It’s been 15 years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil: 265 people died on four planes boarded by suicide hijackers; 2,606 were killed in the World Trade Center and surrounding area; 125 lost their lives in the Pentagon; and 6,000 more were injured.
A War on Terror was launched, memorials built and remembrances made. But it’s hardly water under the bridge. Islamic terrorism is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. And it remains a top concern among Americans. On September 20, 2001, days after the attack, then-President George W. Bush launched the War on Terror. That war continues today with Islamic terrorism is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. A Full Measure/Rasmussen Reports national survey found terrorism is still a top concern among Americans. That’s despite an enormous sum of tax money spent and a sea change in the American way of life.
Jane Rhodes-Wolf: “We heard the first plane hit and you could see a little debris in the air, almost looked like confetti.”
Jane Rhodes-Wolf was an FBI agent on assignment a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
Rhodes-Wolf: “As a member of our evidence response team, I recall getting my boots on and my ray jacket and starting to make my way down towards the World Trade Center.”
Later, when Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, was put on trial, Rhodes-Wolf was on the FBI team that helped prosecute the case.
Rhodes-Wolf: “Which also included listening to the 911 tapes. So again, an incredibly intimate thing we would listen to. We would hear people dying on the phone.”
911 call: “Everybody’s having trouble breathing?
"Everybody’s having trouble breathing. Some people are worse.”
Now, 15 years after those many lives taken, America is grappling with the unforeseen tolls. Costs few could have envisioned.
There Have Been 580 Convicted Terrorists in the US Since 9/11 | FindTheData.org
Rhodes-Wolf: “When you think about the fact that al-Qaida executed that plan for approximately $450,000, I hate to say the return on their investment, but that’s what they got. That’s part of their motivation was to change our society and change our way of life.”
Sharyl Attkisson: “We have changed our society in response.”
Rhodes-Wolf: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., leads a congressional committee that oversees the nation’s homeland security efforts.
Attkisson: “Fifteen years after 9/11, it’s the terrorists versus us. Who’s won so far?”
Johnson: “Well, certainly in terms of their goal of disrupting our lives, the terrorists have won. We don’t even recognize how many of our freedoms have been taken away from us. How it has disrupted our lives.”
For Johnson and other conservatives, attacks on freedom are the moves to restrict gun rights.
For liberals, it’s typified by the government’s massive Utah Data Center, holding more information about our lives than we know - with no clear proof that it’s ever foiled a terrorist plot.
An entire generation knows little of the America that existed before 9/11, when some actually looked forward to a trip to the airport.
Los Angeles International Airport promotional video: “Airports - it makes no difference where they are located, be it Berlin, London, New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles.
"Airports are downright exciting.”
This is today’s inconvenient reality; a traveler captured a seemingly endless security line last May ...
Video: “Let’s see how long this thing is.”
... at Chicago’s Midway Airport.
Video: “We’re just getting started.”
An incredible $70 billion tax dollars have been spent on the Transportation Security Administration - more than 42,000 TSA employees screen passengers and man body scanners at more than 400 U.S. airports.
And there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know what it's like walking freely into a sports stadium or federal building. Those days are gone. Today’s reality: metal detectors and handheld wand checks.
President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act on Nov. 25, 2002, a law combining more than 20 federal agencies into one massive entity: The Department of Homeland Security.
And money has poured into other agencies for national security: $30 billion to the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts.
We’ve also spent more than $3 billion tightening port protection with cameras, cargo screening and fences.
David Espie, head of Maryland port security, points out there have been no terrorist attacks on America’s 360 ports.
Espie: “We have a very strong infrastructure and terrorists, as you’ve seen in the past years, target the soft targets where there’s no anticipation of such behavior. We anticipate such behavior every second of the day.”
But amid the successes, the Department of Homeland Security has become a wildly bloated bureaucracy. The budget now tops $64 billion tax dollars a year. Number of employees: 240,000. Enough to fill Yankee Stadium - about five times.
Sen. Johnson: “The motivation of the government is the exact same thing as private sector. It wants to grow. You know, so the Department of Homeland Security is no different from any other government agency or department. It wants to grow.”
Attkisson: “When you look at the Department of Homeland Security today, what are your reflections on that agency?”
“I’m trying to figure out why the Department of Homeland Security is worried about people who are deep-frying turkeys.”
