There have been no fewer than 14 attempted domestic terrorist attacks and nine international plots against American citizens and interests since 9/11, according to reports in the public record. There have been plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and airplanes crossing the Atlantic. Terrorists have conspired to murder American soldiers at Fort Dix and planned to ignite the fuel lines beneath John F. Kennedy International Airport. Not a single post-9/11 plot on U.S. soil has succeeded to date. That is no accident; it is a measure of our increased vigilance as a nation.
The fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups will be America’s central challenge for years to come. We will achieve victory in what I call the Terrorists’ War on Us only by staying on offense: defeating terrorist organizations and hunting down their leaders, wherever they are; helping Afghanistan and Iraq establish stable and representative governments; aiding the spread of good governance throughout the Muslim world; and defeating militant Islam in the war of ideas.
Such international efforts are essential to winning this war, but not sufficient. We must also protect our people and economy, secure our borders, and prevent terrorist attacks here at home. These responsibilities are the domestic dimension of the larger struggle, and they require a focus on more than terrorism. As Stephen Flynn points out in his book The Edge of Disaster, “Nearly 90 percent of Americans are currently living in locations that place them at moderate to high risks of earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, or high-wind damage.” Preparing for terrorist attacks and for natural disasters are complementary goals: when cities and states prepare for natural disaster, they also strengthen our response to potential terrorism.
The next administration’s approach to homeland security should be based on three core principles: prevention, preparedness, and resilience.
Preventing terrorist attacks before they happen must be our primary goal. Of course, America must stay on offense internationally when it comes to WMDs, using determined diplomacy and economic measures to discourage states from trading in dangerous materials that threaten Americans. Nations that continue in the trade must face the seizure of shipments— or worse. Here at home and at ports overseas, we must deploy state-of-the-art radiation detection technology to shield against nuclear fissile material, dirty bombs, and other radiological weapons, and we must proceed with the development and stockpiling of vaccines as a defense against bioterror. We also need to be ready for other forms of attack, such as cyberterrorism—a weapon of mass disruption. Digital technologies drive our nation’s economy and control much of our critical infrastructure. America cannot afford to wait for a digital Pearl Harbor before we begin taking the cyberterrorism threat seriously.
But these steps, as important as they are, will not solve the now widely recognized problem of getting our federal intelligence and law enforcement officers to share information so that they can “connect the dots” to uncover terrorist attacks before they happen. Some people theorize, based on the 9/11 Commission report, that the attacks of September 11 might have been prevented if the CIA and FBI had overcome the institutional barriers between and within the agencies and shared information. To take just one well-known example, the CIA knew in early 2000 that one suspected al-Qaida terrorist had acquired a U.S. visa and that another had flown to California. But Langley didn’t tell the FBI or register the men with the State Department’s watch list. As a result, two future 9/11 hijackers slipped into the U.S. Whether communication would or would not have been enough to lead to actions to prevent the attacks, it certainly is prudent to make sure this gap is closed in the future.
Several kinds of barriers hampered us in the 1990s. Some reflected the cultural differences between prosecution-oriented law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community’s preference for information collection. Others were legally required, such as the restrictions on sharing information derived through grand juries and criminal wiretaps. Still others were self-imposed, such as the infamous “wall” erected by the Clinton justice department in 1995, which complicated collaboration between the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence agents and its criminal investigators.
Such “stovepiping” of information must not continue. We need to build on the Bush administration’s efforts, such as the USA Patriot Act, to break down the barriers among federal agencies and between foreign and domestic intelligence. The Patriot Act removed barriers to information sharing between the intelligence community and law enforcement, but there is still more to do. We must guard against the danger that the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence will become just another layer of bureaucracy that impedes the information flow rather than facilitates it. And we need to pay close attention to unsettling lower-court decisions that raise the specter of the wall’s reemergence, and to the weakening of the Patriot Act by judicial fiat.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enacted in 1978 to exclude eavesdropping on foreign communications from judicial oversight, must be modernized and expanded to encompass not just phones, as the current law does, but also newer technologies, such as the fax machine and the Internet. Antiquated laws—enacted when such technologies weren’t part of everyday life—cannot be allowed to hamstring our federal law enforcement and foreign intelligence services. Some members of Congress want to throw as many legal obstacles as possible in front of FBI agents and intelligence officers as they try to intercept communications between known al-Qaida leaders and U.S.-based operatives who will carry out attacks. This is the last thing we should do.
