Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Symposium on Improvised Explosive Devices in the United States
Center for Strategic International Studies
Secretary Chertoff: I want to thank Tom and David for bringing us all here together. I want to thank David for that very fine introduction. Usually, you don’t get to hear an introduction like that until you’re being buried. It reminds me of the scene in, I think it’s Huckleberry Finn, where I think it’s – Tom Sawyer comes back and they think he’s been lost in a flood and he hears these wonderful things said about him. And that’s one of those rare times like this where you get to hear nice things said about you.
I do want to say that CSIS and David, in particular, have been outstanding in trying to put before the public and before Congress and decision-makers a very thoughtful and tough-minded analysis of some very challenging policy issues. And I really appreciate his work. I think as we develop the field of homeland security and the doctrine and the theory of what we’re doing, having good, thoughtful policy discussion – recognizing these are very difficult issues, and that they don’t lend themselves to bumper stickers or political slogans – that kind of thoughtful discussion is very important. And CSIS has been a leader in making sure that we have a balanced, intellectually honest, and thoughtful view of some of these major, major contentious issues that we have before us.
I also want to thank the panelists who are going to be following, for discussion, this critical issue. You know, in some ways, the discussion of IED threats is the discussion of terrorism because although we can conceive of a terrorist attack that would be focused on a biological infection or some kind of a chemical spray, the reality is the vast majority of terrorist attacks are conducted with bombs. And of those, the vast majority are improvised explosive devices. They’re not pre-existing manufactured bombs that would be used by a military force.
And so it’s not surprising that the challenge of dealing with IEDs is one that is a global challenge, whether it is in the war zone in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in Europe where the Germans recently rolled up a plot to use peroxide-based IEDs to cause damage in Germany, or in Britain where we’ve seen an aborted effort earlier this summer to use vehicle-borne IEDs to cause damage in London, or whether it’s the concern we have in this country about IEDs. And of course we all remember the bombing of Oklahoma City, which was in fact an IED. So the very essence of what we do in fighting terrorism in a way is a challenge to the issue of IEDs.
And that’s why I’ve got a little display I’d like to put up here because I do think it illustrates and puts in context the whole Question of how we look at IEDs. It basically examines the spectrum – I think we’ve handed this out – going from left to right. And I hasten to add that the left and right have nothing to do with politics; it’s just the directional flow of the spectrum. But you’ll see that really the way of dealing with IEDs is a recognition that we have many different points in which we can counter an IED threat.
In some ways, it’s the expression “left of boom” that captures and articulates this concept; that before we actually have the explosion, there are a series of intervention points, when if we can prevent something from happening, we can stop that boom from taking place.
That begins with deterring and incapacitating those who obtain the funds for IEDs, the development of the organization that’s going to manufacture and plant the IED, intercepting the gathering and provision of materials for the IED. And then as we move closer to boom along the spectrum from left to right, we get into the actual detection and disruption of planning of attacks, the on-site blocking of the detonation of a bomb. And then of course, if worse comes to worse and we do have boom – the bomb goes off – our ability to manage and mitigate the consequences does have a major impact in terms of at least reducing the amount of damage and the amount of impact that that bomb does have on innocent people. And finally, there is attribution, which is our ability to go back and find those who caused it.
The reason I lay this spectrum out for you – and I think a lot of you have the handout – is because it’s easy to view the issue of IED prevention in a very narrow focus; to look only at the issue of what do we do on site to prevent people from actually bringing in the bomb and detonating it. But actually if you look at – there we go – if you look at the whole spectrum, you see we have many, many points of intervention where we can stop an IED well before we arrive at the scene where the bomb is being delivered.
And much of what we’re trying to do is push that effort to counter the IED as far left as possible: interfering with the obtaining of funds; stopping the organization from developing; preventing people from coming into the country if there are operatives from outside who are going to be the ones who actually manufacture and deliver the bomb; finding ways to disrupt the manufacture of the bomb; making it harder to accumulate the materials that would go into a bomb; making it hard to move a bomb, once it’s manufactured, into the site where it’s going to be detonated; and ultimately giving us the ability to detect and defuse the bomb if it’s delivered on site.
So I would say that spectrum is something you all ought to bear in mind as you consider the issue of the IED threat. Now I won’t talk about all of those issues. I’ll be focused more at the kind of middle of that spectrum in this conversation. It would be a mistake not to recognize that the more we can do left of boom earlier in the spectrum, the less we’re going to have to do as we get closer to boom.
