Below are portions of a speech DHS secretary Chertoff gave yesterday at the National Press Club:
It is obviously the eve of a very important date in our history, not only our national history but I suspect the personal history of just about everybody in the room. And of course, I'm referring to September 11th.
If I can be permitted a personal note, I was seven years ago today the head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. And on September 11th, I was one of the first people in the FBI's operations center after the airplanes had hit the World Trade Center and we became aware that we were dealing with an attack rather than an accident. So I have a very keen personal memory of the spirit of the country at that time as we suffered the worst single episode of death and destruction wreaked on purpose against American civilians in the history of this country.
And tomorrow is an opportunity both to reflect on what we've lost in terms of the people that were sacrificed and of course the huge impact it had on the family members of those who perished, but also to look back with some satisfaction that we've averted a successful attack over the last seven years, and at the same time with a rededication of effort to make sure that that record continues into the future so far as it's humanly possible for us to assure that ... the main topic for today is: Are we safer now than we were seven years ago on September 11th? And I want to address the question squarely, but then talk about it in terms of its implications for our long-term strategy against terrorism. And in doing so, I'll probably wind up touching upon some of the arguments that are raised by critics on both the right and the left, those who think we're too tough and those who think we're not tough enough, about our strategy in dealing with the threat of extremist idealogues who carried out one very, very tragic attack against America and who continue to work very hard to succeed in carrying out another one.
Now, when confronting the question, are we safer, there are really in my view two opposite extremes that we have to avoid: on the one hand, hysteria, hysterical fear; and on the other hand, complacency and almost blithe disregard for what the threat really is.
So what do I mean by hysteria? Well, what I mean is the kind of rhetoric -- I'm slightly exaggerating here, but the kind of rhetoric that sounds like this: Here we are seven years after 9/11. Al-Qaeda still exists. Bin Laden remains at large. Terrorists continue to plot and continue atrocities. Nothing we've been doing has worked. Everything is a failure. We're no safer now than we were then.
Now, in my view that argument is clearly incorrect. It is a false argument. I don't think there's any doubt that we are safer today than we were seven years ago. I think the proof is, of course, what's happened over the last seven years. And the reason for this, I believe, is obvious. Since 9/11, we and our friends and allies overseas around the globe have taken decisive steps to enhance our security and that of the people, the free people and the freedom- and peace-loving people around the world.
We've destroyed al-Qaeda's original headquarters and platform in Afghanistan. We've dramatically enhanced our intelligence capabilities around the globe. We've captured and killed terrorists, both leaders and foot soldiers, on nearly every continent. We've developed very strong partnerships with our allies in sharing information and bringing combined efforts together in dealing with terrorism. And we've built a brand-new Department of Homeland Security, which is specifically focused, among other things, on how to make sure dangerous people and dangerous things do not come into the United States in order to create attacks and to cause enormous amounts of damage and loss of life.
Today al-Qaeda no longer has a state sponsor like it had when Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban. And although it still has some spaces in Pakistan and in other parts of the world, which I'll talk about in a moment, it doesn't own an entire country or have free reign over an entire country as was the case prior to 9/11. Much of the original leadership of al-Qaeda has in fact been brought to justice one way or another. Al-Qaeda is losing in Iraq, what General Petraeus, I think, said the other day, is one of the central fronts in the fight against terrorism. Al-Qaeda is losing in Iraq, and they're losing in part because the Sunni tribes themselves have rejected the ideology of extremism, rejected the foreign interference of the al-Qaeda fighters, and have risen up to partner up with the United States in striking against this terrorist group.
Al-Qaeda has also suffered a loss of its reputation, even in the community which it seeks to influence, because the repeated attacks on innocent Muslims have begun to have an impact on the public image of al-Qaeda in the Muslim world. When a couple of years ago al-Qaeda blew up a wedding party in Amman, it cost them dearly in terms of their reputation in Jordan. And more recent attacks on schoolchildren in Algeria resulted in Ayman al-Zawahiri actually being challenged in an internet chat session by Muslims who attacked him and said, how can you justify killing innocent Muslim schoolchildren in the name of your ideology?
So these are all positive developments and suggest that we are, for all of these reasons and more, safer than we were prior to 9/11.
You might ask, what specifically have we done at the Department of Homeland Security to make us safer and more secure? And I could give you a long list. But let me just give you some of the accomplishments I think we can point to.
We have dramatically increased our ability to block dangerous people from coming into this country. Seven years ago we didn't have the biometrics, we didn't have the analytic capabilities, we didn't have the secure documentation, and we didn't have the manpower that we now have at our ports of entry. We are on the way to doubling the Border Patrol by the end of this year, and building technology and infrastructure that will again make it much harder for people to sneak in between our ports of entry.
We've pushed our security perimeter outside the border, working with foreign countries so that we can do a lot of our analysis and a lot of our screening overseas. We've developed comprehensive infrastructure, security plans, and procedures. Nearly two dozen layers of security into our aviation system. We now fuse and share intelligence in a way that was never possible prior to September 11th. And, after some tough challenges after Katrina, we have dramatically overhauled FEMA and increased our capability to deal with a disaster, whether it be manmade or caused by Mother Nature.
All of these actions have helped make America a tougher target for terrorists and for other dangerous people. And when you look at what we've done at home, when you look at what we've done overseas, when you look at what our allies have done, I think this goes a good way to explaining why it is that the enemy has not succeeded in carrying out an attack in the U.S.
