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Panel One of a Hearing of the Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee of the House Select Homeland Security Committee - Safeguarding...

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service September 30, 2004 Thursday

HEADLINE: PANEL ONE OF A HEARING OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE AND BORDER SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE SELECT HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: SAFEGUARDING AMERICA'S BORDERS

CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE DAVE CAMP (R-MI)

WITNESSES: PATRICK HUGHES, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY FOR INFORMATION ANALYSIS; STEWARD VERDERY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR BORDER AND TRANSPORTATION SECURITY POLICY AND PLANNING

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REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Chairman, 98 percent of over 281 million visitors annually into our country, and are expected-that means that millions of travelers entering the country are entering without being checked against any intelligence data base that could help identify a potential terrorist or even a convicted criminal.

I'm interested; when we talk about terror, General, I want to know if you agree with me. I am talking not only about those people who wish to bring explosives into this country or to come into this country and wreak havoc on our citizens and our property; I'm talking about those people who are transporting drugs across our border.

I see that terror every day in my district and throughout this nation. And I know that drug trafficking in the United States has a lot to do with the funding and the assisting of terrorist groups and organizations. What do you see and what do you do about drug interdiction? And how do you see they're both connected?

MR. HUGHES: Well, thank you very much for the question. Perhaps Assistant Secretary Verdery would like to comment after I do.

First, I'm not positive about the figures you quoted, but I grant you that there are people who successfully get into the country with drugs who are terrorists, who may come in with some capability. That certainly is-I think it's a very small percentage compared to what it was.

We have actually been extremely successful in interdicting drug shipments. Indeed, in the past two weeks we've interdicted huge, multi-ton, ship-borne movements of cocaine in the Pacific, which you may have read about in the newspaper.

Aside from that, on our land borders and in air crossings, it's pretty common for us to now interdict any kind of (carrying?) such material, either terrorist-related material or drug materials, through the air grid. The land bridge, as we've mentioned, poses a significant problem for us, and we're trying to do our best to patrol that. There are a lot of issues there I could talk to you about. But I think we are making progress. We're on the right track. But I don't know if that's a good answer for you, but I'll summarize it.

Maritime is a huge problem, but we are being successful at interdicting, and that's often based on good intelligence. The air bridge is pretty secure comparatively to both terrorist activity involving materiel and for narcotics trafficking. Small amounts probably arrive in there. The land borders are an issue, and we're working hard to -- (inaudible).

REP. PASCRELL: Mr. Verdery, would you respond to that question?

MR. VERDERY: Sure. I think, as General Hughes mentioned, the numbers on drug seizures are up quite dramatically, whether it's by sea, with the Coast Guard, or over land at our ports of entry with the Border Patrol. We've seen no degradation of the drug mission in this department. In fact, it's been enhanced by the additional capabilities being brought to bear. I'd be happy to get you those figures on that.

As far as-we do recognize, of course, that the means by which people are able to enter the country on the land border could facilitate a terrorist looking for the same type of entry. That makes it all the more important --

REP. PASCRELL: My point-excuse me for interrupting. My point is that there is no difference in the terrorists. What's the difference? If you're bringing drugs into this country to kill our children and our citizens who are stupid enough to use it, what's the difference between that kind of terrorism and the terrorism that the president has been talking about over the last three years? What is the difference?

MR. VERDERY: I take the point. We want to do both. We want to fight counternarcotics mission and also what I was referring to as more international terrorism, which I think is a term of art.

REP. PASCRELL: Well, would you agree with my statement that the terror of drugs in this country is just as horrible, just as terrible, as the terror which is brought into this country by those who wish to bring explosives or to kill our citizens or to damage our property?

MR. VERDERY: I wouldn't want to rank two horrible outcomes. They're both horrific.

REP. PASCRELL: We both agree then.

MR. VERDERY: Yes. I do think, as I was saying, I think the capabilities that are being brought to bear against the terrorism threat, as I define it-international terrorism, al Qaeda and the like-is having significant impact on the drug enforcement mission also, whether it's the -- (inaudible) -- border initiative getting our customs inspectors and immigration inspectors cross-trained; enhanced Border Patrol missions, advanced technology on the border. We are seeing increases in picking up people, picking up drugs, all those kinds of things on the border.

The last point I have to make is that it demonstrates all the more the reason for the president's guest worker initiative, because we've got to figure out a way to get the overwhelming majority of people who are crossing the border illegally who are not criminals, who are not trafficking drugs, who are not terrorists, who want to work, we have to be able to have them a way to come back and forth to those jobs through the ports of entry, where they can be vetted for security reasons, and essentially pull the wheat and the chaff; separate them.

Terrorists are not going to walk into a port of entry. And so if we can get the guest workers through here to work, coming back and forth through ports of entry, regularize that, it would make our border enforcement mission much better.

REP. PASCRELL: Let me make myself-I didn't make myself clear there. There are 22,000 Americans who are killed every year in the United States due to illicit drugs. It would seem to me, just as an observation, a perception, that we do not have the commitment to interdicting those drugs and ending this horror on the streets of our communities.

And we know the tragedy of 9/11. The commission spelled it out, made some recommendations. Some we've included in legislation conveniently, and some we left out. You don't have enough people to do your job. I don't care what you tell us today; you don't have enough people to do your job. So you're the messenger. I understand that-not you personally.

MR. VERDERY: There is a commitment from the department, from the secretary, from Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary, former head of the DEA, our deputy secretary, our operational head, Commissioner Bonner and the like, and our counternarcotics office, to see this mission forward. And as General Hughes mentioned, the numbers bear out that we are doing it. Are drugs getting in? Of course. This is never a 100 percent solution. But we have seen a robust increase in the amount of drugs that are interdicted in the source zones, at the ports of entry and the like. And we need to ramp it up. But we're doing the job.

REP. PASCRELL: I just wanted to bring something to your attention, and that is, in the Border Patrol we're talking about, in 2001, there were 9,700, almost 9,800 Border Patrol. There's 10,839 today. How can you sit there and tell this committee-being the messengers, how can you sit there and tell this committee that by adding this small amount of Border Patrol that you are even touching the surface of this serious problem?

You know that there's more drugs coming into this country than ever in the history of the nation. You don't have enough people to do the job. We're doing this on the cheap. And we're doing this for what reason? I don't know why we're holding this hearing today. I really don't. We need to act, and we need to act yesterday.

And that was the whole message of the 9/11 commission. We need to act yesterday, and we need to do it in a very tangible way, rather than simply having committee upon committee; everybody gets a piece of this and nothing is being done. There's terror in our streets and there's terror from drugs in this country that are moving freely. You know it and I know it-just as serious as the lunatics that are out to try to kill us-just as serious.

REP. CAMP: Thank you. The gentleman's time has expired. And before I recognize Ms. Lowey, the purpose of this hearing is to look at terrorist travel. We have separate committees in this House that deal with narcotics, and there are some members that are on both committees, like Mr. Souder. Chairman Souder has done a great deal of work in this area. So I appreciate the gentleman's line of questioning, but this hearing, in fairness to our witnesses, is about terrorist travel. And I really --

REP. PASCRELL: I'm talking about terrorist travel, Mr. Chairman.

REP. CAMP: I realize, by your definition. But we have separate committees --

REP. PASCRELL: That's why I asked the question.

REP. CAMP: Yes. But we have separate areas that are also working on this. So with that, I would recognize the gentlewoman from New York, Ms. Lowey, to inquire.

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