A second general observation I’d like to make is, this is not just a federal problem. This is a problem that takes place at all levels of government, state and local. And also, a lot of the role that has to be played in dealing with IEDs is going to be carried out by the private sector. And that’s because, certainly when it comes to building the architecture of protection but also when we talk about the issues of controlling materials that could be the ingredients of bombs, the private sector is going to have to play a major role in that. And how we integrate the private sector with various levels of government in this enterprise is one of the key challenges for Homeland Security as we move forward.
The third element I’ve got to emphasize is the importance of intelligence. Basically, everything we do in the area of prevention is a trade-off. The more precise the information we have about the source of a threat, the narrower and more focused our intervention is to prevent the threat. That results in reduced disruption and reduced inconvenience to the vast majority of people, and a much more efficient use of our resources to prevent bad things from happening.
When we don’t have intelligence and when we don’t have information, we have to operate in a much more generalized and, dare I say, blunderbuss fashion. We have to sweep more broadly because we don’t know specifically what we’re targeting. That means we have to intercept and engage with more people, including more innocent people. We have to take broader counter-measures that will result in more inconvenience and more general disruption to our way of life. That’s why the better we hone our intelligence, the better we are in having a focused, less disruptive and less costly intervention to prevent an IED from detonating.
That’s one of the reasons why I argue that people who resist intelligence-gathering are often seeing a false trade-off between intelligence collection and security on the one hand, and privacy on the other. I believe that the more focused our intelligence gathering is, the more we can respect the privacy and the way of life of the vast majority of people because we can be very targeted in what we do.
The final thing I want to point out in terms of kind of general observations is the importance of public observation and what I would call public networking in terms of countering the IED threat. It is not an accident or, frankly, not a surprise that many of the plots that have been disrupted over the last few years have been disrupted because individual citizens noticed an anomaly and contacted the authorities.
Earlier this summer, the disruption of the plot to set off bombs in London and Glasgow began with an ambulance driver in London who saw something funny about the way a car was parked outside a nightclub and notified the police. Now that is not government detection, it is not a sensor on every corner, it is not some magic piece of technology. What it is, is the fact that ordinary citizens looking around, being alert, and not being embarrassed to speak up actually are a force multiplier for protecting us against IEDs.
I can go back to 2001, when Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was trying to light his shoe on an airplane. And that seems a little comical sometimes, but let me tell you, had he succeeded in lighting the shoe, the bomb would have gone off and would have caused enormous damage to the plane with a very high likelihood that the plane would have actually been destroyed and crashed with a substantial loss of life. Again, it is the intervention of people and ordinary citizens that is a key element in this strategy.
So, with that, let me try to focus a little bit more on some specific elements of what we are focused on, particularly in the middle of the spectrum. And one theme that is going to be repeated throughout all of the discussion that I have is this is about risk management; it is not about risk elimination.
I find that a lot of the debate we have about countermeasures tends to fall into one of two extreme categories. One category is, how come we don’t have a hundred percent protection; why can’t we guarantee that there won’t be an IED, and aren’t we a failure because we can’t do that? And the other end of the spectrum is, how come we want to regulate business? You know, we’re destroying prosperity, we’re destroying the economy, it’s over-regulation. It’s quite obvious both of those perspectives are fundamentally incompatible, and either one of them is actually unsustainable. And I’ll give you a concrete example on each end.
One of the challenges that we face is peroxide-based explosives, which are a little harder to detect than nitrogen-based explosives. And we are constantly working – you probably saw a story in the paper yesterday about how we continually challenge our screeners to look for smaller and smaller component parts of detonators, and smaller and smaller elements of what might be built into a bomb, to see if we can run these components by them when they go through the screening process. And we test to failure. The example I use is what they do in the aircraft industry when they roll out a new jet, a new airliner. They put it through maneuvers and they stress it in the air environment in a way that no sane pilot ever would do when you have passengers on board, but that’s how you see what the limit is and that helps you to prepare.
So some people say, well, why can’t you have a perfect way of banning these things and preventing bomb parts from being smuggled on board? I do have a perfect way. If I were to order that no one can bring any hand luggage on an airplane, that would be a hundred percent guarantee against someone sneaking a bomb on board in their hand luggage. And if I went further and said there has to be a strip search for every person getting on a plane, I could guarantee they’re not going to bring any bomb components on.
That is a hundred percent solution. That is an unrealistic solution, it is a solution I don’t think a sane person would advocate, but that is, in some sense, a perhaps slightly exaggerated but not terribly exaggerated example of what you would need to do to have a 100 percent guarantee against something. Likewise, we could ban peroxide. We could make it illegal to manufacture sub-peroxide, but there would be many very, very important and useful functions that we would lose if we were to do that.
