America Unguarded: How far off is homeland security?
Editor's note: President Bush, in his budget released this week, calls for $38 billion to protect homeland security--an issue that was literally not on the radar until four hijacked airplanes changed America's priorities forever on Sept. 11. But where are the real gaps in homeland security, and what will it take to plug them?
This 10-part series by United Press International takes you from a Coast Guard ship looking for explosive cargo in the Atlantic off Virginia, to the rivers and bridges and wild frontier that make Canada suddenly a more important security front than Mexico.
In between, the series looks at security innovations, political uncertainties, the new face of the immigration debate, holes in financial security, and the economic consequences if checkpoints against terror become chokepoints against trade.
The series' principal reporters are White House Bureau Chief Nicholas M. Horrock and
Congressional Bureau Chief Mark Benjamin, with reporting by UPI Science Editor Dee Ann Divis and writer Charles Choi; Chief Economics Correspondent Ian Campbell and Washington Reporter Kathy Gambrell.
Homeland defense in uncharted waters -1
By MARK BENJAMIN
NORFOLK, Va., Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The 500-foot cargo ship has slowed almost to a dead stop 15 miles off of Norfolk in the choppy gray Atlantic. Flying an Italian flag, her last port of call was Bermuda and she wants to head up into the Chesapeake Bay into the heart of Baltimore. Her hull is fully loaded with chemicals, including phosphoric acid, weighing her down into the sea so that just a slim line of her bright orange hull drifts slowly up and down above the frigid, 5-foot swells.
Cmdr. Kevin Quigley, commanding officer of the 270-foot U.S. Coast Guard ship Harriet Lane has pulled his ship up alongside, keeping the freighter about 1,000 yards off the Harriet Lane's starboard quarter where she waits under a slow, bone-chilling drizzle.
The 42-year-old commander has 20 years of experience in the Coast Guard.
He has ordered that the boarding take place in the open sea, so he has enough room to maneuver if he has to.
Boarding Team Charlie, an eight-member crew of men and women trained to board potentially dangerous vessels, has gathered on the Harriet Lane's helicopter flight deck. They are lined up against the port side railings wearing bright orange foul weather gear, pointing their 9-millimeter pistols out to sea and checking ammunition in synchronized movements according to the barked commands of their team leader, Lt. j.g. Heywood Silcox.
Before Sept. 11, the cargo ship would be just another vessel heading toward Norfolk. After Sept. 11, she has to be considered a floating bomb.
"He's got a lot of chemicals on board. We are going to take a close look, for obvious reasons," Silcox says of the cargo ship.
"There are a lot of targets around here," he says, gesturing back towards the Atlantic seaboard and the planned path of the ship, which is scheduled to cruise past countless gray Navy cruisers lined up at the docks in Norfolk, past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge humming with traffic and up into Baltimore, only 30 miles northeast of Washington.
Just months ago, the Harriet Lane might have been off the coast of Central America, prowling for drug runners or tiny vessels smuggling refugees toward the Florida shores. But she has been reassigned, along with most of the Coast Guard, as the government has pulled out the stops in a scramble to protect 95,000 miles of coastline and the country's 20 largest ports.
Those 20 ports handle more than 95 percent of U.S. international trade, moving $737 billion in cargo a year, and creating the ballast that keeps the economy afloat.
The federal government has spent decades mostly trying to facilitate the free flow of trade and ensure that goods and services can flow quickly and easily in and out of the United States largely unmolested. U.S. officials readily acknowledge, for example, that those efforts have led to a situation where customs officials probably inspect only two out of every 100 cargo containers that arrive in U.S. ports, a statistic that has galvanized debate over port security inside and outside the U.S. government.
Officials from the White House Office of Homeland Security now identify ports as pressing security vulnerabilities. That office is busy preparing a major report for delivery to the president early this year that will include a series of recommendations designed to revolutionize port security, officials in that office confirm.
In the meantime, the Coast Guard and Navy have dramatically changed their mission to prevent some threats from even reaching those ports. Homeland security operations now make up nearly 60 percent of all Coast Guard operations, as opposed to around 2 percent before Sept. 11, according to the White House.
On Jan. 10, the Navy announced that it would dispatch 13 Cyclone-Class coastal patrol ships to the Coast Guard to help with the new mission, "Operation Noble Eagle," the government's name for military activities to improve homeland security. The 170-foot Navy ships, designed for use in coordination with Special Operations forces, have joined ships such as the Harriet Lane chasing down and boarding countless vessels as they come toward the United States.
Coast Guard officials acknowledge, however, they cannot possibly board and search every cargo ship before it unloads in the United States and are only creating a first line of defense.
Since Sept. 11, the Coast Guard has boarded 1,792 "high interest" vessels on the open seas in what Coast Guard officials said is the biggest port security operation since World War II. But that is only a fraction of the 51,000 arrivals in U.S. ports each year.
"What we are doing out here, frankly, is quite random," Quigley admits as he squints through binoculars at the cargo ship off his starboard side. "Certainly, we are not looking at every ship that comes in. We have made no bones about that."
But they do look for anything unusual.
