National Press Club

Chertoff Says US Safer Now; Praises Press

September 11, 2008 | By Arnold Donahue

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Michael Chertoff, cecretary of Homeland Security, answered the question he posed: Are we safer now than before 9/11?

He warned that the nation needs to be wary of the twin pitfalls of hysteria and complacency. He cited the measures taken since 9/11 as evidence that the situation had improved: the steps by the U.S. government and American allies, enhanced intelligence, stronger partnerships with allies, and the new department of Homeland Security.

He cited the loss of capabilities by al Qaeda as further evidence for his optimism: its loss of its state sponsor in Afghanistan, its alienation of Sunni fighters in Iraq, and its loss of face in the Islamic world. He said the U.S. has made significant progress in blocking terrorists from coming into the U.S., in sharing intelligence after 9/11, and in improving FEMA’s ability to react and respond to natural disasters.

But Chertoff also warned of the dangers of complacency in an environment that he anticipated would last for many more years.

He said al Qaeda has established some breathing space in Pakistan, where it can continue to plot, train, and exist.

But there is also a host of other threats: Hezbollah, FARC in Colombia, and drug runners in northern Mexico, Chertoff said.

Chertoff also had kind words for the press:

"As we conclude what I anticipate my final anniversary of Sept. 11th in office, I want to thank the press. Becausemuch of what you have done in shedding light on the challenge we face has heled to move public opinion. We don't always agree. and I can't always say that all reporting is accurate. But I think that when you stand back and look at the institution of the press, it has made a far greater contribution to the security of the country than anything that one might say negatively about it.

"So I want to thank you personally, and I wish you all safety as you go about your personal tasks, which I know can sometimes be very, very dangerous themselves."