Inside Today’s FBI: After 9/11

9/11 Gallery Sponsored by Comcast

Sept. 12, 2001, front pages in the 9/11 Gallery Sponsored by Comcast. (Michael Bateman/Newseum)

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, forever changed the FBI’s mission. Once associated with busting suited mobsters and crooked politicians, the FBI’s scope had widened considerably by the time terrorists struck on U.S. soil. But after 9/11, the FBI declared terrorism Public Enemy No. 1 and the “War on Terror” its top priority.

The attacks also resulted in tightened security measures at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. While it once offered public tours that featured iconic artifacts from its investigations, after 9/11 the agency restricted access to all but the most privileged insiders. Then in 2008, the FBI lent several of its artifacts — including some of those related to 9/11 — to the Newseum for its exhibit “Inside Today’s FBI.”

Visitors to this exhibit can follow FBI agents as they poured onto the burning World Trade Center site, and into a lonely parking lot at a Virginia airport where critical evidence was found inside a car abandoned by two of the hijackers. The exhibit also traces the FBI’s transformation into a top counterintelligence agency that uses cutting-edge technology to detect and disrupt terrorists around the world.

Some of the  artifacts featured in “Inside Today’s FBI” include the hijackers’ car; letters and passports belonging to the hijackers; engine parts from the planes that struck the twin towers; and personal items found by FBI agents as they sifted through 2 million tons of rubble at Ground Zero. While many of the artifacts reveal how the FBI identified the terrorists, the victims’ belongings show another side of the FBI’s investigation.

“One thing I don’t think people realize about the FBI is the care they take in helping victims of attacks,” said Patty Rhule, director of exhibit development at the Newseum. “Every time they come across personal belongings, they stop for a moment of silence.”

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