Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the VOICES Center for Resilience 21st Annual Remembrance Symposium in New York City. His remarks are below:
Thank you very much, Mary, for the very kind introduction.
I’m truly honored to be here to share a few thoughts with you about the Department of Homeland Security and what we are confronting in our country and the world now.
I fully recognize, we all in the Department, recognize that 9/11 was a true inflection point, an inflection of tremendous tragedy, but also of resolve in this country.
We lost, of course, on that day almost 3,000 people and in the ensuing days, weeks, and months that followed, we lost more due to injuries or illnesses suffered on that day.
And moments and days and ceremonies of commemoration are incredibly important.
They reinforce the fact that we do not forget those whom we've lost. And I know that there are many of you in this gathering who've lost loved ones.
You know, this past Wednesday in the Department of Homeland Security at our headquarters at St. Elizabeths in Washington, DC, we had a moment of silence to commemorate those we've lost.
And one of our special agents of the United States Secret Service was present and responded to the tragedy of 9/11, spoke to us and he spoke for the first time in 21 years about what he experienced, what he himself went through and what he saw, on what he saw others go through.
And it speaks to the criticality of always remembering and always working in response to that which we've suffered and turning it into something so positive.
And I have learned over the years from the prior secretaries whom I have served for and from others, how much VOICES means in that regard and how much VOICES devoted to that very cause.
You know, the threat landscape over the last 20 years since the formation of our Department has changed dramatically.
The threats of the past, unfortunately, have not disappeared. Only new threats have emerged.
Back, of course, in the time of 9/11, the threat, the greatest terrorism-related threat, that we faced on the homeland was the threat of the foreign terrorist—the individual, a member of a foreign terrorist organization, who sought to enter the United States to do us severe harm.
In the 2012 - 2013 time period, we saw that threat evolve. Of course, the foreign terrorist threats remain, but we became increasingly concerned about the homegrown violent extremist—the individual, already resident in the United States, radicalized by a foreign terrorist ideology, who also sought to do less harm.
And now today, what we see is the domestic violent extremist, the individual radicalized to violence because of an ideology of hate, false narrative, personal grievance, or other streams of really unfortunate thought propagated on social media and online platforms.
And we've seen that manifest itself tragically over the last several months in Buffalo, in a grocery store in Buffalo; in a school in Uvalde, Texas; at a parade, at a July 4th, parade outside of Chicago. The threat landscape has evolved so dramatically.
You know, when the Department was formed, when the 9/11 Commission led by Governor Kean and other luminaries in our nation, when we really confronted the threat at that time, the threat of a cyber-attack was not most prominent in our minds. And yet, of course, the Colonial Pipeline attack galvanized the nation's attention because it impacted potentially our ability to obtain a consumer good, the lines at the gas station.
There was a cyber-attack that I use as an example to elevate people's understanding of the gravity of the threat. It was an attack that did not succeed, but nevertheless meant so much. It was a water treatment plant in Florida, where if that attack had succeeded, water would have been distributed to residents throughout the surrounding communities, and it would have led to fatalities in light of the fact that the water would not have been treated.
Of course, we've experienced hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires in the past, but never of the frequency or gravity that we are confronting today.
I went to Mayfield, Kentucky, in the wake of the tornado there that devastated the town, and when I say devastated the town, I mean every home and every building, save a handful, were flattened.
And there was a candle factory that was flattened. It was reduced to rubble. And there was a safe room in that candle factory that was built to code to withstand extreme weather occurrences and yet, that safe room was flattened because the strength of that tornado was greater than anything that that community had experienced before or had anticipated.
And as the threats have become dynamic, and more dynamic, and as they have evolved, so too have our Department's capabilities.
We have increased our grant funding, we have disseminated more information, and more frequently and more valuably, more relevant, more in real time to state, local, tribal, territorial partners.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing a former sheriff of Hennepin County, Richard Stanek, here who was a role model for me in my service as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
It's our frontline personnel that make it all happen. And really what defines us as a Department is partnership.
The responsibility of safety and security is not a responsibility that can be fulfilled by one. It is a responsibility that belongs to all and that all must participate in because that's what it takes.
You know, I have heard a great deal about the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is so sprawling. We have eight operational agencies. We have 250,000 people, and it's unwieldy.
And I used to be concerned that was true many years ago, and I no longer think that's the case.
Yes, it's very difficult to manage. Yes, it's very difficult to drive cohesion when agencies have histories and cultures of their own and distinct responsibilities, although they are interlocking in many different respects.
But if we take a look at the threat landscape, and how it has evolved, and how the threats have only grown. Actually, I think our Department is quite fit for purpose.
When I speak of partnership, I speak of partnership not only with law enforcement, emergency responders, our international partners, some of whom I had the distinct pleasure of meeting but a few minutes ago.
But I think of partnership with our communities with people who are in a position
to see what is happening. If we take a look at the individual the assailant in Buffalo, the assailant in Uvalde, the assailant in Highland Park, there were signs. There were signs.
And it requires people to become involved and to know what to do when someone is descending down a path that could materialize in a violent act, who to call, to whom to reach out.
We had a discussion, Mary and a number of us, about the trauma that of course, is inflicted on victims, but also the trauma that first responders endure as well. And those who have seen and experienced tragedy from a bit of distance and sometimes no distance at all.
And it takes a community to respond, to prepare, to recover, and to prove resilient.
When we had, this past Wednesday, our moment of silence and when we heard the remarks for the first time in over 20 years the remarks of the special agent of the Secret Service, he stood by, and we all stood by a small tree that was planted from a seed of the tree here at the World Trade Center that survived the tragedy of 9/11.
And I think it's a very powerful example: Of resolve, of resilience, and of memory.
And I spoke at the outset about the fact that the days, the ceremonies, the moments of commemoration are vitally important to keep the beauty of those whom we've lost, always alive.
But there's a very other important way that we commemorate those whom we've lost in terms of their physical presence, and I draw that distinction. Having lost loved ones, myself, I feel that I've lost the physicality of their presence, but never their presence in a more meaningful way.
And we commemorate them through the work that we do: The work that we do to keep our country, our communities safe and secure. The work that we all do together to protect the American way of life, the freedoms and liberties that define us, and very importantly, the values that we promote throughout our country and throughout the world.
And it is a great honor to be here today to be a guest of VOICES.
And it is a great, great honor to be a partner of VOICES and all of you and to know that we will be resilient and resolute in our continuing work to keep everyone in this country safe.
Thank you so much for the honor.