This has led critics to ask whether officials exaggerated their successes in the first place.
They highlight examples such as the cases of “dirty bomber” suspect Jose Padilla, Muslim Guantanamo Bay chaplain James Yee, a controversial colour-coded terror alert system and a foreigner registration scheme – all of which have fizzled to some extent since they were announced with much fanfare.
Critics also cite widespread investigations and large numbers of arrests in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks which led to few convictions.
“Certainly I believe that the administration is very good at press conferences and messages with respect to homeland security,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat on the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Homeland Security, said. “Much of it has been fluff, in my opinion.”
Evaluating success is difficult in the war on “terror”, a scourge analysts say can only be curbed, not defeated.
Officials say an absence of armed attacks on US soil since September 11 shows “anti-terrorism” strategies appear to be working, even if some efforts did not bear the desired fruit.
But critics – many but not all of them opposition Democrats – doubt the “anti-terrorist” track record is as good as official announcements make it seem.
“Much of it has been fluff, in my opinion”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez,
US Attorney General John Ashcroft himself announced in June 2002 that Padilla had been arrested for planning to use a “dirty bomb”.
Eighteen months later, he is still held as an “enemy combatant” but has not been charged, and judges have raised questions about the case, now being watched as a key constitutional challenge to the administration’s “anti-terror” campaign.
Yee was arrested in September in an espionage probe. He was eventually charged with a number of less serious crimes, none of which are related to espionage.
The government launched the colour-coded alert system in 2002 to help Americans prepare better for future attacks. But Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has admitted concerns about its credibility and said it should be amended.
Earlier in December, the government also said it was partially scrapping a controversial post-September 11 control on foreign visitors saying “anti-terror” resources could be used better elsewhere.
Critics say the pattern is also evident in other areas such as maritime security and intelligence programs, which were introduced with much aplomb but which they say have made little progress to genuinely enhance US safety.