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Introduction: 9/11 Monograph Winners

Craig R. Smith, Director

In April of 2011, the Center for First Amendment Studies and 911plus.org launched a national graduate student monograph contest honoring Richard A. Clarke, the author of Against All Enemies and a national terrorism advisor to presidents. Funded by Steven C. Markoff, the contest commemorated the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon. We requested that entrants provide analyses of the policies following the 9/11 attacks and make whatever policy recommendations they saw fit. The three winning monographs are posted on the same page as this introduction.

We conducted this contest for several reasons. First, with a decade of distance from the events of 9/11, we now possess some perspective on them. Second, given that 911plus.org and the Center for First Amendment Studies had amassed research relevant to the crisis, we hoped the contest would encourage students to visit our websites and explore our collected research and publications. Finally, I have done a good deal of research on what happens to civil liberties in America when we face external and internal threat to our security. These rights include privacy, freedom of speech, press, religion and the right to assembly peaceably and petition the government with grievances. The Alien and Sedition crisis of 1796 to 1800 was fomented by the threat of war with France, which had sunk over 300 American merchant vessels by 1798 and sent "philosophes" to America to promote revolution here. In reaction, the Congress passed and the president signed the Alien and Sedition Laws, clear violations of the First Amendment. They extended the time it took to become a citizen, allowed the jailing of newspaper editors and politicians who criticized the Congress or the president, and gave the president extraordinary powers to deport trouble makers.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus several times and was only overturned after his death and when the war had ended. During the Red Scare following World War I, thousands of American citizens were incarcerated when Communists and anarchists threatened the post-war peace. During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were interred in camps against their will even though they were citizens of the United States. During the McCarthy era, Hollywood writers, directors and actors were black listed by the establishment; at the same time professors who took the Fifth Amendment defense against self incrimination were fired. During the Vietnam War, the government engaged in various strategies of suppression that led the Supreme Court to allow the printing of the Pentagon Papers. And following the attacks of 9/11, not only First Amendment rights but the right to privacy was constricted by the USA PATRIOT ACT and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. (These crises are detailed in my book, Silencing the Opposition: How the U.S. Government Suppresses Freedom of Expression During Major Crises.)

September 11, 2001 will always be a watershed date in our history, much in the way the attack on Pearl Harbor was. Almost 3000 lives were lost as two huge land mark buildings sank to the city floor of Manhattan, as United 93 was re-taken from its hijackers and crashed in Pennsylvania, and as the Pentagon suffered a wound to its side. We now think of ourselves as more vulnerable and less impregnable than before. We see the world less as a conglomeration of nations and more as a global interactive stew of elements, some of which know no national boundaries, are hostile to the United States and its interests, and contain major threats to our national security. As in other crises involving an external threat to national security, the attacks of 9/11 led to major legislation, the most important of which was "The Uniting and Strengthening of America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act," better known as the USA PATRIOT Act signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001.

The three winning monographs from our contest focus on the crisis surrounding the attacks of 9/11 and are heavily documented sometimes relying on the cash of materials provided on the 9/11plus.org website. The first place study by Sarah Bjerg Moller, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, is ambitious in its comprehensive examination of the policies flowing from the crisis of 9/11. It is entitled, Lessons Learned and Unlearned: The Tenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001. Ms. Moller sees 9/11 as a crisis comparable to other history shifting events such as the treaty Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed with Adolph Hitler in Munich in 1938. But she is wise enough to point out that sometimes the lesson drawn from such crises are not consistent. Ms. Moller demonstrates a deft understanding of the rhetorical uses of such crises as when President George W. Bush cited the failed policy of appeasement and the ghosts of Vietnam to justify his pre-emptive war in Iraq in 2003. Her important intuition is that we should "not be consumed by our history."

She not only addresses the lessons learned but concludes with important policy recommendations. Her sober assessment notes that while we are wiser and safer than in 2001, we still face serious threats both foreign and domestic. Her commentary on interagency communication and cooperation is insightful and troubling. She begins her assessment of this challenge by examining where these agencies stood before 9/11 and how they missed certain clues as to what was about to happen. For example, "the CIA failed to place the names of [a known terrorist's] traveling companions on the State Department's TIPPOFF watch list or notify the FBI of these developments."

