- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008


Why has our country remained safe since September 11? Because of concrete policies the president has pursued - policies that range from reorganizing the intelligence community to taking the fight to our enemies, from monitoring terrorist communications to creating the Department of Homeland Security.

We live in dangerous times and face numerous threats to our security. Managing this risk is daunting. On an average day, the men and women of my department will screen more than 2 million domestic air travelers, inspect more than 300,000 vehicles crossing our borders, check more than 70,000 shipping containers for dangerous materials, and secure thousands of pieces of critical infrastructure.

We recognize there is no perfect security. Moreover, we know it is impossible to eliminate all risk. Our goal - and President Bush’s vision - has been to provide risk-based protection against the most significant threats, reduce our major vulnerabilities, and mitigate potential consequences, with minimal disruption and inconvenience.

I believe we have achieved these aims. Across land, sea, and air, our nation is better equipped to deal with the threats of the 21st century. In many cases, we have implemented programs and capabilities that did not exist prior to September 11.

Today, our aviation system benefits from more than 20 layers of security, including hardened cockpit doors, federal air marshals, 100 percent screening of passengers and their bags, and new air cargo security requirements.

At our borders, we have built hundreds of miles of pedestrian and vehicle fence, doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, and added new technology to prevent the entry of terrorists, criminals, illegal aliens, and dangerous drugs and weapons.

In the interior, we have arrested record numbers of illegal aliens, including more than 11,000 gang members and 34,000 fugitives. We also have cracked down on employers that violate immigration laws, while giving businesses better tools, such as E-Verify, to maintain a legal workforce. The result has been a historic reversal in illegal immigration, with no net increase in the illegal immigrant population in our country for the first time in decades.

At our ports, we have deployed radiation scanning equipment to check virtually 100 percent of incoming cargo for weapons of mass destruction. Prior to September 11, no cargo was scanned for such threats. In addition, we have stationed our inspectors overseas to screen cargo before it leaves foreign ports.

We have strengthened the security of identification documents, requiring passports or other secure documents to enter the United States from within our own hemisphere. This closes a pre-September 11 loophole that left our nation vulnerable. Under US-VISIT, we now record fingerprints from foreign visitors and check them in real time against terrorist and criminal watch lists - all while maintaining rigorous privacy protections. Before September 11, we didn’t have this capability. And to prevent the use of fraudulent identification, we have implemented new standards for secure driver’s licenses.

To protect our nation’s chemical plants, we require high risk facilities to develop security plans and harden their assets. We have implemented new regulations for chemicals traveling by rail. To guard against biological threats, we have deployed early warning systems to 30 major metropolitan areas under the BioWatch program. We have built new national facilities to characterize and respond to biological attacks. And to counter emerging threats in cyberspace, we have launched a major, multiagency initiative to protect cyber systems and infrastructure.

Finally, we have integrated lessons from Hurricane Katrina and other disasters to ensure the federal government is prepared to support our state and local partners and the American people during major disasters. We have strengthened the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), built new capabilities for tracking commodities, improved emergency communications and developed stronger connections with our partners at all levels, including the Department of Defense and the private sector. FEMA responded to nearly 100 disasters this year, from the historic Midwest floods and unprecedented California wildfires, to damaging tornadoes and back-to-back hurricanes. In each instance, its response was able and effective.

On Jan. 20, we intend to turn over to our successors an integrated, well-functioning Department that has addressed or is on a path to addressing the most significant risks facing our nation. That’s not to say there isn’t more work ahead or additional room for improvement. But on the fundamental issues, we have acted with urgency and we have worked tirelessly to keep our nation safe.

Sadly, excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists have killed more than 20,000 innocent men and women and wounded more than 43,000 around the world since September 11. Yet not one of those horrific acts of violence occurred in the United States. That is a testament to the president’s leadership and to the deliberate efforts of the 218,000 men and women of the Department of Homeland Security who serve our nation every day.

Michael Chertoff is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

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