As government officials scramble to come up with new plans to address a clandestine threat that could be hiding in any one of a thousand ship hulls, politically and economically, whatever schemes they devise cannot slow down commerce. According to the Coast Guard, 95 percent of overseas commerce comes into the United States through ports. Maritime industries contribute $742 billion each year to the gross national product.
For security reasons, Coast Guard officials will not disclose the criteria they consider when deciding whether to board and search an incoming vessel.
But Coast Guard intelligence officers do review cargo manifests, crew and passenger lists. Before Sept. 11, ships would send their manifests in only 24 hours before arriving in port. That number has been increased to 96 hours, in part to give Coast Guard intelligence officers time to make their decisions.
For whatever reason, the 500-foot chemical ship has been identified as a potential threat.
Out on the horizon through the freezing mist appears the bow of one of the 170-foot Navy patrol crafts assigned to the Coast Guard. It is the USS Thunderbolt heading to the scene. This will be a joint boarding using the Harriet Lane's Boarding Team Charlie and a Coast Guard crew that has been dispatched to the Thunderbolt for these operations.
The PCs can easily travel in excess of 30 knots and the Thunderbolt comes into focus off of the horizon with shocking speed, as she bashes the 5-foot seas into a spray off her bow.
Aboard the Harriet Lane, Silcox and his team have already spent hours pouring over the cargo manifests and crew lists. The boarding party members have each received their assignments: inspecting passports and crew lists and cross-checking them with the faces of the 21 crew members they expect to meet, inspecting cargo, and investigating engineering spaces and the ship's superstructure.
Team members say they go so far as to turn on television sets on boarded vessels, to make sure they have not been hollowed out for use as secret containers. They even inspect nautical charts on the bridge for any clues.
"We look for anything unusual," Silcox says through the drizzle up on the Harriet Lane's helicopter deck.
Built in the 1980s, the Harriet Lane was originally equipped with torpedoes and depth charges to defend against Soviet submarines. But now she has a new mission, one that Quigley says his crew has embraced with particular vigor since Sept. 11.
"They are pretty gung-ho" Quigley says about his boarding party.
Members of Boarding Team Charlie check their weapons once again: pepper spray, batons, handcuffs, inspection mirrors and ion swipes to detect drug residue while they are searching.
Silcox gives the team final instructions.
"Remember, this is not a race," Silcox tells his team. "If you find something, call me and we will go take a look."
They climb one-by-one down a swinging rope ladder to a small rigid-hull inflatable boat. The 150-horsepower engines kick in and they bounce off across the surf.
A bright orange Coast Guard helicopter has arrived from a routine patrol in the area. It circles the freighter several hundred feet up as Boarding Team Charlie climbs the long ladder up into the freighter.
The sleek gray Thunderbolt was built for speed and sits low and dark on the ocean. She has only about an 8-foot draft, which helps make her fast, but she bobs like a cork in the water. Climbing aboard her is like climbing aboard a floating knife after being aboard the Harriet Lane, with her high, white sides and sturdy decks.
Down below, Thunderbolt Capt. Henry Adams is taking a quick coffee break in the ship's cramped galley while a Coast Guard detachment assigned to his ship is busy inspecting the freighter along with Boarding Team Charlie, from the Harriet Lane.
His ship was one of the first of the 13 PCs ordered into homeland security duty with the Coast Guard. He sits back in the camouflage uniform suited for special operations and removes his dark Ray Ban sunglasses.
The heavily armed Thunderbolt has already been busy that day escorting a freighter full of natural gas out of the Chesapeake Bay past Norfolk. Escorting cargo ships that would make potent terrorist targets is another duty the Navy and Coast Guard have adopted.
"If that ship were to detonate near downtown Norfolk, it would be a serious event," Adams says of the natural gas freighter.
Three hours later, Boarding Team Charlie is back aboard the Harriet Lane, along with the other crew back on the Thunderbolt. It was a relatively quick inspection in comparison to others that can take as long as 12 hours; regardless, they go on continuously for Coast Guard crews 24 hours a day.
On this day, team members did not like the looks of one cargo compartment.
Bolts on the compartment appeared brand new, as if someone had worked on it recently and they had some trouble getting the crew of the freighter to open it.
But in the end, it held legitimate cargo.
The hectic mission pace for the Coast Guard and Navy has settled some since the weeks following Sept. 11. Navy and Coast Guard officials agree they can probably maintain the current level of ship inspections. But they also agree that means they will neglect many other duties the services are supposed to perform.
"Obviously, there is some other mission loss," Adams says about other duties the Coast Guard and Navy can no longer perform. But he notes the fortunate peace at U.S. ports, at least so far, since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We must be doing something right," says Adams.
Next: Policies, politics and politicians collide in the scramble to fix homeland security.
Part 2: A mission bordering on impossible
By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK AND MARK BENJAMIN
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The Bush administration has begun the most sweeping tightening of the nation's ports, borders and air terminals since World War II, creating a new transit security agency bigger than the FBI and proposing vast new resources and powers for the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The president's plans would abandon decades of government efforts to speed foreign trade through America's borders and end official indifference to tidal floods of illegal immigrants. The Bush administration envisions a time when new technology will allow the government to know something about each and every person, shipping container and travel bag that comes into the country.
