What the Public Should Do

Demand greater government vigilance to prevent and protect against major attacks. And don’t assume that a dearth of successful terror strikes means our work is done.

02.04.10 2:56 PM ET

Don't just focus on the short term.

The Director of National Intelligence and other intelligence community officials are signaling that they see elevated risk of an attack in the near future. In the face of that intelligence, they will be combing raw intelligence for details of possible plotting, and adjusting the layers of our border and infrastructure security to meet this elevated risk. Specific intelligence should also be shared with state and local officials to cue them to make necessary operational changes.

What does this mean for the public? Perhaps people will see greater security presence at our transportation hubs, or experience more intensive screening at the borders and airports. But realistically, the short-term response is really for the professionals. What the public should focus on is the medium- and long-term strategy. These threats are enduring, and our response cannot be driven simply by the last event. A coherent strategy will demand continued and disciplined investment in preventing and responding to high-consequence events, such as biological or radiological attacks, or major coordinated conventional attacks. What the public can do is insist upon—and monitor continued progress of—our efforts to improve detection and mitigation capabilities to address these kinds of high-consequence attacks. What the public must resist is assuming that successful prevention of attacks after 9/11 means that no more need be done.

Michael Chertoff was the second Secretary of Homeland Security. He previously served as the assistant attorney general for the criminal division at the Department of Justice. As assistant attorney general, he oversaw the investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He is currently senior counsel for Covington & Burling LLP's Washington, D.C. office and a member of the white-collar defense and investigations practice group.