Five Years Later: A Progress Report on U.S. Security Post-9/11
With a keynote address by Stuart Levey, under secretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence
About This Event

As the fifth anniversary of September 11th approaches, the United States must reevaluate the state of its national security. With all eyes on the Middle East, what progress has been made in the global war on terror? Is America safer now than it was five years ago? Is intelligence information Listen to Audio

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being used more effectively? What lessons have we learned about identifying and prosecuting terrorists? Please join AEI as we address these and other questions.

8:30 a.m.
Registration and Breakfast
Panel I: The Global War on Terror
Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations
David Gordon, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Frederick W. Kagan, AEI
Richard Shultz, Tufts University, Fletcher School
Danielle Pletka, AEI
Special Session: AEI Studies on Public Opinion: America and the War on Terrorism
Karlyn H. Bowman, AEI
Panel II: The State of Homeland Security
Clark Ervin, Homeland Security Initiative, Aspen Institute
Michael O'Hanlon, the Brookings Institution
Robert Powell, University of California at Berkeley
Gary Schmitt, AEI
12:30 p.m.
Keynote Speaker:
Stuart Levey, under secretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence
Panel III: Law & Order
Heather MacDonald, Manhattan Institute
Jeremy Rabkin, Cornell University
John Yoo, AEI, University of California at Berkeley, Boalt
Hall School of Law
Fred Thompson, AEI, former U.S. Senator
Event Summary

September 2006

Five Years Later: A Progress Report on U.S. Security Post-9/11

As the fifth anniversary of September 11th approaches, the United States must reevaluate the state of its national security. With all eyes on the Middle East, what progress has been made in the global war on terror? Is America safer now than it was five years ago? Is intelligence information being used more effectively? What lessons have we learned about identifying and prosecuting terrorists? Please join AEI as we address these and other questions.

Panel I: The Global War on Terror

Max Boot
Council on Foreign Relations

In reflecting back on the past five years and evaluating the United States’ progress in the War on Terror, it is important that one be neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. The Bush administration, on the whole, has done well with the global War on Terror, and the U.S. has enjoyed a stable level of international cooperation. 

While most have critiqued the Bush administration for straying from the original goal of the War on Terror--notably tracking down terrorists--and concentrating too strongly on spreading democracy to unstable regions, the problem is that he has actually not done enough of the latter.  It is more important to “dry up the swamp” that creates terrorists than to seek after individual evildoers. The president saw that it was not enough to just go after individual terrorists and has chosen to spread democracy to regions vulnerable to developing terrorist cells.  There is no doubt that this is a more daunting task, but it is the required course of action. 

Despite his commitment to this path, President George W. Bush has not done enough. Unfortunately, the engine of modernity has often gone in reverse as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf, Iran, and Syria. The president is not prodding Mubarak and Musharraf hard enough, even though they are both essentially on the U.S. payroll.  The United States should be pushing Musharraf toward real elections. It should concentrate on Syria, since among these nations, Syria is the weakest link. Finally, the United States needs to change its strategy in Iraq since the current one has not been successful. The number of troops needs to be decreased or increased, preferably the latter. 

David Gordon
Office of the Director of National Intelligence

The issue that counts most today is the global War on Terror.  But how will we know that we are being successful? We have to define the problem in terms of national security. This will be a difficult task, but we have seen some headway thus far. 

In the past five years we have disrupted jihadists’ efforts to gain nuclear weapons, we have decreased their territory in Pakistan, and we have forced them to become concerned with their own security. This did not just happen out of the blue. In large part, it occurred by cooperating with nation-states and by putting pressure on the jihadists. Meanwhile, the global jihadist movement is evolving. Included in this movement is not just al Qaeda but several other terrorist organizations (including Hamas and Hezbollah). These groups have used the Internet as a key tool for things such as transferring funds over long-distances. U.S. intelligence agencies have responded, improving the technological training of government officials. Intelligence agencies have been tracking overseas expression in media by monitoring jihadist websites and looking for trends. 

