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Securing the Homeland

October 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: The report, called “America still unprepared; America still in danger,” was issued last Friday by a panel headed by two former senators. Its key conclusion: “A year after September 11, 2001, America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.”

Among the most vulnerable areas: Shipping containers, seaports and border crossings; energy distribution facilities like power plants, pumping stations and pipeline compressor stations; food and water supplies; state and local law enforcement agencies lacking intelligence information, equipment and training; and a public health system unable to quickly detect, contain and respond to chemical or biological attacks.

The panel made recommendations to address these problems, and urged Congress to act within a year. The study’s co-chairmen were former Democratic Senator Gary Hart and former Republican Senator Warren Rudman. They led a previous commission warning of catastrophic attacks on American soil nine months before September 11. And Senators Hart and Rudman join us now to discuss their new report. Welcome to you both. Let’s start out by having you flesh out for us a couple of these major sort of danger spots.

Senator Rudman, beginning with you, seaports, shipping containers, border crossings. What’s the problem?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, the problem, of course, is a matter of volume. There are about 50,000 containers that enter the country each day in our Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf ports. About 1% have been inspected.

I’m very heartened today that Commissioner Bonner has announced a system that we have been advocating for a long time and advocated in our previous report, the pre-certification, if you will, of containers overseas. So we have some idea of which containers are coming from whom, who the shippers are, who the recipients are and to make sure that they haven’t been tampered with on the way. These are really serious matters.

With all due respect, we’re spending $200-$300 million additionally on airport security. The real threat from weapons of mass destruction is much more apt to come in containers. So that is a very serious issue which is starting to be addressed. We’re delighted to see it’s being addressed but a lot of work yet has to be done both by the government and the private sector.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator Hart, take another one. You put all of this in one area. I know it’s a lot. The energy infrastructure, food and water supplies.

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: What we identified in our first commission and in this task force report what was is generally called the critical infrastructure. Those are the basic industries and systems upon which our economy and our society are based. It includes financial structures, communication systems, all transportation including seaports and, of course, energy production and distribution.

And what we found was in the course of the last year very little progress has been made at protecting the energy distribution systems especially the petroleum-based ones upon which so much of our economy is based. We called for immediate action, not within a year, but within weeks and months to protect that system. And that can be done.

MARGARET WARNER: What about water supplies? Senator Hart?

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: Well, that also together with our food supplies are critical to the operation of our society. And here the protection or the training and equipping of our public and private health care systems is absolutely crucial. Not nearly enough has been done in that regard.

State and local public health people and private health people are still waiting for direction and financial assistance from the federal government. We need to prevent chemical or biological attacks on our water and our food. But if the worst thing happens, we have to be prepared to limit that damage to human beings and to our economy. And we’re not prepared for that today.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Rudman, one common thread through this report was that so many of these targets are not government owned but privately owned. And you said that that presents special hurdles. What’s the problem? What are the challenges that presents?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, interestingly enough, some of the very laws that were designed to protect Americans from corporate predators are the very laws that in this particular case can inhibit them from working together. We’ve got antitrust laws which if they coordinate their efforts, some of them are very properly concerned that they could be attacked for violating antitrust laws.

Of course very interestingly a lot of this infrastructure that Gary has talked about is covered by many procedures of corporations that want their business and trade secrets kept private. They’re concerned about Freedom of Information Act invasion, if you will, into what they try to do. So we recommend that there be some very reasonable exemptions in these and other areas to ensure that the private sector, which has a huge amount to do in this area, is able to do its job and do it properly. And we don’t think this is difficult to do.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart,….

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: Could I just add one point there

MARGARET WARNER: Please weigh in on that, please.

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: There is also the issue of who pays. It’s a question of will the taxpayers of the United States pay for the improvement of security in these critical industries or will the consumers? And there are… there is legislation presently before Congress in a couple of industries where it would be required for the companies themselves to pay for the cost of enhanced security and pass that on, of course, to their customers and consumers. Those industries are lobbying against that legislation. And I think the President has to say to them, don’t do that. You are part of the solution to our national security, and you have to weigh in and help us.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Rudman, go back to something Senator Hart raised earlier which is about sort of state and local, these first responders and how basically ill equipped they are and what they lack. How would you fix that?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Margaret, we were very fortunate to have on this remarkable panel at the Council of Foreign Relations put together — Jim Kallstrom who I think is known to you and most Americans an extraordinary FBI agent who as you know was involved in the TWA shootdown and in the last year has been helping Governor Pataki of New York and those enormous problems in that city.

