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National Press Club - Homeland Security: Challenges and Opportunities

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National Press Club - Homeland Security: Challenges and Opportunities

I am grateful to the National Press Club for allowing me to share with you a mayoral perspective on the important mission of enhancing America's Homeland Security - to my mind, the largest responsibility and opportunity facing us today as a nation.

Four years after the attacks of September 11th, much has been written: the prescient warnings of the Hart-Rudman Commission. The recommendations and annual surveys of the United States Conference of Mayors. The research of Stephen Flynn and the insights of Richard Clarke, Jim Fallows and Tara O'Toole. Countless recommendations on bio-defense, first responders, port and rail security. But beyond airline security, so little actual progress, so little urgency.

In fact, members of the 9/11 Commission recently warned of an atmosphere of complacency settling over the United States in the absence of a second attack… It is a complacency that has settled despite the attacks on Madrid, a complacency settling still, sadly, even after the attacks on London.

We must find a remedy to this affliction of complacency quickly, and we must find it in the common sense of an enlightened and much better informed public.

All of us remember that terrible day we watched the towers fall and the Pentagon burn. My parents and my brothers and sisters were all in New York City on September 11. I remember, very well, the feeling of dread when I couldn't reach anyone by phone. I remember a boiling anger at the terrorists who stole so many innocent lives. And I remember the urgent feeling that I was responsible for protecting the people of my city - to prevent another day when a husband or wife, would stare at the door, in a panic, waiting for their spouse to come home.

In our brief time together I would like to speak with you plainly - from the perspective of an American mayor - about some basic questions our fellow citizens want answered, if we are to choose to rally to the urgent mission of securing our homeland. Those basic questions are:

1) What are we trying to accomplish?

2) Who is responsible for accomplishing it?

3) And what opportunities could we create for our nation, our neighborhoods, and our world if we were to get this job done?

For without a doubt, this new global war on terror calls upon the United States to change world history by accomplishing great things and by accomplishing these things with all deliberate speed.


Washington, New York City, Madrid and London. The ability to take human lives is part of the terrorist equation, but with 80 percent of our gross national product produced by metropolitan economies, disruption and economic cost are also what make the cities of major metropolitan areas prime targets.

So, how do we make our metropolitan areas safer? What are the security capabilities we're actually trying to create, and what will "improved security and preparedness" look like when we've achieved it? In short, what effective capacities and protections can we create that do not exist now?

First, every major metropolitan area should have complete vulnerability assessments: Governments need to conduct thorough assessments of their vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure and other potential targets they control - like transportation, water, and communication facilities. And the private sector has a critical role to play, as well. Assets like chemical plants, rail lines, and power plants must be better protected. We need to probe for weaknesses, and harden them against attack.

Second, every major metropolitan area should have personal protective equipment for all first responders: Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical providers should have ready and immediate access to breathing apparatus, protective suits, medicines and antidotes. They should also have the equipment and training to tell the difference between a dirty bomb and a conventional bomb.

Third, every major metropolitan area should have interoperable communications: We saw so tragically on September 11th how many lives could have been saved if only first responders had been able to communicate once it became known that the towers were going to collapse. In Baltimore, for $5 million dollars, we achieved metropolitan interoperability allowing firefighters and police officers from two cities and five counties to speak to each other instantly on their own radios. Greater Baltimore is one of the rare exceptions.

Fourth, every major metropolitan area should have a bio-surveillance system: A real-time 24/7 system for monitoring the symptoms being presented to emergency rooms and paramedics, as well as other streams of information, like over-the-counter sales of pharmaceuticals that would alert local public health officials to the possible release of a potentially deadly biological agent. A 48-hour jump in responding to an attack can save tens of thousands of lives. We put together our system at no cost, analyzing data we were already collecting. But we know it can be better.

Fifth, every major metropolitan area should have a more highly developed intelligence sharing capacity: All law enforcement officers - city, county, state and federal - should share meaningful information from watch lists, like photos, not just obsolete aliases. We should realize - as they do in Israel - that it's better to regularly share more information and be safe, than to share too little information and be sorry.

Sixth, every major metropolitan area should conduct training and preparedness exercises: Just as we drill and train our soldiers before sending them off to war, we need to train our homeland defenders to work together. Our first responders and their commanders should know each other and how to work together long before a big emergency happens. Clarity and familiarity saves time and lives.

Seventh, every major metropolitan area should have closed circuit television (CCTV) systems to secure infrastructure: CCTV cameras - like the ones we've seen used in London to apprehend the 7/21 bombers - can serve as a deterrent and can help catch terrorists and their networks before they strike again. For $2 million, we've installed such a system in Baltimore, and we're working to expand it.

And Eighth, is Port Security: Not every major metropolitan area is home to a port, but shipping containers unloaded at America's ports pass through every population center in the country. We need to secure the gaping vulnerabilities in the shipping industry and America's ports before something happens - not after.

Before September 11th, about three percent of all incoming cargo containers shipped into America's ports were inspected upon arrival. With new technology, that percentage has increased to about 10% in Baltimore. But we're one of only two ports to receive the new scanners that allowed this to happen.