On the other end are those people who don’t want to have any regulation. Their view is, anything is too much. And there I would say, again, that seems to me to be not only a recipe for insecurity, but actually quite bad for business as well, because the fact as we all know it is, if a failure to regulate – an undue failure to regulate led to a chemical plant being blown up in the middle of a city and there were drastic and horrible consequences, the resulting reaction, both from a liability standpoint and a probably over-regulation standpoint, would be far worse for business than some judicious regulation up front, to make sure that we are attending to the risk in a reasonable way and reducing it in a reasonable way.
This is about making investments and making preparations before the emergency happens, something that we’re, frankly, not always very good at doing in this country. We tend to wait until the emergency and then we kind of overreact. My suggestion here is – and I think smart businessmen see this – we ought to do some judicious regulation up front to minimize – not eliminate, but minimize the risk so we can do it in the coolness of the period before something happens rather than in the heat after a disaster occurs.
With those basic concepts laid out, let me take you briefly through some of what we are doing as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s bomb prevention and IED prevention strategy. We’ve been working on this now for a couple of years; it is a very high priority. I think we have made dramatic strides all across that spectrum from left to right on – I think many of you know that what we are doing and what other agencies are doing will very soon be memorialized in some national-level planning documents, including a Homeland Security Presidential Directive. But we haven’t waited for the paperwork. The paperwork is really going to be what institutionalizes and memorializes what we have put into effect in the real world, because my concern, frankly, is not words, it’s deeds and actions. And that’s what we’re about.
Let me begin by talking about prevention. And again, just to remind you and put a little place-holder in, I believe the very worst IED attack in terms of casualties, or certainly one of the worst, in Iraq was a casualty – an attack triggered by an individual named al-Banna – I think his first name was Hassan al-Banna – a couple of years ago in Iraq, with about 124 people being killed as a consequence of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonating. We know the perpetrator because we lifted his fingerprints off the steering wheel of the VBED that detonated.
Why did we do that? How do we know what his fingerprints were? Because, amazingly enough, he tried to get into the United States a couple years earlier. And it was our capability of targeting him as a potential risk that resulted in him being put into secondary, Questioned, and then the officer at O’Hare who did the Questioning refused him admission to the country. But we did get his fingerprints. And that’s how we know this is the same individual who detonated a VBED a couple years later in Iraq. That is really the left of the spectrum. What that is, is using intelligence and analysis to identify someone who is a higher risk of being a bomber, pulling him out, Questioning him and keeping him out of the country. If we can do that, that is our optimal strategy against IEDs.
But supposing we can’t do that, supposing we have – someone comes in unbeknownst to us, or we have to deal with someone who’s a homegrown terrorist. Let me tell you some of the things we’re doing first in the issue of prevention. Part of prevention is, if someone is here already and we cannot expel them or incapacitate them, we’ve got to make it harder for them to get the materials to make bombs, to make improvised explosive devices. And we’re very challenged here because it doesn’t take a lot of skill to make an IED using household chemicals that you can find in your kitchen, or that you can find if you go to a store like Home Depot or something like that. But we can at least minimize some of the highest-consequence risks: dangerous chemicals.
We know and for a long time we urged Congress to give us the authority to address, and they happily did so, that a large concentration of chemicals located at a plant or in a transit facility near an area which is heavily populated is essentially a ticking time bomb in place. If someone were to detonate it, they would have an in-place capability to cause an enormous amount of damage and destruction.
That’s why we have unrolled and we’re in the process of now fleshing out our regulations under the chemical security laws that Congress recently passed. Our focus here is dangerous chemicals located near populous areas, or large quantities of dangerous chemicals which might be readily stolen and fashioned into bombs. And we are very close to issuing our Appendix A, which is going to set forth the categories of chemicals and the quantities of chemicals that will require people, at the very least, to engage with us about what are the appropriate levels of protection and restricted access that ought to be put into place in order to minimize the risk, although obviously not to eliminate the risk.
And let me pause for a moment and again put this in the context of risk management. It’s quite obvious that a high concentration of a chemical like propane or chlorine in outside tanks right next to a school is suggestive of an area where we ought to make sure we have some protection in place to prevent people from attacking and detonating.
At the other extreme, we don’t want to ban propane because everybody who has a gas grill has some propane. And although we can imagine that someone might collect propane canisters and fashion a bomb, to simply make propane prohibitive would be enormously damaging, frankly, to our way of life and to a whole variety of beneficial uses.
So because of that spectrum of risk, our theory is, let’s put the most protection against the highest risk, and for some of the lower risk we may not actually have a formal protection, but we would want to give guidance to people, including merchants, about what to look for if they see something suspicious, or people seem to be buying lots of propane, or if the acquisition of certain kinds of materials are suggestive someone is building a bomb. This is a risk-balanced approach.