The greatest vulnerability of these groups is the fact that their extreme religious conservatism is not accepted by the vast majority of Muslims. The struggle ahead is a conflict of ideas. This is not a war that will be won with military strength alone. It is also a battle of hearts and minds.

Frederick W. Kagan

It is tough to be a conservative in the United States because there is a tendency to look at things in a new way--to say we are in a new era for which historical precedence has no answers.  But just how new are the problems we face?  Many of the conflicts linked to the global War on Terror are not all that novel. 

Unfortunately, President Bush has become fixated on the newest part of this war, overlooking parts that are in no way new. North Korea poses a problem of nuclear proliferation, something we have been dealing with for decades. Iran, another state that wants to go nuclear, also sponsors terrorist groups. This is not a new problem, however. The United States has been dealing with state-sponsored terrorism since at least the 1980s.   

Realpolitik remains important to us today. History has not ended, and neither has conflict.  We should not disregard the tools of war and diplomacy that we have traditionally held and used.     

Richard Shultz
Tufts University, Fletcher School

Al Qaeda has developed a doctrine of a long jihad. By the mid-1990s, they had developed a specific targeting system, aimed at apostate Muslim regimes. Their doctrine was later revised to target an increasing number of enemies, including U.S. targets across the globe. Al Qaeda has been able to impact the global community in large part due to technology, globalization, and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. 

There are four strategies that al Qaeda has employed in the past: propagating a Salafist ideology, utilizing ungoverned space (such as parts of the Sahara), taking the opportunity in Iraq to fight the enemy up close, and maintaining national-level fights.  These strategies have allowed them to mobilize support. Al Qaeda has formed virtual cells that make it easy for individuals to join. Additionally, they have employed manuals, handbooks, training videos, and courses--many of which are available online. The United States needs to assess these aspects to be successful in the global War on Terror.               

Panel II: The State of Homeland Security

Clark Ervin
Aspen Institute

We are safer today than we were five years ago. However, although the increased number of searches and the improved training of Ttransportation Security Administration (TSA) employees has improved U.S. aviation security, the United States is still not as safe as it could be. We are still vulnerable to the threat posed by liquid explosives and cargo explosives transported on passenger flights. Many cargo items are not fully inspected, both because of the randomness of the inspection procedures and because the airlines--rather than TSA--conduct the security searches. Our seaports also pose a security risk. Only 6 percent of cargo that arrives in each of the United States’ 361 seaports is inspected, and foreign inspectors rarely scrutinize cargo deemed suspicious by U.S. intelligence services.

With respect to mass transit, precautionary measures implemented after a terrorist scare must be institutionalized. These include measures such as increased police presence, bomb-sniffing dogs, and random searches. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not adopted such policies because it is underfunded, because of lacking expert leadership within the department, and because DHS culture attempts to whitewash mistakes rather than improve results.

Michael O’Hanlon
Brookings Institution

The United States is safer now than it was before 9/11, but it is not safe enough.  The most important component of homeland security is valuable intelligence that could prevent further attacks. We have made improvements in this area due to more effective methods of collecting, analyzing, and sharing information gathered by the intelligence community. The Bush administration is correct to emphasize preventive intelligence, but it has used such valuable methods disingenuously by adhering to a political strategy to win elections. Wiretapping suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers and following the Patriot Act clearly make sense, and good surveillance and intelligence are the pillars on which homeland security rests.

We have improved our data collection and integration techniques at border checkpoints, yet we have been unable to secure the open-land borders. The notion of placing several National Guard units on the Mexican border is a start, but it is certainly not enough to definitively safeguard the border. Unlike other countries, the United States does not inspect all individuals entering the country (only the driver of a vehicle), and there is not an official system of documentation at open-land borders. The administration has not assisted the private sector in developing strategies to protect itself against terrorist attacks. The anti-regulatory attitude of the administration is illustrated by its neglect of businesses. A hierarchy of dangerous chemicals must be created in order to protect those businesses which use the most dangerous ones. In addition to chemical plants, skyscrapers are also likely targets due to their vulnerability to truck bombs in insecure garages or on nearby streets and their use of fragile glass. A terrorist attack insurance program could improve the situation, offering higher insurance reductions to more secure buildings. Although concerns about economic regulation and stagnation are legitimate, they are not excuses to ignore these vulnerabilities.