The cost of placing cargo-scanning equipment in all the world's marine container terminals would be $500 million to $600 million - about what we spend in four days in Iraq.

And according to Friday's Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong - one of the globe's busiest ports - just announced that they are now able to inspect 100% of containers coming through their port by only very slightly raising costs to shippers - for example, by only 0.3 percent on a container bound for Los Angeles.


So, where does the responsibility lie in our federal, state, local system of governance for getting this job done? And where is the responsibility for funding these improvements and maintaining these new systems? In other words, who should the public hold accountable for accomplishing what?

Mayors point to the President, the President points to governors, governors point to Congress, a senior statesman declares solemnly that "we can't possibly defend every square inch of the continental United States," everyone on the committee breaks for lunch, and nothing much gets done.

Why is this? Our otherwise flexible and adaptable system of federal, state and local governance is tied up in a confusing knot. Let's define roles and untangle it.

Cities: To improve our homeland security, we absolutely must strengthen, and not weaken, the public safety capacity of our metropolitan cores. And we must realize that the maintenance, recruitment, training and coordination of our first responders is a local function - as is the coordination with private sector partners, like private security guards in large buildings and health care first responders in hospital emergency rooms.

These local responsibilities, while they are strengthened, must continue to be led and coordinated in the same manner that mutual aid agreements - those arrangements by which fire and police assets are today shared and flexed across borders - are coordinated between cities and their metro county partners.

Command and control in the event of an emergency is a local function. The deliverables of interoperable communications, bio-surveillance, intelligence sharing, and vaccine distribution in the event of an emergency, are all local functions - and the good news is that almost all of the costs of supporting these functions are already paid for by local tax dollars.

What is not paid for, however, is the additional investment required by the new homeland threat to our national security.

States: But, funding issues notwithstanding, what if local metro leaders don't cooperate and don't maximize their efforts for homeland security progress? Here is where states step up. Our states can and must play an important, but different, role than cities in guaranteeing that no metropolitan area within their borders is left needlessly vulnerable. They can do this by:

· Evaluating the level of preparedness within the State's borders by establishing standards;

· Conducting after-action evaluations of metropolitan exercises;

· Enforcing timely updates of vulnerability assessments;

· Maintaining, deploying and training the National Guard for such critical foreseeable missions as enforcing quarantines, and providing security for the power grid, food, and medical supply lines; and by

· Ensuring that all available and appropriated funds are invested a timely, efficient and effective manner.

Federal: And what of our federal government's mandate "to provide for the common defense?"

Terrorism expert Richard Clarke wrote in the New York Times last month: "Why do we find ourselves with so many domestic vulnerabilities? One major reason is that we have not spent what is necessary. When the Department of Homeland Security was created, the White House said it should be "revenue neutral' i.e., no new money. Since then homeland security funding has grown slowly. The amount budgeted has not been based on needs assessment but on arbitrary decisions…"

These arbitrary decisions have become so commonplace that they often pass unnoticed. Last week, however, while the nation of Great Britain was hotly tracking down the subway bombers, our own Secretary of Homeland Security declared quite arbitrarily that the US can afford to protect Americans on airliners, but cannot afford to protect Americans on rail or subway trains. The incongruity was jarring.

Why shouldn't the Constitutional mandate of providing "for the common defense" extend to the currently uncovered margin that exists between what local governments can spend on public safety and what these new war exigencies demand?

Mayors and county executives are not asking for their fire and police departments to be federally funded. They are simply asking for federal help in covering the additional costs brought about by this foreign threat to America's national security.

The way I see it, there are two ways to look at the issue of federal responsibility for our national defense at home. One view says that our homeland security should be a federal funding responsibility - that it is the responsibility of all Americans to contribute to her defense during a time of war. The second view says homeland security should be a local funding responsibility - that the people of a poor city or a rich suburb should do the best they can, using local taxes and the proceeds from fire hall bingo nights. Unfortunately for America's security in this time of war, the second view now controls the White House and Congress.

This "weak-defense" view, which sees homeland security as an unfunded local option, cannot truthfully be called "conservative." President Eisenhower made a massive federal investment in building the National System of Interstate and Defense highways to better protect America in the event of a nuclear attack. Ronald Reagan was unabashed when it came to federal investments in defense. But in Washington today, the traditional strong defense values of the party of Abraham Lincoln are found only in the words carved on the cold walls of his memorial.


But a free and informed people can make changes - changes that can turn our challenges into opportunities.

What opportunities, beyond terror-defense, might our nation create by making the sacrifices and investments required for homeland security? Stated more boldly, what possibilities exist if we should dare to accomplish great things, once again, in the face of this unprecedented threat?

For starters, if each of our metropolitan areas had "Watch Centers" to monitor hundreds of cameras protecting our critical infrastructure like mass transit, those same cameras could be used as a tremendous force multiplier to improve public safety - putting more law enforcement eyes on our streets than the COPS program ever did.

