The Lessons of 9/11
The Hon. Lee H. Hamilton
Financial Services Roundtable
September 15, 2005
It is my pleasure to be with you this morning. Let me thank David Kemper for that
kind introduction. Let me also acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of your President
– and my former colleague in the Congress – Steve Bartlett.
I would like to focus my remarks this morning on, 1) what has changed since 9/11;
2) what lessons we have learned; and 3) what remains to be done – particularly in the wake
of Hurricane Katrina – to make this country safer and more secure.
What Has Changed Since 9/11?
What has changed since 9/11? Every year around this time we hear this question
asked in so many retrospectives. From my perspective, the short answer is: everything.
-- America’s foreign policy priorities have completely shifted.
In the 2000 campaign, we heard a lot about the Balkans, China, and missile defense.
Now, terrorism has vaulted to the top of our foreign policy agenda. Alliances have been
reshaped. America has taken a more robust role in the world. And nearly all of our
international endeavors are tied to the struggle against Islamist terrorism.
-- America’s military has been stretched thin.
We’re fighting three wars. In Afghanistan, where we confront the Taliban, al Qaeda,
and a growing drug trade. In Iraq, where violence shows no sign of abating. And in
countries around the world – more than most Americans know – where the American
military is hunting down terrorists or training our allies to do so.
-- American government has been substantially reformed.
Twenty-two agencies were folded into the Department of Homeland Security. The
primary mission of the FBI shifted from law enforcement to counter-terrorism. Our
intelligence agencies have undergone their most dramatic reorganization in fifty years. And
local governments are struggling to better prevent and respond to emergencies.
-- The size and power of American government has dramatically increased.
National and homeland security budgets have mushroomed. Laws like the USA
Patriot Act have granted government sweeping new powers of surveillance and detention –
even if you have committed no crime. From the search of your shoes at the airport to
federal agents probing library records, government is more intrusive.
-- Nearly every private industry has been impacted.
Security is now a priority. Whether you are protecting a chemical plant, forming an
evacuation plan for your high-rise office, shipping cargo, or complying with new financial
regulations – the prospect of terrorism is now a part of your planning.
-- Americans feel personally vulnerable.
Our economic security is uncertain – with potential shocks from a terrorist attack,
jittery markets, or energy shortages. And our personal security feels uncertain – with
government terror alerts, security lines at the ballpark, or constant reporting on terrorism
and violence from the media.
-- Yet we have not been attacked at home since 9/11.
This is good news. It means we must be doing something right. But it is no reason
There are many who intend to do us harm. Terrorist attacks have risen around the
world. Osama bin Ladin and others have spoken of their determination to attack us with a
weapon of mass destruction. Nearly every national security expert or official will tell you
that terrorism will remain the number one national security threat for years to come.
Think of the convulsions to America and the world caused by 9/11. Think of what
would happen in the wake of an attack that equals or exceeds the destruction of 9/11.
What Have We Learned Since 9/11?
So what have we learned since 9/11? How can our government forge a better
On the 9/11 Commission, we came up with 41 recommendations to keep the
American people safer and more secure – I’ll discuss some of those specific recommendations in a few minutes.
But there are a few essential elements that must inform our counter-terrorism
strategy. I refer to these elements as the four I’s: identification, integration, international,
and intelligence. By that I mean:
-- 1) identifying the threat, so the strategy is designed to confront the enemy;
-- 2) integrating the tools of American power, so the strategy is comprehensive;
-- 3) getting international cooperation, because every action that we take in counter-
terrorism is strengthened by international help;
-- 4) and getting better intelligence, so that we can prevent attacks.
First, how should we identify the threat? Who is the enemy?
You cannot defeat “terrorism” – writ large – because terrorism will be with us as
long as human beings have grievances. You cannot fight “al Qaeda” the group, because al
Qaeda represents more than a fixed number of people who can be hunted down.
Pick up a newspaper and you see the problem. In Iraq alone, you’ll see references to terrorists, insurgents, Saddam-loyalists, al Qaeda-affiliates, Islamists, Baathists, foreign
fighters, and Iraqi nationalists.
The same is true globally. Is somebody who blows up a nightclub in Bali trying to
change Indonesia, or are they part of a global conspiracy against the U.S.? What about
somebody setting of a bomb in Pakistan, Israel, Madrid, Morocco, London, or Chechnya?
On the 9/11 Commission, we identified the enemy as twofold:
-- al Qaeda, a stateless terrorist network, led by Usama bin Ladin, comprised of
several hundred, with perhaps a few thousand more who are close affiliates;
-- and the scourge of Islamist extremist ideology, inspired in part by al Qaeda, that
prompts violence in country after country.
This ideology poses a grave threat to Americans and American interests. Merging
opposition to American policies with a radical strain of Islam, it has proven amorphous and
adaptable. Al Qaeda has lost commanders, operatives, and a home base. It has responded
by decentralizing operations, shifting targets, and seeking new recruits.
Take the London bombers: British born citizens who likely acted without direct
orders from bin Ladin or extended time in a terrorist training camp. Or take Iraq: where a
diverse insurgency has become a training ground for extremists from around the globe.
