Imagine 9/11 Eight Times a Year
It took just 19 people to carry out 9/11. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforcement statistics show that almost 8 times that number of aliens on the terror watchlist, a staggering 151, have been encountered between U.S. ports of entry in FY2023 to date.
It is sobering to think that over two decades after that infamous day, America’s borders are still being probed by those who would do us all harm, and that they are doing so in increasing numbers. While attacks on the scale of 9/11 have not happened since, there have still been several serious attacks perpetrated by aliens. These include the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York cycle path attack and the San Bernadino shootings.
Since 2017, CBP has published the number of aliens it encounters on the Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS), or “terrorist watchlist” as it is more commonly known. The data show that between 2017 and 2020, things were quite calm. Close to 80 million foreigners visit the US each year, and in most years, CBP reports a few hundred suspected terrorists were caught trying to enter legally at ports of entry and very few were caught trying to enter between legal entry points. Indeed, for each year between FY2017-FY2020 there were only 2-3 aliens on the watchlist per year encountered between ports of entry.
But beginning in FY 2021, things began to change for the worse. In FY 2021, the Border Patrol encountered 16 aliens on the terrorist watchlist between ports of entry—more than the previous four years combined. In FY 2022, the Border Patrol encountered 98 aliens on the terrorist watchlist. In FY 2023, which is still not over yet, 151 suspected terrorists have been encountered by the Border Patrol. Put simply, the number of aliens on the watchlist encountered by Border Patrol grew from just a handful of people per year to enough to carry out 8 (or 7.9 to be precise) major terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 per year.
While we can be grateful they were encountered and stopped, it is of serious concern that the numbers suddenly surged so quickly and so recently. What is more concerning is that the number of aliens on the terrorist watchlist began to surge when visitor numbers in general fell. In 2020, COVID-19 struck, and travel bans and border closures saw America’s foreign visitors plunge from over 79 million in 2019 to barely 19 million in 2020.
The threat to national security may actually be worse if Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) are taken into account. SIAs are travelers who are not necessarily engaged in terrorism, but have displayed travel patterns that are suspicious from a national security perspective. For example travel to Afghanistan or Syria would raise an alien’s profile when being screened. These countries are more known for conflict than coconut palms, and casual visits to these countries understandably arouse suspicion. The fact the SIAs can modify their behavior to stay just under the threshold for addition to the watchlist, which would have far more serious consequences for their travel plans, is a source of concern.
CBP has not released data on SIAs for several years, but their last public announcement on the subject in 2019 said that over 3,000 SIAs were encountered per year. Assuming the 3,000 figure has remained constant (although it has likely increased given the explosion of illegal crossings), if just one percent of SIAs are something more sinister than being of “special interest,” that would be 30 suspected terrorists.
For the younger generation with no memory of 9/11, we must ensure that the borders remain secure from those who wish us harm. If we do not secure our borders, and the trends of those probing to get in continue to grow, the younger generation may yet see their own day of infamy.