Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the 20th Annual World Summit on Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, hosted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. His remarks are below:
Thank you, Mr. Davis, for the kind introduction.
On this solemn occasion, we mark 21 years since the horrific and tragic attacks that occurred in the United States on September 11.
2,997 people died in the terrorist attacks on that day, and others suffered injuries and illnesses that would take their lives in the ensuing weeks, months, and years. Families, loved ones, and friends continue to feel the pain of their immense loss. As do we all.
21 years ago, the threat of terrorism was not new to the United States, but 9/11 changed our understanding of, and our response to it. The threat seeped into our daily lives and altered our routines, interactions, and gatherings. Behind us now were the days when we could walk onto an airplane for business or leisure without passing through rigorous security screening; when we could enter a large sporting or music event without passing through a metal detector; or when we could enter one of our own government’s buildings without having our persons and belongings searched for weapons and dangerous devices.
Our consciousness of the terrorism threat progressed overnight from what could remotely be possible to that which is ever-present.
America was tragically awakened to a reality that Israel has lived with every day since even before it achieved its independence. I remember as an adolescent the reports and horrid photographs of the Egged buses that were bombed and mangled and the lives that were lost or injured as a result. 21 years ago last month 15 people were killed in the Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem. 19 Israelis have been killed by acts of terrorism this year. We are not yet a month past the attack on a bus stop outside the Old City in Jerusalem that left 8 people wounded. The bomb shelter in one’s home is not a new phenomenon for those living in Israel.
No country can consider itself immune from the threat of terrorism. Not the more than 200 people who were killed and the hundreds more who were injured in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian Island of Bali in 2002, nor those who sought to pray peacefully in their mosques on that fateful Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, when more than 50 people lost their lives and 40 were injured.
The threat of terrorism remains very much present today, no less so than before. But the threat has not remained stagnant. Instead, it has proven to be dynamic and evolving. Yes, the physical threats very much remain – the backpack left in a bus station; the lone actor with a gun, knife, or explosive device; the rockets launched from increasing distances. Now, though, we also confront the attacks of adverse nation states and criminals in cyberspace, through hacking and exfiltration, ransomware, and other means. The ransomware attack on a medical center in Hadera and on the Colonial Pipeline in the United States are but two recent examples. We battle disinformation campaigns that seek to undermine the integrity of our ways of governing and our broader social contracts. The omnipresence of social media and online platforms has developed new for a for the threat of terrorism to materialize.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we in the United States were most intensely focused on the foreign terrorists, those who sought to enter the United States and do us severe harm. Though that threat certainly has not disappeared, a decade later we became increasingly concerned about the homegrown violent extremist, the individual already present in the United States who was radicalized to violence by a foreign terrorist ideology. Now we are very concerned about the domestic terrorist, or domestic violent extremist, who is radicalized to violence not by a foreign terrorist ideology, but by an ideology of hate, anti-government sentiment, false narrative, personal grievance, or other narrative propagated online.
The threat of terrorism is changing, it is not going away. The metal detectors, searches, bomb drills and shelters, the alert systems – the protective measures are not going away. The need for them is not diminishing, but in fact only increasing. Right now in America, parents are concerned about the safety of their children in school, as others worry whether they will be safe shopping for groceries on any given day, or celebrating with families on a national holiday. What, then, do we do?
We want to, and we must be able to, live full and rich lives. In the Department of Homeland Security, our job is to allow people to feel safe and secure so that they may live such a life. We fulfill this core mission in a wide variety of ways, with one overarching quality. We empower and equip communities and institutions to protect themselves by providing them with funding, threat information, best practices, training, security assessments, incident response support, and other resources. We work with others to help them prevent, protect, respond, and recover. We in the Biden-Harris Administration seek to build resilience through a whole-of-society approach. It is an approach defined by the quality of partnership. Fundamentally, our Department of Homeland Security is a department of partnerships.
The threat of terrorism cannot be countered alone. It requires unity in vigilance and unity of action. That is true domestically, each within our own borders. But it is also true internationally. We must work together, across borders, to share information and develop and share capabilities to defeat the scourge of terrorism and enable our citizens to live the full and rich lives that is the privilege of a free people.
I am proud of the close partnership we have built and continue to strengthen with the State of Israel and with so many of the nations represented here today. I am grateful for the work of the International Institute for Counterterrorism. It is through such institutions – it is through partnerships – that we will successfully counter the threat that so solemnly brings us together in Herzliya today, in person or virtually, to remember the tragedy of 9/11 and redouble our collective efforts to protect the freedom of our people and our way of life.