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Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

September 11, 2006

Michael Chertoff

As we think back on the events five years ago today, we have an opportunity to look, both in terms of what we've learned and to look ahead in terms of what we know we need to do. It's appropriate to reflect on some of the steps we've already taken, and to measure the progress we have already made to protect our country and our citizens against further attacks. And of course, it's certainly worth remarking on the fact that there has not been a successful attack against Americans on American soil since September 11th.

We've had five years to absorb the lessons of 9/11, and we have acted deliberately and decisively to reduce the risk that we will ever face another day like that infamous September morning. We've learned that we cannot be complacent in the face of terrorism.

The Department of Homeland Security, which I am privileged to lead, was created specifically to integrate our national capabilities against all kinds of threats, whether they be acts of terror or natural hazards, or even medical hazards like pandemic flu. The fact is that terrorists continue to plot, even as we strike against them, but we must pursue a security that is strong, and it has to be one that is also consistent with our freedoms, our values, and our way of life.

Kevin, from Cincinnati, Ohio writes:
I was just wondering how on this somber day of rememberence of the tragic events of 911 that there are shipping ports and also air freight containers that are not even scanned for potentially harmful material. Also what steps are the goverment taking to ensure that EVERY piece of cargo either at a shipping yard, Railyard, or Airport is being scanned 100?

Michael Chertoff
At DHS we have implemented a risk-management system designed to strengthen cargo security, including technology, human inspection, and canine teams. Sea carriers are required to provide proper cargo descriptions and valid addresses 24 hours before cargo is loaded at the foreign port for shipment to the United States. Failure to meet the 24-hour Advanced Manifest Rule results in a “do not load” message and other penalties. Through this program, the Department has greater awareness of what is being loaded onto ships bound for the United States and the advance information enables DHS to evaluate the terrorist risk from sea containers. Containers posing a potential terrorist threat are identified and targeted before they arrive at U.S. seaports by the National Targeting Center. The center uses intelligence and terrorist indicators to review advance information for all cargo, passengers, and imported food shipments a day before cargo arrives into the U.S.

At U.S. ports before 9/11, approximately 2 percent of cargo was screened, and virtually none was screened for radiation. By the end of 2006, 80 percent of seaborne cargo will be scanned for radiation. By the end of 2008, that number will increase to nearly 100 percent. For air cargo, TSA pinpoints cargo deemed an elevated risk through prescreening, targeted inspections, and stronger security measures at cargo facilities. DHS is now conducting Air Cargo Explosives Detection Pilot Programs to test ways additional cargo can be screened prior to loading on passenger aircraft.

Richard, from Salt Lake City writes:
The President makes a clear and correct position on fighting Islamic facitst offensivly on their streets. Why doesn't the President publicly and aggresivley discuss specific solutions to control illegal immigration? A major key in preventing anthor 911 attack.

Michael Chertoff
A considerable base of work has been done since 9/11 to enhance border security and control illegal immigration. Since 2001, the President has focused his Administration on confronting this challenge. Border Patrol agents have apprehended and returned about 6 million people entering our country illegally – including more than 400,000 with criminal records. We have significantly increased the number of agents and officers securing our borders and ports of entry, strengthened and consolidated inspections, expanded the terrorist watch list, created new screening and credentialing tools, and increased our enforcement capabilities. Despite much progress, much remains to be done. We have a legal and civic obligation to the American people to secure our borders. Illegal migration is a severe and growing security threat. Illegal migration undercuts the rule of law. Illegal migration undermines our national security. And illegal migration imposes particular public safety and economic strains on our border communities.

President Bush has outlined his vision for comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, upholds our laws, and supports a rational, humane temporary worker program that rejects amnesty and allows honest workers to provide for their families while relieving pressure at the border. While we continue to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, we are working diligently to tackle challenges at our border. Through the Secure Border Initiative, we have – for the first time – an integrated plan that approaches border enforcement from beginning to end – from deterrence to detection, to apprehension and detention and finally to removal.