Thomas Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S Naval War College. He studies the Homeland Security mission and missteps.
Nichols: “At one point, Homeland Security put out a reminder that if you throw a frozen turkey into a giant vat of boiling oil, you could get hurt. Which is true. No one would recommend that you throw a giant frozen bird into a vat of oil. But I don’t understand how that became a Homeland Security issue.”
PSA: “The temperature is 350 degrees. So, put the turkey in.”
PSA: “Watch how easy it is to top over.”
Attkisson: “And what does (that) tell you?”
Nichols: “It tells me that they’re looking for things to do.”
And, apparently, looking for ways to spend your tax money. Some of Homeland Security’s $50 billion in anti-terrorism grants has gone to questionable expenses.
Like a conference at San Diego’s posh Paradise Point Island resort where, believe it or not, this was part of the supposed emergency response training: a live “zombie apocalypse” demonstration.
And after $70 billion spent on TSA, an Inspector General report leaked last year showed testers managed to smuggle mock weapons and bombs past federal screeners 96 percent of the time.
But the multi-billion-dollar vision of a new Homeland Security headquarters may be the most tangible example of a boondoggle. After 10 years it’s still a construction zone marred by cost overruns and delays.
Attkisson: “What are some of your observations about the incredible amount of money and effort that’s been put into this agency?”
Nichols: “When large bureaucracies like a government are told to do things, they tend to create more, large bureaucracies. So, I think the answer to spend a lot of money, to employ a lot of people, to build a lot of buildings, was an understandable reaction, but it was not an efficient reaction.”
The biggest single post-9/11 cost is war. An estimated $3 trillion tax dollars has been committed to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other strongholds of Islamic extremist terrorists.
All told, it is estimated the cost of terror has cost more than $30 million an hour, every hour for the past 15 years: about $4 trillion tax dollars.
All that money - and some on the front lines insist we’re back to square one.
Federal immigration officer in silhouette: “And as far as immigration is concerned, everything that we did after 9/11 to prevent it has all been undone.”
This federal officer who works in the U.S. immigration system doesn’t want to be identified for fear of losing his job.
Federal immigration officer in silhouette: “If I were to find the men that went on to become the 9/11 hijackers, if they found them today, they would be legally deportable because they overstayed their visas. But because of the policies in place, no immigration officer could take any action against them. After they kill people, then we can deport them. We just keep making the same mistakes, more innocent people will die because we refuse to enforce the law. Plain and simple.”
Attkisson: “As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee, what keeps you up at night?”
Sen. Johnson: “Our borders are not secure. If you’re concerned about ISIS operatives coming to America, yeah, be concerned about refugees, be concerned about the visa waiver program, but be really concerned about our completely porous, particularly southern, border.”
That even though the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to 21,000 and its budget has more than tripled to $13 billion a year.
Gil Kerlikowske: “People need to realize that the border is much more secure than it’s ever been.”
Gil Kerlikowske is head of Customs and Border Protection.
Attkisson: “How much focus is going into the idea of terrorists crossing the border?”
Kerlikowske: “Terrorism is a concern, whether it would be the people that came in through 9/11 that entered the country and went through the process, or whether it's homegrown terrorists, young people who are influenced by the media and influenced frankly through the internet to create a terrorist act. Before 9/11 there wasn't a lot of information sharing among agencies, in particular, the federal government to the local government. That’s changed dramatically.”
Rhodes-Wolf, now retired from the FBI, says we’ve done a good job fighting a nimble, unpredictable enemy.
Attkisson: “When I say what’s been the cost of terror, what do you think?”
Rhodes-Wolf: “I will never forget the lives, the voices I listened to as they died on the telephone, some of them screaming for help. There’s this one woman Melissa Doy, who, I listened to her call, I’ve listened to it probably 100 times. She cared for her friends, she cared for her family and her coworkers and she actually dies saying the Lord’s Prayer.”
911 call: “Hold on one second please. I’m gonna die aren’t I?”
“No. No. No. No. No.”
“I’m gonna die.”
“Ma’am, say your prayers.”
Rhodes-Wolf: “Melissa Doy is my memory.”
911 call: “Ma’am, Melissa? The phone is still open. Melissa? Melissa?”
The biggest toll: More than 6,000 American lives lost in the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.