11 September 2003
U.S. Building "Many New Layers of Defense," Ridge Says
U.S. secretary of homeland security on post-9/11
(This column by Tom Ridge, U.S. secretary of homeland security,
was published in the Washington Post September 11 and is in the
public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Since That Day ...
By Tom Ridge
Today we remember the more than 3,000 men, women and children
from 80 nations who perished two years ago. We remember good friends
and loving family, and the many acts of compassion and patriotism
that went beyond any textbook definitions we had previously known.
The desire to wrap our arms around loved ones, felt so keenly
on Sept. 11, 2001, has evolved into a constant urge to provide
greater protection to our families and communities. The post-Sept.
11 era is a new and different chapter in American history marked
by our greater awareness of the threats we face. It is also marked
by the collective political will of the American people to take
action in ways not thought possible before.
Just as the United States adjusted its priorities and tactics
to defeat the enemies of old, we have now developed a new set of
strategies to meet the current and constant threat to our future.
Through multilateral cooperation, robust state and local partnerships,
and reliance on better analysis and intelligence, we are systematically
building layers of defense that increase our ability to disrupt
terrorists' actions and reduce our vulnerabilities.
Before Sept. 11, the idea of reorganizing major federal agencies
to rationalize the U.S. government's ability to protect the homeland
was viewed as intellectually provocative but unlikely ever to become
reality. On March 1 of this year, 22 agencies were merged into
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Two years ago, four-inch knives and box cutters were allowed on
planes. Ticket agents asked who packed the bags, but little else
was done to examine the contents of luggage accompanying those
boarding commercial aircraft. By the end of last year, 50,000 highly
trained and professional federal employees were at work to increase
the security and facilitate the flow of passengers in our airports.
Nearly 20,000 containers of cargo arrive in our ports each day.
Before Sept. 11, we never looked in a container until it got to
our shores. Now, because of the cooperation of other nations and
private companies, U.S. inspectors in ports such as Rotterdam or
Singapore examine them before they leave for the United States.
Our national stockpile of medications to protect Americans against
a bioterrorist attack was drastically undersupplied. In a little
over a year following Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks, we stockpiled
a billion doses of antibiotics and vaccines, including enough smallpox
vaccine for every man, woman and child in America.
Before Sept. 11, agencies in the federal government saw little
need to share information and intelligence between themselves,
let alone with state and local officials. Now secure communications
technologies and expanded security clearances for representatives
of state and local governments, along with the shared language
of the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, create a
powerful multi-directional flow of threat information. This means
more consistent, effective actions can be taken by homeland security
professionals at all levels to protect the country.
Major government reorganization, better-trained security screeners,
agreements with other nations, an augmented national stockpile,
improved information-sharing and use of technology -- these are
among the many new layers of defense being built to protect America.
In the past two years we have achieved a great deal -- much of
which was considered impossible before tragedy challenged us to
rise above the usual impediments to change.
In doing so, we have built higher barriers to terrorism and better
bridges to each other. We have seen America at its best, and history
will look favorably on this time -- a time when a people came to
their country's defense to preserve freedom and protect our way
of life. More remains to be done, but working together, we will
continue to progress and ultimately prevail.