Institute Forum

Summary: Chasing Terrorists Before and After 9/11 October 20, 2011

Chasing Terrorists Before and After 9/11

For many Americans, September 11, 2011 marked a great divide — a moment in both personal and national history that separated everything that came before from everything that came after.

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Paul Clyne, who was the district attorney in Albany County on 9/11, reminded a forum at the Rockefeller Institute of Government of that as he opened the discussion on how law enforcement goals and strategies have changed dramatically since the terrorist attacks of that day.

“It was a transformative event in the history of the country. But I think what it also operated to do was change the way people think about their world and terrorism and what’s really going on outside the United States and how it can really affect us inside the United States,” said Clyne, who is now in private law practice. “People’s minds and thoughts changed, perspective changed. And law enforcement changed. They had to.”

The forum was titled “Chasing Criminals vs. Chasing Terrorists: Comparing Investigation Standards and Criminal Procedures in the Post-9/11 World — Reflections on the Patriot Act.” It was presented by the Institute in partnership with the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy and the College’s National Center for Security & Preparedness (NCSP).

The forum featured experts in military and government security, who were unanimous in saying that today's approach to countering terrorism is more proactive and aimed at prevention than it was a decade ago.

Richard Hartunian, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, said Americans are safer since 9/11 and the passage of the USA Patriot Act, in part because they are more perceptive of the potential danger around them.

“People are looking around and observing their surroundings and reporting problems to law enforcement. And law enforcement is tuned in to the fact that there are people who are trying to do us harm,” said Hartunian, who has felt the impact of terrorism personally. He lost his sister in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland.

A spirited discussion took place over surveillance techniques and investigative procedures in place since passage of the USA Patriot Act. The act expanded the definition of the term terrorism, reduced restrictions on surveillance and intelligence gathering in certain circumstances, and made it easier to detain and deport individuals suspected of terrorism-related acts. Supporters have praised it for strengthening domestic security against a new class of criminal activity. Opponents have criticized the law for encroaching on privacy rights and civil liberties.

Kevin Luibrand, an attorney who defended an Albany man against terrorist charges brought under the act, cautioned against potential violation of civil rights under the recent rules. Procedures meant to protect Americans significantly infringed on his ability to defend his client properly, he said. He and his team did not have access to all the classified information that prosecutors were using against his client and in some cases it took months to gain clearance to documents with limited information.

“The difference that we learned during the course of litigation after 9/11 was how difficult it has now become to defend a client who has been charged with a crime,” Luibrand said.

Boris Lederer, a senior advisor to NCSP, spoke about the conflict between civil liberties and criminal investigations, especially in a world where criminals do not have to meet in person, but can coordinate their activities over cell phones. Half a typical American’s time is now spent online, he said.

“On one end, I don’t want to sacrifice any civil liberty that I have because it is almost impossible, if not impossible, to get it back,” said Lederer, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia when that country was under Soviet domination. “The negative side of it is how do you defend against 50 percent real world and 50 percent virtual world without something like the USA Patriot Act?”

James Horton, assistant director of the New York State Police Office of Counter Terrorism, said that terrorism isn’t going away, that investigative procedures have gotten better over the last 10 years, and that actions to prevent terrorism must continue to improve.

“Have we gotten better in 10 years? Absolutely,” Horton said. “Do we have a ways to go? Absolutely.”

The forum concluded a Rockefeller College series commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

About the Rockefeller Institute of Government

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.