On the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, former New York Gov. George Pataki said he believes the al-Qaida network of terrorists is stronger than ever and the U.S. must accelerate its efforts to protect Americans.
"There's no question that al-Qaida's not on the run," Pataki told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
"Al-Qaida has morphed into an extraordinarily dangerous global enterprise and we need to continue to be proactive both here at home and overseas to do everything we can to protect ourselves."
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Pataki, the Empire State's top lawmaker from 1995-2006, said he remembers hearing the news about the two jetliners crashing into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center "like yesterday."
He said his daughter, who was working at Bloomberg News, had phoned him to tell him of the horrific tragedy in downtown Manhattan.
"We just sprang into action. I talked to President [George W.] Bush very early after that. I called him in Florida, asked him to shut down the air space because one of the concerns we had is what was going to happen next. You just didn't know if this was a series of attacks that were ending or if it was going to continue," Pataki said.
"We had an unbelievably affective team and calling up the National Guard, protecting the bridges and tunnels and the airports, activating the emergency fire and health response system and just working as hard we could consistent with the efforts of the city and the feds to first of all try to save lives."
Pataki then toured Ground Zero — an image that his seared into his mind forever.
"That’s one of the lasting memories . . . I walked down around Ground Zero just to try to buoy people's spirits and I came to St. Luke's Hospital and outside on the street were nurses, orderlies, doctors with dozens and dozens of gurneys waiting for the injured," he recalled.
"And they didn't come because tragically when the towers came down, except for a handful of miraculous stories, there just, we lost too many people that day."
All the while, deep emotions were roiling through his mind.
"You were trying to deal with enormous human loss, the uncertainty and the fear about the future, the need to desperately mobilize every resource we had to try to help people and at the same time, learning of all your friends who had been killed," Pataki said.
"Most of the top officials [at the Port Authority] were friends of mine who I had put there and sadly virtually all of them were killed that day and as you were going through this horrific effort to try to protect the city, save lives, instill confidence that we were going to be OK, you were learning the names of your friends who had died."
Pataki said he was forced to steel himself and just forge ahead.
"It was very hard but you would just set it aside and say, this is awful, this is not the time to grieve. We can grieve later," he told Steve Malzberg.
He praised New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for his extraordinary efforts to keep the city safe from terrorist plots, but he said he has concerns for the future.
"Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD have done an extraordinary job and I fear that, whether it's in Washington where they refuse to use the term 'war on terror' or here in the city where I'm concerned that the next mayor won't have that same commitment to public safety that we've had to the last, literally now, 20 years," Pataki said.
"Under Ray Kelly, we've had extraordinarily strong, aggressive policing that has made this city safer than it's ever been and we have a confluence of events now. For the last six years, we've seen a weakening of the criminal justice laws in Albany."
"I fear that the next administration [in New York City] isn't going to understand that this is about public safety and protecting the most vulnerable, generally, the poorest, the minorities, those living in the poorest communities."
Asked by Malzberg whether he was considering reentering politics and perhaps eying the White House, Pataki, a Republican, demurred, but then spoke of his concerns for the nation's future.
"Not for today, but I do believe we need a dramatic change in direction in Washington, certainly on the security issues," he said.
"It's just so sad to see this great country that should be a leader in the battle for human rights and freedom being completely outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin and making him look like the statesman of the 21st century when we know that's certainly not the case.
"But this is the time to remember those we lost, to really honor those who responded with such courage, to honor those who are on the frontlines today – our military and our first responders, our police and our fighters and our EMTs. They do the job every day. This is a day in particular where we should remember and thank them."
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