Ms. Moller surveys challenges of preparedness, evacuation, and communication, demonstrating how cumbersome they were. One of her most important findings concerns the vulnerability of our infrastructure not only to decay but to terrorist attack. By prioritizing the electricity grid, she focuses on our most serious problem in terms of its age and its vulnerability to physical and cyber attacks. She shows that documents captured from Al Qaeda training campus target the grid's control system. The same warnings are issued for our oil and gas refineries and pipelines, our major ports, rail, and aviation systems. She cites an amazing statistic that reveals how confused our priorities are: "Less than $40 million in federal grants were allocated to port security at Los Angeles and Long Beach in the four years following 9/11, an amount equivalent to what was spent on airport security in a single day during this period."

She then moves on to assess the threats from chemical, biological, radiologal and nuclear weapons. Despite major efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, Ms. Moller concludes that progress in this regard has been slow.

Her subtle analysis of immigration policy embraces the balance between security aims and political goals. She links this problem to homegrown security threats of domestic terrorism. In a chilling statistic, she reports that "Of the 175 cases of Al Qaeda-related homegrown terrorism since 2001, nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010. This fact may demonstrate that dormant cells are hatching at an alarming rate.

Moving from the threat to the chill on civil liberties, Ms. Moller catalogues the restrictions that have been put in place by the federal government. From roving wiretaps to seizure of library records, Americans face less freedom than before 9/11. The question is, are such restrictions justified in the name of national security? The threat led to the consolidation of 22 federal agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, the first such major overhaul since 1947. The efforts at integration have not always succeeded.

Finally, Ms. Moller turns to foreign policy recognizing that "No off-the-shelf military contingency plan for Afghanistan existed on September 11, 2001." Her assessment of the effort in Afghanistan is dour and the same is true of Iraq. She concludes, "The recent claims by the Obama administration officials that Al Qaeda as an organization is nearing 'strategic defeat' are not only premature but also dangerously misleading." Her policy recommendations are clear, specific, and workable and I invite you to read them at the end of monograph. I believe you will agree with our panel of anonymous judges that this was a first-rate study.

Dimitar Georgiev, a candidate for the M.A. degree in the Security Studies Program at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, wrote the second place monograph: "Failure of American Strategic Thought and 9/11." Supported by more than 150 endnotes, Mr. Georgiev provides a historical take on the national crisis by tracing its roots deep into our past. He begins with the 9/11 Commission Report but digs deeper to provide more insights. He concludes that the 9/11 attacks were the result of a "failure of intelligence." He argues that the "deadly tactical surprise" inflicted by Al Qaeda will lead to their "strategic suicide."

Particularly impressive in this study is the history of the development of Islamic terrorism back into World War II. He moves forward to the further development of the movement after the failed 1967 war by Egypt on Israel. The result is a strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood and the legendary book by Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, written while he was imprisoned in Egypt. Readers will be fascinated by Mr. Georgiev's analysis of the rise of the Taliban, first in its win-win alliance with Pakistan to topple the Afghan government and strengthen Pakistan against India. In one of its many foreign policy blunders, the Carter administration began to provide aid to the Taliban in 1979, which prompted Soviet involvement. Years later, the repulsion of the Soviet army not only gave the United States a strategic win, it also gave confidence to Osama Bin Laden and his coterie to form Al Qaeda. America's confidence led our most successful war, which took place in the Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. However, Operation Desert Storm made the U.S. a target of Al Qaeda, of which the CIA was aware by 1993. By 1998, the U.S. government was bombing their camps.

Mr. Georgiev's history is underlined by his grasp of personal and national motivations and how they can become intertwined whether one is talking about Bin Laden's hatred for the U.S. and Arabia, or President George W. Bush seeking to extend his father's success. Mr. Georgiev has a nuanced view of the American justification of the war on Iraq. Before the United Nations' Security Council, Secretary of State Collin Powell laid out a 90 minutes justification for an assault on Iraq that included its abuse of Kurds, its use of biological weapons in its war on Iran, and its flaunting of 16 U.N. resolutions. However, a large part of Powell's justification relied on the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Hussein's arsenal, speculation supported, as Mr. Georgiev points out, by "Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China and Egypt." King Abdullah of Jordan also believed that Iraq had developed such weapons not to mention the fact that Saddam Hussein himself claimed to have them. It is no wonder that in 2002 Congress had authorized military action against Iraq, supported by such liberals, as Mr. Georgiev points out, as "Senators Clinton, Biden, Kerry, Edwards, and Reid."

