The United States was not adequately prepared to deal with transnational terrorism on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Security Paul McHale told a Lehigh audience Thursday.
But today, we are prepared, he said.
McHale, a 1972 Lehigh alumnus and Bethlehem native, spoke to a group of students, faculty, staff and community members in Neville Hall as part of International Week 2004.
“The threat to national security has changed, and so have our defenses,” he said.
McHale opened his talk with a recount of Winston Churchill’s 1929 visit to Bethlehem Steel when Churchill was a young member of the British parliament.
“In 1929, Winston Churchill knew conflict was coming,” McHale said. “He knew that the successful defense of Britain against what would become the Axis powers of the Second World War would require not only the strength of his own nation but also the combined strength of all civilized nations, so he began to establish relationships—like the one with the United States and Bethlehem Steel—that a decade later would allow Britain to survive.”
No man is an island
According to McHale, the United States should adopt a philosophy similar to Churchill’s in 1929 and stand together with other civilized nations. “We in the 21st Century find ourselves in continuing conflict with transnational terrorists and I would argue that, as John Donne the British poet once said, ‘No man is an island.’ The United States will prevail against Al-Qaida not by standing alone, but by standing shoulder to shoulder with other civilized nations of the world.”
To bring nations together, McHale is personally working with and talking to allies of the U.S., including Jordon, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Japan because, “our awareness of an approaching threat is often based on information provided to us by allies overseas—this allows us to track the threat and defeat the threat.”
McHale repeated throughout his speech that the miniaturization and transportability of weapons of mass destruction have made the threat to the U.S. and other civilized nations more imminent.
“Individuals, not just countries, can possess and transport weapons of incredible destructive capacity, weapons that can be employed with very little warning,” he said.
To meet the increasing threat, the U.S. has increased national security efforts from sea to sky.
“On Sept. 11, we didn’t anticipate that human beings would be so barbaric that they would seize commercial airliners carrying innocent men and women and use them to kill 3,000 Americans….Since 9/11, we have dramatically changed the protection of our air space,” McHale said. “As we speak, there are F16 and F15 fighter aircrafts conducting combat air patrols at random”
And our coasts are also becoming more secure.
“It is conceivable that weapons of mass destruction could be brought into our country through maritime approaches—on a ship across the ocean into an American port,” he said. “So we are building on current technology so that at a greater distance, with better sensors, we will be able to detect weapons of mass destruction on the high seas.”
McHale’s closing words reiterated the need for U.S. cooperation with the rest of the civilized world.
“I believe that throughout most of the 21st Century, we are likely to face the kind of transnational terrorist threat presented to us by Al-Qaida. There will be terrorists threatening our nation, in all probability, for the rest of our lives. … As we look at the global war on terrorism, the U.S. is going to have to work with dozens of other countries to ensure we have the technology, the information, the intelligence, and the operational capabilities to hold at bay those who want to destroy human life in pursuit of a political agenda.”
In summary, he referred to the words once spoken by Abraham Lincoln: “As our cause is anew, so must we think and act anew.”