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More than a decade after 9-11: Are Americans any safer from terrorists?

Combined military, intelligence, diplomatic, and financial efforts have disabled al-Qaida, pushing the fear of terrorism to the back of most Americans' minds. 

By Lolita C. BaldorAssociated Press / September 8, 2012

More than 10 years after the September 11 attacks, Americans' attitudes about terrorism have changed. With the death of Osama bin Laden, and a disabled al-Qaida network, some former threats have subsided.

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Washington

As Americans debate whether they are better off now than they were four years ago, there is a similar question with a somewhat easier answer: Are you safer now than you were when President Barack Obama took office?

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By most measures, the answer is yes.

More than a decade after terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, Americans have stopped fretting daily about a possible attack or stockpiling duct tape and water. Getting through airport security has become a routine irritation, not a grim foreboding.

While the threat of a terrorist attack has not disappeared, the combined military, intelligence, diplomatic and financial efforts to hobble al-Qaida and its affiliates have escalated over the past four years and paid off. Terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are dead and their networks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia disrupted.

In some cases, the Obama White House simply continued or intensified programs and policies begun by the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. But Obama pursued a more aggressive drone campaign to target terrorist leaders, broadening efforts to help at-risk nations bolster their own defenses, and put in place plans to end the war in Iraq and bring troops out of Afghanistan.

As a result, terrorism worries have taken a back seat to the nation's economic woes.

Unlike previous elections, national security is not a big campaign issue this year.

Mitt Romney made no mention of terrorism or war during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week. Although public opposition to the war in Afghanistan has grown, it's not a top dinner table topic for most Americans.

"I would have said four years ago that the al-Qaida movement was emerging as a bigger problem, especially with the emergence of affiliates in places like Yemen and with the spike in homegrown attacks," said Phil Mudd, a senior counterterrorism official at the CIA and FBI during the Bush and Obama administrations. "But I would say today that al-Qaidaism is on the decline. By any balance, the number of places where people want to come after us has declined in the past four years."

Mudd, now a senior research fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, said that while militants in other countries may still be causing problems in their own areas, they are less likely to "be sitting there saying how do we get to Los Angeles, and that's a big change."

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