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On anniversary of 9/11, Chertoff speaks about terrorism

Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security from 2005-09, evaluates progress, offers hope for future


“Every Sept. 11 comes with a mix of very vivid memories.” by: VERN UYETAKE - Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff addresses students at Lewis & Clark Law School Tuesday.

So said former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who gave remarks in tribute to Sept. 11 at the Lewis & Clark College Law School Tuesday afternoon.

In the school’s Legal Research Center, Chertoff addressed an overflowing audience and reflected on the progress — and future challenges — of the fight against terrorism since the horrific events of that Tuesday morning 11 years ago.

“It’s difficult to understand the transformative effect that Sept. 11 had on the way we operate our security apparatus and much of our government and our transportation infrastructure without going back to that sense of uncertainty ... about what was coming next,” Chertoff said. “It had a profound effect on everybody and we still feel the ripples of that to this day.”

In 2001 Chertoff was assistant attorney general for the criminal division of the Department of Justice. In that capacity he was thrust into overseeing issues of immigration and the criminal prosecution of those who were involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, with a staff of more than 200,000 and a budget of more than $50 billion.

“It’s hard enough for me just to oversee a law school; I can only imagine overseeing an agency like that,” said Law School dean Robert Klonoff.

After the terrorist hijackers crashed their planes into the World Trade Center, it became known that another hijacked plane was en route to Washington D.C.

“I remember being present when the order was relayed to have that plane shot down,” Chertoff said. “It was one thing to see it in a Bruce Willis movie ... it is something else to witness it and know it’s for real.”

“I spent the next week and months, pretty much 24/7, at the FBI Operations Center as we tried first to learn who had carried out the attacks,” he said, “and more important, to prevent other attacks from happening.”

In 2005, Chertoff was appointed the second Secretary of Homeland Security under the Bush Administration, a position that he held until 2009.

“We had to build a system that allowed us to reduce our vulnerabilities,” Chertoff said. “Some of it is inconvenient and some of it is expensive, but it is much more difficult to smuggle a terrorist operative through our borders than it would have been 11 years ago.”

Chertoff described that although Osama bin Laden was killed last year, the fight against terrorism continues to be an uphill battle, because what he referred to as “al-Qaeda 2.0” is younger, adaptive to domestic defense strategies and “may use different tactics, smaller tactics, more widespread attacks,” he said.

Moreover, the terrorist threat is no longer localized to Afghanistan, but has spread to surrounding nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and parts of North- and East Africa. “It’s become more of a franchise,” with a wider terrorist recruiting pool, Chertoff said.

To mitigate the terrorist threat, Chertoff said that Homeland Security is often driven by cost-benefit analysis.

“If you operate with a tolerance threshold that even a single loss of life must be averted at all costs ... you will spend an astronomical amount of money, and you will still not totally avert the problem. So you have to make a very difficult and unpleasant assessment and start to look at where the consequences are very high-impact and where they’re very low-impact and you have to calibrate accordingly,” Chertoff said. “It requires you to say we’re going to invest to prevent, for example, a biological attack that could kill tens or hundreds of thousands in a way that we will not invest to prevent 10 people from being killed.”

“I can’t say this enough: nobody wants to tolerate a single person being shot down or blown up in a bomb,” he added, “but if we take the view that we have zero tolerance, then the investment you’ll have to make and the cost in convenience and liberty will be astronomical. ... This is ... a hard conversation we have to have with the American people”

But Chertoff said that amid the counter-strikes and drone attacks, there is another, important strategy in the war on terrorism: diplomacy.

“We not only have broad and an enormous amount of hard power, but we’ve brought soft power as well. This is an area perhaps of strength that is underappreciated and which I think we ought to do more to invest in,” he said. “This is about reaching out to people and showing how they can make their lives better through example, through assistance, through some of the positive technologies that we bring through our democracy and through our freedom.”

After concluding his remarks, Chertoff, Lewis & Clark professor of international affairs Bob Mandel and professor of law Tung Yin participated in a panel discussion focusing on national security. The panel was followed by a Q&A session.

“Great questions from the students; it’s always inspiring to see how thoughtful the folks in universities are,” Chertoff said. “I’ve done Sept. 11 events at various places — obviously, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — but I think coming out to a different part of the country, which wasn’t directly impacted, and being with students is kind of another good way to remember that day.”