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Tags: 911 | Border Security | Department of Homeland Security

Zemek: Honor the 9/11 Fallen by Adhering to 9/11 Commission's Recommendations

Zemek: Honor the 9/11 Fallen by Adhering to 9/11 Commission's Recommendations
Richard Clarke, former National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and National Security, testifies before the bipartisan September 11 commission, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The U.S., on Capitol Hill March 24, 2004 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 09 September 2021 12:19 PM EDT

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, I hope that we still remember that fateful day that killed 2,977 and had so many secondary and tertiary impacts on our way of life, our country, and our world.

But I also believe that we should honor the anniversary by taking to heart the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report which requested the United States secure its borders, deny safe harbor to terrorists and increase identification security to prevent future attacks.

I was just a few hundred meters away from the Twin Towers that morning, and I am fortunate to have survived when so many others did not. The attacks have significantly impacted the trajectory of my life and still continue to influence my decision framework.

That Tuesday morning, I was working as a stock trader on Wall Street. Eight months later I had left New York and the trading floor for the corridors of the Pentagon in service of my country. A year after that, I volunteered to serve abroad in the Middle East.

Throughout these and other national security roles over the next two decades, I have tried to take to heart the 9/11 vow to “Never Forget.” I occasionally pull up the report from the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission to internally reflect and assess of how the country is doing to implement the report’s recommendations.

In many aspects, I thought the cumulative efforts at home and abroad over the last two decades, in areas such as intelligence sharing and screening and vetting had America on track to continue to avert another 9/11 catastrophe. However, recent decisions related to border security, terrorist safe-havens and identity credentialing that have contradicted the 9/11 Commission report have me concerned.

The 9/11 Commission report said, “The 9/11 experience shows that terrorists study and exploit America’s vulnerabilities.”

One vulnerability long recognized was the porous southern border of the United States. Even today, it is not just Central American agricultural laborers seeking higher wages who pay the Mexican drug cartels for safe passage.

For example in April 2021, DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) briefly released details about two Yemeni men on the Terrorist Watch List who had snuck across the border into California.

The number of illegal crossing encounters reported by CBP has skyrocketed since the Executive Order on January 20, 2021 that halted installation of the border wall system. With more than 1 million people having entered thus far this fiscal year, 2021 could be the worst year ever for illegal immigration.

And this only represents the incidents we know of; how many more have crossed in the darkness of night in sections where there is no wall? How many sleeper cells or terrorists are amongst them?

This decision to leave our border porous contradicts the 9/11 Commission’s comments which stated, “It is elemental to border security to know who is coming into the country …We must also be able to monitor and respond to entrances between our ports of entry …”

It is harder for terrorists to train and plot attacks if they do not have a safe harbor.

The 9/11 Commission report praised the efforts that were underway to remove sanctuary for terrorists.

Afghanistan was a focus of the Commission’s report, which said, “…the United States and the international community should make a long-term commitment to a secure and stable Afghanistan … Afghanistan must not again become a sanctuary for international crime and terrorism.”

However, the manner in which the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021 contributed to the expeditious collapse of the country and seems to have created conditions to make it much more likely that terrorists will increase their presence in Afghanistan.

The August 26, 2021, attack by the terrorist group ISIS-Khorasan, which killed 13 American soldiers, was tragic but, unfortunately, not surprising.

Whether it is the Taliban or ISIS-Khorasan that ultimately duke it out for control, they certainly would be doing so empowered by the billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer technology and weaponry from helicopters to Humvees that was abandoned with the mismanaged exit.

The prospect that our own weapons left in Afghanistan could one day be used against us, adds further salt to the wound.

The 9/11 Commission Report identified that the terrorists were able to easily procure driver’s licenses without appropriate credentials or documentation.

Amongst the 19 hijackers, they had scores of aliases and more than 30 IDs. Acquisition of these driver’s licenses assisted the terrorists in renting cars and other necessary activities involved in their terrorist plot, and ultimately permitted them to board flights AA11, UA175, AA75, and UA93.

This vulnerability prompted the Committee’s recommendation that stated, “Secure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses.

“Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”

In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to codify the Commission’s recommendation to establish minimum security standards for identification credentials used for certain government purposes.

All 50 states were compliant and issuing REAL IDs by September 2020, and it had been set to finally be enforced at TSA checkpoints on October 1, 2021.

However, in April 2021 it was decided that people could still travel on the less secure IDs for another 18 months until May 2023. This risky action opens a vulnerability that seemed as if it was about to be finally closed.

I pray there is not another attack on our transportation system, but should there be one during this period of time that the REAL ID enforcement has delayed, no new blue ribbon commission will need to be formed, as we will already know the vulnerability that was exploited.

So, as we remember the tragic attacks from that day, let us not dishonor the memory of the fallen by contradicting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. We must secure our borders, deny terrorists a safe harbor, and make the necessary changes to ensure proper identification for Americans and those legally residing here.

Alex Zemek, the author, is the former DHS acting Assistant Secretary for Counter-terrorism and Threat Prevention.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Let us not dishonor the memory of the fallen by contradicting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
911, Border Security, Department of Homeland Security
Thursday, 09 September 2021 12:19 PM
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