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Hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee - H.R. 3916, Next Generation Border and Martime Security Technologies

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee - H.R. 3916, Next Generation Border and Martime Security Technologies

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REP. RALPH HALL (D-TX): Mr. Chairman, thank you, and I join Dr. Gingrey in his accolades for your cooperation and assistance in holding a hearing on border security and House Bill 3916 that I introduced just a few weeks ago, and I think it's a crucial issue for the committee to discuss. And I'd like to thank you and the full committee. Chairman Gordon, thank you personally for co-sponsoring this legislation and bringing this very capable panel before us today. I'd also like to thank Mr. McCaul for the substantial contribution he made to the bill.

Border security is a concern of all members of Congress, and we have nearly 7,500 miles of land border with Canada and Mexico over which half a billion people and two and a half million rail cars pass each year. In addition, we have over 300 ports that see over nine million cargo containers each year.

And we have a myriad of reasons for wanting strict control over this traffic. For instance, according to the Department of Justice statistics, over 30,000 kilograms of cocaine, heroine, and meth were seized within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2006. I know many members of this committee worked tirelessly and hard to end the meth -- the problems in our nation. Yet, success at restricting access to meth ingredients here in the States has led drug dealers to import more across our borders. Stopping the flow of narcotics across our borders remains I think key to our efforts to curb illegal drug use.

The threat of terrorism also compels us to reexamine our borders, whether we're talking about foreign groups trying to infiltrate our country or homegrown terrorists seeking weapons and supplies.

Our borders remain a critical element of our defenses. Our enemies, however, are adaptive and guileful. One of our witnesses today, Dr. Jackson, has tracked a number of terrorist groups and has sage advice about our need for multilayered defense.

Finally, in fiscal year 2005, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended 1.19 million people attempting to enter the country illegally. While I understand the concerns many members have regarding comprehensive immigration reform, we should not allow that issue to stymie progress deterring terrorists, drug smugglers, and human traffickers.

I believe this committee is ideally positioned to strengthen control of our nation's borders through bipartisan legislation supporting effective, efficient, and evolving defenses. H.R. 3916 begins this effort. The sections in this bill reflect a single underlying theme: The Science and Technology Directorate at DHS needs to establish long-term goals and objectives for border security and broaden science and technology community involvement. The bill highlights three long-term research areas; unmanned aerial vehicles, tunnel detection, and anti-counterfeit technologies that promise to significantly improve border security across all the threats and against all the threats that we currently face.

I have a longer statement for the record that includes additional background on H.R. 3916, but in the interest of time I'll yield following one parting thought, and that is that border security is one of the most difficult problems faced by scientists and engineers. It's a complex system of -- it's just a system of systems that'll require concerted interdisciplinary and attention over many years. And I urge this committee to take the lead in Congress to push a long-term, adaptable, science-enabled border security policy. And I yield back my time, and I thank the chair.

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REP. HALL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chief Self, I probably owe you an apology. I called you a general when I was out there earlier. I saw those two stars there. You have a lot heavier duty and more territory to cover than an average general does. You're the division guy out of a great area.

MR. SELF: Yes, sir.

REP. HALL: Very valuable to us.

MR. SELF: Thank you, sir.

REP. HALL: And I'd like for you to hurry up with your testimony and get on back to doing what you're doing, 'cause we need you.

MR. SELF: I'd rather be out there than in here. (Laughter.)

REP. HALL: Yeah, I know you would. And I'll correct something on you, Dr. Hooks. By golly, you are a doctor, because I looked in the dictionary and it says a doctor is a learned person. And you taught me all about these exhibits here, and I know more now than most citizens do, and I can answer a lot of questions that I get asked.

MR. HOOKS: Thank you, sir.

REP. HALL: I don't know how I'm going to fully describe all that, but I'm just going to tell them we have it, and they'll have to take my word for it.

MR. HOOKS: Yes, sir.

REP. HALL: I guess -- well, I mentioned in my opening statement, Dr. Jackson, about the fact that you tracked a number of terrorist groups and that you had some good advice about our need for a multilayered defense. Do you want to enlarge on that a little?