Mr. Georgiev then turns to an assessment of the war in Iraq, relying in part on the analysis of General Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to President Ford and George H. W. Bush, which was published in the Wall Street Journal. That war, Mr. Georgiev argues, diverted America's attention from the effort to eradicate Al Qaeda. Nonetheless, he argues persuasively that Al Qaeda can be defeated. The flaws of the Al Qaeda strategy include that fact it has killed more Muslims by far than any other group; that the organization does not have a forward looking philosophy; that it is unwilling to compromise and alienates itself from those who do not share its radical tenets. Mr. Georgiev then provides a deep-structure analysis of the Al Qaeda organization in all of it facets.

After this detailed history and analysis, Mr. Georgiev provides his "set of recommendations" for American policy, and I commend them to you.

The third place winner is Jennifer L. Freer, a graduate student in the Department of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her monograph is entitled, "The Patriot Act and the Public Library: An Unanticipated Threat to National Security." Ms. Freer study is the narrowest of the three winning monographs and therefore the most focused. She begins her study with the intriguing story of Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was killed in Pakistan just before 9/11; the story was covered in the New York Times on page A4 on September 10, 2001. Earlier, Massoud had been sought by the Clinton Administration hoping he would lead them to Osama Bin Laden. Before 9/11, Bin Laden had been mentioned in over 700 stories in the New York Times. Thus, there was ample coverage of the potential threat to the United States before 9/11 occurred. As did Mr. Georgiev, Ms. Freer points out that Bin Laden was "emboldened by the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan."

However, Ms. Freer's study focuses on the domestic implications of the attack on 9/11, particularly on what the USA Patriot Act required of librarians. She acknowledges that the government's motivation may have been well intentioned; however, the unintended consequences of the government's action was to violate the standards of the American Library Association (ALA) and the First and Fourth Amendment rights of persons using libraries. Title II of the Patriot Act required librarians to supply information about users to the FBI. Section 215, the "library provision," allows the FBI to investigate U.S. citizens' library records and to obtain copies of them. Furthermore, the provision prohibited librarians from disclosing to their users that a patron might be under investigation.

Ms. Freer rightly points out that the FBI has been using libraries to gather information since the 1960s when it sought the records of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators or Soviet spies using research facilities. In 1970, the division of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as part of the IRS also relied on library records to search down people doing research on explosives. The library sections of the Patriot Act were a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978, which built a wall between domestic and foreign investigations. FISA was meant to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. The Patriot Act removed the wall FISA had erected hoping to allow better coordination between the FBI and CIA.

Librarians immediately objected to the provisions of the Patriot Act arguing that it chilled a citizen's willingness to do research on topics related to terrorism, Islam, Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the like. It shut down inquiries that might make citizens more knowledgeable and tolerant of Islam. As Ms. Freer points out, the conflict arose from the ALA's Code of Ethics which reads, "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."

Once again we were witness to a tension between national security and civil liberties. Ms. Freer demonstrates the significance of this intrusion on citizens' rights when she points out that in 2008 alone, "9221 public libraries served 166 million registered borrowers with 300 million reference transactions and 2 billion circulations across 1 billion library visits." These figures do not include the Internet access provided by 71% of these libraries.

Ms. Freer cites several case studies of librarians who were put in compromising positions trying to balance the requests of the FBI against the code of ethics of the ALA and their loyalty to patrons. Eventually, the Inspector General's Office began to examine and question some of the tactics of the FBI. As Ms. Freer points out, the Inspector General found that between 2003 and 2005, at least "22% of the requests" were not properly documented. The courts also got involved when a district judge ruled in 2004 that the FBI should discontinue its use of the National Security Letters law to obtain information. As a result in 2006, Congress reformed section 215 of the Patriot Act; however, many believe that the reforms did not go far enough because Congress was intimidated by the release of information by the government that libraries had been frequented by the 9/11 hijackers. In 2007 a district judge found that the revised law still ran "afoul of the First Amendment."

Ms. Freer's balanced account of attempts to further reform the law take her to a hearing in 2011 where Senator Charles Grassley claimed that a terrorist attack had been prevented by section 215. She cites other members of Congress to the same effect. In fact, at the end of May 2011, President Obama signed the congressional law extending the Patriot Act for another four years. Ms. Freer argues that the extension continues to chill research and undermine Fourth Amendment rights.