Again, we have to be careful because it easily lends itself to exaggeration one way or the other, but I think if you focus in particular upon consequence as a major variable, you will see that the logic to what we’re doing is the most protection and the most restriction with the highest consequence and where the distance between assembly and boom is very short. And particularly when you have chemicals in --, in a particular location, that distance is short because you don’t have to transport them.
I also want to pause for a moment and say we need to look not only at conventional IEDs, which are bad enough, but also at IEDs which could be enhanced with radioactive material. Perhaps because we just concluded or are in the stages of concluding our most recent TOPOFF exercise, which is a nationwide exercise we’ve engaged in, involving the scenario of dirty bombs going off in Guam, Oregon and Arizona, I have very much present in my mind the fact that a dirty bomb would be worse than a conventional bomb of the same size; worse in part because there would be a huge contamination issue, worse in part because the psychological effect would be even beyond what a conventional bomb is.
And so here again we have to look carefully at materials that might be used as elements to take an ordinary IED and make it into a dirty bomb or a radiological IED. In this regard I want to observe that although a nuclear bomb would be very, very hard to fabricate and very, very hard to steal, the material for a dirty bomb is unfortunately not that hard to steal or obtain, and it’s not that hard to add it to an IED.
In particular, one of the things I’m going to suggest we look at with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is further enhancing the controls we have on materials like cesium-137, which are, you know, important radiological materials used in a variety of medical and similar very important functions that are legitimate, but also when added to an IED would convert it from a conventional device into a dirty bomb device. It’s going to require balance.
And sometimes I see that there’s a tendency to shy away from these kinds of issues because they’re hard; that balance is going to be hard. But I don’t think I can afford in the time remaining to me – I don’t think the country can afford – to simply shy away from hard Questions because they’re hard. There is a tendency to do that and I’m going to try to make it my business to force us to look square in the face of some of the most difficult issues because even if we may not have a perfect solution, I can guarantee that closing your eyes is the worst possible solution.
Now, what else do we do on prevention? Recognizing, as I said earlier, it’s not only us but it’s state and locals, we’ve got to do information sharing and best practices sharing with state and local government and with the private sector. So our Office of Bombing Prevention developed and launched the TRIPwire secure information sharing portal. What this does is it takes any gaps, some of the best learning about IED developments that we’re gaining not only in this country but overseas and actually through DOD and in theaters of war, it takes that and makes it available in an assimilatable form to federal departments, state and local agencies, and private sector organizations so that they can understand what they need to do in order to adapt themselves to some of these new challenges.
TRIPwire currently has 2,500 users, including 365 state and local agencies and 35 private sector organizations. And we’re going to expand it to include additional owners and operators of critical infrastructure. And we want to focus in particular on educating suppliers and employees of potentially dangerous chemicals, through our bomb-making materials awareness program, so that we can give them the kind of awareness that allows them to warn us when they see something suspicious.
Obviously, information has to be incorporated into training, planning and exercising, and that’s where our grant program is important in helping state and local governments turn that information that we give them into the tools they need to be able to prevent, detect and, if necessary, disarm bombs.
We have over 100 state and local jurisdictions that we’ve assisted in creating underwater terrorism prevention plans for 60 high-risk ports across the nation. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago looking at some of the equipment that they have been able to acquire through federal funding that gives them a better capability for remote detection and detonation of bombs so that robots are put at risk rather than bomb disarmament technicians. And we’ve provided $1.7 billion to our various homeland security grant programs to allow communities, ports and other government agencies to help increase their capacity to deal with IEDs. We will continue to make IED detection, prevention and disruption a critical focus of our grant program.
Let me move further to the right on the scale now to detection. Let’s assume we haven’t prevented, let’s assume we haven’t disrupted, and we’re worried about protecting a particular location, so we want to be able to detect bombs. Now let me draw a little bit of a contrast with what we see in the military. The military operating in Iraq operates in an environment in which they have many more potential bomb makers around them than I think we do here, but they also operate within an architecture that is inherently more secure. Typically, they don’t use mass transit to get to work, so they don’t have to worry about guarding a subway system in Iraq. They generally drive in armored vehicles, so they don’t have to worry about a bomb that would be deflected by armor; they only have to worry about one that can pierce armor.
Obviously, we have a much different set of challenges in the civilian environment. We would destroy our subway and mass-transit systems if we put into effect the kinds of detection and security measures that we operate in the static environment, for example, of the Green Zone in Baghdad or even in the environment of an airport, when you can have people move freely back and forth. So we have to configure our detection capabilities to the reality of the architecture in which we operate.