These are different circumstances than the 9/11 hijackers – but no less dangerous.
The enemy’s ability to sustain itself ensures that the danger will outlive bin Ladin
and any terrorist infrastructure we destroy. To succeed against this enemy, we must destroy
the existing al Qaeda network; combat the ideology that gives rise to terrorism; and protect
against, and prepare for, terrorist attacks.
Second, how can we integrate American power to combat this threat?
It will take all aspects of American power to keep Americans safe: the military,
covert action, law enforcement, diplomacy, public diplomacy, foreign aid, economic policy,
financial action and homeland security.
No one tool can succeed alone. Military power is important. You are not going to
persuade Usama bin Ladin or his hard-core supporters to abandon their point of view. You
must hunt them down, and capture or kill them. But no army, no matter how strong, can
stop someone from getting on a subway with a backpack full of explosives.
The great challenge of counter-terrorism is integrating all of the tools of American power so that they work together:
-- the cop on the beat in New York needs intelligence about plots hatched in
-- the Coast Guard captain needs technology to detect nuclear materials in a cargo
-- the military in Iraq needs to be supported by American diplomacy that fosters a
more inclusive political process;
-- the border guard needs access to terrorist watch-lists kept by intelligence
agencies from around the world.
In all we do, we should integrate our values. We should stand for the advancement of democratic institutions and ideals abroad, just as we should stand for justice, economic
opportunity, and humane treatment for all individuals. We should be vigilant in defending
ourselves, and be equally vigilant in safeguarding our cherished liberties and open society.
If we stress one tool of American power to the exclusion of others, we will be vulnerable. If we integrate America’s power and values –at home and abroad – then we can
protect America while making our country stronger
Third, how can we integrate our efforts internationally?
We cannot, by ourselves, defeat a stateless enemy that operates around the globe. The key principle is collective security. Islamist terrorism threatens many people and many
nations. America must use its preeminent power to build and support an international
consensus for counter-terrorism.
We cannot secure our own skies without securing international aviation;
We cannot track down terrorist financing without working with foreign banks;
We cannot get the best intelligence on terrorists in Europe, the Middle East, Africa,
and Asia without intelligence reporting from international partners;
We cannot secure borders without international standards for travel documents;
We cannot spread markets and prosperity without international aid partners.
We cannot keep the peace in Afghanistan without allies sharing the burden.
The same holds true for our relationship with the Islamic world. How we manage
our relations with 1.2 billion Muslims is a central challenge for American policy.
We have to strengthen the voices that condemn the killing of innocent people. We
have to support more opportunities for the downtrodden and disaffected in the Islamic
world. We have to put forward an agenda of opportunity, so that Muslims see us standing
for a future that is better for them than the future Usama bin Ladin stands for.
Fourth, how can you get good intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks?
Intelligence is the single most important tool that we have in preventing attacks.
The key is collecting the right information and getting it to the right person at the right
time. This is not easy when you collect millions of bites of data every minute.
To succeed, we need better management in the intelligence community – so that
stovepipes are smashed, information is shared, and priorities are set and acted upon. I
believe the new director of national intelligence – John Negroponte – is empowered to perform this role if he maintains presidential and congressional support.
To succeed, we need better coordination in the intelligence community – so that all
intelligence on terrorism is pooled, analyzed, and acted upon. I believe the new national
counter-terrorism center can serve as this kind of hub for integration on counter-terrorism
if it maintains presidential and congressional support.
To succeed, we need new systems of information sharing – so that information is shared vertically within an organization, and horizontally across the agencies of the
intelligence community. It will take new rules and technologies to ensure that our analysts
can work from the full set of facts – foreign and domestic – to prevent future 9/11s.
To succeed, we need the FBI to make more progress – so that it has the organization, technology, and workforce to prevent terrorist attacks. Director Mueller has
set the Bureau on the right path – he has farther to go to implement his reforms.
Good intelligence alone cannot make us safe. But it supports every step that we
take toward that goal.
Let me add a few comments on an aspect of counter-terrorism that you are probably
familiar with: action against terrorist financing.
Cracking down is difficult. The financing of most terrorist plots falls somewhere in
the tens, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the 9/11 Commission, we
estimated that 9/11 cost al Qaeda somewhere around $500,000 to execute – a mere blip on
the radar of international finance.
Yet vigilance against terrorist financing is an extremely important part of our
-- to break up open and notorious Islamist extremist fundraising that often went
unchecked before 9/11;
-- to serve as a deterrent to terrorist groups as they seek to raise, move, and spend
-- to force terrorists and their sympathizers to raise and move money clandestinely,
thereby raising the costs and risks, and making their lives more difficult;
-- and to acquire vital intelligence about terrorist networks and their methods of
support and operation.
On the 9/11 Commission, we saw real evidence that the financial information you
provide to terrorism investigations has reaped real dividends. Counter-terrorism
investigators depend upon your assistance in finding and identifying customers with
terrorist affiliations, and tracing financial transactions in fast-moving investigations.