But in a month-long investigation, United Press International reporters found a task so vast and complex, no public official or private expert would predict a time when the government could promise that a deadly weapon or a deadly terrorist will not be able to slip in undetected. The sheer size of the undertaking--billions of tons of cargo, 7,500 miles of land border, 95,000 miles of coastline--suggest that it could be years and possibly decades before security is drastically improved.
Washington is training its sights on gaping security holes made obvious since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: the torrent of international trade, travel and immigration that fuels the U.S. economy but also makes it acutely vulnerable to surreptitious attack.
President Bush put border security at the top of his domestic agenda, telling a Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 29 that his 2003 budget "nearly doubles funding for a sustained strategy of homeland security and improved intelligence." The Bush budget will ask Congress for $38 billion to concentrate on homeland security, nearly twice what was dedicated to these tasks in 2002.
Democrats too recognized the nation's vulnerability and called for tightening.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told a Democratic meeting in January that only two out of every 100 cargo containers that enter U.S. ports are inspected. He also said that while Canadian officials believe 50 terrorist groups operate in that country, only 300 agents are working the 100 ports of entry along the 3,000-mile U.S.-Canadian border.
"These gaps in our homeland security are unacceptable," Daschle said. "We ought to be pursuing homeland security with as much vigor as we are pursuing the war in Afghanistan."
Congress this year might push through a major bipartisan bill that envisions the use of space-age technology to revolutionize passports and visas with "biometrics" to connect attributes of an individual's body--fingerprints or eye-scans, for example--to his or her true identity when he or she arrives at the border. That system is supposed to be in place by October 2003.
Washington already has begun chucking money at trade and travel-related security issues in untold quantities. And a raft of federal agencies that protect the borders are scrambling to pick out the one or two deadly individuals or packages from the millions that pass through the United States every day, even as agencies such as the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service are already operating at unsustainable levels because of the continuously high state of alert.
The Council on Foreign Relations' Stephen Flynn has described the task at hand as identifying and removing the transcontinental "muck" that comes with ever-increasing globalization. That task will form one of the most daunting and expensive assignments Washington has faced for decades, experts said.
At the same time, policy-makers must make sure that they do not disrupt the massive flow of people and goods that keep the U.S. economy afloat. Shutting down the borders "would set the country's economy back 150 years," said Theresa Cardinal Brown, manager of labor and immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In a major address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month, Homeland
Security Director Tom Ridge emphasized that border security cannot hamper trade because of the potentially disastrous impact on the economy.
"We are working with Canada and Mexico to institute smart borders that will keep terrorists out, while letting the flow of commerce in," Ridge said. "Again, mayors on bordering communities ... to Mexico and Canada understand it's not only about making your borders more secure, but we have to facilitate the flow of goods and services and people across those borders, because it has economic implications."
Terrorists have unequivocally identified the U.S. economy, propelled forward by voluminous trade, as a prime target for future terrorist attacks. The events of Sept. 11 have illustrated those terrorists' remarkable patience and resourcefulness in carrying out their plans.
"The young people should make an effort to look for the key pillars of the U.S. economy ... (which) should be struck, God willing," Osama bin Laden said in a video sent to the Qatar-based al Jazeera television station in December.
"Most people and most policy-makers are trying to figure out how we can be safer and not put the cork back in the bottle on globalization," said Frank Sharry, executive director at the pro-immigration National Immigration Forum.
The United States has 301 ports of entry where goods and people may enter through 3,700 terminals--border checkpoints. In 2000, 489 million people, 138.5 million trucks and vehicles, 5.8 million maritime containers, and 829,000 commercial planes passed through the U.S. cross-border inspection program, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The United States, Mexico and Canada trade at the rate of $2 billion per day, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But officials at the border still rely largely on physical inspections for the tiny portion of freight they do get to see, and officials inspect only paper passports at popular border crossings while miles of wilderness along the northern and southern borders remain relatively unguarded.
Currently, intelligence agencies and border control officials don't have effective protocol or tools to share information in the first place. And experts said the technological solutions under consideration in Washington to help resolve the problems rely on pricey technology that has not been used on this scale.
"That is my message to everyone on this, it is not as easy as it looks," said the Chamber of Commerce's Brown. "If Congress is really serious about this, they are going to have to put their money where their mouth is."
Already, the Bush administration has predicted that the government will run a $106 billion deficit in fiscal year 2003, and the Congressional Budget Office warned that a $1.6 trillion surplus could be wiped out over the next decade.
Some policy-makers also believe unprecedented international cooperation is urgently needed to help address security and trade issues they see, such as the creation of a North American Security Perimeter in which the United States, Canada and Mexico would forge common immigration and visa policies and create high-tech methods to track and clear goods for trade as they move off the factory floor and before they jam up the borders.
On Dec. 12, the United States and Canada signed a Smart Border Declaration pledging to cooperate on these fronts, but experts said it is unclear whether such a perimeter would ever be formed, how long it would take, and at what cost.