Michael, from American University writes:
Secretary Chertoff:How will secure identification prevent another attack on our homeland? Thank you

Michael Chertoff
As the 9/11 Commission found, travel and identification documents can be as important as weapons for potential terrorists. New security measures, like the Real ID Act and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are just some of a series of plans developed to close the gaps in our nation’s homeland and provide stronger identification security. REAL ID is nationwide effort intended to prevent terrorism, reduce fraud, and improve the reliability and accuracy of identification documents that State governments issue. Some of the September 11th terrorists used fraudulently obtained drivers licenses to board the airplanes used in their horrific attack against America, and Congress passed the Real ID Act to help ensure that other potential terrorists will not be able to board airplanes, enter nuclear facilities, or gain unauthorized access to Federal facilities.

Similarly, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Western Hemisphere exemption received considerable attention since it could potentially facilitate the entry into the United States of persons falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens, travelers utilizing false identities, and the potential of high-risk persons exploiting this route. There are more than 8,000 different entities just in the U.S., which issue birth certificates from U.S. state and local offices. Currently, a Customs and Border Protection Officer needs to assess the authenticity of each birth certificate, regardless of when or where it was issued. The challenge at the borders is how to assess individual travelers, based on the documents they present, without significantly slowing the processing time for admission into the United States. The bottom line is that limiting the types of documents presented will result in a more efficient border.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will strengthen border security by ensuring that travelers possess secure documents and allow border officials to: conduct more effective and efficient interviews; more efficiently determine the identity and citizenship of travelers; and determine the authenticity of documents presented, by requiring only a limited number of verifiable documents that may be used at the ports of entry.

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
Secretary Chertoff it is an honor to speak with you, I would like to ask you after looking back five years since 911, Do you think the Department of Homeland Security has made a difference in making our nation safer from terrorism?

Michael Chertoff
There is no question that the Department of Homeland Security has made a remarkable difference in our nation's security, but we are also the first to say that there is more work that we want to do. We face a patient and determined enemy, so we must remain nimble and steadfast, constantly looking around the corner for future threats. The department is aggressively building upon some very important steps that have already been taken to shut down vulnerabilities that existed on 9/11.

At our borders and ports, we've deployed US-VISIT to biometrically screen foreign visitors. This allows us to positively confirm a person's identity against their passport and against our integrated terrorist databases by checking two-digit finger scans. We will soon be capturing all 10 fingerprints, and checking those prints against latent prints captured in safe houses and battlefields abroad. In between our ports of entry, and in the interior, we are also seeing dramatic results. We've ended the old practice of catch and release, and the President has dramatically increased the size of the Border Patrol and ordered the National Guard to support their efforts.

At our ports, we screen 100 percent of the cargo containers entering our country. We've deployed radiation detection devices and will screen 80 percent of the containers entering the U.S. for radioactive materials by the end of this year. And, by the end of this year, we’ll have expanded the Container Security Initiative to strengthen security standards at more than 50 ports accounting for more than 90 percent of maritime containerized cargo shipped to the U.S.

At our airports, we've stood up the Transportation Security Administration and federalized a workforce of more than 43,000 screeners trained to look for explosives. This Administration has increased the size of the Federal Air Marshals from 33 on 9/11 to thousands flying hundreds of domestic and international missions each day. We've hardened cockpit doors, armed pilots and deployed thousands of explosives detection devices to airports nationwide, enabling 100 percent passenger and baggage screening.

These are just a few examples of where substantial progress has been made. There are many others. But, these achievements are not a cause for complacency. Rather, they are a cause for redoubled effort, and that is precisely what the 184 thousand employees at the Department of Homeland Security are committed to doing.

Benjamin, from Alameda ca writes:
Dear Micheal Chertoff,How are you going to remmber 91101 this year?

Michael Chertoff
9/11 remains a defining moment for us at DHS and for our nation. Out of the tragic events of that day grew our resolve to protect our homeland against further terrorist attacks. For more than three years, the employees of the Department of Homeland Security have answered this call with steadfast determination and commitment. We go forward with this memory, determined never to relent in serving American citizens by securing our homeland.

So, I am spending my day in remembrance and in honor of victims, their loved ones, first responders, and thousands of dedicated public servants. I attended a 9/11 Anniversary Church Service with fellow Cabinet members this morning. I met with hundreds of DHS employees to remember those who perished and to thank our employees for their fine service. I will also be traveling to Bayonne, New Jersey, to participate in an event with 9/11 victims’ families and to attend the unveiling of 'A New World Monument: Remembering the Victims of September 11th and the 1993 World Trade Center Bombings.'

