As Americans approach the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Homeland Security Department officials cite improvements in the country's security systems.
But in the nation's southwest and in Houston, Texas -- the nation's fourth largest city and one still listed by anti- terrorist organizations as a likely target due to its international ports and energy industry -- people say they feel less safe today.
Though the United States and many nations united in mourning, residents today see an economically and politically splintered country less secure in the years since 9/11, the first attack on U. S. soil since Pearl Harbor.
"No, I don't feel any safer," said Robert Chase, 54, pipe fitter and officer of a local pipe fitter's union who lives north of Houston in Cleveland, Texas.
Chase was working on a project at the Houston Ship Channel when he learned of 9/11 -- and later, that his 38-year-old brother-in- law and longtime family friend, New York Police Department Emergency Services first responder Stephen Driscoll, was among the missing. Driscoll's body was later recovered in the South Tower.
"They (The terrorists) already have people in place, people training all the time just to wipe us off the map," Chase said. "And our people (security departments) don't talk to each other, don't share information."
A 9/11 Commission update released Aug. 31 by the Bipartisan Policy Center largely blasted the U.S. Congress for not meeting some of its recommendations made in the aftermath of the attack. Included in its list of failures are the vital, emergency- preparedness positions still unfilled after heavily partisan debates.
The report also points to the unreliability of methods of detecting explosives aboard an aircraft and the lack of enforcement of photo identification requirements and of radio frequency synchronization between emergency responding agencies.
"The idea that we were ever 'safe' from attack because of what or where we are was always a misconception. No wall, no moat, no castle or army or secret police force has ever succeeded in preventing the world from turning," said Clayton McKee, a Houston- based freelance photojournalist.
While the public is more aware of U.S. vulnerability, official reaction has been more paranoid and isolationist than rational or thoughtful, McKee said. "Most of the large reactions, such as border closings and anti-immigration laws, are as much political theater for domestic audiences as they are actual security improvements."
Rather than taking advantage of the world's sympathy and understanding in the days following 9/11, the United States quickly turned to its "shock and awe" penchant for peace through military intimidation, he said. "A more cooperative and less antagonistic U.S. posture in the world might have reduced the motivation for further terrorist attacks."
Dan Bonetati, senior graphic designer at Image Imperative in Houston, said the goodwill toward America and the in-country unity that followed 9/11 has been undone by political posturing.
"The truth is, I am more frightened by Congress and the rest of our 'caregivers' than I ever was of Osama Bin Laden,"said Bonetati, 67. "Really. I'm not kidding. Some people are very accepting and want to be in constructive relationships with different cultures. Unfortunately, they are not running the government. Never thought that would happen, but I never thought we would be forcing the culture of the USA on the Middle East and spending billions to do it."
Elementary school art teacher Susan Martin, 50, believes politicians have played on American fears since the day of the attack to make citizens more divided and more easily swayed in the voting booth.
"We're probably less safe than on 9/11 because the economy is less stable. Instability in our own infrastructure, our security," Martin said. "We are definitely more divided. September 11 was the beginning of the division of the country to support political agendas."
For family and friends whose lives were directly touched by 9/ 11, there is no recovery, Chase said.
"In life, people die. They are buried. You mourn. Life goes on time," Chase said. "But with a 9/11 death, it never goes away. Every year is the anniversary. Every day there is somebody on the news talking about it, somebody wanting to talk to you about it. It's like time constantly picking at a wound that never heals."
"For us, though, 9/11 is a day of mourning. A day of silence," Chase said.