Twenty Years Later: What We Lost, What We Gained

Twenty Years Later: What We Lost, What We Gained

Most of us can vividly recall where we were 20 years ago on September 11, 2001.

At 8:46 a.m., the North Tower of the World Trade Center was struck by what many initially assumed was a small off-course plane. But when the South Tower was struck at 9:03 a.m., it became clear that America was under attack.

Surrounded by wall-to-wall screens at Bloomberg News   in midtown, Manhattan, I fell to my knees when I saw the South Tower collapse at 9:59 a.m. A woman assigned to greet visitors ran to ask if I was alright. Yes, I was fine―but thousands of people had just been killed, I remember saying.

With a clear view of the lower Manhattan skyline from our home in Brooklyn, all my wife could see was a thick cloud of smoke where the Twin Towers had stood. Yet on the phone with her parents in Florida, she remembers saying “don’t be ridiculous” when her mother reported that one of the towers had fallen.

The North Tower fell at 10:28 a.m.

The nearly 3,000 who died that day represented different ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic classes as varied as America itself.

A former colleague recounts escaping across the Brooklyn Bridge with a huge crowd of people, many covered in soot and dust from the buildings. When jets roared overhead, everyone became more afraid until someone shouted, “they’re ours, they’re ours!”

At 9:37 a.m., a third plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth plane, headed for the Capitol Building or White House, crashed into a Pennsylvania field at 10:03 a.m. when passengers stormed the cockpit held by terrorists.

The world was changed by the attacks. But it was also changed by our response to the attacks.

In small and large communities throughout the country and around the world, and at every level of government, we came together.

In my neighborhood, friends did what they could to comfort one another, including helping families locate the missing. Hospital operators were unfailingly polite each time they were asked to check―and recheck―admittance logs.

And we watched as Republicans and Democrats, for the most part, stood united. By October, a bipartisan commission was created to learn lessons from the attacks, and the disparate proposals around financial transparency as well as the oversight that had previously hit political roadblocks were signed into law as part of the USA PATRIOT Act.

In this issue, Dennis Lormel, the first chief of the FBI’s Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS), which was founded in the wake of 9/11, recalls the determination and unity around countermeasures to terrorism, not least the creation of public-private partnerships for information sharing.

The birth of those partnerships coincided with the conception of ACAMS. A small media and conference organization, Alert Global Media, embraced the idea of credentialing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing professionals and creating a professional association that would serve as a hub of information and a platform for sharing new ideas and best practices. Now, with more than 83,000 members globally, ACAMS will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the March-May 2022 issue of ACAMS Today. Look for more information about the celebrations in the editor-in-chief’s letter.

Lormel, as he has throughout his law enforcement career, his subsequent tenure as a consultant and his involvement with ACAMS as an advisory board member, makes a plea that we maintain the shared sense of urgency and diligence against terrorism that was inspired by our shared experience of 9/11.

That plea takes on a new poignancy with the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and the rise of new terrorist threats, including from domestic extremists, particularly racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs).

Today the U.S. and indeed the entire world is not as unified in indignation against terrorism as it was post-9/11, although some important alliances forged then remain strong.

But this only makes the call to diligence and ACAMS’ global mission all the more important as we look back on what we lost on 9/11 and what we gained when we came together. 

Kieran Beer, CAMS
Chief Analyst, Director of Editorial Content
Follow me on Twitter: @KieranBeer
“Financial Crime Matters with Kieran Beer”

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