It was a generation ago when the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 Americans. How many of the post-9/11 generation know what happened that day? And how many of us who lived through it know what allowed that tragedy to happen?
Homeland security is no less at-risk today than it was 21 years ago. To avoid yet another catastrophe, we would do well to revisit some key findings from the 9/11 Commission.
The commission found four failures across the government: imagination, policies, capabilities, and management. With respect to imagination, the commission found that political leaders did not understand the gravity of the terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda. It was barely discussed among the public, media, or Congress.
The current administration’s open border policies, combined with that same lack of imagination, are actively undermining our national security.
In the last two years, Customs and Border Protection has apprehended 81 known and suspected terrorists illegally crossing our southern border. During that time, another 900,000 “gotaways” have successfully evaded the Border Patrol. It doesn’t take any imagination to assume foreign terrorists have been among them. This should be the overriding national security concern for the U.S. government.
As for capabilities, the commission noted that the “CIA needed to improve its capability to collect intelligence from human agents.” It also reported that “[t]he most serious weaknesses in agency capabilities were in the domestic arena. The FBI did not have the capability to link the collective knowledge of agents in the field to national priorities.”
As terrorists cross our borders, the FBI seems most interested in tagging everyday Americans as domestic terrorists for displaying common flags or symbols or for voicing opposition to school board decisions. Indulging in this nonsense distracts the FBI from investigating real terrorists and plots to harm America.
With respect to management, the commission blamed the lack of information-sharing across agencies, stating “action officers should have been able to draw on all available knowledge about al Qaeda in the government.” Today, many barriers to information-sharing are back in place. The Biden administration bars several federal agencies—including the IRS, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Census Bureau — from sharing information with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). So does every sanctuary city and state.
Yet according to the commission, one critical factor leading to the 9/11 terrorist attack was “permeable borders and immigration controls.” It noted agencies did not discover false statements on visa applications, recognize fraudulent passports, or take adequate steps to find two of the hijackers residing illegally in the United States.
The 9/11 terrorists made false statements to border officials to gain entry into the United States and violated immigration laws while in the United States. The commission concluded that “protecting borders was not a national security issue before 9/11.”
Today, we have an open border and few immigration controls. The Biden administration has directed ICE not to arrest, detain, prosecute or deport the majority of categories that make an alien removable. It effectively grants a provisional status of “asylum-seeker” to any immigrant claiming to live in fear in their native lands. It cuts corners in vetting applicants and adjudicating applications to grant more benefits more quickly.
All of this encourages more illegal immigration and makes it easy for terrorists and other bad actors to enter our country. The Biden regime has returned us to a pre-9/11 posture.
Clearly, it is up to Congress to take back control of our homeland security. This includes: defunding Biden’s open border policies, processes, and grants to NGOs; securing the border; stopping the fentanyl crisis; significantly increasing ICE resources for detentions and removals; requiring information-sharing among government agencies at all levels; defunding FBI and other agencies’ efforts against citizens who pose no threat and redirecting them toward real threats such as those posed by agents of Iran, ISIS, China, Russia, and North Korea.
The 9/11 commission stated that the “9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise.” They succeeded because “[t]he nation was unprepared.” Our current leaders have scorned learning from history and instead put our nation on a path to repeat it. We need leaders who will quickly right this ship. And we need them fast.
Lora Ries is the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center.
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