Christopher Wray

20th Anniversary Remembrance and Wreath-Laying Ceremony Address

September 10 September 2021, Terrorist Screening Center, Vienna, Virginia


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Morning. It’s an honor to be here with all of you today.

During my first year as Director, back in 2017, I joined the TSC [Terrorist Screening Center] in commemorating the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. And now, in the blink of an eye, four more years have passed, and it’s sometimes hard to believe that tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of that tragic day.

I will never forget being with former Director Mueller and then-Attorney General Ashcroft in SIOC [Strategic Information and Operations Center] on the day of those attacks. The place was packed to capacity, with people spilling out of every corner, more joining by the minute -- all trying to help, trying to comprehend the horror that was unfolding. And though it was a chaotic and shocking time, it was also a time of incredible solidarity. Because every single person there -- at that very moment -- had just one purpose: to make sure it never, ever happened again; to keep people we will never know, and families we will never meet, safe from harm. And I was humbled and inspired by that feeling then, and I -- I still am.

Since stepping into this role, I’ve had the somber privilege of visiting each site -- the Pentagon, Shanksville [Flight 93 National Memorial], and Ground Zero itself several times. And while visiting the National September 11th Memorial and Museum in New York on one of those times, I observed -- like many do who've spent time there -- a quote from the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, displayed prominently on a wall, and it reads, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Two decades after one of the darkest days in this nation’s history, that memory is as strong as ever. We remember September 11th as if it were yesterday. And we remember every life lost. Special Agents Lenny Hatton and John O’Neill were two of those we lost that day. And in the last few years, painful remnants of that day continue, as we’ve also sadly lost other members of our FBI family to 9/11-related illness. I’ve had the honor of speaking with them during their final days, and at their funerals with their loved ones and their family. And those moments have been some of the most sobering over the past four years, but also the most reverent, because on behalf of the entire FBI, I was able to one more time thank them for their selflessness and service to our country.

Each life lost is a stark reminder that the long-term effects of the recovery work after September 11th are still present, even 20 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, all of whom were extraordinary men and women who answered the call of duty no matter the cost.

Over the course of the past two decades, we’ve learned the full extent of the sacrifices that hundreds of first responders made in the months after the attacks, sacrifices and lives that we must never, and will never, forget.

You may have heard me say before that for a time after those attacks -- when the shock and the sorrow were still so very raw -- we lived in a haze of days that seemed almost like September 12th, over and over again. We all kept asking ourselves, “What could we have done better? What should we have done better?” But we soon realized that looking back with regret wasn’t helpful. Under Director Mueller’s leadership, the FBI adopted a mentality of doing everything we could -- and still can -- to make sure we never have to ask that question, “What should we have done?” again. And instead, we began to live as if every day were September 10th. And we’re still living that way today. Every day, we wake up asking ourselves, “What do we need to do to keep people safe today and tomorrow and the day after?”

Because of September 11th, the FBI transformed itself in ways that have made us better able to carry out our mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. We became an intelligence-based national security and law enforcement organization -- one that collects, uses, and shares intelligence in everything we do -- and not just in counterterrorism. We developed new capabilities to combat the terrorist threat, and we changed our focus from investigating terrorist and attack plots after the fact, to stopping them before they occur. And we forged deeper, stronger partnerships with our colleagues in law enforcement and the intelligence community, and with our international counterparts.

All of these transformations have proven critical over the past two decades and will remain critical. As the tragic loss of 13 brave American service members and nearly 200 Afghans in Kabul painfully reminds us, foreign terrorist groups like ISIS still seek to carry out large-scale attacks against us.

For me, personally, September 11th was the single most impactful experience in my career. And I think anybody working at DOJ or the FBI on that day would say the same.

And when I came back as Director, I realized that the FBI was made up of some folks who, like me, remember exactly what they were doing at the FBI on that day. And then there were those motivated by September 11th to join the FBI. But then there were those who were only kids when the attacks happened. And now, we’ve started hiring interns who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened. And that’s why it is so important that we take the time to remember this day; and why we now send all new agents and analysts to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum up in New York, so that they never forget how that day transformed our nation -- and how it transformed the FBI.

Today we are stronger, smarter, and better able to confront the threats we face now and the ones we can’t see yet. And while those threats have evolved a lot in 20 years, the men and women of the FBI -- and our scores of law enforcement and intelligence partners -- have never stopped working to keep the American people safe from another attack. And I can’t thank all of you for that enough. I go to sleep at night much easier knowing you’re on the job, keeping watch over the citizens we serve.

In a few minutes, we’ll observe a moment of silence. It’s a -- a moment to remember the heartbreak of that dark day; to remember those that we lost as a nation. And for those of us in the FBI, it’s a moment to reflect on why we do this work -- and who we do this work for.

The American people are counting on us.

They’re counting on us to bring justice to victims of terrorism and crime, and to their families.

They’re counting on us to make sure that others never have to experience what they’ve gone through.

So thank you for being there when they’re counting on you, every single day. And thank you for your selfless dedication to the American people. I’m honored and humbled to serve alongside you.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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