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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  

Statement by Secretary Tom Ridge before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

New York, N.Y.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
May 19, 2004
(Remarks as Prepared)

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman and members of the Commission. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today and respond to your questions.

It is a solemn duty in which you are each currently engaged, even more so as we meet so close to the site of the most devastating terrorist tragedy in our nation's storied history. No one is immune to the grief and sorrow of that September day nearly three years ago –certainly not those with loved ones who passed away at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, or aboard Flight 93.

New Yorkers bore a disproportionate amount of our collective burden –as we have heard this morning from Mayor Giuliani and others who witnessed the destruction first hand. Like them, I witnessed terror's great tragedy first hand, on my own turf. I held a public office when the brave passengers of Flight 93 made their heroic goodbyes in the skies above my home state, Pennsylvania, and then fell into our grateful embrace forever.

As I said to the families of Pennsylvanians then -- and repeated many times since -- we are thankful for the strength and resolve of the families of all 9/11 victims. You have been patient and persistent; and the work of this commission will no doubt bring further honor to your sacrifices and those of your loved ones, too soon gone, but never forgotten.

In the days, weeks, and months following September 11th, 2001, our country came together as one to honor the victims by waving flags, donating blood, volunteering time, and publicly expressing their patriotism like never before in our history. As time passed, and the initial shock faded, the memories of that day continued to heat the passion of our nation. 9/11 steeled our resolve to protect this country, to bring terrorists to justice, to secure our homeland, and take preventive measures so that a tragedy of this magnitude will never happen again.

The thick emotions of September 11th were the vivid backdrop to the conversation I had with President Bush about going to Washington to help him secure the country. His bold leadership in the days following the attack brought our country together like never before. And with his arm around New York's finest, he used a bullhorn to put terrorists on watch with his words -- never again. Never again. His resolve is unwavering. I share his sense of duty to this country, and to the families, friends, and fellow citizens of everyone we lost. We know that we must make the full protection of our citizens, the highest charge of our Nation.

So we went to work. We called on the best and brightest minds. We sought out the most advanced technologies. We began to build and bolster security throughout the country. We worked to reduce the vulnerabilities that were exploited on September 11th, and to think analytically about those that could be exploited in the future. We examined our critical infrastructure, our transportation systems, our borders, our ports, and, of course, the skies overhead. Nothing was beyond our scope of analysis.

Securing our homeland and protecting our citizens is a monumental task. We must guard thousands of miles of borders, shoreline, highways, railways, and waterways. This monumental task required a monumental Federal effort, which is why President Bush and the Congress showed strong leadership -- the right leadership -- and worked together to create the Department of Homeland Security. This Department, the combined efforts of 180,000 people and 22 component agencies, provides a central point of command for the protection of our country and citizens and a common vision for preserving our freedoms and securing the homeland.

The result? We are more secure today than yesterday, and we will be more secure tomorrow than today. We took the challenge head-on. And you can see and feel the difference in ways large and small.

Before September 11th, ticket agents asked who packed a traveler's bags, but little else was done in the airport or the aircraft to provide security. Today, we have deployed newly trained screeners and thousands of Federal Air Marshals, hardened cockpit doors on aircraft, and introduced state-of-the-art technologies, which, from the curb to the cockpit, have made airline travel safer.

Before September 11th, visitors at our borders faced an inspection process with distinct and disparate purposes. Today, we have unified that process to present "one face" at the border and have deployed advanced technologies like US-VISIT, student exchange program, special lanes for pre-cleared travelers and cargo that all welcome the free flow of trade and travelers, but keep terrorists out.

US-VISIT, in particular, is using the smart technology of biometrics to speed the entry of foreign travelers -- 4 million passengers have been processed to date -- and stop criminals, more than 400 have been apprehended or prevented from entering the country.

