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Nomination of Asa Hutchinson to be Deputy Director of Homeland Security for Border and Transportation Security

Location: Washington, DC

January 22, 2003 Wednesday

SEN. CANTWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for that early-bird recognition and being here. It is an honor to serve on this committee, and it's an honor to serve in the historical context of one of the great figures in our state, Warren Magnuson, having been on this committee 37 years and chairing it for some time.

I do also want to thank Director Hutchinson for his time today and his efforts in Washington State on methamphetamine and a variety of other issues. Obviously the issue of borders are very important to the northern tier of the country as well, and I look forward to your comments today about how we continue to upgrade the amount of manpower that we put on the border. While we have made some progress in the last Congress, of actually I think tripling the authorization and actually doubling the number of people, the bottom line is it still remains about 9,000 people on the southern border, and about 600 on the northern border. So we have had a variety of challenges given that we are a border state next to such a large population center and the complexity of also obviously having a lot of container traffic going in and out of those ports. So it's no surprise that after the Ressam case in Washington State, where someone came through and the Customs agents actually caught a terrorist on their way to either blow up LAX or the Space Needle or whatever it was, we heightened our interests in making sure that we do not have a porous border there. So I am very interested in your new responsibilities as it relates to implementing a section of the Patriot Act dealing with a biometric standard. We are very interested in seeing a process by which either facial or fingerprint recognition can be a more stable source working with countries abroad to determine who should get a visa prior to being let into the country as opposed to the process that we are pursuing today, trying to track people once they are already here, or the large number of deportations that are about to happen. So you will be responsible for implementing that part of the Patriot Act, and I look forward to your comments on that.

And then, lastly, just the process that we can work with together on port security and the fact that container cargo could be—is close—is a mile away to 30,000 fans watching a Mariner or Seahawk game, and how we implement good container security at our ports as well. But I look forward to your rapid confirmation hopefully this afternoon, and working with you on those issues in Washington State.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

To—just to follow—well, I'll come back to that, actually -- (chuckles) -- because it is an important topic and my office has been involved with that as it related to the Patriot Act, and I think you're right on target as it relates to getting international cooperation.

The point that you were bringing up largely on technology and implementing technology—we've run into a particular problem as it relates to the northern border in that we have so much territory that the unstaffed areas have been a challenge. And obviously, technology has been used with cameras to track that. Unfortunately, the technology that's been deployed was really much more scaled towards desert terrain, and I think as people have deployed them in the rainy northwest in the forest areas, they've found out that they don't work as well. In fact, we've had a(n) investigation reveal that much of the time, they're waterlogged; that there's not an adequate power supply; that the software doesn't work; that the cameras weren't really tracking the information. So, how will you go about evaluating those technology tools and making sure that the demonstration projects really are on track? And if they're not on track, that we look at different ways to supply the resources?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, first of all, I think it's very important to be out in the field. And people who have followed me at the DEA know that I like to be out; I like to see it first-hand. I've already had the occasion to go on a limited visit on the northern border in the Detroit area, but it was enough to recognize that the northern border's a little bit different than the southern border, our southwestern border, as you pointed out. And so we need to be in the field.

Secondly, we need to make sure that the technology recognizes the distinctions and the differences.

Again, the Science and Technology Directorate of Homeland Security will be very instrumental in evaluating the new technology and its application, working out the bugs that you mention.

The northern border has always been an open border, and we are moving into an area now that we recognize that there are threats. It's very important to work with our Canadian partners so that as we move technologically, it's not—it can be harmonized with what our Canadian partners are doing as well.

So I look forward to working with you on those issues and the unique concerns that you have from Washington state.

SEN. CANTWELL: We'll get you that specific case that has gotten a lot of attention in the Northwest, and obviously, generates a lot of concern of citizens. So thank you for that.

A second issue—staffing. Can we see a continued advocacy on an increase in northern border staffing and not a reduction?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Yes. I do not see any change in that. The information I have is that the threats and concerns along the northern border are significant, and that we need to maintain our staffing commitment there. There's been an increase in resources, that's been provided by Congress, of our Border Patrol, Customs agents along the northern border, and I do not expect that to be diminished.

SEN. CANTWELL: And how about an increase? Because the authorization will allow for --

MR. HUTCHINSON: I certainly believe that there's justification for additional resources, so it would be a matter of working with Commissioner Bonner, working with the different agencies to see where the greatest needs are.

I think it's important, when we look at this new department, that we first effectively organize and recognize that that is a very important part of our protection, and accomplish the efficiencies there, and then we make decisions on where and what resources are needed to be applied.

SEN. CANTWELL: Well, I think the technology and staffing issue go hand in hand. If the technology we deploy isn't as effective, or we can't get effective technology for those porous areas of, you know, huge, vast amounts of land, then we need to look at other solutions. So the staffing thing becomes very critical. So appreciate you looking at that.

And then back to this issue that my colleague, Senator Rockefeller raised or expounded on. We've had a lot of debate in Washington state, obviously a variety of people of interest to the FBI, but also a lot of concern about the deportation. And I just am interested on this entry/exit system and the special registration of Arab males. Do you support that? Do you think that's the most logical way for us to proceed?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Well, as part of the entry/exit system, I think that it's—the first step is reasonably to ask for the identification of those individuals that would come from countries of concern, of particular risk, where we know that al Qaeda operates. And so I think it's an appropriate step.

Obviously, as we go through this process, it's very important to make sure that we educate and inform so that there's not a sense in the Arab-American community that they are being targeted.

I was speaking on a television station that is directed toward the Arab-American market and tried to assure them that this is simply a method of identifying those people that might be of concern, and that we want to continue to give them the assurance that it's not targeting a particular population or racial background, it's just simply those that will come into this country are foreign visitors of countries of concern.

SEN. CANTWELL: I see my time has expired, but I am concerned about the discriminatory nature of that. But I think if you can work on that oversight you have of the visas, a biometric standard working with foreign countries so that you know who people are, because we're going to continue to have millions of people who enter and then overstay. But if we really know who people are and we have cooperation from foreign governments, it's going to make our job easier.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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