Share - and Snare

8 September 2006

The Wall Street Journal

LYON, France -- As we mark the five-year anniversary of September 11, I would like to share some perspective on the steps law enforcement has taken to reduce the likelihood of future attacks -- what we're getting right, what we're getting wrong, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Before 9/11, fewer than 30 countries were committed to sharing information about the identities of suspected terrorists. Since 9/11, police agencies from more than 100 countries have worked together to identify over 10,000 suspected terrorists. This is nearly five times more than were known before 9/11. These terrorist suspects are now listed in INTERPOL's larger database of suspected criminals of all types. This is only one part of a secure global police communication system -- which did not exist before 9/11.

Since that day, police have conducted more than a million searches in this database, generating over 130,000 hits. Linking suspects to different types of crime is one of the most effective ways of discovering information that can help police disrupt potential terrorist plots. Terrorists connect with other international criminals in obtaining and transporting the material, funding, false passports, information and other devices they need for attacks. Finding these connections allows police to disrupt the plots and arrest those associated with them.

Since 9/11, as more countries' police agencies have shared more information internationally, more international criminals have been identified and arrested, and more terrorist plots have been disrupted. Between 9/11 and today, the number of wanted persons annually sought for arrest through INTERPOL has more than doubled (to over 16,000 in 2005). The number of annual arrests of criminals wanted internationally has more than tripled (to over 3,000 in 2005). In total, more than 14,000 international criminals have been arrested in the last five years.

These statistics demonstrate that law enforcement world-wide is working harder, sharing more information, and having greater success than ever before in fighting international terrorism. One need only look to the recent disrupted terrorist plots in Denmark, Germany, Morocco and the U.K. This world-wide cooperation is one of the unsung post-9/11 accomplishments.

There are also changes that do not show up on statistics or in media reports, one of which should bring great comfort to the many families and loved ones of those who perished on 9/11. For the first time in history, a city police commissioner, Raymond Kelly of New York, has detailed one of his detectives on each of INTERPOL's terrorist response team deployments. Ordinarily, INTERPOL's support comes from federal police officers. While the significance here is not readily apparent, New York -- and indeed all countries of the world -- benefit when local police are sent on such international assignments.

Following the 2004 bombing in Madrid, for instance, an NYPD detective was part of the INTERPOL team invited by the Spanish police to assist in the investigation. The Spanish police shared with INTERPOL (and thus NYPD) certain facts about the location of the explosives, which allowed NYPD and other countries to modify their bomb-sweep procedures. The importance of deploying local police resources in this way was simply not understood before 9/11.

An honest assessment of the situation, however, must acknowledge that there have been failures, and that there remain dangerous gaps in global security that require urgent attention. The most significant failure is that Osama bin Laden has not yet been arrested, though to explain how he has managed to elude capture for five years would require analysis much longer than is possible here.

In terms of the gaps in our security measures, the most glaring is the threat of terrorists entering the U.S. and other countries using falsified stolen passports. This fraud, the subject of a recent report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, has been going on for too long. The GAO report -- buttressed by the findings of the 9/11 Commission -- is a catalogue of clandestine travel and planning. Stolen and lost passports are "prized travel documents among terrorists" and "officials acknowledge that an undetermined number of inadmissible aliens may have entered the U.S. using a lost or stolen passport."

For instance: Ramzi Yousef, mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, entered the U.S. using a stolen Iraqi passport. And even with the heightened security following 9/11, there are documented cases of foreigners entering the U.S. and many other countries using falsified stolen passports -- including some from the city that was home to an al Qaeda cell that helped plan the 9/11 attacks. It is cold comfort to the many airline passengers -- regularly, sometimes invasively inconvenienced by the current security regime -- to learn that five years after 9/11, we still don't require every passport to be screened against a global database of stolen passports.

Before 9/11 we had a valid excuse -- no such database existed. Over the last four years, however, INTERPOL has built a global database of Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD), which identifies a shocking 12 million stolen and lost passports, as well as the technology to allow officers to access this and other INTERPOL databases at airports, borders and other field points.

This new approach, launched in Switzerland at the end of last year, gets results. Each month, over 20,000 Swiss police officers conduct over 300,000 database searches. So far, the searches have detected on average over 100 people carrying documents that had been reported stolen or lost. Until other countries implement this border protection tool (as France has done at Charles de Gaulle Airport), there will remain another gaping hole in global security.

Yet the global community is not yet treating this as a high priority. Most likely it will take a major attack, like a terrorist using a stolen passport and armed with a biological weapon, before countries will treat this issue like they now treat the threat of liquids being carried on planes by passengers.

There remain other dangers that are more difficult to identify, understand and tackle. The Internet is now feeding the emerging phenomenon of "home-grown" terrorism. Through its use of the Internet, al Qaeda, its legacy and its threat live on -- in terms of ideology, goals and methods -- even as its organization is being dismantled. Terrorist organizations employ thousands of Web sites, chat rooms, electronic billboards and emails -- exploiting the Internet's unregulated and anonymous nature, and its vast reach -- to gather information, provide training, raise funds, spread propaganda, obtain recruits and plan attacks.

New recruits, then, no longer need to physically travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan to be inspired and trained as terrorists. They can do it virtually via the Internet. But as the recently thwarted plots around the world demonstrate, their goal is not virtual, intangible or imaginary: It is very real -- to kill innocent people.

I wish I could say, especially to the families and loved ones of those who died on 9/11, that we are safer today than we were before. But safe is not what I feel when I think about the many known and unknown terrorists who are planning to kill us, on any given day, in any one of our countries. Witness the fact that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have made 17 videotaped pronouncements this very year, more than they made in the prior four combined.

Instead of debating the question of whether or not we are safer, I say we in law enforcement owe it to the world to be honest with ourselves and others about where we are doing things right, and where we ought to be doing things differently.