Before September 11th, we never looked in a container of cargo until it reached our shores, though nearly 20,000 containers arrive in our ports every single day. Now, as I speak, there are U.S. inspectors in Rotterdam, in Singapore, in Hong Kong, and 14 other international ports of trade, working alongside our allies to target and screen cargo. They add another layer safety to protect world commerce.

Before September 11th, our national stockpile of medications to protect Americans against a bioterrorist attack was drastically undersupplied. Today, we have stockpiled a billion doses of antibiotics and vaccines, including enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman, and child in America.

Before September 11th, as so many here today understand, our first preventers and first responders lacked the financial resources and equipment they needed to respond together to a crisis. And yet, today, we have allocated or awarded more than $8 billion dollars for our state and local partners across the country and have developed new standards for interoperable communications equipment and protective gear.

Right here in New York, nearly $430 million of that money has been put to use for much-needed equipment and training, critical assets that can help folks on the front lines perform their duties quickly and safely, at any emergency scene.

Lastly, before September 11th, agencies in the Federal government saw very little need to share information and intelligence between themselves, let alone with state and local officials. And yet, today secure communications technologies and expanded clearances, along with the shared language of the Homeland Security Advisory System, create a powerful and constant two-way flow of threat information between the Federal government and our partners across the country and around the world. There may be some who would be tempted to minimize these security enhancements. They would be wrong. Very wrong.  In every imaginable way possible, we have made a real difference in securing our people and our homeland, and there are more changes ahead. The successful integration of people and technology for a greater purpose has had a genuine result.

Thanks to new layered protections on air, land, and sea, our Nation is better protected and more secure today than we've ever been. But, of course, there is still plenty of work left to be done. In particular, we are making great progress in two areas of concern to this Commission, to all New Yorkers, and to citizens across the country. Today, I would like to focus my remarks on these two issues. First, building new intelligence and information sharing capabilities; and, second, establishing true interoperability throughout the emergency preparedness community.

In order to accomplish these goals, we had to build bridges to one another, ones that interconnected capabilities and people, ones that invited, rather than impeded, two-way channels of communication. We knew from the outset that our vast scope of protective measures had to build upon our existing strengths but, more importantly, be reconstructed in a way that unified and facilitated accuracy, speed, openness, and easy access for all those involved in the hard work of securing this country every day. Sometimes, to move forward, it requires a step back. And that's exactly what we did.

Through initiatives like the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and the U.S. Patriot Act, we began tearing down the walls that prevented our policy makers from having the benefit of intelligence analyses that were based on all available information.  Now, we are building more integrated and coordinated homeland security, intelligence, and law enforcement communities that keep people informed with all the information they need to know.

We began dismantling roadblocks that once prevented communication between the Federal government and our partners in states, cities, counties and towns across America, not to mention our international partners. Now, we are replacing them with an active, multi-layered communication system between all levels of government, all around the world. That enhances cooperation and the sharing of information and resources.

We began to eliminate old obstacles that divided the tremendous capabilities of thousands of security professionals from police officers to sheriffs and fire fighters to EMTs. Now, we are enhancing the abilities of first responders with interoperable standards for communications and equipment. So that those on the front lines of homeland security can do their jobs to the best of their abilities with the tools they need to succeed.

Knowledge is a fundamental principle of our effort to secure our borders. The Department has made widespread coordination and information sharing the hallmark of our new approach to homeland security. And we have developed new tools for communication that reach horizontally across Federal departments and agencies and vertically to our partners at the state, local, territorial, and tribal levels.

First, we interface with all components of the Intelligence Community, including the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (or TTIC), in order to synthesize, analyze and apply information collected from thousands of sources, ranging from electronic surveillance to human reporting.

Let me be clear, the Department of Homeland Security is not specifically in the traditional intelligence collection business -- although many of our components collect significant amounts of information -- but we are definitely in the analysis and application business. We turn this information into action and implementation, which we then disseminate to those who can strengthen security.

That happens primarily under the umbrella of the Homeland Security Advisory System. This communication tool includes the color-coded Threat Condition, as well as several products such as Information Bulletins and Threat Advisories that allow us to tailor specific information for specific recipients, for instance a part of the country or an individual sector of society.