And let me give you, again, some examples of how we do that. Much of the work we do is in the transportation arena, which is where the federal government has a particularly prominent role. TSA has deployed over 1,500 explosive detection systems and 7,400 explosive trace detection machines at airports around the country in order to screen-check the carry-on baggage. That’s obviously an environment where we do have a fair measure of control over the flow in and out so we can use some of the kinds of static detection measures that are most familiar. But we also have to consider that we have other environments where there’s more fluid movement back and forth, and we also have to recognize there are inherent limitations in the existing technology for bomb detection and prevention and, frankly, limitations in human ability, which is why we do test our screeners all the time.
So we build layers of defenses. And what do these include? Well, one is our new Bomb Appraisal Officer Program, which we’ve got in over 100 airports, which is designed to support the screeners with additional technical capability to allow them to identify more difficult-to-detect types of bomb components and detonators, which helps improve the accuracy and efficiency of their screening.
Behavioral Observation – what we call our screening passengers by observation techniques – Program is a new program. We’ve borrowed this from what the Europeans and the Israelis do, which involves looking at behavior, and training officers to be out in the actual flow at the airport and in the actual flow in some of our mass transit to watch the behavior of people; how they react as they approach the checkpoint, how they react as they’re unloading things. And that cues us that there may be some people we want to take a closer look at. This, by the way, is a concept that we’ve used at the border for many years, which is training people to look for human behavior which is the giveaway as to whether somebody is planning something big.
Some argue that’s somehow an invasion of liberty or profiling, but actually I’m going to make the reverse argument. Focusing on behavior as opposed to someone’s appearance or ethnic group is exactly what we should be doing, and the better we are at focusing on people based on their behavior, the less we have to interfere with the innocent passenger.
Randomness is another critical tool. You know, one the things we’ve observed as we’ve studied the terrorists’ method of operation is they are very dedicated and committed to planning. And therefore when we disrupt their planning capability by having an element of randomness in our detection, we set them back in terms of their ability to execute. That’s why we’ve got approximately 700 explosive detection canine teams, which we deploy on a random basis and a surge basis from time to time for what we call visible inter-modal – boy, I can’t think of the acronym – they’re called VIPER teams. What they are, we get basically Coast Guard, TSA, other law enforcement together in a team. We surge into mass transit, we surge into an airport, they’re visible, they’re opening bags, they have dogs and detection equipment that is seeking to detect explosive residue, and it is that kind of change-up that gives us that additional level of protection of randomness.
We will, of course, continue to work to develop game-changing tools that enhance our capabilities to detect explosives: detection equipment using new technology that can jump the current limitations of the trace technology and the other kinds of detection devices that we currently have; increased study of behavioral analysis and things that may even be subliminal that can be picked up either mechanically or through training of officers, that will be of additional use in helping us to refine our focus on detection when we’re trying to protect a particular location.
Considering also tools that will be easier to use to defeat IEDs, whether it’s radio frequency jamming, disrupters, quick deployable barriers – all of this is part of a very focused, $70 million Science and Technology Directorate effort to make IED detection and disruption a critical part of our menu for scientific examination.
Next let’s turn to protection. Assuming we can’t prevent, assuming we can’t detect, how do we harden the target? Again, a lot of that is physical architecture. We’ve developed over 2,000 buffer-zone protection plans to strengthen high-risk sites and communities against the possibility of a direct attack either from an individual or a vehicle-borne explosive device.
We are mindful of Cole-style attacks, and that’s why we’ve been strengthening our security at ports. And here, again, let me pause and talk a little bit about being balanced, and I’ll be very blunt about this. We are spending – we spend an enormous amount of money now focused on containers, and the danger that someone would move explosive devices, particularly radioactive devices or nuclear devices, in a container, cargo container, into our ports and into the country. And that is all money well spent.
But you know what I haven’t heard a lot about in all the discussion about protecting the ports, including from some of the most vigorous advocates of worrying about containers? I haven’t heard about small boats. A nuclear bomb in a small boat would do every bit as much damage as a nuclear bomb in a container. And if you actually look at what terrorists did in the USS Cole and the Limburg and what they tried to do in the USS Sulivans, common sense would tell you that is a vector we ought to look at.
Well, the good news is, we don’t necessarily wait for the conventional wisdom to tell us we ought to focus on something. I have tasked the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Allen, to work with Customs and Border Protection on a plan to begin much more robust screening and inspection of small boats, including in particular two pilot programs for the detection of radiological and nuclear material on small boats that we have begun in Seattle and that we will shortly begin in San Diego. This is designed to raise the protection level with respect to small boat challenges to something a little bit closer to what we have with respect to cargo.
