Federal News Service September 14, 2004 Tuesday
HEADLINE: JOINT HEARING OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON EUROPE AND THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, NONPROLIFERATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SUBJECT: U.S.-EUROPEAN COOPERATION ON COUNTERTERRORISM: ACHIEVEMENTS AND CHALLENGES
CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE JO ANNE DAVIS (R-VA)
WITNESSES PANEL I:
WILLIAM T. POPE, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY COORDINATOR, OFFICE OF THE COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM, DEPARTMENT OF STATE;
GIJS DE VRIES, COUNTERTERRORISM COORDINATOR, EUROPE UNION;
PANEL II: C. STEWART VERDERY, JR., ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY AND PLANNING, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY; BRUCE SWARTZ, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
REP. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Pope.
We've been joined by Chris Smith of New Jersey. Mr. De Vries, if you could stay with us just a second longer, I believe he has a question.
REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (R-NJ): I will be very brief and I thank the distinguished chair for yielding. Just one question, Mr. Pope or both of you might want to take a stab at it. But one of the points that the 9/11 Commission made was that travel documents are the equivalent of weapons in the hands of terrorists. And they made a very sweeping and very strong statement to that regard.
We've looked into it and I'm sure you're aware of this that there are 12 existing U.N. conventions dealing with financing and a myriad of other issues relating to terrorism. But there is not one dealing with travel documents or travel. There are a number of U.N. resolutions and Security Council resolutions that read pretty well but there doesn't seem to be the kind of enforcement capability and visibility to compel states or at least to encourage states to be part of a more effective way of cracking down on travel irregularities. What is your view of the advisability of perhaps working towards a U.N. convention on travel, focusing on mitigating terrorism?
MR. POPE: To be very honest with you, I don't know how practical that would be right now. I'm not saying no. I'm just saying that is one that I would have to get back and look and we'd be happy to get you some more information. But I can tell you a little bit of what we're doing in the absence of that. And I mentioned it a little bit in my earlier remarks. My boss, who unfortunately is not here or would be testifying today-you may have met him, Ambassador Cofer Black-is very interested in this subject. It's in this range of issues, big slow-moving but very transformational issues I was talking about.
With the OSCE organization in Europe, we are working very hard with them on travel document standardization. And frankly, with the 55 members who represent a very significant portion of everything you could measure in the world, we believe that when that comes to be, and it needs to come to be, that even if there is not yet a convention-and it's a very interesting idea-but even when it comes to be, it's going to kind be like the huge snowball rolling downhill. It's going to really compel everybody to get into that and it needs to be done because if you look at your passport or my passport, it's not hugely different than it was 50 years ago. It's a picture glued on a piece of paper and it's got more features in it now than it used to. But the forgers are really good across the world.
And what we need and we're not there yet either as well as the Europeans are not there, we really need something that is undefeatable like irises, biometrics and the fingerprints. So I don't know the answer exactly. It's an interesting idea but we must get there because your initial point about being a weapon in their hand is absolutely right. We must stop their ability to counterfeit.
MR. DE VRIES: Perhaps to follow on, if I may, there are perhaps two initiatives that are germane to the concern raised by Congressman Smith, actions undertaken by the Union at the moment. One is to move from the current generation of passports to biometric passports, passports that have biometric identifiers. That would be a major step forward in the fight against crime, in the fight against fraud with identity. Terrorists and those who support them are masters at changing their identity and to make passports biometrically identifiable, I think, would be an important step to counter their capacity.
Secondly, we have to globally strengthen our cooperation in the field of lost and stolen passports. That, I think, is also a critical factor. I'm pleased that here too the U.S. and the EU have decided to work more closely together and to strengthen the role of Interpol. And the EU expects, before the end of the year, the commission will come forward with a legal initiative on that, to have the legal basis for EU member states to provide all that information to Interpol. That would be another international organization at global level, not yet a convention but a practical tool to strengthen global cooperation in this crucial area.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SMITH: Thank you very much.
REP. DAVIS: Mr. De Vries, Mr. Pope, we certainly appreciate you being patient and staying with us and we thank you for being with us here today.
To our second panel, unfortunately, if you heard the buzzers, we've got more votes which is going to take us about 45 minutes. So rather than hold you here, we're going to dismiss the second panel, apologize to you for bringing you out and having you stay this long, but hope we can have you back at some other point-in-time to testify before the committee. I do apologize. That's the way things go here in Congress and you know that. But I don't think it would be right to hold you here for another 45 minutes or so.
But thank you all for being here and with that, the committee is adjourned.