There have been costs to the financial services sector in implementing laws like the
Bank Secrecy Act and its regulations. But consider the costs in missed opportunities.
Two of the 9/11 hijackers – al Midhar and al Hamzi – were known to the FBI and
CIA, and used bank accounts through ATM and debit cards in their own name through
September 10 – including the purchase of their 9/11 airline tickets. Had the government been able to access this account information before 9/11, it could have found al Midhar and
Fast action, including the use of financial intelligence, helps us connect the dots in
important ways, and can help us exploit terrorist vulnerabilities. Each time a terrorist
undertakes a financial transaction, that terrorist is vulnerable – just as a terrorist is
vulnerable when crossing a border or boarding an aircraft.
When it comes to exploiting financial vulnerabilities and closing loopholes to
terrorist funding, the United States should be a leader in the world – in both the public and
private sector. This will require effort on the part of policymakers working with the
financial industry, your regulators, and the law enforcement and intelligence community.
Let me conclude by discussing a few steps we should take to strengthen our
preparedness for large-scale emergencies – natural or man-made – in the wake of Katrina.
All of us have been upset by the suffering of our fellow Americans in New Orleans
and on the Gulf Coast. We should also be upset by flaws in our emergency preparedness.
We have had four years to get this right. How did we get it so wrong?
Let me point out a few areas in which we need to do better:
1) Command and control
As on 9/11, there was no one person or agency clearly in charge of the response to Hurricane Katrina.
No doubt Katrina was complicated from a response standpoint – with multiple
agencies, and local, state, and federal jurisdictions. But no large-scale crisis or attack is
going to be simple. Furthermore, this was a crisis that had been predicted. Yet when
Katrina took place, nobody could stand up and say, “I am in charge.” As a result, help did
not get where it needed to go. And Americans lost their lives.
The 9/11 Commission recommended a unified incident command on the scene of a national disaster. When multiple agencies or multiple jurisdictions are involved, one
agency should be designated to lead the response. All federal preparedness grants should
be contingent on the adoption of this unified command procedure.
This is difficult. But during an emergency, hundreds of decisions must be made in
an extraordinarily small timeframe. When nobody is clearly in charge, these decisions do
not get made. Chaos ensues. Resources are not exploited. Effort is duplicated.
We know what kind of events might come. There will be an earthquake in
California. There will be another hurricane in New Orleans. There very well may be a dirty
bomb attack in one of our cities, or simultaneous rail bombings similar to those in Madrid.
We should know who is going to be in charge when one of these disasters takes place.
As on 9/11, communications among first responders were not sufficient during the response to Hurricane Katrina.
We know that at a large-scale disaster, different response agencies will have to talk to one another – police, fire and medical personnel. On 9/11, the NYPD and FDNY could
not talk to each other. This cost lives. In New Orleans, different agencies have to talk to
each other. Their inability to do so may well have cost lives.
This is a problem with a clear fix. To put it simply: it is a scandal that four years after 9/11, we have not set aside radio spectrum so that police, firefighters, and emergency
medical technicians can communicate with one another during a large-scale disaster.
I know that broadcast spectrum is extremely valuable. But it is not as valuable as the lives that we have seen lost in these disasters when our emergency responders cannot
We will face another disaster. Congress should act to set aside part of the radio spectrum for our first responders.
3) Homeland Security Priorities
My final point comes down to one word: priorities.
On the 9/11 Commission, we recommended that federal funds for emergency
preparedness be distributed strictly on the basis of risk and vulnerability – not politics. It is
up to Congress to write this principle into law.
What do I mean by this? It means that where I come from – southern Indiana – will
receive less funding because it is less likely to be attacked. Our police forces probably do
not need suits to respond to a dirty bomb attack. Places like New York and Washington
and Chicago and Los Angeles do.
You cannot protect everything. There are too many risks and vulnerabilities – from
terrorist attacks, or from natural disasters. What you can do is make an analysis on the
basis of risk. Before 9/11, that would have told you that New York and Washington were
likely terrorist targets; before Katrina, that would have told you that the flooding of New
Orleans was perhaps the most probable large-scale natural disaster in our future.
Politicians do not like setting priorities. Why? Because they might be wrong.
But homeland security is about protecting the American people and America’s
infrastructure – it is not a general revenue sharing program. That is why we need:
-- homeland security funding on the basis of risk;
-- a national strategy for transportation security, so that we assign priorities for the
protection of our transportation system;
-- and a national strategy for the protection of our critical infrastructure, so that we
protect the targets that are the most significant and the most vulnerable.
On the 9/11 Commission, we were often asked if we are safer than we were on 9/11.
Our answer was: we are safer, but we are not safe.
The United States – and the world – has changed a great deal since 9/11. It is tough
to stay ahead of such fast-changing events. Indeed, it is tough to keep pace.
We might like to put terrorism aside and “move on,” but we would be doing a
disservice: the natural destruction of Hurricane Katrina reminds us of our lingering
To succeed against terrorism, and the dangers that might come, we must effectively
and efficiently integrate all aspects of American power. And we must have the courage to
make the hard choices to protect our people.