Nation Is Safer But Not Safe Enough

WASHINGTON – On the first anniversary of the consolidation of two-dozen federal agencies and programs into the Homeland Security Department, Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said the country was safer as a result of the department, but not safe enough.

“We are more aware of the threats we face, and federal workers in an array of programs are working in partnership with state and local governments and the private sector to try to meet these new challenges,” Lieberman said. “Yet, we do not yet have what the Department was truly meant to provide – forceful Administration vision and leadership on homeland security. “On the one-year anniversary, I call upon the Administration to commit itself to the real work of securing the homeland and fulfilling the promise of the Homeland Security Act.” Lieberman has released a list of the top ten homeland security priorities for the coming year. HOMELAND SECURITY “TOP TEN” LIST FOR 2004 1) Leadership Missing on Homeland Security The Department of Homeland Security has the potential to dramatically improve our homeland security, both through programs that it oversees and by providing leadership to other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. When President Bush reversed course and endorsed creating such a Department, it seemed that he too embraced the potential for DHS to truly transform our homeland security capabilities. One year into the Department’s history, however, President Bush is providing DHS with only tepid support. The President defied the mandate of the Homeland Security Act and caved to the status quo of the intelligence community by refusing to locate the new terrorist threat center within DHS. The Department has struggled for adequate funding, to recruit high caliber personnel for top positions, and to establish a leadership role within the federal government on homeland issues. Numerous offices within DHS are reportedly “starved” for adequate personnel, space and even basic office supplies. We would expect some bumps in the road given the immense challenge of forging a new department at the same time the government must dramatically expand its programs addressing homeland security, but many of the Department’s problems are the result of White House neglect. The Department must be given the resources and support it needs to meet its basic mandates and, more important, embark on the long-term, visionary planning required to counter the terrorist threat. 2) Still No Clear, Unified Voice on Terrorism One of the most glaring failures of the Bush Administration’s homeland security effort is the absence of a forceful and comprehensive strategy to guide the federal government and its partners in state and local government and the private sector. Although the Administration did produce a “National Strategy for Homeland Security” in July 2002, that document has been widely criticized as overly general and for failing to set clear priorities, goals, and timetables. Recently, the highly respected Gilmore Commission on terrorism chided the Administration for lack of a clear, comprehensive homeland security strategy with concrete priorities. Moreover, GAO has documented a web of at least eight overlapping and intersecting federal strategies in the terrorism area implicating an array of federal agencies, including DHS, the Defense Department, the State Department, and the National Security Council, among others. While there is some planned overlap among the documents, lawmakers from both parties have questioned the coherence of this array of plans. This is not an academic concern: in vital areas such as intelligence, bioterror, and critical infrastructure protection, some officials have said that they remain uncertain who is doing what, and where to find needed direction. It is critical that the President engage the agencies outside DHS , as well as DHS, that play vital roles in homeland security, and that all understand their respective roles. While President Bush retained the White House office on homeland security after DHS was formed, he has not clarified the respective roles of these two entities in forging government-wide policy and – most important – has not exercised leadership to ensure his Administration speaks with one, decisive voice on homeland issues. 3) Little Progress on Critical Infrastructure and the Private Sector One of the most vital homeland security challenges is sizing up the threats and risks we face so that government and private sector leaders can target prevention and protection efforts wisely. These threat and vulnerability assessments have been promised time and again. Yet more than two years after the September 11 attacks and one year after DHS was created, work is still lagging on these critical building blocks to guide planning and protection of critical infrastructure. The President’s latest directive on the matter, issued in mid-December, gives Secretary Ridge yet another year just to plan how to produce these assessments – there’s no telling how long it will take the Administration to actually produce them. That has stymied security planning on key aspects of critical infrastructure, such as energy and water systems and the food supply. Comprehensive threat and risk assessments should be the foundation of the overall homeland security program. The Administration must finally devote the necessary funding, personnel, and urgency to this task and produce this work as soon as possible. It also must be willing to require the private sector to do its part: chemical plants present a huge potential risk, but the Administration has resisted legislation to require that they produce vulnerability assessments and appropriate response plans, or to fund GAO’s recommended federal planning on chemical plant security. 