Are there going to be squawks about this? Absolutely. Are we going to hear from people in the industry who are going to be worried that we’re regulating something that’s been unregulated? We will. And that’s going to bring me back to my risk-management challenge. Are we prepared to get into that reasonable position in the middle, where we take appropriate steps to protect without over-regulating, or are we going to shun something that seems to be unpopular and takes a very, very dangerous gamble that when something happens, we’re going to have some very, very bad consequences?
I might add, as well, before I move on to response, that another critical area we are beginning to raise the bar on is general aviation coming in from overseas. We’re doing more under new regulations to require information about who is coming in on those private jets, and we’re ultimately aiming to a set of rules that will, in cooperation with our foreign partners, require general aviation from coming in from overseas to actually stop and be screened for dangerous materials before they depart for the United States.
Again, there may be some squawks about it. I can tell you that the president of a prominent charter air company – whose name I will not mention, because I’m going to do him a favor – came to me and actually said, I’m worried about this; I don’t know who necessarily gets on my airplanes; I’m worried that we don’t have enough of a security system. I think that’s very farsighted, I think it’s intelligent, and we have taken him up on his invitation to make sure we, again, raise the protective barrier on general aviation.
Finally, let me talk about response. In some ways, that is the element of this that we least like to talk about because it presumes that boom has gone off, and now we’re moving to the right of boom. But if you look at what happened in London in 2005, the ability to respond quickly, rescue people, and minimize consequence does make a difference sometimes between a very bad and a horrible outcome.
And that means we have to spend time training and assessing capabilities with respect to response, which is an important part of what we bring to the table. That means we have to work with fire departments. As part of the TOPOFF exercise that we ran this past week, the firefighters – this is a positive development – firefighters in Portland were able to go into the area using radiological detection devices that they routinely wear when they go into an area where there’s been an explosion, and that enabled us to get a very quick heads-up that under the scenario it wasn’t just a conventional device, but a radiological device. And that has, of course, huge consequences for what you tell the population to do, in terms of mitigating the damage.
All of these things put together are what I think constitute a soup-to-nuts, left-to-right, full-spectrum strategy for countering IED threats. As I say, I look forward to seeing it reduced to writing in very short order, as part of a number of strategic documents. But please understand, we don’t wait to tie it all up in wrapping paper and put a bow on it before we implement it. We’ve had this strategy in place, it is currently working. We expect to continue to build it. And I believe that in so doing we are continuing to make this country safer.
Thank you very much. I’ll be happy to take some Questions. (Applause.)
Question: Why do you think that we (inaudible) IED attack in this country (inaudible)?
Secretary Chertoff: Well, first, I do have to say we haven’t, because in 1996 there was an IED attack. I would say this, it’s a spectrum of things. First of all, I think we’ve done actually quite a good job of keeping operatives out of this country. And that has been, I think, a major factor. I think that the issue we’ve had with homegrown terrorists has fortunately been less of an issue than the Europeans have, but I can’t say it’s a nonexistent issue.
If you look back on the cases that have been brought by the Department of Justice, you will see a number of cases that have disrupted potential attacks. Some of them are pending, and I can’t talk about them, like the Fort Dix case, or the JFK bomb plot, but certainly the allegations of those indictments suggest that had we not intercepted them, we would have had a similar problem. And there are a number of other such cases.
So it’s a combination of good intelligence, keeping bad people out, disruption, and the fact that I do think that we have, because of the nature of the social fabric of this country, at least have somewhat less of an issue with respect to homegrown terrorism than we’ve had before.
But I have to tell you, if I look at events like the Virginia Tech shooting, it would not be hard for a small group of individuals, if they motivated themselves, to do damage. We’ve seen that in the past. We have to be prepared for it. We have to make sure we don’t overreact to it. I don’t know that the consequence is different whether the person carrying out the attack is articulating bin Laden’s creed or some other creed. So we will continue to work to minimize the risk, but I have to be honest and say the risk will remain at least there in some form.
Question: And to follow up, if I could, on some of the news of the day. What’s your assessment on Pakistan? Do you believe this was an attack by al Qaeda?
Secretary Chertoff: I don’t want to speculate about that. I think the Pakistanis, obviously, have to be the people who discuss what they have discovered in their investigation.
Question: You laid out a lot of ongoing initiatives, as well as some future initiatives. What do you need from Congress right now moving forward, funding-wise, intel-wise, et cetera?
