Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. This week marks 10 years since the attacks of September 11th. It is a time for us to reflect upon the events of that day and their unique significance for our Division. Before the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Division’s (NSD) predecessor components had only about 80 employees working on national security issues. That number has nearly quadrupled in the ten years since. Since September 11th, the men and women of the NSD have shown an unflagging unity of purpose, resolve and resilience in pursuing the most important work of the Department. At times, the work we do here can be overwhelming. But this is an occasion to look beyond the daily demands of individual cases and investigations, to the enduring efforts which compel us all to service.
One of the most important of those efforts, of course, is to preserve the events of that day on their own terms—not only as a turning point in history, but as a human tragedy with flesh-and-blood victims, heroes, and murderers. In a few minutes, I am going to introduce Chuck Rosenberg, a long time friend to the Department and this Division. Chuck’s moving presentation recalls the attacks of that day in vivid detail.
9/11 and the Creation of NSD
Before we start with the presentation, however, allow me to make some brief observations about the profound impact of the 9/11 attacks upon the Department of Justice and the National Security Division. The shock and suffering of September 11th left every American asking how could people do something so terrible? And how can we prevent it from happening again?”
For those charged with protecting our nation, it became clear that there was much that could be done to stop another attack. Two of the largest stumbling blocks to preventing the 9/11 attacks came in the form of barriers to information sharing and a lack of coordination between intelligence and law enforcement officials.
After 9/11, some questioned whether the U.S. government, including the Department of Justice and the FBI, could be reformed to enhance our ability to prevent the next attack. Indeed, the 9/11 Commission considered proposals for relocating the Department’s intelligence functions in a new domestic intelligence agency that could be an “American MI-5,” similar to the British Security Service. Ultimately, the 9/11 Commission decided against the creation of a new intelligence agency, but only if the Department of Justice could adapt to a new era and institutionalize change to protect the American people. Some said at the time that intelligence and law enforcement were not compatible. I’m happy to say that all of you have taken part in proving them wrong.
This was our mandate after 9/11: to change the Department to meet the threats of a changed world. Many of you here today – current and former public servants – were instrumental in the Department’s first steps in this direction by working to pass the Patriot Act and defend the statute in subsequent court decisions. These initial efforts helped to lower barriers to information sharing and improve coordination between law enforcement and intelligence.
In 2005, the WMD Commission took the additional step of recommending the creation of a National Security Division, which would combine the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review with the Counterterrorism and Counterespionage Sections of the Criminal Division, to create a new Division. In the words of the Commission, a new Division was needed so that all of the Department’s national security components would be “acting in concert to serve a common mission.” A year later Congress created the National Security Division.
We’re honored to have with us today our first two Assistant Attorneys General for National Security, Ken Wainstein and Patrick Rowan. Their efforts leading the first new Division at the Department in nearly fifty years were ground-breaking. Along with my immediate predecessor, David Kris, Ken and Pat know from experience that the creation of NSD was much more than legal reform or organizational reshuffling: it was a vote of public confidence in the Department of Justice. In the decade since 9/11, that judgment has been vindicated time and again—largely as a result of your hard work and quiet sacrifice.
Synergy between Intelligence and Law Enforcement
Since 9/11, the overriding objective of our counterterrorism investigations has been to “connect the dots” quickly and then employ whatever lawful tool—be it law enforcement, diplomacy, military force, or intelligence collection—best protects our security. Within this framework, counterterrorism efforts have benefitted immensely from the integration of intelligence and law enforcement. Although hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes in federal courts since 9/11, we no longer measure success by convictions alone . Instead, our yardstick has been whether we can use the criminal justice system to help prevent, deter and disrupt a terrorist attack before it occurs.
Last year, for example, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty to attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square and was sentenced to life in prison. We have also seen the criminal justice system function as a first-class intelligence-gathering platform for counterterrorism operations. To cite just one example from last year, David Headley pleaded guilty in Chicago in connection with his role planning the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai as well as a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper. As part of his law enforcement interrogations, Headley provided valuable intelligence regarding those attacks, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) and Pakistani based terrorist leaders. These are just a few examples of our unity of purpose in action.
A New Threat Environment
In the last ten years, we have adjusted to evolving threats. The spread of global telecommunications and the Internet have helped the terrorist threat expand beyond the core of Al Qaeda, exacerbating the threat posed by homegrown and lone-wolf actors in this country. In addition to Al Qaeda, we have directly confronted the growth of other groups spanning from South Asia to the Horn of Africa.
In some cases, the Department has met the threat by adapting old tools to new challenges, such as through the use of undercover operations to apprehend homegrown terrorists. In other instances, we have created new institutions, as with the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils (ATACs): first launched by Attorney General Ashcroft less than a week after 9/11, the growth of ATACs now ensures every single U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared to meet its counterterrorism responsibilities. Of course, since the passage of the Patriot Act, we have also adjusted our legal framework multiple times to better reflect new technologies and threats.
Civil Liberties, Privacy, Rule of Law
Legal reforms have also included safeguards for privacy and civil liberties. While we all recognize that reasonable people can differ on how to strike the appropriate balance between privacy and security, it should be a point of pride to all of us that the 9/11 Commission discussed the Department’s tradition of legal oversight and commitment to the rule of law as a reason to keep the domestic intelligence function within the DOJ. At NSD the importance of legal oversight and fidelity to the rule of law permeates all of our daily work -- from operations to oversight.
In the same vein, as DOJ employees we should be proud of the many outreach and engagement efforts to build support, trust and cooperation with Muslim, Arab and other communities who have been valuable partners in a shared effort to combat terrorism. Indeed, since 9/11 our colleagues in the Civil Rights Division have investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism or arson against members of such communities. These efforts help protect the rule of law and preserve our country’s values.
In conclusion, we cannot mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks without reflecting on the progress we have made since then to make the nation safer. The Department of Justice has successfully transformed itself to meet one of the great challenges of our time and has saved lives as a result. The National Security Division is a daily embodiment of that transformation, and of the deep trust the American public has placed in us to help protect them every day. Working with our colleagues in the military, intelligence community, and throughout the federal government, we will continue to cooperate to meet this common responsibility.
As we commemorate the events of 9/11, the best way for us to honor the victims of that tragedy and their legacy is to continue to do everything in our power to prevent further attacks. This remains the highest priority and most urgent work of NSD and the Justice Department. On behalf of a grateful Department, thank you for the work you do each day to help prevent another attack and keep the country safe.