More than 12 years after the worst terrorist attack on this country's soil, methods of gathering intelligence to prevent future events in the United States have changed in one very important area.
"The biggest improvement is intelligence sharing between agencies," Johnny Eason told members of the Minden Lions Club last week. "At one time it was stovepipe. Each agency, the FBI, CIA, secret service...had their information and there was no such thing as communication or information sharing."
Eason, a 1972 graduate of Minden High School, is Federal Security Director for the state of Louisiana, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHA). He's responsible for security and regulatory oversight for all aviation, rail, cargo, passenger and baggage screening operations in Louisiana.
Everyone who travels is familiar with the "no-fly" list, a compilation of individuals who have been investigated and found to be a potential threat.
"We know everyone on the no-fly list," Eason said, noting the 600 people including air marshals, bomb technicians, behavior detection agents and many others "...who help me do my job. What you mainly see, though, are the screeners at the airports."
Eason said his agency works on what he called a risk-based, layered security approach. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, every airport's security approach was basically the same.
"Now, depending on threat assessments and intelligence, in Shreveport we may be swabbing for explosive residue; in Baton Rouge we may be looking at baggage; in New Orleans we may be using dogs combined with mirrors to look under vehicles and check for bombs," he said. "We use random pattern so it will be harder for people to get into gaps."
Eason explained how the September 11 terrorists trained for their mission, telling members of the Lions Club that the group of four pilots and 15 "muscle" men spent three years in preparation. In 2008, the pilots trained for six months overseas then came to the United States for a year in flight schools.
In 2009, the 15 others underwent "combat" training, which included using animals to learn how to stab, slice and kill humans with box cutters, Eason said. After their year's flight training, pilots were returned to the Middle East, joined with the 15 others to form four teams and, finally, sent to the U.S. for more preparation.
"For the next 10 months they traveled the exact flights, the exact routes, even sat in the exact seats they would occupy on 9-11," Eason said. "Two days before their mission, they sent $27,000 back to Al Qaeda. This shows they were extremely motivated and very patient."
Eason said the threats remain, and pointed to two groups that cause him concern.
"I am absolutely embarrassed to say that both groups are Americans," he said. "One is young Americans who go overseas to be trained. Last week in New York a guy was arrested who was going after military personnel. And, a young man from Florida blew himself up with 17 tons of explosives in Syria."
Some of those who go overseas to train have been killed, Eason said, "...but I guarantee some will come back to the United States and that's a big-time threat."
Eason's second group which gives him reason to be concerned consists of what he called in-grown terrorists who are sovereign citizens.
"These are the people who carry an AR-15 into a McDonald's because they don't think the government has any authority over them. I think they're being hypocritical because they live in a country where they can say things about their government," he said.
A technique Eason's agency uses to keep an eye out for potential danger involves individuals on the no-fly list. He said it may not be correct to think a person on that list can never board a commercial airliner.
"We will give a one-time exemption," Eason explained. "He's going to get the full Monty screening so there's no danger he can bring the plane down. For investigative purposes, we will let him fly because we want to know where he's going and who he's meeting up with."
Many of those checked are headed to Minneapolis, Minn., a destination Eason called "a hot bed right now."
Eason said he has a major problem with homegrown terrorists who were born here and live here.
"I don't know why they hate this government and this country. I tell them they don't hate the government, they hate the people who happen to be in charge," Eason said. "I will say, though, that if they don't love this country, get out."
People claiming to hate the government are also attacking individuals who have spent their lives protecting this country, Eason added.
"I think the Good Lord has a plan for everyone. I know some absolutely outstanding individuals who are putting their life on the line every day so everyone in this room and in this city can live the life they want to live," he said.