What lessons has the United States learned from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of four Americans? What actions has the country taken to prevent the repeat of such attacks?
The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, were not only the deadliest attack on U.S. soil by terrorists, but also the most psychologically-devastating. The American people were accustomed to being the target of terrorists abroad, and the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by American-born terrorists was an early warning of the vulnerability of Americans at home to attack was very much a reality. The suddenness of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, however, and the scale of destruction – the skyline of one of our most important cities was violently and massively changed – provided a psychological blow to the American public that ensured far-reaching measures would be taken in an attempt to both bring the perpetrators to justice and to prevent another such attack.
The lessons the United States learned from the terrorist attacks were that the American public is vulnerable to catastrophic terrorist attacks, the government was ill-prepared to prevent and respond to attacks, the al Qaeda terrorist organization had a longer reach than previously anticipated – despite the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center – and the U.S. had more enemies in the Muslim world than it appreciated.
The lessons from the Benghazi, Libya, attack are far more narrowly focused and involved arcane matters of embassy security and continued failings in the intelligence processes that are supposed to provide warning of attacks.
Measures the United States has taken in response to terrorist attacks are substantial and far-reaching. They include the passage of a series of laws – mainly, the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act -- designed to facilitate greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies and between law enforcement and the intelligence community; laws expanding the government’s authorities to conduct surveillance activities aimed at detecting plots to attack the country; a major expansion of military units that specialize in combating terrorists abroad; and the launching of wars intended to eliminate the sources of terrorism – in effect, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (although, in the case of the latter, the perceived threat from weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist was the most important element of the decision to invade that country). With regard to the Benghazi attacks, again, the focus is on improving security in regions known to be home to active terrorist organizations or militias hostile to the U.S.