4) More Help Needed for First responders By all accounts, millions of first responders in our country still lack the training and equipment they need to adequately protect the American people. An expert independent panel of the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that the nation – realistically the federal government – needs to invest $98 billion more in first responders over the next five years to counter terrorist threats. Yet Administration budgets, and subsequent appropriations, provide only a small fraction of this amount. And now, in the proposed Fiscal Year 2005 budget, the Administration actually seeks to cut aid to first responders by more than 30 percent. One of the most glaring deficiencies is that our police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel do not have the basic ability to communicate with one another at the scene of incidents, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of firefighters at the World Trade Center on September 11. This continues to hamper emergency response and day-to-day operations across the country. In addition to lack of funding, most of the 44,000 first responder jurisdictions across the country are small and lack the engineers or technicians needed to properly evaluate, deploy, and provide training to utilize compatible communications systems. In a November briefing, the Administration indicated that the “umbrella” program at DHS – which is coordinating several interoperability initiatives in the government – is “making progress.” But the Administration also said that, at the current rate of progress, it is likely to take twenty years to achieve ubiquitous interoperability in our country. This is not acceptable. To keep Americans safe, the Bush Administration must significantly ramp up its lead DHS program on interoperability, and provide the nationwide leadership, technical assistance, and resources necessary to meet this and other critical challenges facing our nation’s first responders. 5) Intelligence Capabilities Still Hobbled A consolidation of the 12 terrorist watch lists at nine government agencies and a fusion center to mix together all available intelligence and other information on terrorists are absolute necessities for success in securing our homeland against terrorists. Otherwise, as we saw in the 9/11 attacks, critical pieces of intelligence will fall through cracks and leave our government ill-prepared to prevent terrorist plots. However, under the Bush Administration, two key centers, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) are not being implemented in a way that will maximize their effectiveness. In the case of TTIC, the President has simply ignored the law. The Homeland Security Act provides for an intelligence fusion center within DHS to receive and analyze information on terrorist threats from all sources – including intelligence agencies, state and local law enforcement, and open sources. DHS’s fusion center was supposed to have access to all necessary information, while serving as a crucial bridge to local law enforcement. Yet President Bush has continued to oppose both the letter and spirit of the law he signed on this issue. The newly created TTIC, which the President placed under the Director of Central Intelligence, is one of four centers – FBI and CIA have centers and the Department of Defense has a center at the Northern Command – and lacks the structure and support to be the preeminent fusion center envisioned by the Homeland Security Act. Most importantly, the crucial linkages to valuable intelligence for state and local law enforcement have yet to be established and the role of the Secretary of Homeland Security has been seriously diminished. Even though TTIC has begun doing some valuable intelligence analysis, the need to place the center at the Department of Homeland Security remains urgent: DHS was intended to include an all-sources terrorist threat analysis center, responsible for analyzing all of the information available to our government related to terrorist threats and overcoming the disastrous disconnects that plagued our intelligence community prior to September 11 – while disseminating information to those who need it, including state and local law enforcement. Yet, TTIC currently has no representation from state and local authorities and it has little communication from them. TTIC briefs the President on the terrorist threat to the homeland, but it is unclear how effective those briefings are if those responsible for protecting the homeland in states and localities have no input into the threat evaluation process. TTIC is now described as a “joint venture” with its funding coming from numerous sources. The Bush Administration has not given TTIC an analytical staff nor budget of its own; instead, it forces TTIC to borrow money and experts from other agencies. Yet the Secretary of Homeland Security is the person most accountable and responsible for domestic security and, to be most effective, the center needs adequate funding and a secure future. Almost immediately after September 11, experts called for a consolidated terrorist watch list to help prevent terrorists from entering this country. That call was underscored last spring by an April 2003 GAO report that identified the 12 lists at nine agencies and recommended their consolidation to promote better integration and sharing in our efforts to catch terrorists. Yet the Administration dragged its heels on the issue, and it was not until September 16, 2003 that the Administration announced that the terrorist watch lists would be consolidated and that they would be operational on December 1, 2003. The deadline passed, the watch lists have not been consolidated, and the center is not operational. Indeed, the Administration has pushed back its timeline yet again, and now says that there will not be a fully integrated watch list data base until December 2004. As a result, even during the December Orange Alert and related cancellations and delays of numerous airline flights, the TSC was not used to check airline manifests. Instead, each flight manifest had to be checked with each terrorist watch list – a time consuming, labor intensive, and risk-prone exercise. It is only a consolidated, fully accessible watch list that can assure us that the terrorists crossing our borders, catching our planes, applying for our visas or drivers’ licenses, or speeding on our highways will be caught. 