Jim was a great resource to us, and he pointed out to us that although there have been some efforts made a great deal has to be done in making sure that local law enforcement, local officials, state officials, have up to date intelligence data. There’s a way to do that without compromising sources and methods. It has to be a crash program.

I know that the director of the CIA, George Tenet, the director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, very much favor this. I know they’re working towards it. But it has to become a national priority. After all, when these events happen, it is the local responders, the police of New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, wherever, that are the people who have to face the issue up front. They ought to have much better intelligence as to what is going on. Of course, we speak a great deal about the training and the equipment and the communications they need, which only the federal government can really step forward and provide.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s another thing that’s missing, Senator Hart, it seems, is sort of federal coordination here. In other words, the picture you painted was a lot of localities, some have spent some money to do some things but it’s all kind of disorganized.

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: I think that’s true. And that’s the very central reason why the first and most important recommendation of 50 that our commission made to the new administration, the Congress in January 2001 was to create a national homeland security agency to reorganize and coordinate the disparate pieces in the federal government that go into protecting this country.

Now the President after about a year-and-a-half endorsed that proposal. Legislation was submitted to Congress but it’s still locked up and it’s locked up primarily because of a failure of the two parties and two ideologies to get together. We’re going to have to put the national interest and national security interest before those partisan and special interest considerations and get that department created immediately.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Rudman, as you know, the White House reacted rather coolly to this report, the homeland security director Tom Ridge said up didn’t take into account all the things they had done. What’s your response to that?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I really wish they wouldn’t be that defense. You have George Shultz and Warren Christopher, Jim Kallstrom, two former chairman of the joint chiefs. These are not people unfriendly to this administration. Certainly we’re not unfriendly to this administration or to tom ridge. We think this report ought to be very careful. You know, people in government — and I understand this — tend to be very defensive about suggestions that are made. I think Tom Ridge has done a first rate job. It’s been a little over the year. We’re not faulting the administration. We say that clearly. Anyone who knows this problem cannot look at this report and say that we haven’t hit the target on these items.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hart, you both are old Washington hands so I know you don’t live here anymore. What do you think is really missing here? Is it political will? Is it money, is it leadership…

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: It’s a sense of urgency. It’s a sense of urgency. That’s what this report was about. I don’t think anyone quarrels with the need to do these things. The question is how urgent and how immediate must they be done? And what we’re trying to do is get the American people to say to their elected officials of both parties and both branches of government, “Get on with it.” Particularly when we go to war in Iraq the threat against this country will spike. It will go up. And we shouldn’t even contemplate invading Iraq until we are prepared to deal with the consequences of that invasion.

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Margaret, could I just add to that?


FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: You know, I said to someone the other day if U.S. Intelligence told us with certainty that a particular city in America was going to be the subject of an anthrax attack between the 1st and the 15th of February of next year, does anybody have any doubt that we would do everything we had to do to respond to that with public health, with law enforcement, federal, state, local? We would do everything necessary. Why do we have to wait for it to happen? Why can’t we move ahead with it now? That is the point to this report.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Senator Hart essentially what your report is saying is even if there was intelligence right now that said in early February there is going to be some kind of an attack on some kind of a sector of our economy that really the mechanisms aren’t in place to try to prevent that attack.

FORMER SEN. GARY HART: Unless we knew where it was going to occur you’re absolutely right. The part of Warren’s equation is, he hypothesizes a specific place. And that we could get prepared for but we are probably not going to know where the next attack will occur.

MARGARET WARNER: Yet Senator Rudman I don’t think the next time the American public will just blame the intelligence agencies, will they?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Let me tell you something, Margaret. I will tell you what I said in my testimony before the Joint Intelligence Committee. If, in fact, as George Tenet has predicted — and we agree with him — there is another attack of some kind and large numbers of Americans, innocent people, lose their lives, I will tell you there will be a high political price to pay for everyone in government and no one will discriminate between parties. I think that’s a message that people ought to understand.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senators Hart and Rudman, thank you both.