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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Jim McDevitt: Twenty years after 9/11 – lessons learned, or not

By Jim McDevitt

By Jim McDevitt

On Sept. 11, 2021, we remembered those horrific events which took the lives of 3,000 Americans in the worst terrorist attack this nation has seen. What is needed today? We need a strong presence in the Middle East, just as we do in other parts of the globe. Our southern border must be secured and we must restore the confidence, cooperation and information sharing between and among federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement.

Following the events of 9/11, Congress and the president authorized the formation of the 9/11 Commission, comprised of five high-ranking Democrats and five high-ranking Republicans, including our own Sen. Slade Gorton. Following 19 days of hearings and 160 witnesses, the commission published “The 9/11 Commission Report,” a comprehensive 567-page report which detailed not only why we were unprepared for the attack but also what the United States needed to do to avoid such terrorist attacks in the future. Several such recommendations are relevant today, given current conditions and world events.

First, the commission acknowledged that the radical Islamic terrorists are of the mind that the U.S. is the “head of the snake” and it must be either converted or destroyed. Given that, it was the commission’s finding that

• “It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground – not even respect for life – on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated. … What is needed is a broad political-military strategy that rests on a firm tripod of policies to attack terrorists and their organizations; prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism; and protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.”

• Second, with respect to identification of terrorist sanctuaries, the commission stated: “The U.S. government must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries. For each, it should have a realistic strategy to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run, using all elements of national power. We should reach out, listen to, and work with other countries that can help.”

• Finally, as to border security, the commission stated: “It is elemental to border security to know who is coming into the country. Today more than 9 million people are in the United States outside the legal immigration system. We must be able to monitor and respond to entrances between our ports of entry, working with Canada and Mexico as much as possible.” In addition, “There is a growing role for state and local law enforcement agencies. They need more training and work with federal agencies so that they can cooperate more effectively with those federal authorities in identifying terrorist suspects.”

In support of this last point, the commission noted that identification fraud is no longer merely a problem of theft, it is a matter of national security. As well, the commission stressed the need to prioritize and provide incentives for information sharing between and among state, local, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies.

So where are we now and what have we done to implement these well-researched and important recommendations? As to the first and second points, the U.S. has ceded Afghanistan to known terrorist organizations whose aims are well known: “Death to America.” Not only have we not kept terrorists “on the run,” but by our totally ill-advised stampede out of Afghanistan we have left our allies high and dry and ruined our relations with many of them.

As well, we have given back to terrorist organizations an entire country in which they can train and plan attacks on the free world and we have armed them with all of our latest armament, planes and helicopters worth billions.

As to the final recommendation, our southern border is a travesty with thousands of undocumented and unknown individuals from over a hundred countries entering the U.S., many of whom have serious criminal records, gang affiliations or multiple prior illegal entries. In short, our southern border security is totally nonexistent and we have no idea how many of those illegally entering the U.S. may pose a threat to our national security. With respect to information and cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, many states and cities, including Washington and several Washington cities, have prohibited full information sharing between agencies and have placed roadblocks in the way of inter-agency cooperation.

So what have we learned in the 20 years since 9/11/2001? It appears that our government has learned nothing and we have positioned ourselves for future terrorist incidents and attacks by granting the terrorists a sanctuary within which they can train and plan attacks on the free world.

We have also thrown away any notion of maintaining any form of border security and have impaired information sharing and cooperation between law enforcement agencies. So much for the learned recommendations from our bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

Jim McDevitt was the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington from 2001 to 2010.

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