DR. JACKSON: Sure. I mean, in the work that we did we looked across the whole world. So we picked terrorist groups from -- everyone from the LTTE in Sri Lanka, which is a very structured and well resourced terrorist group, to Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia. And we did that because we wanted to cover the variety of the threat that technologies face from groups responding. And in looking across that, what struck us was the commonality in the ways that a lot of these groups sort of came at the defenses that were put in their way, of course, because technologies can provide a very potent security role, they're something that are threatening to the interests that the terrorist groups are trying to advance, so they respond to them.

And so in thinking about a multi-layered defense, you know, one element of that is sort of the multi-layers that we've heard here, you know, talking about reinforcing the fence with sensing equipment so you have, you know, multiple layers at the same time. But the other element of this multi-layer idea that sort of came out in our research is this idea of making sure that we have a portfolio of technologies available, not that we're all using at the same time to provide multi- layers right now, but so we have things on the bench, if you will, to roll out if the first layers are broken through.

And so it's a multi-layered defense, not just at the same time, but providing our ability to reconstitute the layers of our defense over time, because, of course, as I'm sure anyone who does this on a day-to-day basis knows, this is an ongoing, long-term contest between the people who are trying to break through the border and the security organizations that are trying to keep that line. And so as a result, we have to be prepared to think about what we're doing and the benefits of what we do over a long-term.

REP. HALL: Getting back to you, Mr. Hooks, Dr. Hooks -- in your testimony you state that tunnel detection is an example of research -- the Directorate lacked the -- (inaudible) -- for the Basic Research Portfolio for FY 2009. What specific programs are you seeking funding for FY 2009, and where would these be carried out?

MR. HOOKS: Specifically related to tunnel research?

REP. HALL: Yes. And that's in this bill.

MR. HOOKS: We're looking to pursue specific efforts in fiber- optic technology and enhancements so that they could detect when tunnels are being built, the vibrations of the tunnels being constructed, and/or the people passing through them.

REP. HALL: Just give us an idea about what kind of a problem tunneling is.

MR. HOOKS: Problem from a detection standpoint?

REP. HALL: Yeah, detection, prevention, or the link to the tunnels. What's the longest tunnel you've ever seen?

MR. HOOKS: I can't specifically comment on --

REP. HALL: But can you come close to it?

MR. HOOKS: -- the details.

REP. HALL: I've heard that there's been tunnels as far as a block.

MR. HOOKS: Oh, at least a block in different locations. And Chief Self can probably provide some specific details about --

REP. HALL: (I'll ask ?) the chief about that.

MR. SELF: That's correct, sir. We've had tunnels as far as several hundred yards starting in Mexico and tunneling into the United States.

REP. HALL: And how can you detect -- and how far underground is the tunnel?

MR. HOOKS: Tunnels aren't that deep, 20 yards or more. I'm sure there are cases that they have been deeper.

MR. SELF: One problem they have in tunneling, sir, is they have to deal with water level in certain areas of the Southwest border. Therefore, in some areas you can have them as deep as 12, 15, 20 feet, and other areas they're only -- anywhere from six to, say, eight, ten feet below the surface.

REP. HALL: Let's go ahead and answer the question I asked you a moment ago.

MR. HOOKS: Yes, sir. And so the challenge in tunnel detection is being able to detect it in near real time ideally to support their operations in a non-obtrusive manner and quickly using some kind of different detection scheme, whether that be looking at the vertical deflection, gravity deflections, electro-magnetic deflections or whatnot. And right now the equipment is just not sensitive enough so that you could fairly rapidly maybe using a truck at the border going ten miles an hour along the border be able to detect a tunnel successfully, not receive a lot of false positives so that the Border Patrol could then take -- excuse me -- corrective action accordingly.

REP. HALL: I think my time's up. Mr. Chairman, are we going to be allowed to send questions to them?

REP. MITCHELL: Yes, we will.

REP. HALL: Okay. I thank you for my time, and I'm sorry I went over the time.

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