Sen. Carl Levin: Learning the lessons of the post-9-11 decadePublished 11:59pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011
That day, I went with Sen. John Warner, as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to the Pentagon. I vividly remember the horrible damage there. We held a press conference with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We were unified, as a Senate and a nation, in our determination to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.
Ten years removed from that tragedy, it’s important that we examine the steps taken since the Sept. 11 attacks to protect our nation.
Most important, we’ve severely degraded al-Qaeda’s ability to threaten us. Thanks to diligent intelligence work, the incredible bravery and competence of our military, and President Obama’s thoughtful and courageous decision making, Osama bin Laden can no longer plot to harm us. Bin Laden’s death and the efforts of our military in Afghanistan led Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to say recently that we are “within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.”
We have also organized our military forces to better protect the homeland, a task we have focused on in the Armed Services Committee. We have reorganized homeland security and intelligence agencies to better combat terrorism and to share information more effectively, addressing one of the weaknesses that contributed to the 9/11 attacks.
We also have made significant strides in homeland security. One of the big problems that 9-11 revealed is that too often various emergency response agencies can’t talk to one another because their radios don’t link up.
In the aftermath of 9-11, I authored legislation to fund seven demonstration projects on the northern and southern borders to combat this problem, including a $4 million grant for Michigan police to coordinate emergency response with Canada.
In March, we opened a Northern Border Operational Integration Center at Selfridge Air Base. That center will gather information from every agency and office involved in securing the northern border so that our agencies can coordinate in protecting us while allowing commerce and travelers to move freely.
Those are important steps. But we have made errors, too, and must learn from them. The Iraq war distracted us from fighting the people who attacked us on 9-11. Use of interrogation techniques that are considered torture under U.S. and international law has made us less safe by producing faulty information and by handing our enemies a propaganda victory.
We also have work to do on northern border security. In February, government auditors found that lack of coordination between immigration and border patrol personnel is hindering border security in the Detroit region.
We must fight terrorism financing more effectively. Laws in most states do not require corporations to reveal their true owners. That loophole allows terrorists and the arms dealers who supply them to launder their money. I’ve introduced legislation to strip away that anonymity.
With all the work yet to do, it’s good to remember our successes. One beautiful May night, my wife, Barbara, and I, drove down to the Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, just a couple of hours after President Obama announced that we had brought bin Laden to justice. The unity we felt that night, joining thousands of people celebrating the news, was just as powerful as the unity we felt at the Pentagon on the day of the attacks. It was a great reminder that, in mourning or celebration, our nation is strongest when it is united.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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