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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee - 9/11 Commission Recommendations on Transportation Security

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service






SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to commend you, and I'm very pleased that, with your leadership, that this committee will be examining the recommendations of the 9/11 commission in a very prompt manner as opposed to waiting around until September. And I do think to ensure the best security and the best action for the protection of the American people, we ought to, obviously, carefully examine all of these assessments and recommendations and determine which are being done, which need to be expedited, and which are not being done and do need action quickly.

I have a statement with all the usual pleasantries and plaudits, that I'd like to put into the record.

SEN. MCCAIN: Without objection.

SEN. ALLEN: And I do commend each and every one of you for your work. On the Foreign Relations Committee-and some of these areas overlap-we had a hearing that I chaired that examined the container security initiative. This is an ongoing effort between the United States and the European Union which highlights the cooperation that is absolutely necessary to develop effective programs that will ensure the safety and integrity of containers arriving or leaving from our shores.

Now, to provide the necessary security, I agree with the commission's recommendations, and yours, Mr. Chairman, that investments must be made into scanning and screening technologies that can be used by all modes of transportation, whether for cargo or for passengers as well. There's many issues here, but I want to focus on certain ones.

One, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, your report recommends Congress and the administration give greater priority to improving screening for explosives. Obviously, it needs to be done. It would be great in your testimony or answering of questions to give us some specific areas where this can be done, find areas within the Department of Homeland Security or other agencies where such cooperation is taking place, and give us some specific ones that can be done. And some will be from the private sector, but to the extent we can find them, we need to do them.

Secondly, we have these articles recently-I recollect they were in the Washington Times-where there were a group of men seeming to be staking out airports, testing security measures aboard our aircraft. And these men, a number of them, were later determined to be in the United States on expired visas. Adding to the concern, the men described were nationals of Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now my question that needs to be-and, I think, for the people-that needs to be answered is, in the research conducted by the commission, did you find any system that should have detected these men?

And is there any effort under way to link the various systems to make sure that individuals in this country illegally are not able to travel freely?

Finally-and this is for all of you, including Secretary Hutchinson-recently in The Washington Post there was an article about this passport identification system, US-VISIT. Using facial recognition, 50 percent failure rate being proposed-or being the estimate or the assessment. Clearly, one of the other identifiers that has the greatest security is our fingerprints.

The commission's assessment showed how most of these people who came in on 9/11, the 19 of them, should not have been in this country in the first place, and you all delineated where the information was fumbled and so forth. But the key, in addition to checking people onto aircraft as they're moving around-and these terrorists don't hitchhike around. As they're moving around on aircraft or coming into this country, in addition to looking for guns, explosives, knives and other weapons, clearly we need to identify who they are. And it would strike me as very important that we use as one of those two identifiers fingerprints.

The State Department, which is outside of your bailiwick, Secretary Hutchinson, are worrying about international standards, which is fine. But the question that's before us, Mr. Chairman, and for you, Secretary Hutchinson, in following through on the recommendations of this commission is whether or not the current plan can be improved to increase the success rate-that's the facial one-and adequately protect the United States from altered or false passports. Moreover, the harmonization-which is very important, whether it's cargo or whether it is human beings-the harmonization with other countries is important. But is it so important to disregard the fingerprint technology option, which I believe is superior to the State Department's current plan? And I'd look forward to hearing all of you all's recommendations and insight on those particular issues.

And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, once again.


SEN. ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Several points here. The assertion that we're not yet addressing rail and ports is well-taken in many respects. Obviously, we in Virginia care a great deal about it with our ports in Virginia, which has the largest naval facility. And I guarantee you the Department of Defense and the Navy is paying close attention to security there. And we have about the third largest commercial port on the East Coast, about 17 percent of the cargo moving over the Atlantic comes through our port in Hampton Roads. And of course with rail, with CSX, Norfolk Southern, Virginia Rail, Metro, Amtrak, all of that is a big concern. It is logical, though, I think, just looking at where we've acted in the last several years, to focus on aviation. After all, that's what they used. And to not would, I think, be neglectful.

