Ports, border crossing still pose security risk

| 9/11/2007

On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and said although the U.S. has beefed up its anti-terrorism efforts he is still concerned about cargo and border security.

Chertoff’s statement may have sounded ironic to truckers who spent this past weekend hearing about the U.S. Department of Transportation ushering in its cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

“Our greatest concern with respect to a cargo-borne threat is a terrorist attempting to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into our country through our sea ports, land border crossings or maritime borders,” Chertoff told the senators on Tuesday.

Since the attacks, Chertoff told the committee, the feds have increased the Border Patrol from about 9,000 agents in 2001 to nearly 14,500 today. They also deployed thousands of National Guard forces to build fences and vehicle barriers and install high-tech cameras.

Additionally, DHS is working to expand the role of “state and local fusion centers” – a program that promotes information sharing and exchange “across all levels of government,” Chertoff said.

“We have deployed 17 DHS intelligence officers to SLFCs across the country and we plan to have officers in as many as 35 sites by the end of fiscal year 2008,” Chertoff said. “We are also deploying our Homeland Security Data Network to fusion centers to foster information sharing and exchange up to the ‘secret’ level.”

Chertoff also mentioned the SAFE Ports Act of 2006, the pre-cursor to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, which has fallen behind schedule and is expected to begin enrolling truckers and other workers at one port this fall.

Of course, the DHS chief stopped short of saying the agency could prevent all terrorism threats.

“The fact remains that we are still a nation at risk,” Chertoff said.