This communications process represents the first ever centralized, integrated effort of its kind in the Federal government and a vast improvement from the fragmented system that existed before. It not only outlines threats, but also recommends specific steps that can be taken to heighten readiness or improve physical protections. This is about more than the dissemination of information. This is about achieving the right outcome.

We see communication as a two-way process. We collect information from the field and listen to what our partners need from us in order to do their jobs better. This means heightened awareness, better intelligence, wiser decisions, and improved coordination at every level.

We have created several new two-way channels of communication, including the National Infrastructure Coordination Center (or NICC) –created for the private sector, and the Homeland Security Information Network (or HSIN) –created for use by government entities.

The NICC provides a centralized mechanism for the private sector, industry representatives, individual companies and the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, or ISACs, to share and receive situational information about a threat, event, or crisis. The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) is a real-time collaboration system that allows multiple jurisdictions, disciplines and emergency operation centers to receive and share the same intelligence and tactical information, so that those who need to act on information have the same overall situational awareness.

This year, we are expanding this information network to include senior decision makers such as Governors, Homeland Security Advisors and Emergency Operations Centers in all 50 states, territories, tribal governments and major urban areas. By the end of the summer, we will achieve real-time nationwide connectivity. More information, more integration, better coordination.

Both of these important communication networks support the Homeland Security Operations Center, a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week nerve center that enables the Department to monitor activity across the country. It's important to note: these are tools of prevention, tools designed to stop an attack before it ever takes place.

Achieving this same kind of coordination throughout the first responder community is one of the greatest challenges facing our country. So many people here today know that part of the tragedy of September 11th was that equipment didn't work across jurisdictions and disciplines. We have heard that fire department radios couldn't transmit to police department radios. And brave firefighters rushing in from other cities and even neighborhoods were, in some cases, unable to assist because the couplings that attach "hoses to hydrants" simply wouldn't fit; they weren't compatible.

This problem has to be fixed, and there is both an immediate and longer term solution. There are immediate steps the Department can take in the short term, while we focus everyone's attention on a long-term, integrated solution to overall interoperability.

Already, the Department has identified technical specifications for a baseline incident interoperable communication system that will allow first responders to communicate with each other during a crisis, regardless of frequency or mode of communication.

We also recently announced the first comprehensive Statement of Requirements for communications throughout the first responder community and the first set of standards regarding personal protective equipment developed to protect first responders against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents, helping them to protect themselves, as they work to protect others.

I am pleased to report that all of the Department's efforts in this area will be coordinated by a new Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, which we will officially launch in the near future. This office will focus not just on interoperable communications, but also on the gear and equipment that will be used by multiple jurisdictions, firefighters and police officers from different neighborhoods, as they join together to respond to a major event. In addition, this Office has initiated a program aimed at providing communications interoperability at disaster sites in the near term. And we expect multiple cities to achieve this goal sometime this fall.

These immediate steps at the Federal level will begin to build a foundation for longer-term efforts and a truly national solution. This second track will require leadership at the state and local level. In other words, a resolve not to let an incompatible radio frequency or a too-small/too-large piece of safety equipment impede the ability of brave men and women to save the lives of citizens, as well as their own. A truly nationwide interoperable system demands commitment from leaders at all levels, and we are already beginning to see a commitment to this important principle.

It's an example of people coming together around a shared idea, and the shared responsibility of protecting our homeland.

Homeland security is about the integration of a nation, everyone pledged to freedom's cause, everyone its protector, and everyone its beneficiary.

It's about the integration of people and technology to make us smarter, safer, more sophisticated, and better protected.

It's about the integration of our national efforts, not one department or one organization, but everyone tasked with our Nation's protection.

Every day, we work to make America more secure. Every day, the memories of September 11th inspire us to live our vision of preserving our freedoms, protecting America, enjoying our liberties, and secu