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Yahoo! News Op-Ed: 20 years later, a transformed Justice Department is still fighting — and preventing — terrorism

This op-ed originally appeared in Yahoo! News on September 11, 2021.

Twenty years ago, we made a promise.

After 9/11, our nation promised to forever honor the memory of all who lost their lives in the horrific attacks that day.

To support those who were injured.

To grieve with the families, friends and loved ones of every victim.

And to protect all who call America home from the threat of terrorism.

We made a commitment that America would never again face a terror attack of such immeasurable scope, and that we would seek justice for the victims and their families. And for the past two decades, that is exactly what we have done.

For those of us who remember precisely where we were when the first plane hit, our losses and our promises still feel fresh. In fact, it is hard to fathom that for some young adults 9/11 is history, not memory.

But that history — and our national memory — has forever shaped our approach to counterterrorism. On 9/11, I was a new prosecutor for the Department of Justice. Twenty years later, now as deputy attorney general of the United States, I have served the department before, during and after 9/11; the promises we made that day now animate our mission, shape our structure and sharpen our resolve.

After 9/11, I had the honor of working with FBI Director Robert Mueller to transform the bureau into a national security agency that today is at the forefront of preventing terrorism. By shifting to a threat-based and intelligence-driven approach, the bureau’s focus is not only investigating crimes after the fact; its top priority is preventing another attack.

Over the past two decades, the Department of Justice also underwent a historic transformation, most notably in the establishment of the National Security Division, the first new Justice Department division in nearly 50 years.

NSD was created by Congress to bring together the law enforcement and intelligence functions of the Justice Department. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 I led that new division and witnessed firsthand how, by fusing the authorities and capabilities of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, we could detect, deter, disrupt and prevent attacks — not simply those posed by international terrorists but also by threats emerging here at home. We reenvisioned our mission and recalibrated how we measure our success. Hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes in federal courts since 9/11, but our yardstick now includes our ability to stop terrorist attacks before they occur.

In part because of these changes and others across the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the United States has thankfully not suffered another attack of the scope and scale of 9/11.

But we cannot rest. Today we face a historic rise in domestic violent extremism even as the threat from international terror continues and morphs. We can and must tackle both. And we must remain nimble to combat the full range of threats as they grow and diversify — from organized terror groups and lone actors intent on violence to cyberthreat actors seeking to disrupt our critical infrastructure and placing lives at risk in the process.

Keeping this nation safe remains the highest priority and most urgent work of the Justice Department, and we will continue to evolve in response to this dynamic threat landscape. Time has reinforced the importance of the changes we have already made, but we must build on the lessons we have learned. We will follow the intelligence, connect the dots, collaborate with our partners across the government, work to build trust with communities we serve and use all available tools to prevent future attacks. And we will do so always consistent with the rule of law and our core values.

In the moments between 8:46 a.m. on that clear Tuesday morning and today, the dedicated public servants of the Department of Justice have been furiously at work, always motivated by the commitments we made to the victims and their legacies, their families and all who call America home. We vowed that day to never forget, and that vow has not wavered with the passage of time.

These are challenging times, but our shared history and our collective hope for the safety and prosperity of our nation must unite us if we want to make good on our promise of justice and security. So today we come together to mourn, to grieve, to remember and to honor the heroes of 9/11. And tomorrow our promise continues.

Updated September 11, 2021

National Security