Director Wray Commemorates the September 11th Attacks
Good morning, everyone
It’s surreal to think just how different our lives were nearly 21 years ago today, and how much they would change just 48 hours later. I would venture to say most of us here remember where we were on September 11, 2001. Where we were when we first heard about the nightmare unfolding in New York, just down the road in Washington, D.C., and then in Pennsylvania.
And it’s easy for those of us who lived through that day as adults to think of our lives as marked before and after. Because 9/11 is one of those moments in history—an inflection point—where the whole world changed.
But many others were at quite a different point in their lives on 9/11. It may sound hard to believe, but we have folks working for the FBI now who weren’t even born on September 11, 2001. Men and women who don’t remember any time before 9/11. For them, the post-9/11 world is the only one they’ve ever known. A world in which we’re constantly defending against the threat of terrorism is the one in which these employees were raised.
Because these colleagues learned about the attacks from history books or video recordings—they didn’t see the dark smoke against the otherwise blue sky that day, or hear the constant sirens, or touch the recovery and response efforts like many of us did in the days and weeks and months that followed.
So it’s hard to articulate the urgency and sense of foreboding we all felt—the concern that more attacks were imminent and could come from anywhere at anytime. But even as that day recedes into the past, its impact stays with us; it profoundly shaped the way we do our jobs, the way we collaborate and communicate with partners, and the way we tackle challenges.
Really, it all comes down to one thing—keeping people we will never know, and families we will never meet, safe from harm.
So even for those who didn’t live through it—and for many that weren’t old enough to remember it—that day is part of who we are. In some ways, it made us who we are. And it’s part of why we’re all here, serving in the FBI.
There’s another way 9/11 remains with us—a persistent reminder of the carnage of that day.
Those who were on the ground have described September 11, 2001, as the longest day in the history of days. And it hasn’t ended for those who lost loved ones or for those who are battling illness from exposure to toxins on the ground.
The Victim Compensation Fund publicly stated last year that the number of people who have died of 9/11-related illnesses has now eclipsed the number of people who died that day. Think about that.
In the FBI, we feel the grief of those losses and deeply. We lost two of our own on 9/11 itself— Special Agents Lenny Hatton and John O’Neill. In the years since, we have lost 21 employees—our colleagues and friends—to 9/11-related illnesses. Three just in the past year. People who ran in or to sites of overwhelming destruction and loss to help those in need.
Each of those lives lost is a stark reminder that the long-term effects of the recovery work after September 11th are still present, even 21 years later. And as we stand here today, some are still suffering—especially our partners and first responders who’ve been hit the hardest. They’ve lost colleagues and friends over the years, too—extraordinary men and women who answered the call of duty, no matter the cost.
Over the course of more than two decades, we’ve come to learn the extent of the sacrifices that hundreds of people made in the months that followed the attacks. Sacrifices and lives lost that we must never—and will never—allow to be forgotten.
It’s fitting that we mark this anniversary here, at the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). Because the TSC is a prime example of the strides we made following the attacks—developing new capabilities and working in concert with our partners to keep people safe. It demonstrates the ingenuity, the dedication, and the spirit of collaboration we’ve brought—as a collective law enforcement and intelligence community—to the fight against terrorism.
In gathering my thoughts for today, I kept coming back to the importance of the many 9/11 artifacts the TSC maintains. In any other context, these objects are the definition of mundane—things like a cell phone, a briefcase, a steering wheel. But 21 years ago, that tragic day gave these items a profound and enduring significance. They became things to be preserved—not just as evidence, but as memorials to those who perished. They represent tangible reminders of those who lived, and a mission that does not end. And TSC’s stewardship of these memorial objects is vital in keeping the events of that day in the front of our minds and close to our hearts.
In a few minutes, we will observe a moment of silence. A moment to stop and reflect on the lives we lost, the dark history we share, and the reasons we fight on. But it’s also a moment to reflect on what we’ve gained, on the progress we’ve made. Because of that terrible day, we’ve transformed the Bureau in ways that have made us stronger and better, and our country safer. Those transformations have proven critical over the past 21 years—and will remain critical in the face of a continuously evolving terrorist threat.
As we carry on this mission to protect Americans from terrorism, we bring to our work the same sense of purpose and resolve that we felt on 9/11 and in the days that followed. And it gives me enormous confidence knowing you’re on the job—keeping people you will never know safe from harm.
I’m inspired by your commitment to this work, and proud to stand with you to do it. Thank you.