Robert Powell
University of California at Berkeley

Strategic terrorists are clever--they will strike unexpectedly where the victim is weak. Thus, if the United States ardently prepares for one type of attack, there is a lower probability that terrorists will actually engage in that type of attack. 

DHS determines risk by assessing the expected human and monetary loss an attack on a specific target will cause, the vulnerability of such a target, and the likelihood of an attack on the target. DHS also assesses the threat level by analyzing intelligence.  It is extremely difficult to effectively assess risk in this manner, however, because the basis of most intelligence is historical example.  When dealing with strategic terrorists, these examples become problematic because terrorists will alter their intended targets to ones that are less secure.  Understanding the motivations and goals of our enemies is a more effective method of protecting against future attacks than analyzing historical examples.

Keynote Address

The Honorable Stuart Levey
Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Department of the Treasury

Although the Treasury Department lost many of its law enforcement functions to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security after 9/11, the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence has been instrumental in disrupting the financial networks of terrorists, narcotics traffickers, and rogue states because all require extensive financial support in order to operate. 

The Treasury has recently focused on terrorist organizations’ use of charities to fund their operations, taking steps to warn donors of these schemes and shutting down a number of charities that openly support terrorism, such as the Islamic Resistance Support Organization. The SWIFT program has also been an effective counterterrorism tool, though the publication of its procedures in newspapers has undermined the program’s effectiveness.

State actors are more difficult to pursue than terrorists because they hide behind a veil of legitimacy. Recently, the United States took aim at North Korea by designating some of its firms and banks as proliferators, resulting in dozens of financial institutions around the world cutting business ties with the firms at issue. Iran presents an even more complex problem, because of that country’s extensive integration to the global financial system. 

Today, the United States is cutting off the Iranian-owned Bank Saderat from even indirectly doing business in America because of its support of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups. Next week I will meet with our allies in Europe to discuss ways to stem threats resulting from Iran’s financial operations.

Panel III: Law & Order

Heather Mac Donald
Manhattan Institute

The Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been held in full compliance with international law; their rights have not been violated, even though civil liberties groups have attempted to portray military practices as inhumane. Permitting prisoners of war to sue their captors in the domestic courts of the country and allowing civil judges to oversee prisoner interrogations are unprecedented developments in the history of warfare. At the initiation of this war, military courts should have given due process to the prisoners in order to decide if the individuals really should be prisoners.

The NSA wiretapping program is a completely necessary and good program, but although it does not infringe upon privacy rights, it is illegal under FISA. FISA is a terrible law, but the administration must follow it to the letter, since it is the law. The terrorists are disorganized, undignified enemies, and they should not be able to break the will of the American people. 

Jeremy Rabkin
Cornell University

The American government has been much more restrained in this current war than in past wars, even though the War on Terror holds out much likelier prospects of large-scale civilian deaths. Today, we are setting extremely high constitutional standards for ourselves and then becoming upset when we understandably cannot meet such standards.

The current NSA wiretapping program is not perfect, but wiretaps have been used extensively during the first and second world wars, so. Therefore, the NSA program is not unprecedented. Abuses of power are not always directed from the highest levels of authority, as the Abu Ghraib scandal illustrates. If serious abuses of power exist, critics will surely notice them, and we will summarily deal with them.

John Yoo
University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall

Over the past five years, the way the legal system treats terrorism has changed from a law enforcement issue to a warfare issue. Plans to assassinate Osama bin Laden in the 1990s were scrapped for legal reasons, since terrorism was viewed at the time as a law enforcement issue. There have been many benefits from this redefinition of terrorism, such as the disruption and weakening of al Qaeda. The costs of this redefinition have been exaggerated. 

Presidents have exercised power without Congressional approval during historic times of emergency, such as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, because the legislative branch cannot possibly deal with such matters in a timely manner. The level of judicial involvement in the War on Terror is unprecedented in the history of American warfare.

AEI interns Sean Flood, Scott Kahn, Paul Kozinski, and Bryan Prior prepared this summary.

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