In various ways, these three monographs examine the successes and failures of America's war on terror since the attacks of 9/11. They provide pragmatic policy suggestions and correctives that are based on very solid research. One of the major findings that arises out of these studies is how often history is either ignored or misused to justify policy. Another major finding is that institution already in place often stymy efforts at change and reform.

There is probably no better example of this than the record of the Obama administration. Ushered in on a wave of hope and change, and a promise to end costly wars, the Obama administration has out Bushed Bush in my respects. Within weeks of assuming the presidency, Obama claimed the same powers as his predecessor with regard to the treatment and definition of "enemy combatants."[1] On September 24th, 2009, Judith Miller reported that 226 prisoners remained in detention at Guantanamo and that the Pentagon was spending $440,000 to expand camp 6. At camp 5, a $73,000 classroom was under construction. Muhammad Ahmad Abdalluh Salih, a 31-year old who had been transferred to Guantanamo in 2002, committed suicide there.[2] The 9/11 suspects were tried in Guantanamo instead of in New York. On April 20, 2011, another trial began in Guantanamo, this one concerning the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole.

The continuance of Bush policies was also evident in the Obama administration's denial of Freedom of Information requests. On the Ides of March, 2010, George Washington University's National Security Archive found that only 33% of federal agencies that handle FOIA requests had reformed their procedures from the Bush administration. The Associated Press closely examined 17 major agencies that deal with FOIA requests. AP found 466,872 denials, an increase of almost 50% from the 2008 fiscal year of the Bush administration. Cutting the pie another way, the Associated Press examined just one of the possible ways by which an administration can deny an information request. This method was employed 70,779 time by the Obama administration at the end of its first year compared to 47,395 in Bush's final year. Thus, by the end of his first year, President Obama's administration was about 35% less transparent than Bush.

Worse yet, ignoring the War Powers Act, President Obama ordered the bombing of Libya from U.S. ships. Bruce Ackerman in Foreign Policy Magazine pointed out that Obama's flouting of the War Powers Act was more egregious than Bush's. Two-thirds of the House of Representatives condemned the president for this action. 45 Democrats voted for the resolution of condemnation. Obama refused to comply with the law even when Caroline Krass, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department told him he had to.

On top of that, we have learned that Obama did not end the rendition policy of the Bush Administration; he turned it over to foreign governments.[3]

On February 18, 2011, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop building settlements in occupied territory. (The other 14 members of the Council voted in favor of the resolution.)

Thousands of combat troops remain in Iraq and 30 to 50,000 troops will be left behind in non-combat roles even after the combat troops are withdrawn. Like Bush, Obama's administration continues the policy of funding private security forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These Blackwater-like mercenaries recruit troops trained by our military; the private companies are then funded by the Defense Department as independent contractors just like they were under the Bush administration.

Like Bush's Iraq surge, Obama engaged in an Afghanistan surge. In a front page article, reporters for the Los Angeles Times wrote that "In crafting his new Afghanistan policy, President Obama borrowed liberally from an unlikely source: the playbook of George W. Bush."[4] These same reporters found that President Obama had vastly increased the number of CIA agents operating in Afghanistan. But, aside from the assassination of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, the policy is not working. The Washington Post revealed that General Stanley McCrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, had reported to the President on August 30th 2010 that "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."[5] It was in this context that U.N. observers found the democratic process in Afghanistan to be corrupt.

The three monographs recognized here teach us again that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps those in power will hear these three voices and amend their policies accordingly. No one has been more vociferous in this regard than Richard Clarke, and we were delighted to name this contest in his honor for his service to the nation.


  1. [1]. The Center for Constitutional Rights claimed that the new administration "offers essentially the same definition of 'enemy combatants' without using the term." David G. Savage, "They are 'enemy combatants' no more," Los Angeles Times (March 14, 2009) A16.
  2. [2]. Judith Miller, "Keep Gitmo," Los Angeles Times (September 24, 2009): A 31. Judith Miller is a contributing editor to City Journal and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
  3. [3]. Judith Miller, Ibid.
  4. [4]. Julian E. Barnes, Ned Parker, & Laura King, "Obama's strategy has a familiar look," Los Angeles Times (December 3, 2009): A1.
  5. [5]. "More Troops Urged for Afghanistan," Los Angeles Times (September 21, 2009), A1.