9/11 - Ten Years Later
BERLIN (September 7, 2011) - The Bertelsmann Foundation hosted a discussion to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. The event, entitled "Still With Us: The Global War on Terror Ten Years After 9/11", brought former US Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to the Bertelsmann Representation in Berlin for a question-and-answer session led by Christiane Meier, ARD Berlin correspondent and former Washington, DC bureau chief.
More than 100 guests were in attendance, including representatives of the Bundeskanzleramt, the Auswärtiges Amt and the academic, think-tank and media communities. Bundestag member Günter Krings was also present to give a German view of the issues discussed.
Bertelsmann Foundation Executive Director Annette Heuser opened the evening with a reminder that the impact of 9/11 on global society remains with us to this day and will continue to do so for some time to come. She noted that trans-Atlantic cooperation in the security arena was vital and ensured that the US-European relationship remains a top priority on both sides of the ocean.
Christiane Meier launched the discussion by asking the former US officials to describe their experiences on the day of the attacks. Speaker Hastert, at the time the third-highest official of the US (after only the president and vice president), spoke of his evacuation from the Capitol building by the Secret Service. He admitted that at the time he did not think of how the events would change the world. Instead, he acknowledged that he and others needed to focus on the moment, doing what needed to be done immediately. Secretary Chertoff spoke of the horror of realizing that the government might soon be forced into a position of ordering the shooting down of airliners if those planes could not be contacted and told to land. He spoke of rumors that taxi drivers were parking in front of public buildings to blow them up. He admitted that officials did not know what was happening.
Ms Meier then asked if either speaker had any regrets about their roles in approving or implementing the Patriot Act, which expands the US government 's ability to collect information that may be related to terrorist activities. Speaker Hastert noted that the legislation was not passed at a time when the focus was on the long term. But he emphasized that the law was subject to much debate between the Congress and the White House, and was repeatedly revised. He said that the government did a good job in framing the Patriot Act considering the great pressure to move quickly. "We did what we thought we had to do," he stated.
Secretary Chertoff said the law had made it more difficult for operatives to get into the US and noted that the priority at the time was to restore confidence in the government's ability to secure the country. He said much criticism of the Patriot Act comes from people who are misinformed about its content.
Both men agreed that trans-Atlantic cooperation in the security arena is critical to tracking down terrorists and thwarting their attacks. Secretary Chertoff said this cooperation has been and continues to be strong. Speaker Hastert emphasized that no country can work alone in ensuring security.
Christiane Meier then asked about the cost of security measures and whether Western governments could continue to afford it given their weak economies. Secretary Chertoff responded by reminding everyone that most security functions - border security, coast guards, etc. - were funded and required long before 9/11. He also pointed out that the cost of a terrorist attack could well exceed the costs of current security measures. Both men agreed, however, that limited financial resources are likely to mean a less direct role for Washington, DC in global security activities. Europeans will have to bear more of the economic, financial and military burden for this.
Günter Krings added that the German government was right to extend many of its current anti-terror regulations. He warned that threats still exist and that good trans-Atlantic cooperation combats these threats. He added that the US and Europe share the core values of fighting terrorism but had differences about the correct balance between implementing necessary security measures and ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens. Data privacy is one issue of contention.
Secretary Chertoff closed the discussion by saying the 9/11 taught Americans that US engagement in the world was not optional. The oceans no longer make the US invulnerable, he warned.