With the backbone of a CCTV system in place, cities could branch out their networks to free poor neighborhoods from the death grip of perennial drug dealing and the relentless foreign chemical attacks of cocaine and heroine. With software upgrades for license plate recognition, cameras could help apprehend persons wanted for national security reasons, while at the same time recovering countless stolen vehicles.

If every metropolitan area created unified intelligence units to combat money laundering, the illegal forging of identification documents, and terrorism, that same rapid intelligence-sharing capacity would help solve violent crimes and dismantle violent drug gangs. It would lead to the creation of "known offender databases" to more effectively target the most violent and recidivist predators in our neighborhoods, regardless of city/county borders.

And if improved port and border security were able to cut in half the supplies of illegal drugs currently attacking our nation, imagine the strides we could make in restoring the fabric of our American society and healing families from the scourge of addiction. Safer, healthier cities are cities that rebuild, cities that grow, and cities that create greater opportunities for their extended economies - and our nation.

There are opportunities for states as well.

Imagine the economic possibilities for the Baltimore-Washington region and states like Maryland - already blessed with institutions of higher learning, healing, and discovery - if our nation were to significantly invest in bio-defensive research and the development of vaccines, inoculations and cures. Imagine the vast economic and employment opportunities that will emanate from places like NIH, Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and the biotech corridor of I-270 in Montgomery County.

States like California and Massachusetts built their economies on the defense investments of the Cold War; states like Maryland have the opportunity to grow their economies by making needed contributions in a war where technology, science, and medicine are the keys to victory.

Imagine, too, the benefits that the United States of America, as a nation, would realize if thorough border inspections and port inspections were the normal reality instead of the rare exception.

Imagine a true and sustained American commitment to developing a clean renewable form of energy - unrivaled by anything since the Apollo missions - that makes us independent of foreign oil.

Imagine the benefits that might flow from developing state of the art immigration and border security measures, like retinal scanning, so that the brightest minds of the world - the future Albert Einsteins - would be able to come to the U.S. from other nations without fear of unreasonable detentions, without fear of unwarranted restrictions, without fear of having their education cut short by xenophobic policies.

And beyond the Cipro stockpiles and smallpox vaccines, think of the healing power the United States would possess if we were to develop, in our own country, the means to produce vaccines and inoculations for the common flu, the avian flu, and bio-terror attacks… and what that research could mean for cures to drug addiction here at home; or for cures to dysentery, malaria and tuberculosis that still kills tens of thousands of people on the planet every week… or for the cure to HIV/AIDS, which threatens to wipe out an entire continent.

What could it mean for the security of the United States and our moral leadership of this troubled world if we should unleash, in the words of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, these healing "weapons of mass salvation;" if our nation could claim responsibility for making these healing cures offensively available to developing countries where terrorism often grows in the garden of hopelessness, despair, and disease - from the ranks of a populace too sick to build up opportunity in their own land?

The investments we make to pursue homeland security, today, could well produce an elevated standard of health in developing nations and, therefore, an elevated standard of living

While it is true that most of these things will not happen overnight; it is also true that none of them will ever happen until we make a conscious decision to invest in America's security.

As Americans, we have the opportunity to correct our course and the course of our world - as we have at other times: liberating Europe and Asia in World War II, or realizing Civil Rights here at home - eventually we Americans find our way.

It will take vision, leadership, scientific discovery, and sacrifice; it will also take our nation coming together - as we did in those days after September 11th… When Kansas mourned for - and stood with - Manhattan… When Democrats and Republicans were united in their resolve to strike back at Al Qaeda and to protect our nation from further attacks.

Facing another world conflict that called for American greatness, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Congress: "In the future days which we seek to make more secure, we look forward to a world founded on four fundamental freedoms… The first is freedom of speech and expression… everywhere in world… The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way… everywhere in the world… The third is freedom from want… everywhere in the world… And the fourth is freedom from fear… anywhere in the world."

The United States of America is capable of accomplishing great things; but fear, alone, has never been a sufficient fuel for our most noble ambitions as a people. When facing enormous challenges, when facing war and grave threats to our country's very survival, Americans find their motivation for greatness, and their cause for sacrifice, in higher things.

Freedom… justice… the rights of man… liberation from the many faces of slavery and oppression. These are the values of our republic - what former Senator Gary Hart would call "the Fourth Power" - the moral exponent of our military, economic, and diplomatic powers.

They are the ideas that appeal to a universal concept of a humanity loved by God, and made in His image. These ideas - these aspirations for ourselves and all mankind - are our nation's greatest asset, our most powerful weapon, and they are our most valuable national treasure.

The struggle to secure our homeland will be determined, at the end of the day, by whether the United States chooses to be not just a military and economic leader, but a moral leader among nations. And that leadership, in this troubled and rapidly changing world, will depend not just on how many smart bombs we are able to target against our enemies or how many smart cameras we can erect around our ports, but on how many smart, educated, strong and compassionate American hands we are able to extend from places like Johns Hopkins and NIH to the most fragile of our neighbors around the globe. I dream not of utopia, but of continuing the American Revolution.

For this is America's challenge. This is America's choice. This is America's opportunity. And this is an ambition truly worthy of a great people.

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