American Security Post 9-11
by Dan Coats
September 11, 2001 is a day that changed the course of America forever. On that fateful Tuesday morning, nearly 3,000 of our citizens lost their lives in a senseless act of terrorism.
I was in Berlin that day as the newly installed U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. It was my second day on the job. The first day was spent touring the Embassy, meeting my new staff and receiving my first security briefing.
On September 11, I received a distinguished visitor named Ernst Cramer, the longtime editor of Axel Springer newspapers. Cramer had a remarkable life. His Jewish family was held captive at the Buchenwald concentration camp where the then 17-year-old Ernst escaped to a farm in Mississippi.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Cramer enlisted in the U.S. Army to help defeat the regime that was destroying his native country and threatening his family. His skills as an interpreter led him to be among the first to arrive in Normandy and eventually to Buchenwald where he discovered that Nazis had exterminated his family.
Cramer remained grateful for the American rescue of Germany all these years and he was regaling me with stories and insights of US-German relations before he concluded his presentation with this comment: “Before I leave, I need to share with you the greatest threat facing America and the West in this new century: it is the rise of fundamentalist, Islamic terrorism.”
As I watched Cramer depart the Embassy, my staff hurriedly approached me with the news that the first plane had struck the World Trade Center.
In the midst of the heartbreak and wreckage of 9-11, the world also witnessed what is America’s greatest strength. Firefighters, nurses, police officers, first responders and local residents worked around the clock to rescue and care for those injured. Food, clothing and monetary donations poured into affected areas from all over the world.
In Indiana, Hoosiers stepped up and gave generously their time and resources to help a grieving nation rebuild. And across our country, young men and women made the selfless decision to join our Armed Forces and wear the uniform in hopes of preventing an attack from ever occurring again.
That fateful Tuesday morning changed the way we think about life in America. It changed the way we travel; it changed the way we govern; it changed all of our lives – with some sacrificing more than others. The tragic events of September 11 resulted in a more vigilant nation and a more prepared and proactive government. Congress put aside political partisanship to work together with the administration and its departments to strengthen national security and intelligence efforts. Today, we face another major potential attack on our country. This attack is not a hijacked plane or bomb, although that remains a threat, rather it is a cyber attack.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know that the threat of a cyber attack is real and far-reaching. A major attack on our cyber systems could shut down our critical infrastructure – financial systems, communications systems, electric grids, power plants, water treatment centers, transportation systems and refineries – that allows us to run our economy and protect the safety of Americans.
Every day, American businesses are victims of cyber intrusions and the threat and sophistication of these attacks continue to grow. Earlier this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that soon “the cyber threat will post the number one threat to our country.”
The week before an August recess – particularly during an election year – will always be filled with partisanship in Washington. But we really hit a low point this year when the Senate Majority Leader rushed a cyber security bill to the floor under strained circumstances. One-fifth of the U.S. Senate – both Republicans and Democrats – met every day for nearly two weeks to iron out our differences on cyber security legislation. And with the active participation of 20 senators representing both parties and key committees of jurisdiction, we came close. Unfortunately, politics threw a wrench in our plans before a negotiated settlement was reached.
I remain hopeful and I plan to keep working with my colleagues to find the right balance between government and industry, standards and incentives, and free markets and national security. We need cyber security legislation that provides flexibility, preserves personal liberties and protects our country from a widespread cyber attack.
Let us learn from the lessons of September 11 and not wait for a major strike before we act. We must work together – Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the White House, government and the private sector – to make our country a safer and more prosperous place.
Daniel R. Coats is a United States Senator representing the State of Indiana
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