Alex, from Rockwall, Texas writes:
What are the extra measures you and the govt. are taking at the Mexican and Canadian borders to protect against terrorists?

Michael Chertoff
Since President Bush took office, the number of Border Patrol agents has increased from 9,000 to more than 12,000, and will double to 18,000 by the end of 2008. But, our solution to protecting U.S. borders goes far beyond numbers of agents along the border. Last year, we established the Secure Border Initiative to strengthen security along our nation’s borders through increased manpower and resources, new technologies and enhanced immigration enforcement. Under this border initiative, we have substantially reduced the amount of time an illegal migrant spends in processing before being returned to their home country; established fencing and barriers to improve security along the border; and will harness cutting-edge technology that will increase our border enforcement capabilities.

The President’s has also joined with Canada and Mexico to form the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. The partnership’s mandate includes development of a common security strategy that streamlines the secure and efficient movement of legitimate traffic across our shared borders. Our nations share a common goal – to foster legitimate travel and trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, while not impeding our border economies. We are achieving measurable progress on a number of security issues affecting our three countries. Canada, Mexico, and the United States have strengthened relationships in the areas of preparedness, law enforcement, and the screening of travelers and cargo, while improving processing times at border crossings.

Michael, from Boston, Massachusetts writes:
Mr. Secretary, I know that the administration is taking steps on a number of fronts to thrwart terrorist activities throughout the country, particularly regarding air travel. However, I have seen very little being done when it comes to protecting subways, buses, and other forms of public transportation. Living in a major city like Boston I am concerned that our subway systems in this country are extrmely vulnerable. Why hasn't the government done more to protect these potential targets for terrorist bombings? Thank you for taking my question.

Michael Chertoff
Given the attacks to Madrid and London mass transit systems, we must continue to place an emphasis on all forms of mass transit including bus and rail systems. I actually just recently traveled to Boston where I rode on the "T" subway system with local officials. This year alone, the eight largest mass transit rail systems in the country, including Boston, have been awarded over $100 million in security grant assistance. In total, DHS has provided nearly $375 million to date to our nation’s rail, mass transit, ferry, and bus systems.

DHS is developing a number of screening techniques and technologies, which could be implemented or deployed quickly to systems facing a specific threat. Other pilots and studies are also underway in major American cities. Through the Office of Grants and Training, the department has provided technical support to over 25 major transit systems, as well as Amtrak, to assist in developing their risk management strategies. Unlike the aviation sector, the majority of rail and other mass transit systems in our country are owned and operated by state and local governments and transit authorities. We remain deeply committed to continuing to work closely with these partners to strengthen security on America’s mass transit systems.

Arthur, from Jasper, Texas writes:
While the federal government is carrying out its federal responsibilities for Homeland Security, what should the municipal governments throughout America be doing to aid in the Homeland Security effort?

Michael Chertoff
Municipal governments are tremendously important partners for the department, and strengthening the flow of information sharing with state and local authorities is one of our highest priorities. Just recently, I announced that we will deploy our personnel to state and local fusion centers nationwide, where law enforcement and intelligence officers can sit side-by-side, and share real time information. One area where we expect this to really help is in confronting a possible homegrown threat. The fact of the matter is that the federal government has a much better chance of disrupting the higher consequence threats that involve more people and planning. But, local authorities have an ear to the ground in their communities and are more likely to detect low-level rumblings of a possible sympathizer and homegrown threat. Sharing that sort information with federal authorities, either at the department or the FBI, is critically important.

Municipal governments also play a primary role in emergency preparedness. We recently conducted the Nationwide Plan Review to assess the status of preparedness at the national level and identify possible gaps in emergency plans. Another way that municipal governments can assist the department is by making sure that evacuation and sheltering plans are up to date and routinely tested with state and federal partners.

Michael Chertoff

Thank you all for your questions, and I appreciate your interest in the work that this Administration is doing to secure the homeland.

We are engaged in a fight against terrorism that we will win as long as we remain steadfast, dedicated, and balanced. For the 184,000 men and women with whom I serve, this is a mission that we proudly undertake every single day, whether it's securing our borders and waterways, protecting air travel, developing next generation detection technologies, or assisting local authorities with the information they need to protect their community.

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