Secretary Chertoff: Well, first of all, I would, of course, I’d like to get our appropriations for this year; that would be helpful. Secondly, I do think that as we get into some of these issues, with respect, for example, to making sure we can control the availability of materials that are out there, we may need to have some additional Congressional authority, like we got with the Chemical Security Act.
Sometimes, frankly, what we need is for Congress not to interfere with our ability to regulate something. You know, interest groups are fabulous at pushing back on measures that we want to take. For example, some of our measures with respect to enhancing our ability to control identity documents for people coming across the border, Congress has tried to get us to postpone implementing that. So sometimes not doing things is as helpful as doing things.
Question: After the German plot to attack U.S. interests in that country, or I think before it was made public, you decided to go there. What did you learn from that trip, and how does it, if in any way, relate to this process that you’re outlining to us now, with the four different steps?
Secretary Chertoff: I think as my counterpart and friend, Minister Schäuble, the Interior Minister, has made public, we were, obviously, closely working with the Germans in connection with their disruption of the plot. And I’ve been lucky enough to have some very energetic and wise counterparts in Europe. We’ve had a lot of ongoing discussion about how to deal with this issue of IEDs, which involves exchanging information, both in respect to people who are dangerous and also techniques and tactics that we ought to be concerned about.
I think that, obviously, we were very focused, as were the Germans, on making sure that this plot did not come to fruition. I hope that, as a consequence of this, the public in Europe recognizes the seriousness of the risk, and supports the government there in taking some of the steps that they need to take in order to make sure they can continue to intercept plots like this.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you talked about how significant of a threat IEDs are, and the prevention efforts. But hasn’t the budget for the Office on Bombing Prevention declined quite a bit since it was first founded, and aren’t some of these programs like BMAP, they’re actually not funded, are they?
Secretary Chertoff: I think what you are seeing in the Office of Bombing Prevention funding is what you see with the maturation of a lot of programs. The money begins to migrate from planning and program development into actual implementation and building capabilities and actually doing things operationally.
For example, on some of the original functions, like procuring radiation portal monitors, that’s now moved out into areas like DNDO and Customs and Border Protection. A lot of the training is now being funded through our grants program. Our R&D projects are now funded in S&T.
If you look at the total amount of money last year on bombing-related issues – let me give you some statistics: over a billion dollars in TSA on things like detection, additional canine teams and checkpoint technology; $70 million in science and technology; $200 million for radiological and nuclear detection equipment for DNDO; and $340 million for inspection detection technology for Customs and Border Protection; $200 million for port security; $175 million for rail and transit security grants.
So although I understand there’s a tendency to want to follow a single line item year to year, what you’re actually seeing is moving these capabilities of training and implementation out of the policy and program phase and into a much more widely distributed implementation phase. But in terms of overall effort, we are doing more on this arena than we ever have before.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you said this summer that your gut told you that you thought something might be afoot. What does your gut tell you now?
Secretary Chertoff: You know, what I said during the summer, if I can give you the whole statement that I made – (laughter) – which I think was actually perhaps expressed a little more colloquially than what the National Intelligence Estimate said, but actually is the identical point – I was very clear. I didn’t – we didn’t have any specific threat information about an imminent attack that we deemed credible.
But if you looked at the overall picture, developments with respect to training in the tribal areas of Pakistan, some reconstitution of the leadership of al Qaeda and evolution in terms of the way its leadership has been developed, a heightened frequency of public statements, these – and of course the training of an increased focus on Western European operatives, like we’ve seen in Germany and we’ve seen in London – of course, I have the benefit in forming my judgments, which is I guess the bureaucratic term for gut instincts – I have the benefit of being informed by a lot of actual real knowledge of the intelligence, and if I may say, a lot of years working in this area now.
I think what all this boils down to is a strategic environment in which the threat is going to be heightened now, I think, for the foreseeable future. It’s certainly not going to be what it was prior to 9/11. I think we’ve done a lot of damage, and we’ve done a lot to protect ourselves. But we’d make a big mistake if we thought that the enemy was remaining static. I’m convinced we really rocked the enemy back on its heels when we went after them in Afghanistan and other places.
But there’s one thing they have which I think you have to acknowledge, which is they are resilient, they do not give up easily, they do not get complacent, they have very long memories. They still nurse grievances that go back 600 or 700 years. And so what they do is they pick themselves back up and they try to retool themselves.
