need to undergo more scrutiny before you fly, and at US borders where you are now required to produce a passport or an enhanced driver's license to cross. 

Nowadays you can even get a Bachelors degree in Homeland Security, something which surely didn't exist a decade ago.

"Well, we didn't have homeland security ten years ago," noted recently retired Homeland Security Special Agent Steven M. MacMartin, who will be directing the new course of study at Medaille College when the first classes in just a few weeks.

Students will learn under the tutelage of MacMartin and other current and former members of law enforcement.

"I think when people think of Homeland Security they think of law enforcement,but it's so much more than that," MacMartin told WGRZ-TV.

"It's also emergency management and disaster preparedness, as well as issues dealing terrorism," MacMartin said.

There are now nearly 4,000 federal, state, and local organizations taking part in domestic counter-terrorism efforts.

"However, the government may not be the largest source of jobs for homeland security. I think there are a huge number of jobs out there in the private sector, health and safety managers at corporations... even small companies have concern these days with what they do in the event of an emergency," MacMartin said.

In the 32 years he spent working for the government, mostly with the Customs Bureau before it was merged into the Department of Homeland Security, MacMartin had to use a lot of psychology in his day-to -day duties.

And, he's noticed a change in the American psyche.

"I think that the public has become more aware of their surroundings...the cart vendor in the Times Square bombing saw the smoking vehicle, realized something was out of whack, and had the presence of mind and the wherewithal to report it," MacMartin said. "And I like to tell people there will probably not be another airline hijacking."

MacMartin says that's not necessarily due to security measures much of the public views as intrusive...but because of the public itself.

"That's how they stopped the shoe bomber. Somebody noticed him down in his seat fooling with his shoe laces... and that's the psychology, or that's the perception, that's changed with Americans. They've taken a little responsibility on their shoulders."

They've also accepted less privacy. Potential infringements on this most fundamental of American privilege is reflected in the Patriot Act, passed shortly after 9/11, and which expanded the government's power to keep tabs on your personal information.

However, MacMartin eschews the idea that the Patriot Act is being used by the government to infringe on the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens.

"I know we're certainly infringing on civil liberties a hell of a lot more than we ever have before," said John Curr III of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"As a nation we've lost our way. Instead of responding to the challenges that terrorism presented us, consistent with our nation's values, our government chose the path of...warrantless government spying, and a surveillance state. These are things that have come to define us in the post 9/11 era."

MacMartin, on the other hand, believes that "the public's concept of the Patriot Act, is a lot like the public's concept of law enforcement", which he also believes is gleaned largely from fictional TV Dramas.

"The government is not going to use the Patriot Act to get your cell phone records just because they want to fish through records. Absent some sort of delineated specific reason that's not going to happen. And the Patriot Act has delineated certain occurrences where the government can have that opportunity in defense of the homeland," said MacMartin, while conceding that there could be "a lot of latitude" in interpreting the phrase "in defense of the homeland".

Curr has some history himself when it comes to government service, having once worked in Army Intelligence, including a brief assignment at the National Security Agency.

"We used to joke the acronym 'NSA' stood for 'No Such Agency'," Curr recalled.

Today the NSA employs 30,000 people who eavesdrop on more than 1-billion intercepted e-mails and other communications every day.

With those numbers, Curr thinks the odds are pretty good that communications from ordinary Americans who have no ties to terrorism or otherwise pose no threat, have been intercepted and perhaps reviewed by the government.

"If enough of the key words are present, you can bet that some filter somewhere is picking you out," he said.

For Curr and others, the matter goes beyond whether the government has or will engage in spying on citizens.

It's more of matter, that the government can do those things.

"The only thing standing between us and substantially other countries with more restrictive notions of freedom is the constitution itself," Curr said.

The constitution,...and perhaps a very select group of jurists called upon daily to interpret it.

Citing judicial protocols, the Chief Federal Judge for Western New York, William Skretny, declined to be interviewed on camera for our story. However, citing the importance of the story, he issued the following statement to 2 on Your Side:

"This country has witnessed an intensification in the familiar conflict between liberties ... and basic securities. September 11th and its aftermath have raised issues that bring this tension into focus. It is often the courts that are left to strike a proper, Constitutional balance. In this regard, the federal courts continue to do what they have always done...through fair and impartial proceedings."

And after ten years, and thousands of lives lost fighting terrorists abroad and billions of dollars spent defending us from them at home...has it all made us any safer?

Have ANY actual plots to launch another mass terror attack, been uncovered and foiled?

"I think certainly there is, and I feel strongly confident that there has been," said MacMartin, who retired from government service a mere 25 days before speaking with WGRZ-TV for this story.

But despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden is dead, that the Taliban on the run, and that Al-Qaeda is perhaps not as much in our day-to-day vernacular, Curr and others wonder....just who is really winning in the now decade old "war on terror"?

"If we're to believe that they attacked us for our freedom and our openness, then certainly restricting all of that would certainly seem to play right into that scenario," Curr said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer.

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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