As late as September of last year, Washington was also embroiled in a heated debate over how or whether to grant some form of legal status to 3 million illegal immigrants--mostly from Mexico--already working in the United States.
Before Sept. 11, Bush had pushed for some system to allow the workers to work legally, at the very least on a temporary basis, but he faced a tough fight within his own party. Some Republicans have said those programs simply reward illegal immigration.
Sept. 11 put that debate on ice and many immigration experts said for security reasons it will get rolled into the wider effort in the United States to identify individuals who have crossed the borders.
"All of this, through a security lens, makes a lot more sense," Sharry said. "The idea of, over time, identifying the number of people with false papers is a realistic enforcement goal."
Clearly, Bush's plan to target $38 billion next year toward homeland security struck a popular note in Washington, reflecting broad support for aggressive steps to prevent future attacks, but it masks disagreement over how far those steps should go, lawmakers and political experts agree.
"We are protected from attack only by vigorous action abroad and increased vigilance at home," Bush told a receptive Congress in his State of the Union speech.
"Democrats have stood shoulder to shoulder with the president in fighting the war on terrorism, and protecting our homeland," Daschle responded after the speech.
But interviews with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and political experts in Washington illuminated serious policy fissures--and potential political quagmires--under the veneer of polite agreement.
"It has been mostly bipartisan," Senate Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said. "But there have been differences that we have had with the administration."
Lieberman, for example, wants to pass a bill to hand Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge statutory authority to do his job--authority Ridge says he doesn't need to because he has the president's ear. Lawmakers worry that Bush does not want to force his Cabinet to cede authority to Ridge, leaving him weakened.
"It is unusual," Lieberman said. "We are having a debate with the president because we want to give the person he selected to protect our security at home, Gov. Ridge, more power."
Bush brought Ridge, a square-jawed Vietnam veteran and former Pennsylvania governor, to Washington last October as the very symbol of his administration's commitment to protecting the United States from further attack. The importance of coordinating homeland security became graphic as Cabinet officers stumbled over each other in trying to respond to the anthrax attacks that began a week after Ridge arrived.
But there were also clear strains within the administration over what his role really would be. Vice President Dick Cheney had been given the task before Sept. 11 of writing a report on what the administration's response to terrorism would be, but once a real terrorist attack occurred his leadership role in this seemed to disappear.
Cheney was isolated by the need to remain at a secret location for so many weeks as the administration sought to protect the government structure from attack.
At first, Ridge was presented as sort of a domestic Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser. But Rice's team works out of the White House. Ridge has a White House office himself, but his 100-person staff office is located on Nebraska Avenue in northwest Washington nearly 5 miles from the White House. Ridge's staff has been chosen from people "detailed" by the government agencies to work in the White House.
To Washington insiders, this means that their future and their allegiance remains with the government agencies that sent them over. They are unlikely to present a program that would harm the parent agency.
The $38 billion has also sparked a debate among federal, state and local government officials.
Ridge is already locked in a heated battle with mayors and local officials over White House plans to redistribute more than $1 billion in funds that have been flowing each year directly to local police departments.
Mayors are worried that Bush will cut off direct funding for cities and direct it to state governments instead. The mayors' worry it will take longer for the money to trickle down from state capitals and there will be less in the end.
"I understand, as a former governor, that mayors of cities have great concern that the federal government will authorize and appropriate large sums of money and that there may be delays or impediments to the money flowing to your individual communities," Ridge told the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month. "I will assure you that I am very mindful of the way to give you flexibility to meet your needs in a timely way."
"I think the big issue is going to be the methodology of distribution," Gary, Ind., Mayor Scott L. King said at the time. "Is it going to go through the states to the locals, or directly to the locals?"
The White House artfully last week held back the "formula" for distributing the money until the Bush budget is released.
Some members of Congress have responded to that issue with alarm. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill that would focus $3 billion on homeland security and guarantee that 70 percent of that money goes to more than 1,000 cities.
Ridge has met resistance inside the administration on some proposals as well.
The White House had considered a plan to combine the enforcement programs at the INS, U.S. Customs Service and even components of the Agriculture Department into one border service. This had long been a recommendation of groups that studied the confusion and duplication on U.S. borders.
But that plan was buried after the Cabinet officers in charge of those departments fought back to protect their turf, according to GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
One executive of a law enforcement-lobbying group told United Press International that Attorney General John Ashcroft has resisted Ridge's leadership from the beginning. This expert, who asked not to be identified by name, said this might be one reason President Bush chose to have the $3.5 billion direct aid to local responders directed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by Bush loyalist Joe Allbaugh.
The Justice Department did not return calls seeking comment on the working relationship between Ashcroft and Ridge.
"Obviously, there is bureaucratic politics involved," said Stephen Hess, Brookings Institution government studies senior fellow. "Whenever you talk about moving units from one place to another in the government, you will run into people who want to keep things the way they are."
Throughout it all, Bush faces the task of keeping U.S. citizens and a flighty Congress focused on the task even while the country enjoys peace.
"Time and distance from the events of Sept. 11 will not make us safer unless we act on its lessons," Bush said in his speech.
Hess said that could be one of the biggest challenges in the long run.
