Homeland Security and Small Boat Inspections


Homeland Security chief outlines new steps to discourage attacksBy Terry Kivlan CongressDaily October 19, 2007
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Friday warned the United States faces a "heightened threat of terrorist attack for the foreseeable future" but said his department was doing more than ever to counter it.

As one new anti-terrorism initiative, he cited a plan to screen and inspect small boats for bombs. "Are there going to be some squawks? Absolutely," Chertoff said at a conference held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the potential for improvised explosive device attacks in this country.

As evidence of the increased terrorist threat, he pointed to the summer's National Intelligence Estimate finding that al-Qaida had reconstituted its training camps in the rugged tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan after being chased out of Afghanistan by U.S. forces in the fall 2001. He said al-Qaida knew how to "pick itself up" after a defeat, but that the "good news is that we are doing the same thing."

Chertoff said Homeland Security intended to launch its small boats initiative with a pilot program in San Diego. He said that although a lot of effort has been expended on screening cargo containers for bombs, "I haven't heard anybody talk about small boats. ... And a nuclear bomb on a small boat can do just as much damage as one in a container." He noted that al-Qaida used a small vessel in the suicide bombing of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole in October 2000.

In other new security initiatives, Chertoff said the department planned to intensify screening of foreign private jets flying into the United States and of individuals entering the country under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of specific nations to travel here without a visa for business or tourism and stay for up to 90 days.

Chertoff said Homeland Security also was taking steps to defend against nuclear and chemical attacks by monitoring more closely access to radiological materials, and dangerous chemicals like propane and chlorine. He said one aspect of the effort consisted of teaching suppliers and distributors "what to look for" when individuals try to acquire the substances because sometimes behavior can be a "giveaway."

In addition, Homeland Security is training airport screeners how to search luggage for the presence of peroxide, the very hard to detect material used in the 2005 bombing of the London subway, Chertoff said.

As reasons why his agency has been able to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States since those of Sept. 11, 2001, Chertoff said "we have done a pretty good job of keeping foreign operatives out of the country," and have been successful in disrupting a number of terrorist plots, such as the recent one to bomb the fuel storage area at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. But he noted that the United States had "less of a problem with home-grown" terrorism than other countries targeted by al-Qaida.