On the Fourth of July, 2001, the United States national security apparatus operated in a state of high alarm. For months, intelligence agencies had detected a looming threat to American interests. Sunni Muslim terrorist groups, particularly Al Qaeda, were thought to be planning an attack. Security advisers, fearing truck bombs, told the White House not to re-open Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic. The FBI told its field offices to be on high alert. Every ambassador was briefed on suicide bomb threats. A hostage plot was feared. When the president visited Italy, he did so under the protection of anti-aircraft guns. As the Independence Day holiday rolled around, the Central Intelligence Agency warned federal officials that a “spectacular” attack was coming, but it couldn’t say where or when.
Sixty-eight days later, the answer became tragically clear, especially to New Yorkers. They were victims and witnesses of the deadliest terrorist attack in history. And, as the latest issue of City Limits Investigates reports in Freedom/Fear: Civil Liberties in Today’s New York, city residents now occupy a place where freedom and liberty are starkly different from seven summers ago.
For some, the security measures that New Yorkers live with now are reasonable reactions to the threat detected in the summer of 2001 – which the city and country still face – of terrorist attack. “I think for the most part, Americans have gone about their lives since September 11. Sometimes you have some inconvenience like being searched at Yankee Stadium or at the airport. And frankly, how inconvenient is that?” asks Timothy Connors, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Policing Terrorism. After all, New Yorkers are still free to do many things. And the city has not been hit again, meaning the right to live free from terrorist attack—a fairly basic liberty itself—has survived intact in the five boroughs, thanks to some combination of good security and good luck.
But others believe that, as in that summer before the World Trade Center attack, a dangerous threat is rising. This time it’s the risk that New Yorkers’ essential freedoms and liberties are being eroded. In the New York of 2008: