September 11, 2001 will be remembered as an evil and horrific moment in our great nation’s history. Thousands of deaths and breathtaking devastation have shaken America, and yet Americans everywhere have rallied together with prayers, compassion and small acts of courage and heroism that history might never record.
Just as importantly, this terrible tragedy has provoked a needed reassessment of our country’s security from acts of unimaginable hatred.
As ranking member on the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology and Terrorism and as a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have heard constant and alarming testimony over the past few years about real threats to our security and a disturbing level of unpreparedness. Much to my sorrow, what has happened in New York and Washington only confirms what many of us have been urging for some time – that we must re-prioritize our approach to security, focusing much more on the terrorist threat. These event will finally force us to do that.
We are in a war with terrorism – we have been for some time – and we must behave accordingly. Gone forever is the comfortable fiction that terrorism happens elsewhere, but not on American soil.
While no nation can ever be completely safe from threats to its security, there are concrete steps we should explore now to make America safer.
For the last five years, FBI director Louis Freeh testified before my Terrorism subcommittee that he needed certain legal authority to investigate these kinds of crimes. This includes “trap and trace” authority, which would give the FBI greater ability to tap into computers, for example, based on one court order rather than having to obtain a slew of state court orders, if a signal goes through different switches in different states.
Experts have made other many recommendations that we should take seriously. We could start by putting countries on the terrorist list that are not there now. We should follow contributions to terrorist organizations in the United States. We should reexamine the unreasonably restrictive requirements pertaining to criteria for recruiting agents. This cripples efforts to infiltrate certain terrorist organizations, where likely recruits are unscrupulous and ruthless. We should enhance information sharing and cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA. Many of these provisions are incorporated in legislation I introduced with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
We must examine the safety of our airlines and airports. Clearly, measures must be taken to increase security. Just two years ago, for example, the major airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport and the port authority were found to have committed 136 security violations. In the majority of incidents, screeners hired by airlines to staff checkpoints in terminals routinely failed to detect test items, such as pipe bombs and guns. These glaring security failures must be the subject of prompt Congressional scrutiny.
We must re-evaluate our intelligence-gathering activities worldwide. The nation had no warning of this attack, though it was clearly long-planned and well-coordinated. I join my colleagues in calling for prompt hearings to examine this failure in our intelligence network.
We must assess how we ascertain credible information about attacks from abroad, and how we missed what was clearly an elaborate and well-coordinated ploy to undermine the United States.
Lastly, the nation must decide how to get tougher on terrorists and the nations that harbor them. Terrorists are protected internally by certain nations, or they are constantly on the move, or difficult to track down with any certainty. We must pursue all possible efforts to being these wanton murderers to justice. Unfortunately, in some cases, there is also no clear agreement on how the United States should deal with countries that will not extradite agents of terror. I believe, for example, that we should discourage any concessions to Iran and Syria, until these two countries stop providing support for terrorist groups.
These are difficulty questions and, unfortunately, we have taken too long to adequately address them. Yet, amid the horror and chaos of the last few days, all of us have felt uplifted by a spirit of defiance and courage evident in the American people. I have heard of many Arizonans who have rallied together behind our nation’s leaders, volunteered where help was needed, and donated blood to state blood banks. All of this has given me great confidence that America will continue to be a strong and vibrant nation – one that does not cower in the face of evil.
We will mourn. We will reassess and rebuild. And we will remember.