But one thing I will say is it's not for lack of trying. And the dramatic example of that, of course, is the August 2006 airline plot which was directed at flights coming from the United Kingdom into North America, including the United States, a plot which, as I've said previously, would have had an impact in scale and in loss of life comparable to September 11th.
But now let me turn to the other side, complacency. I don't think we should be hysterical, but I don't think we should be complacent, either, because just the fact that we are safer does not mean we are completely safe and the job is done. In fact, if we believe we're safe and the job is done, then we're ignoring the dynamic nature of the threat, the adaptive capability of the enemy, and we are falling prey to what is the opposite peril of hysteria, namely, the peril of complacency.
So what do I mean by complacency? Well, I'm going to give you again a slightly exaggerated view of what complacency is with respect to al-Qaeda. It goes something like this. Here we are seven years after 9/11. No attacks on our soil. 9/11 must have been some kind of freakish aberration that is unlikely to repeat itself. Al-Qaeda's strength is overrated, probably hyped up by the government, and the government is exaggerating what we need to do to deal with the threat. We've got other things to worry about. This problem has gotten boring, and we should move onto something else and now focus on other elements of the public agenda.
Now, this is what you could call a September 10th mindset. That's a mindset that tells you that it really isn't possible to imagine a very serious successful attack on American soil. On September 10th, you might have justified that mindset on the ground that it hadn't happened yet. It is in my view awfully tough to justify that mindset after it's happened. But we are beginning to see discussion, both at an academic level and at a popular level, for people who say that this is really a much exaggerated fear, and that we really have to put it in a box and now focus on other things ...
So instead of complacency, I think we need to put ourselves right in the middle of the hysteria and complacency. And to use the words of the recent national intelligence estimate issued last summer, we face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. I would add it's a threat we have successfully dealt with in the past seven years, but because it is changing, we are doomed to fail if we do not ourselves adapt to meet that change.
So let me stand back and try to describe the threat. And I'll describe it not only in terms of what we've experienced in the last seven to maybe 15 years, but to even look more broadly and look ahead five or 10 years because I think while al-Qaeda is the most salient terrorist threat to this country, it is by no means the only threat to the security of our people here in the United States in the homeland ...
When you look at [other] threats, this is not designed to tell you that, again, we have to lurch to hysteria. It is designed to say that we must be prepared to deal with and address each of these challenges, recognizing they will morph, recognizing they will adapt, and recognizing that the only way we can succeed in continuing to deal with them is if we are willing to change ourselves and to operate in the same evolving fashion.
So having laid out what the challenge is, let me talk briefly about the kinds of tools that I think we have to use. And the title of this speech is "All of the Above" because I believe that in some of the debate we've had over the strategy on terrorism, we've tended to divide into two groups, one group that is exclusively focused on military approaches and one group that says, no, no, it's a law enforcement problem. And my argument is it's everything. It's all of the above. We have to use every tool in the national security and homeland security toolbox, and we also have to invent a few tools that we haven't yet fashioned.
Now, there's value in each of these approaches. If you look at the military option, there's no doubt that we could not have caused the damage we did to al-Qaeda if we had not taken the battle into Afghanistan, where we could drive them from their refuge, where we could capture them, where we could kill them, and where we could force them to run into hiding. That was a major positive development in struggling against al-Qaeda.
But at the same time, we've also used civilian tools. We've used intelligence collection capabilities, like interception of communications. We've used our ability to disrupt the flow of finance using some of our civil law authorities. We've even used conventional law enforcement, particularly in this country, where we have arrested and successfully prosecuted a number of people, either directly for terrorist acts or for acts that perhaps were not terrorist in nature but allowed us to incapacitate someone who we had reason to believe was a terrorist.
All of these approaches taken together, all of the above, constitute in my view what is an appropriate and layered comprehensive strategy to dealing with terrorism: deterring terrorists from entering the country, capturing or killing them in their home base if you can do it, stopping them in the course of their travel, and bringing them to justice if we can find them in this country or in other civilized parts of the world ...
So I would argue that it's a comprehensive approach that we have to continue to take. And those who attempt to pigeonhole this effort into a single box, mainly because there's perhaps a political argument to be made, are actually doing a disservice to the country. We should come together and recognize that all of these elements of power are crucial and will be crucial for the next seven years, just as we have used all of these elements of power over the last seven years.
But now I want to also conclude by indicating that I don't think these tools are enough. We still find ourselves locked into a set of legal authorities and legal processes that were designed in the 20th century when the world was neatly divided between nation states that waged war and individual groups that committed crimes. Now, as this has blended together with non-state actors, we find ourselves trying to fashion new tools with old, existing concepts ...
So with that, as we conclude what I anticipate will be my final anniversary of September 11th in office ...
Just like the rest of you, I think back to what I was doing on 9/11. I don't have a very interesting story to tell. I was living in Portsmouth, N.H., and was home for the day and turned on Good Morning America (which I never, ever watched at the time) in time to see the second plane hit. I remember trying to call my family and not getting through and wondering where I should go. Although it is not an enticing story by any means, 9/11 had a profound effect on me, just as it has had on a majority of Americans. And for my generation in particular, it has become a symbol of sorts of the threats we as a society face.