Now, the good news from our standpoint is, we’re doing the same thing. We’re retooling ourselves, we’re changing our capabilities, we’re expanding and trying to look around the corners. What we need in order to continue to do that is the continued support of the American public and the dedication so we don’t get complacent, because I have to say, we’re not going to get over this in a year or two. I’m pleased to say there does seem to be some more aggressive activity now in some of those tribal areas that is going to be helpful, but we have to recognize – and I think the recent experience in Western Europe highlights the danger that we face, particularly of non-traditional operatives coming into this country, people coming in under the Visa Waiver Program, and thereby avoiding the visa process, and becoming operatives.
And again, that’s why we went out of our way to fight very hard – and I want to thank Congress for giving us this – to get electronic travel authorization for visa waiver countries, where we’re now going to acquire some more information about people coming in, so we can vet them more thoroughly. That’s why some of these intelligence-targeting programs that get controversial, like our automated targeting system – when we can intercept Hassan al-Banna, a guy who is a – literally we know to be a vehicle bomber, we can keep him out of the country, that is the best way to move left of boom.
So we’re continuing with all that. But I – this is a period where I think we need to be more on our toes rather than spending all our time patting ourselves on the back.
Question: You might not want to comment on the 2008 presidential election, but homeland security –
Secretary Chertoff: You’re right, so let’s not waste time on it. (Laughter.)
Question: Homeland security is important to the American people; you’re an expert on homeland security. Is Rudy Giuliani more qualified to deal with a terrorist attack as President, given that he has experience as an executive during 9/11?
Secretary Chertoff: You were right the first time – I’m not going to comment on the election. So we’ll take that, as a Question, back. We’ll give two more Questions.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We don’t see very often anymore the color-coded threat levels. Is there a substitute for that, or some other way the public can really assess when we’ve moved into a period of greater risk? We’re thinking of the election and the candidates out in the public, that sort of thing.
Secretary Chertoff: Well, of course you did see – we did raise aviation to orange in August 2006; we’ve maintained it at orange because it was in response to a specific threat. The color codes are still there, we’re still at yellow. We have tried, at least during my two and a half years here, that when we have raised it, to be as focused as we can be about where we’re raising it. In other words, we try to be as specific as we can be with respect to a particular region or a particular sector of the economy so that we can be as sculpted and as specific as possible.
And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, in some ways, yellow is now more robust than it was several years ago, so there’s less reason to go to orange. In other words, as we’ve raised the base level, the baseline level of security, it’s adequate to deal even with this enhanced circumstance.
Second, we tend to raise the color when we want to drive a very rapid, specific reaction with respect to a threat. And there are now pretty well developed plans in the transit sector, in the aviation sector, in private business as well, about what you do when you go to orange or go to red. So if we can raise the level of security over a period of time, we don’t need to hit that button and move it that quickly. But we certainly reserve the right to do it.
And then really the point of the colors is to be transparent to the public; to say, you’re going to see more activity, here’s why. I tried during the few times that we did raise the level to be as clear as possible about why we were doing it. And so I think it’s a system that is still in place, still works well, but we are trying to be as specific as possible when we raise it so we’re as informative, and we do only what’s necessary, as opposed to more than is necessary.
Question: I’ve heard some grumbling from law enforcement officials in New York in the last few days about the TOPOFF exercise, raising Questions about what is the criteria for choosing the location of these exercises. They were in Guam, Arizona, and I think Washington. And folks in New York, of course, say, well, what about us; what is the likelihood that terrorists are going to attack Guam; why aren’t we seeing this kind of money and investment in training here?
Secretary Chertoff: Well, in 2005, we did TOPOFF in the New York-New Jersey area and Connecticut. So that – the last exercise where we did run in the New York metropolitan area. And we do try to distribute it around in various places. I think that a prior TOPOFF was held in Chicago. But we also try to recognize that although historically the greatest risk has been in the big cities, we can’t say that risk is nowhere else. I’ll remind you that there were a couple of cases – terrorism cases in Portland and in Seattle. I remember when I was head of the criminal division, we prosecuted those cases. So that it would be a mistake to believe that the Northwest is exempt from this.
And sometimes you want to run the exercise precisely to get parts of the country that may not be thinking about these issues to concentrate and focus on it, as well as to challenge the federal government because we’re picking a location that’s particularly remote. For example, Guam challenged – allowed the Defense Department to challenge some of its capabilities to move assets over a long distance in a way that would not have been the case in New York.
So I would guess – the analogy I’ll use, if you go to the gym and you work out, there are some muscles that you work out that you expect to use all the time, but sometimes you want to work out muscles that you don’t use very much because you want to make sure your whole body is balanced, in terms of making sure you’ve got the right level of being in shape. I’m not sure that’s the best analogy in the world, but you get the general drift. We can’t only focus on the highest-risk places. But we have, actually, if you look back, done a lot of work with those places, as well.
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