Chertoff: America Safer but Not Immune to Threats
December 19, 2008 – While America is “much safer” than it was before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the threat of additional attacks and the threat of extremist ideologies “has not abated,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at Georgetown University Dec. 18.
“This was vividly underscored last month in Mumbai, where we saw a skillful deadly attack,” said Chertoff, who came to the university to talk about the department’s accomplishments over the years.
He said a safer post-9/11 America over the past seven years is a “direct result of the policies and actions of President George W. Bush.”
“No one would predict in the dark days following September 11 … that there would be no successful attack on American soil in the following seven years,” said Chertoff, who was sworn into office in 2005 following the resignation of then-secretary Thomas Ridge. “And I don’t think that’s an accident -- I don’t know many people who do. I think it’s actually a direct result of the policy that this president launched literally in the minutes after September 11 and has carried through as we speak today.”
Chertoff said his department, which was created in 2003, has prevented terrorist plots, revamped the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and reversed the flow of illegal immigration, among other met goals.
Having the current administration reorganize, restructure and unify the intelligence community also played a significant role in protecting the country.
“All these things taken together have made this country safer,” he said.
He said he remembered recognizing “how little we knew about what we were facing” during the first 20 hours after the attack.
“It’s so easy to lapse back and say what has happened since 9/11 and go back to Sept. 10,” Chertoff said. “I was there on Sept. 10. I was there on Sept. 11. I can tell you I would not wish on anybody who has the responsibility to protect the American people, and look into the eyes of people who have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks as I have done -- I would not wish on them having to put a blindfold back on so they could not adequately assure the public and themselves that everything possible was being done to protect America.”
He said the American public got a “substantial return on their investment” in the creation and actions of the department.
Gary Schiffman, an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, said that Chertoff’s role after Ridge resigned was to create a “second orbit -- confronting the toughest issues and bringing on the tough debates” over the definition and future of homeland security and its role in the federal government.
“We’ve certainly had a competent leader in the past four years to accomplish that goal,” said Schiffman, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.