Special Report

15 Years After 9/11:

How America changed

Within hours of the deadly terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear to most Americans that life would never be the same.

In addition to the devastating toll – almost 3,000 dead and thousands more injured – the carefully planned and executed attacks caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage alone. The damage to Americans’ peace of mind can’t be measured, but it has certainly influenced many of the changes that have taken place in the 15 years since.

The world has been altered in unprecedented fashion, both in direct response to the attacks themselves and in less tangible ways nonetheless overshadowed by 9/11. American citizens now submit to invasions of privacy that would have evoked far more outrage in the years before. There are new government agencies whose overriding mission is targeting and preventing terrorist activities, and new terrorist groups for them to target. Much of the old order in the Middle East is gone, with the Islamic State terror group taking control of territory left leaderless by civil strife in Syria and Iraq. American political debate is dominated by talk of the war on terror.

While time has helped us come to terms with the horrifying imagery and distressing death toll, the impacts continue to ripple around the world.

Here are some of the ways.


Wire tapping

President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Administration to conduct warrantless wiretaps to search for communications involving terrorist activities shortly after the 9/11 attacks, bypassing federal law that required court approval. The program has been beset by lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.




Oil consumption

In 2001, the United States imported just over 1 million barrels of crude oil from the Persian Gulf nations. In 2015, the U.S. imported only 550,000 barrels from those countries, according to the Energy Information Administration.


Border crossing

Crossing the border between Maine and Canada used to require only a photo I.D. Now all crossings require a passport.




Military surplus to police

Police departments across the country – and many in Maine – have received military surplus equipment ranging from office equipment to mine-resistant armored vehicles from the Defense Department at little cost since 9/11. Maine departments have received at least $12 million worth since 2006.


Lone wolf

Some of the most horrific attacks in recent years have been carried out by so-called lone wolves and studies appear to show that their frequency is increasing. According to Newsday, former FBI agent Tom Neer has found that from the 1970s to the 2000s, lone wolf terrorism amounted to just 2 percent of terror attacks, a relatively small number. But while there were 30 lone wolf attacks in the 1970s, there have been some 140 since 2000, Neer says, a troublesome increase. Both Islamic State and al-Qaida have encouraged lone wolf attacks, even though they appear to appeal to perpetrators who are less focused on ideology and often driven by other factors.




Public transportation

The Transportation Security Administration was created within weeks of 9/11 and has enacted rules that have fundamentally changed commercial travel. It is now the norm to spend at least an hour or two going through airport security, and we must even take our shoes off for inspection.


Al-Qaida fades, Islamic State rises

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant emerged in Iraq and later Syria in 2014, seizing vast amounts of territory and implementing Sharia law in the cities and towns it conquered. It suffered a string of battlefield losses over the past year, but has begun to focus on terrorism, attacking targets in the Mideast and Europe. It has also inspired attacks by non-affiliated radicals in several countries, including the United States.




Guantanamo Bay

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp was established in 2002, ostensibly to detain suspected terrorists, interrogate them and prosecute them for war crimes. But in practice, it has been used to detain prisoners captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere without trial, and has become a source of international controversy for this reason.


Even a backpack seen as a threat

Backpacks or bags left unattended in public places, which might have been ignored before 9/11, now bring a police response for fear they may contain bombs. The term “improvised explosive device,” or IED, has become part of the national lexicon.




Anti-Muslim sentiment

Anti-Muslim sentiment has grown and a proposal to temporarily restrict immigrants from Islamic countries from entry into the United States was one of the signature proposals pushed by Donald Trump early in the Republican nomination race.


The Patriot Act

The Patriot Act, passed quickly in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, gave law enforcement new tools to fight terrorism including indefinite detention of immigrants; allowing law enforcement officers to search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s consent or knowledge; and allowing the FBI to search telephone, e-mail and financial records without a court order.




National debt

It seems like ancient history now, but the federal budget ran a $154 billion budget surplus in 2001, the last year it did so. Since then, fueled by two wars and a recession, the nation has seen a string of deficits – this year’s is projected to be $590 billion. The Concord Coalition puts the total national debt at $18.2 trillion in 2016. In 2001, it was $5.8 trillion.


The attack

The attacks were carried out by 19 al-Qaida terrorists, 15 from Saudi Arabia and the others from Lebanon, Egypt and United Arab Emirates, who hijacked four commercial airliners on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Two of the airliners targeted the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and both towers collapsed less than two hours later. A third was crashed into the Pentagon, leading to a partial collapse of the building’s western side. The fourth initially was steered toward Washington, D.C., but crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers tried to overcome the hijackers.

In all, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 were injured. Estimates of the total financial cost of the attacks are about $2 trillion.

Two of the terrorists who hijacked Flight 11 out of Boston and crashed it into the 110-story north tower of the trade center, Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari, stayed at a motel in Portland the night before and flew to Boston from Portland International Jetport. Atta, federal investigators say, choreographed the attacks and piloted the airliner.



The new world since 2001:

Crossing between Maine and Canada formerly only required a photo I.D. – now, all crossings require a passport.

Airport security, previously run by private firms, was federalized and staffing increased threefold, from 16,200 screeners before 9/11 to over 56,000 federally-employed screeners by the end of 2002.

The United States has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since September 2001, including $1.4 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Islamist extremists have killed fewer than 100 people on U.S. soil in the years since 2001. During the same 15-year interval, over 500,000 people died in car crashes.

Before September 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center rose 1,362 feet above lower Manhattan and contained 3.8 million square feet of office space; the new One World Trade Center building, which opened in 2014, is 1,776 feet tall and contains 3.5 million square feet of offices.

The Patriot Act, passed in fall 2001 in a response to the terrorist attacks, authorized the federal government to search phone and email records without permission from a court, leading the National Security Agency to develop and use technology that tracks the details of every American’s phone and internet use.

Americans are burning less oil from overseas: in 2001, the United States imported just over 1 million barrels of crude oil from the Persian Gulf nations. In 2015, the U.S. imported only 550,000 barrels from those countries, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Immigration to the United States has declined, from about 1.5 million new arrivals in 2000 to 1.3 million arrivals in 2014, according to the U.S. Census.