Getting and keeping federal agencies communicating with one another isn’t enough. An effective homeland security plan also has to establish links to, and make use of, the valuable information collected by the country’s 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers. We should view these officers as counterterrorism resources—“first preventers,” as the Manhattan Institute’s R. P. Eddy calls them. Even beyond uniformed services, people such as DMV clerks, and even everyday citizens, may notice clues that would help law enforcement identify would-be terrorists. It was a clerk at Circuit City, after all, who provided the key tip that enabled federal authorities to stop the Fort Dix plot. (We should also reform liability laws so that individuals who act in good faith, such as those who report suspicious behavior on airplanes, will not get sued for trying to help their fellow citizens. Fortunately, a law authored by Representative Peter King was recently passed to protect Americans who do just that.)
To gather and analyze such useful information, first preventers can be assisted by the widespread implementation of a “Terrorstat” program, an idea proposed by former NYPD police commissioner William Bratton and criminologist George Kelling. Terrorstat would build on the proven principles of Compstat, the computerized crimemapping system developed by the New York Police Department in the 1990s and now used by police departments nationwide. By bringing all crime and arrest data together by category and by neighborhood, Compstat revolutionized policing, enabling officers to focus their efforts in problem areas, armed with up-to-the-minute, accurate intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, individual accountability, and relentless follow-up. Terrorstat would do the same for counterterrorism.
Terrorstat would not only capture information about terrorism-related arrests and distribute it to law enforcement officials; it would also fuse that information with data on arrests for crimes that on the surface seem unrelated to terrorism but may prove to be precursors to an attack. The investigation of the ordinary can help prevent the extraordinary.
Terrorists prepare for their activities with preattack surveillance and finance them with ordinary criminal actions. Consider a 2005 plot in which a jihadist cell aimed to unleash a wave of violence in Southern California. One of the conspirators made the mistake of dropping his cell phone during what appeared to be a straightforward gas-station robbery in Torrance, California. Local police drew information from the phone that set off an FBI-led investigation that eventually unraveled the plot. Or consider the case of Dhiren Barot, a now-imprisoned al-Qaida operative who developed detailed pre-attack surveillance reports before 9/11 on major financial buildings in Washington, D.C., New York, and New Jersey. None of the security guards at any of the facilities that he cased, including the World Bank, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Prudential building in Newark, detected him. He was captured only after the CIA raided a terrorist safe house in Pakistan in 2004 and found Barot’s casing reports on a computer.
The Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with state homeland security offices, should train public and private security personnel around the nation to recognize and report terrorist pre-attack activity. Terrorstat would provide a simple, structured, and consistent way for security personnel to report information to a larger intelligence network, including the National Counterterrorism Center—leading to investigations that can disrupt terrorist plots before they result in deadly attacks.
Homeland security and border security are inseparable in the twenty-first century. The story of Ra’ed al-Banna is a chilling reminder of why. On June 14, 2003, al-Banna was denied entry into the U.S. at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport by Customs and Border Protection inspectors, who questioned him after their Automated Targeting System identified him as warranting further scrutiny. On February 28, 2005, al-Banna blew up himself and at least 125 others outside a health clinic in Hilla, Iraq. It was one of the deadliest suicide bombings committed by al-Qaida in Iraq. We’ll never know if al-Banna was coming to the U.S. to inflict similar harm, but strong border security prevented him from having the opportunity.
Still, a recent National Intelligence Estimate concluded that al-Qaida is intensifying its efforts to place operatives within the United States. Security must improve at official ports of entry like O’Hare, as well as along our porous land borders. Ending illegal immigration and identifying every noncitizen in the nation are crucial to preventing terror. We need a tamperproof biometric ID card for all noncitizens and a single national database of noncitizens in our country that would include information about when they are required to leave. And if noncitizens commit crimes, they should be deported after serving their time.
To bring real order to the border, we should establish a “Borderstat” program, also based on Compstat principles. Borderstat would use technology to monitor illegal border crossings and compare them with captures. It would enable us to hold field commanders—including border patrol sector chiefs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents in charge—accountable for what goes on in their areas. The successful completion of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), ongoing since 2006—which promises to help us gain control of the borders through the construction of both physical and virtual technological fences—will be an essential step in this effort. Through the installation of sophisticated monitoring technology, we will finally be able to determine with certainty where the holes in our border defenses are and target the resources to fill them. Even before the completion of SBI, however, we can use Borderstat to monitor incidents better along the border—shootings, petty crimes, and garbage dumping—that indicate illegal crossings and deploy border law enforcement resources to where they can have the most impact. Borderstat will apply a version of the Broken Windows policing theory to our borders.