"He has got to continue to convince America that we are in this for the long pull. It can be the problem of not fixing the roof when it is not raining."
Next: America's seaports form a gaping hole in homeland security in the heart of U.S. cities.
Part 3: Long race to safeguard seaports
By MARK BENJAMIN
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The report will land on the president's desk early this year with recommendations to prevent terrorists from shipping a biological or chemical weapon directly into a major U.S city, White House officials confirm.
An interagency group in the White House Office of Homeland Security is working day and night trying to patch up what security and trade experts agree is a gaping whole in America's homeland security: the voluminous flow of unchecked cargo containers rolling off ships and into U.S. ports, most of which are located in the hearts of U.S. cities.
That report will recommend enlisting major companies in the war against terror: Companies that want to ship goods to the United States would become the first line of defense by guaranteeing to the U.S. government that they have searched and sealed cargo as it leaves a foreign plant and that it is secure until it reaches a U.S. port.
In return, those shipments would sail through U.S. customs quickly and largely unmolested, while inspectors concentrate on other more mysterious cargo, according to officials in that office.
The report will also recommend that U.S. ports install a raft of space-age technology to scan cargo containers without opening them as they roll off ships and to signal inspectors if a container has been opened during passage.
It will also outline a lengthy list of new requirements to ensure that companies' cargo manifests are detailed, up-to-date, and delivered electronically long before goods arrive.
U.S. officials will deliver a similar set of recommendations in a "white paper" to the International Maritime Organization, which sets up the rules for trade on the high seas, at a meeting in London set for Feb. 11-14, officials drafting that paper confirm.
Both sets of recommendations represent a drastic departure for the government as it scrambles to pair trade and security, after decades of concentrating almost solely on the former--to the detriment of the latter, some security experts said.
Trade experts agree that the sheer volume -- 5.7 million maritime containers arrived in the United States in 2000, according to Customs officials--far exceeds the patchwork of security mechanism in place to ensure that one does not contain a "dirty" nuclear device set to blow as it arrives near the heart of New York. The Coast Guard can only board and search a fraction of cargo ships before they arrive, and it takes five inspectors an average of 3 hours to search a cargo container, according the Council of Foreign Relations.
Customs and the Coast Guard scan cargo documents and passenger lists to identify possible irregularities, but companies are not required to deliver accurate cargo manifests to Customs officials until weeks after the goods actually arrive in port.
"We have no credible system of security within surface and maritime trade," said the Council on Foreign Relations' Stephen Flynn, an expert on trade and security. "The first time it is exploited, we will shut it down."
Turning off the spigot on maritime containers on the heels of a terrorist attack for any significant period of time could also spell economic doom. U.S. seaports handled nearly $737 billion mostly in containerized cargo in 2000.
"It would set the country's economy back 150 years," said Theresa Cardinal Brown, Manager of Labor and Immigration Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Grounding U.S. airlines for just a few days after Sept. 11 caused catastrophic damage to that industry, spurring Congress to swiftly pass a $15 billion airline bailout package later that same month and contributing to a downward-spiraling economy.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is responsible for overseeing the shipment of around 7,000 maritime containers each day, nearly 3 million last year. Director of Port Commerce Rick Larrabee said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it quickly became clear that the potential threat that comes along with those thousands of containers far exceeds any ability to inspect them.
"As we have begun to talk about it, it became very obvious that the real weak link in the system is that there is no way you can physically inspect these containers and that we did not have very good reliable information about what was inside," Larrabee said.
In what was billed as a major policy speech at the Center for National Policy Jan. 4, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said that only two out of every 100 cargo containers that enter U.S. ports are inspected, a statistic that has galvanized debate over containerized cargo.
For the short term, the government is moving expeditiously to at least boost some security arrangements at U.S. ports and along U.S. borders.
Congress is considering legislation drafted by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., that would create a national "sea marshal" program to put officers in ports. That bill also would allow Congress to hand ports $400 million to improve physical security at ports.
Breaux chaired a series of hearings this month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., New Orleans and Houston on security issues at U.S. ports.
"We have to ensure that the ports of America that deliver so much of our goods and services are, in fact, secure, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that," Breaux said.
The U.S. Customs Service has dispatched nearly 4,000 small, hand-held "radiation pagers" to help inspectors at borders and seaports look for nuclear weapons as best as they can.
The Coast Guard has shifted many of its assets away from prowling for drug runners and illegal immigrant smugglers and has launched an unprecedented effort to board and search suspect vessels miles off U.S. coasts. On Jan. 10, the U.S. Navy dedicated 13 fast and deadly 170-foot Cyclone Class Navy Patrol Coastal ships to escort commercial ships containing hazardous or explosive materials in and out of U.S. ports.
Some data on a ship's cargo and passengers are now due to the U.S. Customs service 96 hours before ships arrive, as opposed to 24 hours prior to Sept. 11, according to U.S. Coast Guard Director of Port Security Capt. Tony Regalbuto. But companies still are not required to prove those manifests truly match container contents until weeks after the goods arrive.
Larrabee, of the New York port authority, said the Breaux bill is only a step in the right direction and the government must address the broader problem by eliminating threats before they reach U.S. shores.
