5. US Government Exercises
On September 11, 2001, the United States government held a series of military exercises and drills. Operation Northern Vigilance was a NORAD operation, which involved deploying fighter aircraft to the northwestern part of North America, specifically Alaska and Northern Canada. The exercise was one part simulation, one part real world. It was in response to a similar test acted out by Russia on September 11, where long-range bombers were dispatched to Russia’s high north. The exercises were immediately called off after the news of the terrorist attacks, and all simulated information was purged from NORADs computer screens. However, the event was a distraction for the US government on 9/11.
Operation Northern Vigilance was not the only US exercise planned for September 11. A series of war games were also acted out, specifically Global Guardian. Global Guardian is an annual, command-level exercise held in the United States. It is an important task, and the purpose of the drill is to test and validate US nuclear command, control and execution procedures. Vigilant Guardian is an exercise that was run in conjunction with Global Guardian. It involved a simulated bomber attack from the former Soviet Union. The drill was conducted in real time, and appeared legitimate in offices and on computers, but without any planes in the air. One of the drills included was a traditional simulated hijacking.
The National Reconnaissance Office drill that was being conducted on September 11, 2001, is the strangest. In the exercise, a simulated small aircraft crashed into one of the towers at the NRO headquarters. No plane was involved in the drill, but to simulate damage from the crash, some stairwells and exits were closed off. A bioterrorism exercise was planned for September 12, 2001. It was named Operation Tripod and included a real life test of the US plan to distribute antibiotics to an entire city population during a bioterrorism attack.
4. Nimda Virus
In the months before and after September 11, 2001, the United States was bombarded with a series of cyber attacks. A group of criminals exposed vulnerabilities in the Microsoft operating system, and created a buffer overflow virus, which executed arbitrary code and infected hundreds of thousands of computers. By July 19, 2001, the amount of infected hosts reached over 350,000 zombies. A series of separate viruses named Code Red I and Code Red II crippled valuable servers and made calculated attacks on US government computers.
On September 18, 2001, a new virus attacked United States operating systems. The worm was given the name Nimda, and it was an advanced version of Code Red II. Some might say that the Code Red viruses were created in preparation for the much larger Nimda attack, which was executed the week following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Due to the release date of the virus, members of the American government speculated on a link between the cyber attacks and Al Qaeda, but this theory ended up proving unfounded. The American media did not report much on the virus because of the terrorist attacks.
Multiple propagation vectors allowed Nimda to become the Internet’s most widespread and dangerous virus. It took only 22 minutes for the worm to rip through the American financial sector, causing over $3 billion in damage. The Nimda virus was so effective because it used five different infection vectors. People could, and still can, get the virus via e-mail, open network shares, infected websites, exploitation or via back doors left behind by the Code Red II virus. The group of people behind the Nimda virus and the theft of billions of dollars are unknown. The event greatly damaged the world’s financial sector and economy.
3. Wave of Accidents
In the months following September 11, 2001, there was a wave of international accidents and events. On September 21, 2001, the AZF chemical factory located near Toulouse, France exploded. The event occurred when three hundred tons of ammonium nitrates ignited. The blast left a crater with a depth of 20 to 30 m (65 to 100 ft), and with a diameter of 200 m (650 ft). It was a major incident in France, and 29 people were killed. The event is recognized as an environmental catastrophe, and the total damages already paid by insurance groups are exceeding 1.5 billion euros. The blast is believed to have occurred due to the improper handling of ammonium nitrate, including the mixing of chemical impurities. However, on October 2, 2001, France’s then Environment Minister, Yves Cochet, announced that the explosion “may have been a terrorist attack” and identified Hassan Jandoubi as a person of interest.
On October 4, 2001, Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 crashed over the Black Sea. The plane was en route from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Novosibirsk, Russia, and all 78 people aboard were killed. The crash was initially thought to be a terrorist attack, since an Armenian plane near the scene reported seeing the Russian plane explode before it crashed into the sea. However, American intelligence reported that the crash was due to an errant S-200 surface to air missile fired as part of a Ukrainian Air Defense Forces exercise. Many people have labeled this hypothesis unlikely, considering the missiles range and safety features, claiming that the US was in fear of mass hysteria with yet another terrorist attack in the weeks following September 11. Ultimately, the government of Ukraine officially recognized their military’s fault in the accident and started negotiating compensation payments for victims’ relatives.
On November 12, 2001, the United States experienced its second deadliest aviation accident in history. It occurred when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, New York. The accident took place two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and it caused panic in New York. Thousands of people witnessed the Airbus A300 crash to the ground, killing all 260 people on board. Many people reported a fire and explosion before the plane crashed, but the National Transportation Safety Board attributed the disaster to the first officer’s overuse of rudder controls. Al-Qaeda has listed the crash among its successes, but physical evidence was never presented indicating terrorist activity. Surprisingly, the story was widely underreported in the United States, considering the magnitude of the crash. In the months after the tragedy, rumors were circulated that suggested that the plane was exploded by a shoe bomber, similar to the failed attempt of Richard Reid, but these claims are unsubstantiated.
2. 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Most people are familiar with the wave of anthrax attacks waged against the United States in the weeks following September, 11. Beginning on September 18, a group of letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to US media outlets, and the offices of two US senators. In all, five people were killed in the terrorist activity, and seventeen others were seriously affected. The letters addressed to the US senators, Democrats Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, were laced with a highly refined dry anthrax powder. Shortly after the first wave of attacks, two letters were sent to the New York Post and NBC News. The letters contained threats mentioning 9/11, and implied a new wave of terrorist activity. For this reason, it was highly reported in America that Al-Qaeda was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks.
On September 11, George W. Bush and the White House staff began taking a regimen of Cipro, which is a powerful antibiotic. This activity has led to a list of conspiracy theories accusing the US government of having pre-knowledge of the anthrax attacks. The investigation into the crimes was one of the longest and most complex in the history of law enforcement. Ultimately, investigators began to focus their attention on an American scientist named Bruce Edwards Ivins. Ivins worked at the US government’s biodefense labs at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. After extensive research, on August 6, 2008, federal prosecutors declared Bruce Edwards Ivins to be the sole culprit of the 2001 anthrax attacks. He committed suicide on July 29, 2008, after learning that he was going to be formally charged with the crimes. One would think that a media circus would have ensued, but little was mentioned about Bruce Edwards Ivins in the US press. His motives for blaming the attacks on Al-Qaeda are unknown.
1. USA PATRIOT Act
On October 26, 2001, US President George W. Bush enacted the USA PATRIOT Act. The bill was in direct response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11. The goal of the Act was to reduce restrictions on law enforcement and government officials when investigating criminal activity. It gave international law organizations the right to probe and search citizen’s e-mail, medical, financial and personal records. Some of the main sections of the law enacted restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering, expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, and broadened immigration laws in regards to detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The bill was passed by a wide margin in the US Congress. It was supported by some people and seen as an attack on civil liberties by others.
Entire websites have been dedicated to examining the Patriot Acts apparent lack of safeguards surrounding the rights of American citizens and foreign advocates. The bill made significant amendments to over 15 important constitutional statutes. The sections of the Patriot Act discussing Internet supervision and monitoring are confusing and extensive, ultimately reaching far beyond simple e-mail correspondence. One of the most surprising aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act is the lack of public and media debate regarding its introduction. Before September 11, provisions of the Act related to electronic surveillance were proposed and highly debated. However, many people feel that the Patriot Act has helped make America a safer place and stopped terrorist activity. In the first part of 2010, Barack Obama signed a one-year extension on several provisions in the Patriot Act.