Though we must make America more secure, we must also show our friends around the world that America is a country open for business, not a closed-door fortress. The best and the brightest should come to America—to study here, to work here, and in some cases to become American citizens. It is only through this process that we will deepen the connections between America and the Islamic world that will prove essential in prevailing over radical Islamic extremism.
Border security is about more than just physical borders. In an era in which many enterprises are transnational and essentially stateless, physical borders are just one checkpoint in a broader series of systems that move people, products, money, data, and information around the planet—systems that function as the arteries for the global economy. We need to work with our international partners and the private sector to secure our nation, while also facilitating the efficient flow of legitimate travel and commerce into America and throughout the world.
It’s also past time to rethink aviation security and to stop frisking toddlers and grandmothers trying to get onto planes. Instead, good intelligence, behavior analysis, biometrics, and trustedtraveler programs can help speed legitimate travelers through airports. For example, I don’t think that the Transportation Security Administration needs to spend much time searching Senator Ted Kennedy before he boards a plane—which is what the TSA did in August 2004 because a person on a watch list had a similar name. The federal Terrorist Watch List, which still has incomplete and inaccurate information, needs a serious cleanup.
Preparedness, the second core homelandsecurity principle, is the key to getting America ready to withstand the terrorist strikes that may occur and the natural disasters that will occur.
One reason New York City was able to withstand the 9/11 attack was that we were prepared to meet twenty-first-century security threats. As mayor of New York, in the spring of 1996, I established the Office of Emergency Management. We drilled and planned for various threats—anthrax, chemical weapons, hurricanes, and airplane crashes. And while we didn’t anticipate the specific scenario of 9/11, the constant practice, and the relentless follow-up from actual emergencies, certainly helped in its aftermath.
We need to ensure that similar offices of emergency management are a standard element in local disaster preparation, and make certain that all first responders are trained to use the Incident Command System (ICS), a standardized emergency protocol that reduces potential miscommunication during the initial phases of incident response. The immediate response to a disaster or an attack determines how many people live and how many die. Fire departments nationwide have been out front in using the ICS; the rest of the public-safety community can learn from their example.
Our nation must also move forward in creating an effective emergency management communications network—a standard, expanded bandwidth for localities around the nation to share information and work in concert, even if a catastrophic disaster wipes out normal communications systems.
Effective preparedness requires the expansion of both international and domestic syndromic surveillance systems monitoring such things as hospital emergency-room admissions for upticks in specific symptoms, pharmacy sales of antibiotics and other drugs, and other tools of epidemiological surveillance. We need to make these systems a major national priority because they are critical to identifying and giving early warning of pandemics and stealth biochemical attacks that could kill thousands. And before medical disasters do strike, we should strengthen and better coordinate the federal National Disaster Medical System, so that we can more effectively deploy doctors and medical staff to disaster areas without getting them snarled in red tape. After Hurricane Katrina, some volunteer health professionals who came from other states were stopped because local authorities could not determine whether they had licenses to practice. Desperately needed medical volunteers found themselves turned away or thrown into hopeless bureaucratic mazes—ultimately prevented from helping those in need. We also need to expand teams of disaster-response specialists, such as the Urban Search and Rescue teams—groups made up of fire, law enforcement, medical, and other public-safety personnel, which conduct search, rescue, and medical operations during disasters and can deploy whenever and wherever disaster strikes.
The failure to respond effectively in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath demonstrated to all Americans that their government wasn’t prepared in every part of the country to respond to disaster.
Fixing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and working to ensure that all levels of government are ready to respond to catastrophic disasters are not simply a matter of throwing more money at the problem or increasing the size of Washington bureaucracies. These goals require building on our federal system—continuing to rely on state and local communities to prepare for catastrophic disasters, while at the same time strengthening the federal government’s vital role in coordinating disaster-relief efforts and helping local communities to access the federal resources available to them.
This requires getting the Department of Homeland Security out of its Washington Beltway mind-set and strengthening its leadership capabilities throughout the country. FEMA is currently organized around ten regions. DHS should build on these underused regional structures, working with relevant state, local, and private-sector entities to identify potential vulnerabilities; highlight critical infrastructure in need of additional protection or upgrade; and, in general, coordinate the federal role in helping state and local governments respond. DHS regional directors should play a key role in determining where federal resources—including grant dollars—can best improve preparedness, and they can assess state and local capabilities and preparedness levels.