"It does some good things," Larrabee said of Holling's legislation. "But I don't think the Hollings bill goes far enough."
The plan that is still under wraps at Gov. Tom Ridge's Office of Homeland Security is designed to go farther, by enlisting companies that do large volumes of trade with the Unites States into the security effort. One idea is to ensure that only certified individuals seal cargo containers overseas at companies that are known trading partners. New technologies would signal officials if those containers were opened in transit.
In return, companies that participate in such a program would get their goods zipped quickly through customs, allowing U.S. officials to concentrate on more mysterious shipments.
That plan has hope, Flynn said, because 58 percent of all imports come from the same 400 companies: "The good news is that most [trade] is milk runs."
Part 4: Guarding traffic along 7,500 miles
By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK
NIAGARA, N.Y., Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Border Patrol Agent Richard Warwas of Falfurrias, Texas, is bent against the cold, snow-flecked wind, as he watches the giant freight train slowly approaching over the International Railway Bridge.
Where Warwas was born and normally works, the Texas-Mexican border, a "cold snap" takes the temperature down to 50 degrees, and the temperature has averaged 80 degrees. But on this late January day, he is standing on the shore of the Niagara River, 600 yards from Canada, on a slate gray afternoon with an 18-degree temperature reading. The wind chill factor makes it feel like 5 above zero.
"Goretex," said a visitor "can really protect you against the wind."
"The only thing I like about Goretex," Warwas grumbles, "is the TEX."
But Warwas is there by his own choosing. He volunteered to be in a group of Texas Border Patrol agents sent to serve along the Canadian border in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as the government desperately tried to seal the 4,000 miles of land and water separating the United States from Canada.
At the time that the 19 airline hijackers flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there were fewer than 500 Border Patrol agents out of a national force of 9,000 deployed along the Canadian border.
The bulk of the rest, more than 8,000, were, like Warwas, stationed along the border of Mexico, trying to interdict the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens from Mexico and the largest land narcotics route in the world.
Warwas' assignment, along with seven other agents, is to search slowly moving freight trains as they enter and leave the United States. He is looking for illegal aliens on the incoming freights and possibly fleeing terrorist suspects on the outgoing ones.
The agents fan out on both sides of the train, this one a 60-car freight moving at about 5 mph. Alan Marshall, the largest Border Patrol agent in the team, standing well over 6 feet and husky to boot, is given the precarious assignment of climbing to the top of a rickety signal tower so he can shine a hand-held spotlight down into the freight cars and grain gondolas as they pass. Marshall directs the engineer in the locomotive by hand-held radio.
Warwas's assignment underscores the enormous complications and contradictions of protecting a nation with 7,500 miles of land and inland water borders with Canada and Mexico where 11.2 million trucks and 2.2 million rail cars cross into the United States each year.
Teams of six or seven officers working on a virtually around-the-clock-basis are required to clear these relatively few trains. When these cars continue toward a rail yard in Buffalo, N.Y., the Border Patrol will be assured that there are no aliens hiding under or around the outside of the cars or in empty gondolas.
If the car is closed with a Canadian Customs seal, the agents don't open it and have no idea whether people or even a nuclear bomb is hidden inside. The U.S. Customs Service won't verify the closed cars are safe until they are well within the United States.
Cargo checking is the job of the Customs Service, but manpower shortages make a Customs check at this point impossible. Customs mounts a strobe lit-video device on the Canadian side, which shows them the rail car numbers as they pass. They can check these against pre-filed manifests and choose cars to actually spot-check when the train reaches the yard near Buffalo.
Halfway through the train today was a tank car marked "chlorine."
Chlorine is so hazardous that it is shipped in both Canada and the U.S. under specific rules for loading and unloading. Whether this car had been tampered with, contained explosives or any other hazard, would not be discovered, if at all, until Custom's inspectors looked at it in the rail yards in the United States and close to a population center with hundreds of thousands of people.
Several miles south of the rail bridge is the 75-year-old Peace Bridge, one of the two busiest vehicular land crossings in the United States, stretching more than a mile from Fort Erie, Ont., to Niagara Falls, N.Y.
More than 6.5 million private cars and 1.4 million commercial vehicles cross this bridge annually along 12 traffic lanes.
Within hours of the Sept. 11 attack, the bridge went to Level One alert, causing historic backups. The American Trucking Association, which represents 30,000 trucking companies nationwide, reported 24-hour delays at some crossings and as much as 4 hours to 5 hours for commercial vehicles over the Peace Bridge.
Considering that one-third of all trucks that enter the United States annually traverse the Peace Bridge and three other bridges between Ontario and the United States, the hasty border alerts were part of what Coast Guard Cmdr. Stephen E. Flynn, an expert on world trade, called a "self-imposed embargo" on American trade.
"Nineteen men wielding box cutters," he wrote recently in Foreign Affairs, "ended up accomplishing what no adversary of the world's sole superpower could ever have aspired to: a successful blockade of the U.S. economy."
Flynn reported in his article that the "rule of the thumb in the border-inspection business" is that it takes five inspectors three hours to conduct a thorough physical inspection of a loaded 40-foot container or an 18-wheel truck.