6) Threats Demand New Approach on Information Sharing The Administration is fighting the 21st century threat of terrorism with an archaic intelligence strategy. The Gilmore Commission, the Markle Foundation and others have all reported that the federal government is not effectively sharing the information necessary to prevent and respond to terrorism with state and local officials. In particular, an expert Markle Foundation Task Force on Security in the Information Age concluded that the intelligence architecture developed during the Cold War, in which agencies placed a premium on restricting access to information, is ill-suited to address challenges posed by terrorists when information must be shared to enable a broad array of actors – from border agents, to first responders, to local officials – to work together to prevent terrorist attacks in our hometowns. Markle reported that while some agencies are broadening information sharing, the Bush Administration has not begun to fundamentally transform our approach. The task force called on the President to: issue executive orders to clarify how information will be gathered and used; set benchmarks for judging agencies’ progress with sharing information; and create networks for information collection, sharing, analysis, and use across federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector while preserving – and even enhancing – civil liberties. The Bush Administration must take these and other steps, including facilitating security clearances for state and local officials, to ensure that these officials have the information they need to keep our homeland safe. 7) Preparedness Weak on Bioterror More than two years after the anthrax attacks demonstrated our country’s vulnerability to bioterrorism, the Bush Administration’s efforts to protect the American people against biological, chemical, and radiological attacks remains disorganized and underfunded. Officials complain there is not a clear leader or strategy on bioterror and that the country faces dangerous shortfalls spanning a range of specific issues, from prevention to response. For instance, despite specific direction from Congress to improve the security at over 500 research labs using dangerous biological substances which could be used to carry out a bioterrorism attack, the Bush Administration failed to meet its own November 12, 2003 deadline for making sure these labs and the scientists and technicians who work in them meet the requisite security requirements. In fact, not a single lab was approved by the deadline and the Administration had to institute a system of temporary “provisional” approvals in order to prevent vital bioterrorism research projects from coming to a halt. To date, many labs have still not received final security certifications. Despite the obvious dangers, the Administration has not acted forcefully and expeditiously to implement these mandates. Nor has the effort been more vigorous in the area of response. A 2001 study by the American Hospital Association conducted shortly after the attacks estimated that America’s hospitals needed more than $11 billion in additional medical supplies, protective gear for staff, and other basic essentials to respond to bioterrorism attacks. Yet the Administration has thus far provided just $623 million to help hospitals meet these needs. At this rate, it would take more than twenty years before hospitals were prepared to provide even basic care in the event of a major bioterror attack. Indeed, a recent report by the Trust for Public Health concluded that communities are “only modestly better prepared” to respond to a bioterror attack than they were before the 9/11 attacks. Far from speeding up preparedness, however, the Administration proposes to cut grants to help public health agencies and hospitals prepare for a bioterror attack. Americans are also defenseless against many of the likely biological agents terrorists would use in such an attack. In fact, the United States has only two of the 57 diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs it needs to deal effectively with the top 19 known biological threats. Although the Administration has begun the Bioshield program and increased funding for bioterrorism countermeasures research through the National Institutes of Health, these measures don’t truly harness the power of America’s biotech industry to solve these problems. Bold new steps need to be taken to convince biotech companies that fighting bioterrorism is a viable business strategy such as providing them protections for their intellectual property and a return on their investment – as Senator Hatch and I have outlined in proposed legislation. 8) Aviation Security Still Flawed As the recent Orange Alert demonstrated, the terrorist threat to aviation remains high. Unfortunately, despite considerable attention to aviation security since the September 11 attacks, vulnerabilities remain high as well. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made important strides toward improving aviation passenger and baggage screening. But TSA has failed to expand aviation security beyond airport security checkpoints and more must be done in the areas of air cargo, explosives detection, and worker screening. Twenty-two percent of air cargo travels on passenger flights. Yet while much energy has been focused on screening passengers’ checked and carry-on baggage, this cargo is loaded onto the very same planes without any routine screening. Moreover, news reports also indicated that a key concern during the heightened threat level over the holidays was the vulnerability of cargo planes themselves. An Associated Press story published on December 24, 2003, quoted Rafi Ron, president of New Age Security Solutions and the former security director for the Israeli Airport Authority: “[An] air cargo aircraft remains just as good a weapon – no, even better – than passenger aircraft.” 