The tenth anniversary of 9/11 recalls a day of infamy for many, particularly those who lost loved ones, not to mention the sheer audacity and questionable motives of the respective attacks. It also marked a distinct period of change in the Customs, international travel and trade environments. For one, there is a not a single person involved in any of the above who has not felt the effects of a ‘shake up’. It is therefore relevant to recount this event and reflect on the explicit impact which the attacks in New York would have for Customs officers, worldwide.
Beneath the plaza level of US Customs House (WTC 6) was a large underground garage, separated off from the rest of the complex’s underground area and guarded under tight security. This was where the various government services parked their bomb-proofed cars and armoured limousines, counterfeit taxi cabs and telephone company trucks used for undercover surveillance and covert operations, specialized vans and other vehicles.
The evacuation of WTC 6 was indeed timely, because at 9:04am a massive explosion shook the building, bellowing a huge plume of smoke 550 feet into the air. When the North Tower fell, the US Customs House (WTC 6) was crushed and totally incinerated. Much of the underground levels beneath it were also destroyed.
The Commissioner designate, Robert C. Bonner, commented “The sudden disruption to such a large and important area of Customs’ operations threatened to compromise the immediate security of ports of entry in the New York area and the integrity of ongoing Customs investigations and trade and enforcement activities. We faced an immediate need to relocate all 800 employees and to allow them to resume their work quickly so they could focus on border security. These men and women responded heroically to the challenge, setting up a temporary operations center within hours at nearby JFK airport. And, within three weeks of the attacks, they succeeded in relocating our New York Customs Office into new office space in Manhattan”. Click here to view the full testimony of Robert Bonner to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks.
In the months to follow, significant developments resulted in the institution of the Department of Homeland Security – the merger of the US Customs and Immigration Services – a gargantuan displacement of some 140 000 federal officials. (For SARS Customs officials – ours is but a picnic!). The full implications of 9/11 were to be felt by the international community in 2002 with the implementation of several ‘security/anti-terrorism’ measures that have undoubtedly changed the focus, intent of all customs administrations worldwide. Click here to visit the 9/11 image gallery.