Figuring that nearly 4,000 truck and commercial vehicles cross Peace Bridge each day, Flynn's estimate shows that even in the first days after Sept. 11, achieving that kind of search would be impossible without commerce coming to a standstill.
U.S. Customs Chief Inspector Michael Comerford told United Press International that he and his men are still maintaining Level One security at the bridge, but have managed without major backup through a process of increased manpower and the good judgment of experienced inspectors.
Experience allows inspectors to check trucks where there are anomalies in the paperwork, the credentials of the driver that provoke them to pull a truck out of line, first for a more thorough check of the exterior and then, if necessary, for a complete unloading of the cargo in a series of bays at the plaza on the New York side.
No one UPI interviewed along the Canadian border said any of these methods would guarantee against a terrorist or dangerous device gaining entrance, but Comerford and others say there is simply not enough manpower or time to do anything more thorough.
It has been the job of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and his 100-person staff to try to devise a plan to secure America's borders without stifling the trade that has made the U.S. economy the most powerful and profitable on Earth.
Privately, key sources in Ridge's office admit that the land borders still have them stumped, particularly finding a way of securing of the U.S.-Canadian border.
One key idea for both Canada and Mexico is in a sense extending the border of the three countries, making North America sort of a single trading zone. In effect, U.S. Customs officers would be actually working in Canada and Mexico, clearing cargo at the point of origin and sealing the truck for smooth, unhampered entry into the United States.
Last month, Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner announced that a binational working group is studying this process, but other Customs experts think the idea is too complex. It means that armed U.S. Customs officers would have to be able to enforce U.S. law in a foreign country (Canadian Customs officers are not armed).
"What happens," asked one veteran Customs officer, "if you check a load abroad and find something in it? Can the shipper just back off and say he doesn't want to send it to the United States? Has he violated any law?"
Lots of other people in Customs and the trucking business believe that computers can effect greater security by sifting out trucking companies and shippers that are regular users of the border, certifying the loads and drivers as safe, and also freeing Customs to concentrate on trucks and shipments.
"A high percentage of the trucks and goods," Comerford said, "are repeaters. There are 1,000 shippers that handle two-thirds of all the truck-borne cargo imported into the United States."
The Canadian government was studying a similar proposal that would allow some 7,000 trucks each day to pass U.S. border without inspection. In late January, The New York Times said Bonner rejected this notion and it had sparked a dispute with Ridge's office.
"We're looking at increased security against terrorists at the border," Bonner told the
Times, "but I don't think the Canadians are looking at it the same way."
At present, the Customs Service is still a paper-driven agency, which has really little advance notice of trucks arriving for entry into the United States.
But once it completes a new computer system now under construction, a manifest of the truck's load, driver's identity and credentials could be in the hands of the Customs at U.S. crossing points before the truck left its point of origin.
Martin D. Rojas, who is in charge of border transit issues for the American Trucking Association, claims that the companies are ready to cooperate. Most major shippers are already using electronic communications, he said.
Moreover, large shippers are already working diligently on ways to be sure loads are not hijacked or tampered with.
"The trucking industry loses $10 (billion) to $12 billion a year to theft," he said.
Next: On the river
Part 5: Life on the Wild Frontier
By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y., Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The last time Old Fort Niagara was garrisoned to face an enemy coming from Canada was in the war of 1812. From its battlements, the United States launched an attack on Fort George, less than a mile across the Niagara River and in the next two years of war it was to be bombarded a score of times and finally ignominiously overrun by British soldiers in a night attack.
Long before the American Revolution, this windswept pinnacle of land has been an outpost of the nation against danger from the Canadian frontier.
It has seen battles in the French Indian Wars, the American Revolution and the war if 1812.
But for the past 188 years, the more than 4,000-mile border between the United States and Canada has been called the "longest unguarded border in the world," reflecting the closeness of the two nations and why after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States faces an enormous task securing this vast land barrier against terrorist intrusion.
In December, President Bush announced a $10.7 billion border security budget, an increase of $2.1 billion over 2002, which will pay for large increases in the numbers of people watching U.S. borders and in the resources and equipment that they can rely upon.
The regular traffic across the U.S., Canadian and Mexican land borders tunnels through "ports of entry," including several bridges here. El Paso, Texas; San Ysidro, Calif; Detroit, St. John's, Vt., are well-known border crossing points, but between these ports are vast miles of open country, where entering the United States may be a matter of crossing a field or hiking through a forest or crossing a street.
In the Northeast alone, there are dozens of unmanned, remote border points, which may only have a video camera recording individuals entering and leaving the country. On the Southern border, the Border Patrol has sewn thousands of electronic censors that can pick up foot and vehicle traffic crossing remote areas and pinpoint it on monitors, but there are far less of these along the Canadian border.
Take the Niagara River. This gorge like river runs 35 miles from Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario. Only 500 yards to 600 yards wide at its widest point, the river has long been a transfer point for smugglers. A house on the American bank was a station on the underground railway where escaped slaves were smuggled into Canada.