1 The same article noted the concerns of “[s]ecurity experts and pilots” that “the cargo industry’s surveillance of airports, planes and freight – and of the warehouse employees packing boxes – remains dangerously inadequate. . . .” With respect to explosives, TSA has moved to test baggage being loaded onto planes, but does not yet have a systematic way to test whether passengers themselves are carrying explosives on board. A program to test passengers for explosives must be accelerated off the drawing boards, and into airport lobbies. We must also gain tighter control of areas beyond the checkpoints. TSA has still taken only preliminary steps towards assessing security technologies that are needed to restrict access to secure areas of the airports, despite the requirements of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. We must also ensure adequate security regarding airport workers who handle cargo, maintain aircraft, drive trucks and perform other duties that give them access to the airplanes, and who do not go through the same screening as passengers and flight crews. And the Administration must do more to help harden perimeter security at airports, which are typically guarded with little more than a chain link fence. Indeed, just weeks ago two Houston journalists documented minimal security measures around the perimeter of that city’s two airports, and at one airport they were able to drive directly up to the control tower. 9) Weak Start on Transportation Security While work on aviation security is perilously incomplete, the job of securing other modes of transportation has barely begun. TSA is responsible for securing all modes of transportation, yet the Administration has sought very little money for any of its non-aviation responsibilities. Significantly, TSA has yet to complete a transportation security plan that sets forth its strategy for identifying system vulnerabilities, determining the adequacy of security measures already in place and implementing countermeasures. Specific examples of gaps that must be addressed also abound. For example, despite an April 2003 GAO report on rail security identifying the need for better measures to protect rail shipments of hazardous materials, due to their vulnerability to terrorist attack, little progress has been made. Mass transit is another priority, particularly given a history of terrorist attacks on mass transit in other countries. Some key needs include video surveillance, chemical and radiological detection systems, improved communications systems, and other means of monitoring and deterring potential attacks. The American Public Transportation Association has been surveying its member transit agencies and has already identified at least $6 billion in security needs. Most are financially strapped and unable to implement such security improvements without federal help. But DHS has been slow to focus on this vulnerability and provided only about $100 million to help fund transit security measures. Truck traffic presents another set of challenges, particularly at key bridges and tunnels at border crossings. We need better security for these crossings, including expanded inspection facilities to ensure security without clogging trade. 10) Critical Gaps on Port/Container Security Last, but certainly not least, the potential for terrorist attacks through U.S. ports remains a real threat, as reflected in the calls of more than a dozen experts, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and commissions on homeland security that have identified port and cargo security as a top homeland priority. Port security is not just a matter of personal safety, but also of economic security. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s cargo moves by container (much of it through ports), and an attack in a U.S. port that resulted in a shutdown and disruption of trade flows would cause tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars in economic damage, in addition to any tragic loss of life. Yet only a very small fraction of the millions of containers we move each year are physically inspected. To its credit, DHS has begun implementing several promising programs – including the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism – that attempt to target high risk containers for inspection and improve overall security of the container system. However, the Administration has also made management and funding decisions that hobble these promising programs. For instance, while these programs help federal inspectors target which containers merit intense scrutiny, the Administration is relying on insufficient data to target containers. Moreover, Customs does not have a systematic or substantial program of random inspections to test the accuracy of its targeting program, seriously undermining the entire inspection program and the goal of preventing dangerous or illegal materials from entering the country – a point underscored by GAO in recent testimony on cargo security. The Administration must also implement a better system to test containers for radiation. And while the Coast Guard has said it will cost $1.2 billion in the first year – and $4 billion over ten years – just to make basic physical security improvements at the ports, the Administration has provided less than $400 million in port security grants and seeks only $46 million in FY 05 for this purpose. The Administration’s budget would also terminate Operation Safe Commerce, a promising program to explore innovative ways to boost the security of the millions of containers that enter the United States each year. As for the Coast Guard itself, the service does not have adequate personnel to perform its responsibilities under port security legislation and other statutes. In terms of equipment, the Coast Guard operates the 39th oldest naval fleet in the world (out of 41) at a time it is being asked to accept ever-greater responsibility for the safety of U.S. citizens. President Bush has refused to seek adequate funding for the Coast Guard’s modernization effort, which experts agree will greatly assist the agency in performing all of its homeland security and non-homeland security roles.