DHS regional directors should also be at the center of a broad program of training exercises and disaster planning for all military, federal, state, local, and private-sector leaders—the men and women who will be called upon when the stakes are high and time is short. When disaster strikes, regional directors, local government officials, and crucial private-sector actors should not be handing out business cards for the first time.
We should also better marshal the resources of the private sector—before disaster strikes, so that we’re not left flat-footed when companies such as Wal-Mart or UPS offer to help, as after Katrina. An enhanced regional preparedness network is vital to our ability to weather the inevitable shocks and catastrophes that will come our way.
We need, further, to bring a higher degree of predictability to the funding formulas for homeland security, ending anonymous earmarks and pork-barrel politics. We can’t afford to build a Bridge to Nowhere while real bridges collapse in Minnesota. A Compstat-like system can help us here, too. Federal officials need a new “Readystat” system to measure localities’ preparedness against risks and prioritize federal funding accordingly. Readystat would conduct annual assessments to determine the needs of each locality based on geography, population, and the unique threats that each community faces. These data would then be used as an objective guide to funding and grant decisions. Armed with the data, DHS regional directors would also work with state and local leaders to ensure preparedness. Readystat could have pointed out New Orleans’s pre-Katrina vulnerabilities and given us the chance to correct them.
Readystat would also help the regional directors work with state and local officials to fill capability gaps, such as persistent vulnerabilities in our infrastructure, much of which was built between the 1930s and the 1960s. As an expert from the Urban Land Institute recently pointed out, “We have an impending crisis with infrastructure, but it is easy to ignore until you have a catastrophe.”
America can’t afford to wait for a catastrophe. We need to address the impending crisis beforehand by strengthening the nation’s physical infrastructure. This cannot and should not be entirely a federal responsibility; in most areas, local officials who know their communities and are more accountable to citizens should take the lead. But in some circumstances, it makes sense for the federal government to play an important role—for instance, securing vulnerable infrastructure that could kill thousands if attacked by terrorists, such as nuclear power plants, chemical plants using dangerous compounds, or rail systems moving toxic materials. And the security of mass transit systems is the responsibility of both local authorities and the federal government.
This brings us to the third core principle: resilience. A resilient society depends on active, engaged citizens. The way for Washington to encourage resilience is not to throw more money at problems or to place new burdens on business. Government should harness the inherent strength of the American people and the private sector in order to build a society that may bend—but not break—if catastrophe does strike.
The American people are ready, willing, and able to take a more active role in our civil defense. As the White House’s own Lessons Learned report on the federal response to Hurricane Katrina notes, faith-based organizations and community groups successfully provided support to the victims of the hurricane “in spite of, not because of, the government.” Within 72 hours of Katrina’s hitting the Gulf Coast, for instance, a faith-based nonprofit organization—Helping Americans Needing Disaster Support (Hands)— formed to speed delivery of supplies to victims. Just a week after being created, Hands was sending 75 truckloads of supplies for every one FEMA truckload.
We can help strengthen citizen resilience, though, particularly through Community Emergency Response Teams—organized groups of trained and equipped citizens that can perform lifesaving activities before public-safety first responders arrive and also support those first responders once they’re on the scene. And when people provide assistance in good faith after a disaster, we should shield them from lawsuits. After Katrina, concerns about liability protection prevented hundreds of churches from helping the evacuation effort. The Good Samaritan shouldn’t have to retain a lawyer.
Further, we must set clear standards, based on proven practices, so that local leaders can build resilience across the country, making clear to citizens, businesses, and charitable organizations what their roles will be when disaster strikes.
America should always hope for the best, but we will be safest if we prepare for the worst. A free and open society will never be able to eliminate risk entirely. But we can reduce it and manage it.
We confront real threats in the twenty-first century. Nonetheless, the American future is filled with promise—the global economy and rapid technological advances are delivering prosperity to more and more Americans every day. The opportunities for all young Americans are limited only by their dreams and determination. We remain free, open to the world, open to new legal immigrants, and optimistic about our future.
But we cannot be complacent. From the next president of the United States to the citizen of the smallest town, we must work to become a more resilient society. Together, we have seen that the strength of America is far greater than we thought. We need to cultivate that strength as we face the future—declaring our right to live in freedom from fear, and confident that our best days are ahead. America will remain the land of the free, because we are the home of the brave.