This year on September 11th, we pause to remember events that occurred fifteen years ago, events which prompted the formation of this Department.
We continue to commemorate 9/11 and, at the same time, move forward. On Friday, September 9, we commemorated the federal government’s return to the new One World Trade Center in New York City. Those employees who report to work at the building will carry on the legacy of those who came before them, and commit their work every day to protecting our Nation.
Over the last fifteen years our government has become adept at detecting and preventing terrorist plots against the homeland from overseas. Through the good work of our military and others in national security, those involved in the 9/11 attacks are either dead or captured. Core al Qaeda has been seriously degraded. Meanwhile, a glittering new World Trade Center stands even taller than the old one, and the Pentagon has been rebuilt and modernized. We continue to honor and remember those killed on 9/11, but we’ve come back stronger than before.
Fifteen years later the terrorism threat we now face has evolved. We’ve significantly improved our ability to prevent complex attacks like 9/11, which has forced terrorists to turn to less complicated acts of violence such as mass shootings. It is this type of attack that we saw at San Bernardino, in Chattanooga, and in Orlando earlier this year.
So, what is your government doing about this?
For the President and his entire national security team, the safety of the American people and our homeland is our first priority. At President Obama’s direction, the U.S. military continues to take the fight to ISIL abroad. With our international partners, we’ve reduced ISIL’s territory in Iraq and Syria considerably, compared to two years ago, and the group has been unable to launch a major ground offensive in over a year. Just days ago in Syria, our special forces killed ISIL’s top external operations plotter and spokesman, Abu Muhammed al-Adnani. But overseas battlefield successes alone will not defeat the current terrorist threat.
At the federal level, we’ve taken a Whole of Community approach. We have strengthened our relationships with local law enforcement – working with some 1,800 local police departments around the country -- to improve the capacity of our state and local officials to support the homeland security mission.
The FBI continues to do an excellent job of detecting, investigating, and preventing terrorist plots in this country, while disrupting others trying to leave this country and join terrorist groups overseas. For state and local law enforcement, we support the acquisition of better first-responder, communications, surveillance and homeland security equipment. We have also strengthened our relationships with our foreign partners. As the President stated in the National Security Strategy of 2015, “In an interconnected world, there are no global problems that can be solved without the United States, and few that can be solved by the United States alone.
We’ve hardened the security around military and civilian government installations in this country.
We’ve doubled down on aviation and airport security, required enhanced screening at airports overseas with direct flights to the United States and enhanced TSA screening at domestic airports. As the public knows, screening enhancements coupled with increased travel volume led to longer wait times at security checkpoints earlier this summer. But, with the expedited hiring of more full-time TSA officers and the addition of other resources, we’ve reduced wait times without compromising security.
We are expanding the capability to pre-clear passengers at overseas airports, enabling our security personnel to prevent suspicious persons from boarding flights bound for the U.S. This capability exists at 15 overseas airports and we plan to expand this important effort to more locations.
We’re doing more to disrupt the flow of foreign terrorist fighters in and out of Syria, Libya, and other areas of jihadist activity, and to prevent the travel of potential terrorists to and from this country. We’ve now built a state-of-the art capability to monitor known or suspected terrorists, and to track suspicious travel patterns of those we don’t already know. We’re providing these tools to foreign allies in Europe and elsewhere, and insisting they do more themselves to track the travel of potential terrorists and monitor their own borders. Within the last two years, we’ve greatly enhanced the security of our refugee resettlement program, and the program by which travelers from certain countries are able to enter this country from certain others without a visa.
In addition to law enforcement and security measures, we are working to prevent American citizens from falling prey to the hollow promises of terrorist recruitment campaigns. We are doing this by building bridges to communities across the country, including our American Muslim communities. In the current environment, this is critical to our homeland security mission. We must reach out to American communities that ISIL and other terrorist groups have targeted for recruitment so we can work together to protect Americans, especially young people, from such groups.
Finally, there is always a role for the public at large to play too. “If You See Something, Say Something” is more than a slogan. Public vigilance and awareness can and do make a difference in preventing terrorist attacks.
All these efforts will take time. We’ve made considerable progress so far, but there is much more to do. Fifteen years after 9/11, the public should know that our armed forces, along with the men and women of our homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working hard to keep the American people and the homeland safe.
On this day and all others, we recall our DHS mission: “With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland and our values.”