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Public Statements

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Holds Hearing on FY2004 Appropriations

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

FDCH TRANSCRIPTS
Congressional Hearings
Apr. 1, 2003

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Holds Hearing on FY2004 Appropriations

KOHL:

Attorney General, within the past month, the FBI has warned law enforcement agencies nationwide that terrorists could build a simple, but very deadly chemical weapon out of readily available materials. Specifically, the FBI cited hydrogen cyanide or chlorine gas. It's easy to make chemical weapons created by combining liquid and solid materials.

In the case of hydrogen cyanide, which was once used as a war gas, one need only to combine cyanide in salt, cyanide salt and acid, pardon me. What is so disturbing is how easy it is to obtain cyanide. It is readily available at chemical weapon supply houses, from mail order catalogues or even via the Internet. Even more disturbing is evidence that terrorists could use cyanide in a future terrorist attack.

Has the Department of Justice reviewed the potential use of these poisons as a terror weapon? Do you think that Congress needs to consider regulating the sale of toxic substances, like cyanide through a permit system to ensure that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

KOHL:

Thank you. I would like to work with you on that.

Mr. Attorney General, recent ATF investigations reveal that tobacco smugglers are using the profits they make from their illegal operations in the Unites States to fund terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, among others.

Furthermore, the GAO estimates that state governments are losing billions of dollars of tax revenue because of cigarette smuggling and Internet sales of cigarettes. This is a serious problem that is not getting the attention it deserves as a funding source for terrorism. I am considering introducing legislation to increase the penalties associated with tobacco smuggling.

Do you agree that this is a serious terrorism related concern and would you pledge to work with me and my staff on this legislation?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

KOHL:

Thank you.

I'd like to ask a question about local law enforcement funding. This budget slashes funding for state and local law enforcement. For example, the following programs are either drastically reduced or just plain eliminated.

The Burn grant memorial—the Burn Memorial Grant Program (ph), the local law enforcement black grant program (ph), the juvenile accountability incentive black grant program (ph) and state criminal alien assistance program, the COPS universal hiring program, COPS in school program and the COPS technology program combine these important programs to deliver more than $2.9 billion to police departments across the country last year.

The FY '04 DOJ proposal rolls most of these programs into a $559 million justice assistant grant program and only the COPS technology program has survived, although even that program at a reduced funding level.

This is a startling cutback of law enforcement assistance of more than $2 billion. What doesn't make sense about this huge reduction is that we are asking state and law enforcement, as you know, to devote even more time and resources in the fight against terrorism.

Many of our law enforcement agencies budgets are dependent on federal aid, as you well know, and if we abandon them, they will have a very tough time doing what we are asking them to do with even less funding.

It doesn't seem to make too much sense. What are your comments?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

KOHL:

I appreciate your comment and I am sure you are aware of the many complaints across the country in terms of our asking them to do more and their contention that we are, in fact, providing fewer dollars while at the same time I'm asking them to do more.

I'd like to ask a question about the orange terror threat level alert. For the second time in the last two months, the country again is at the orange terror threat level. Last month we talked about these warnings and I asked whether they could be reorganized or regionalized or made more specific and you gave a very thoughtful answer at that time that said the threat level was raised when the war began in Iraq. Was the war the rationale for raising the threat level or have their been particular threats to certain cities or industries. My concern is that when we put the entire nation at a heightened sense of alert for extended periods of time, then vigilance will fade. We will become perhaps even numb to the orange alert.

Is there any better way to target this alert system so that local law enforcement agencies or particular states and localities that really need to be on the lookout are alerted in other places in our country, which are at much less risk are not put at the same high level of alert?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

KOHL:

All right. Thank you. One last question on rocket launchers and airline security. Recent news reports have highlighted the danger that shoulder mounted rocket launchers pose to commercial aircraft. In fact, there was an attempted rocket attack on an Israeli airliner in Kenya last November. Fortunately, it was not successful. News reports suggest that federal authorities are concerned about the issue with regard to airports or particular airports around our country.

Given that these weapons are widely available, cheap and easy to make, should not the American flying public be justifiably concerned that what happened in Kenya could happen here.

Are you doing anything to assess this risk? Do you have any activities that you have undertaken to help prevent such an attack here in this country?

ASHCROFT:

This is a matter of concern. It is, I believe, that the airline industry provides the secure air traffic in the United States. My family and I are in the planes on a regular basis. My wife will be flying today, so we believe that this is a matter that is appropriate for our attention and it is a matter that we consider and are carefully assessing.

KOHL:

One last question if I might ask. Was 9/11 the watershed moment in terms of all the terrorism that we are trying to prevent in this country. Was the risk as great before 9/11, but we weren't aware of it. Many of my constituents back home are trying to understand and figure out why it is today we are so, so concerned, and justifiably, about terrorism doing so much and spending so much to prevent terrorism. What happened before 9/11 or were we fortunate and perhaps somewhat naive and we are much more sophisticated now. In your mind it is just a judgment.

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