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11 September 2003

U.S. Building "Many New Layers of Defense," Ridge Says

U.S. secretary of homeland security on post-9/11 measures

(This column by Tom Ridge, U.S. secretary of homeland security, was published in the Washington Post September 11 and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)

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Since That Day ...
By Tom Ridge

Today we remember the more than 3,000 men, women and children from 80 nations who perished two years ago. We remember good friends and loving family, and the many acts of compassion and patriotism that went beyond any textbook definitions we had previously known.

The desire to wrap our arms around loved ones, felt so keenly on Sept. 11, 2001, has evolved into a constant urge to provide greater protection to our families and communities. The post-Sept. 11 era is a new and different chapter in American history marked by our greater awareness of the threats we face. It is also marked by the collective political will of the American people to take action in ways not thought possible before.

Just as the United States adjusted its priorities and tactics to defeat the enemies of old, we have now developed a new set of strategies to meet the current and constant threat to our future. Through multilateral cooperation, robust state and local partnerships, and reliance on better analysis and intelligence, we are systematically building layers of defense that increase our ability to disrupt terrorists' actions and reduce our vulnerabilities.

Before Sept. 11, the idea of reorganizing major federal agencies to rationalize the U.S. government's ability to protect the homeland was viewed as intellectually provocative but unlikely ever to become reality. On March 1 of this year, 22 agencies were merged into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Two years ago, four-inch knives and box cutters were allowed on planes. Ticket agents asked who packed the bags, but little else was done to examine the contents of luggage accompanying those boarding commercial aircraft. By the end of last year, 50,000 highly trained and professional federal employees were at work to increase the security and facilitate the flow of passengers in our airports.

Nearly 20,000 containers of cargo arrive in our ports each day. Before Sept. 11, we never looked in a container until it got to our shores. Now, because of the cooperation of other nations and private companies, U.S. inspectors in ports such as Rotterdam or Singapore examine them before they leave for the United States. Our national stockpile of medications to protect Americans against a bioterrorist attack was drastically undersupplied. In a little over a year following Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks, we stockpiled a billion doses of antibiotics and vaccines, including enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman and child in America.

Before Sept. 11, agencies in the federal government saw little need to share information and intelligence between themselves, let alone with state and local officials. Now secure communications technologies and expanded security clearances for representatives of state and local governments, along with the shared language of the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, create a powerful multi-directional flow of threat information. This means more consistent, effective actions can be taken by homeland security professionals at all levels to protect the country.

Major government reorganization, better-trained security screeners, agreements with other nations, an augmented national stockpile, improved information-sharing and use of technology -- these are among the many new layers of defense being built to protect America. In the past two years we have achieved a great deal -- much of which was considered impossible before tragedy challenged us to rise above the usual impediments to change.

In doing so, we have built higher barriers to terrorism and better bridges to each other. We have seen America at its best, and history will look favorably on this time -- a time when a people came to their country's defense to preserve freedom and protect our way of life. More remains to be done, but working together, we will continue to progress and ultimately prevail.

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