As the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks nears, U.S. officials, lawmakers and prominent security advisers say the United States is more secure today than it was a decade ago. But, while terrorist group al-Qaida is now on the ropes and its cash flow is drying up, they say much work remains and the possibility of another attack is likely.
One of the reasons the United States is safer, says Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is because the pool of funds for terrorists is shrinking.
“Ten years ago, al-Qaida’s ability to access a large network of deep-pocketed donors and move money through the formal financial system allowed it to carry out the deadliest terrorist attacks in our nation’s history. Today, however, al-Qaida struggles to secure steady financing. It can no longer rely on a thick Rolodex and a simple bank transfer,” Geithner said.
Geithner says international cooperation and the vigilance of financial institutions has been key in stopping that flow of funds through the global financial system. He says that over the next decade increasing international cooperation will be essential.
To do that, Geithner says the United States will promote the creation of office's like the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in finance ministries around the world.
Geithner made his remarks Thursday at counter-terrorist financing symposium sponsored by his government office.
John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, was also there. He notes that while virtually every major al-Qaida affiliate has lost its key leader or operational commander the fight goes on.
“Put simply al-Qaida is on the ropes and it continues to get pummeled. However, bin-Laden’s death and the death and capture of many other al-Qaida leaders and operatives do not mark the end of al-Qaida or its continued plotting against the United States and other countries,“ Brennan said.
At a hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Thursday, Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security, told lawmakers the U.S. remains a target nonetheless. “We have thwarted some attacks, but we have also been fortunate that a few others have simply failed. What makes some uncomfortable, we must acknowledge that no matter how hard we try, another attack is likely. The onus [responsibility lies with us] is on us then to understand that there is more to do and that luck is not a strategy,” Ridge said.
Ridge and others testifying at the hearing noted that a lack of communication between government agencies and between governments overseas continues to be a problem. Ridge says the attempted December 2009 Christmas Day bomber attack and the Ft. Hood shooting earlier that same year were both examples of a failure to share information and to act.
Lee Hamilton, a former 9/11 Commission co-chair agrees.
"Unity of effort for the many actors at a disaster scene is critical because a well coordinate response saves many lives. Our nation was not prepared for the size and complexity of the 911 attacks or for that matter Hurricane Katrina. Many metropolitan areas where multiple agencies respond to a disaster still have not solved the problem of "who is in charge," Hamilton said.
Those testifying at the hearing also noted that tracking when and where individuals leave the country or overstary their visas is also a problem.
As the September 11 anniversary approaches, U.S. intelligence officials say they are picking up more "chatter" on terrorist websites.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the U.S. is taking all of the talk seriously, even though there is nothing to suggest the country faces a specific threat.