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Honoring the 20th Anniversary of September 11 | Mainstage

Hon. Jeh Johnson, Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifking, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Concordia Leadership Council Member

Susan Del Percio, Founder, Susan Del Percio Strategies; Political Strategist and Media Analyst

Are we safer as a nation than we were 20 years ago? That’s the question Susan Del Percio, Founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies, posed to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. 

We are safer from large-scale international terrorist attacks, answered Secretary Jeh Johnson, Former Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifking, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The coalition against Al Qaeda and ISIS has degraded their ability to launch an attack on the homeland. The threat has evolved, he continued, from terrorist-directed acts to those inspired by terrorists, especially among the right wing. The Department of Homeland Security was created to secure the nation’s borders, but Secretary Johnson explained that the larger threat arrives via the internet. The threat picture has changed and cybersecurity is increasingly important. Coordination with allies remains critical. 

Del Percio pushed on the issue of whether, in the aftermath of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. remains a trustworthy ally. Secretary Johnson offered reassurance that the international relationship remains strong at the agency level. Given democratic backsliding in the United States and abroad, Del Percio asked if fascism seemed to be spreading, noting the prior administration. Secretary Johnson agreed but expressed that we do not yet know whether the Trump Administration was an aberration or a longer-trend line. He expressed concern about intolerance across nations that have elected autocratic leaders.

Both Del Percio and Secretary Johnson expressed regret that the country failed to unify in the face of COVID-19 the same way it did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They agreed that we struggle to find a sense of unity and that the polarization of democracy is a security threat in that it hinders our ability to mobilize reponses to ongoing crises.

We are safer when it comes to large-scale, 9/11 style attacks by a foreign terrorist organization, directed from a foreign land. There are multiple other ways in which we are challenged.

Hon. Jeh Johnson

When I looked at all the coverage of the 9/11 20th anniversary, I was saddened because it left me with a feeling of, ‘Will we ever be united as a country today as we were back then?’

Susan Del Percio

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • The U.S. is at less risk today from a terrorist attack launched from overseas groups. Lone wolf and terrorist-inspired attacks remain more likely.
  • A larger share of the threat now comes from internal sources, particularly those influenced by right-wing fanaticism. A continued polarization in our politics increases the likelihood of attack.