This Day In History: July 16

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On July 16, 2002, President George W. Bush announces his plan for strengthening homeland security in the wake of the shocking September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., in which nearly 3,000 people had been killed. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed on American soil, Bush launched a massive overhaul of the nation’s security, intelligence and emergency-response systems through the creation of the White House Office of Homeland Security. It was part of a two-pronged effort, which included pre-emptive military action against terrorists in other countries, to fight the war on terror.

During a White House press conference that day, Bush gave the American public a preview of the changes to come, including, but not limited to, a color-coded warning system that identified different levels of threat, assessing which industries and regions were vulnerable to attack. He also proposed changes in laws that would give the president increased executive powers, particularly with regard to anti-terrorism policy.

On the day of his announcement, it appeared that Bush and Congress formed a fairly united front in favor of the new policy. However, as soon as the Department of Homeland Security was established, critics who feared the potential abuse of presidential powers and the abandonment of civil liberties in the name of national security raised their voices. Bush tried to reassure them that the changes were constitutional and open to Congressional oversight. However, over the next few years, his administration faced accusations of violating the Constitution and creating a political culture of secrecy and cronyism.