Smuggling from Canada now brings illegal aliens, Chinese, Koreans, Bosnians, Arabs. "Every country under the sun," says Michael E. Przybyl, assistant chief patrol agent. They come across the vehicle bridges, rail bridges, in small boats and large.
Native Americans from Canadian and American tribes smuggle hydrophonic marijuana raised on reservations and drug smuggling groups like this busy summer waterway for heroin, cocaine and pills.
"Any of those smugglers could bring a terrorist along," Kelly points out.
Yet along this same river are two major targets for terrorism: the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant that use water from Niagara Falls to generate 2.4 million kilowatts, serving millions of people in New York and Ontario.
To guard this section of river frontier alone, the Border Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard combined after Sept. 11 to run a river patrol on a 24-hour basis, requiring some 12 men on 8-hour shifts.
Senior Border Patrol Agent Adrian Cotsworth, 30, of San Diego is part of one three-man team noses his $200,000, 27-foot Sea Ark patrol boat away from a slip at the old fort and begins another icy patrol that will take him and his two companions down the Niagara River almost to the base of Niagara Falls.
On the left seat is Supervisory Patrol Agent Kevin M. Kelly, 35, of Buffalo, N.Y., and on the open deck behind is their Coast Guard counterpart, Boatswain's Mate Third Class, David Jenkins, 25, of Pittsburgh.
Though the river is free of ice, a swimmer would last only minutes in its current and the three men have suited up carefully, donning special survival suits, sealed to keep air close to their bodies and give them as long a chance as they can in the water. The suits have built-in flotation devices and packs that would send out a beacon and radio signal to bring rescuers.
Only last March, two Coast Guardsmen died of hypothermia a few hundred yards from here after their patrol craft overturned in the waves. The men were in the water nearly 4-1/2 hours before rescuers arrived. Two other Coast Guardsmen survived. Jenkins said it was believed that the two who died had not sufficiently sealed their survival suits before starting the patrol and freezing water was allowed to seep in when their craft capsized in the waves.
The Niagara River, like Afghanistan's Kandahar or Kabul, is a frontline of the war on terrorism and the joint day-and-night patrols of the U.S. Border Patrol and the Coast Guard along this rocky gorge were instituted within days of the terrorism attacks on Sept. 11.
For all the millions of illegal aliens that have crossed the Southern U.S. border, Canada's liberal immigration policy has allowed numerous known terrorists to enter Canada and gain citizenship or resident credentials that would facilitate entering the United States.
Before Sept. 11, winter patrols were an occasional thing, but now, on a schedule that is a closely guarded secret, the Buffalo sector of the Border Patrol runs these patrols jointly with the Coast Guard on a "24/7" basis.
"There has never been coordination like this," argues young Jenkins. "We are learning their skills and they're learning ours."
But it also means that Border Patrol and Coast Guard boats are in the water about twice as much as they were before Sept. 11 and shore patrols are also much heavier.
Nevertheless, the key problem to this enforcement is manpower. The Border Patrol's Buffalo sector alone has miles of Lake Ontario shoreline to monitor. In the winter the lake traffic is light, but in the summer the lake is one of the most popular boating areas in the country and hundreds of Canadian boats cross and land everyday.
Beyond the Buffalo sector, up through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, there are hundreds of roads, trails and other remote entry points. Many small border stations are not even manned and the amount of sensors and video scanners deployed are a tiny fraction of those across the 1,800-mile Mexican border to the South.
As the Sea Ark roars south through the roiling rapids, Kelly points out where only a few weeks ago a boatload of Chinese were landed at night.
"Our boats coordinate shore units," said Przybyl. "They spot the suspects going ashore and direct officers in cars to the spot."
Often he said, the smuggler is Canadian and will try to get back to the Canadian side.
"We have a great working relationship with Canadian officials and we can direct them to where the boat lands and they can snag the suspect," he said.
The Niagara River runs south to north, one of those strange anomalies of nature, and as the Sea Ark gets closer to Niagara Falls, the water gets rougher and rougher pitching the little boat back and forth. Kelly points out the beginning of the most crucial part of their patrol, two giant power plants, the Robert Moses Niagara Power plant on the U.S. side and the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station on the Canadian, which supply electrical power throughout the region.
Despite the cold, snowy day, there are a dozen small boats with fishermen near the restricted area and they pull back when they see the Sea Ark.
"Our patrols," said Kelly "can communicate with the power plan security people."
The plants are vulnerable to explosives that could be fed into the giant out flow valves that dump water into the Niagara.
According to Kelly, this wouldn't work as well without the cooperation of private citizens on both sides of the border.
"We get calls all the time. They see a boat running without lights or some guy coming ashore in their yard, they call us," he said.
Irene J. Elia, mayor of Niagara Falls of New York, which forms the U.S. border says that's no accident.
"The week after Sept. 11," she said, "I formed a domestic preparedness task force, that organize everything from security at the Robert Moses to training for responders."
But for the population municipality of 60,000, which came on hard times three decades ago with economic retrenchment in the Buffalo region, the costs of fighting the war on terror have been acute.
Mayor Elia was in Washington in late January with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to meet with President Bush and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
"We need help," she said. "To meet our responsibilities as a border city."