Some of the things, in talking about the layered defenses, clearly the cockpits on commercial aviation are much more secure than they were before. That was one of the key recommendations. They're almost as secure as a vault. And we also had a backup to that backup in allowing trained pilots to have firearms if they so desired, and I'd like to see the foot-dragging stop there. I know it's none of y'all's bailiwick, once again, but put in a plug for that.

Now you get to general aviation. We also have Reagan National Airport, which was shut down. And I do think ultimately a special standard of security ought to be derived for Reagan National Airport with heightened security, more than there is for other general aviation that's flying from, you know, different places, as there's a different standard for commercial aviation flying in and out of Reagan National. That needs to be done there.

Ultimately, though, we need to use technologies, work smart, make sure folks can move around. And remember where the focus needs to be. And you-all, in recommendation twelve-it's generally in the latter parts of the three hundred-well, specifically, page 389, you talk about the biometric screening. We talk about these folks who are coming in around this country traveling. These are checkpoints, they're places to thwart and prevent terrorists from moving around in this country, and they have to have a passport.

It's more than just preventing; it's actually, to me, to share it, and it's back to what Senator Dorgan said. We want to share this information with as many law enforcement as possible. I think our state and local law enforcement, they may stop someone for unsafe lane changes or speeding or something, and that person ought to be cross- checked and say, hey, we caught this person in Florida, we caught this person in Northern Virginia. But also, the key to it all is having a proper identification system for people who are in this country. You- all in this recommendation talk about linking biometric passports to good data systems and decision-making as a fundamental goal. It fits into air transportation, it fits into any sort of movement in this country.

Now, the current plan, as I said in my opening statement-and I'm going to ask that this article by Jonathan Krim, August 6th, 2004, in The Washington Post, be incorporated as part of the record.

I think it's a comprehensive, fair article.

Do you all recommend-and I will ask Secretary Hutchinson, too-that recognizing that the facial recognition is not as good as the 99-point-something percent identification with fingerprints-and maybe iris scans are a good second one as well, but recognizing that we have to have an international effort here, but if we're going to have an effort, it has to be an effective effort. I would ask all three of-maybe the two chairmen may want to cede one or the other, but I also want to ask you, Secretary Hutchinson, your view, because I think it's absolutely essential that these passports have fingerprinting to ensure accuracy, to make sure we know who the actual person who says he is or she is-is who she says she is.

And the commission says a good point here. The biometrics is essential. One can hide his or her debt by acquiring a credit card with a slightly different name. Yet today a terrorist can defeat the link to electronic records by tossing away an old passport and slightly altering the name in the new one.

We need to do better in that regard, and I think that we must insist on fingerprinting for visas and for passports, and not only here, but internationally, with our allies.

Gentlemen, if you'd please comment.

MR. KEAN: We didn't have any expertise on the technology, really. We haven't sorted out, in a sense, the biometric standards that ought to be used, because we realize that there's some debate over that.

But we-the bottom line is, it has to be effective. And the reason we didn't sort it out is because we weren't sure which one was the most effective. Fingerprinting would obviously be a very, very important one, but we didn't make that recommendation as a commission, other than to say that whatever the most effective biometric standards that the country can devise are the ones-ought to be used.

SEN. ALLEN: Well, let me have a follow-up question. If you have a 99.9 percent identification rate with fingerprints and, oh, at best 90 percent or probably much less identification with facial recognition, because of the photographs and the lighting and a variety of other things that failure-would you not think, then, that some method that has a 99.6 percent success versus, say, 75 percent is the way to go?

MR. KEAN: I would.

SEN. ALLEN: Secretary Hutchinson?

MR. HUTCHINSON: Senator, could I just offer that you're correct, first of all, that there's-the technology is not sufficiently developed on facial recognition, as compared to fingerprint.

For foreign visitors and under US-VISIT, we do utilize both facial recognition and fingerprints. And so there is that protection as they come into our airports and seaports as international visitors.

In reference to U.S. citizens and passports, there is not the fingerprint requirement yet. That moves us into a new arena of requiring U.S. citizens to give their fingerprints and the State Department setting up the capability of collecting those for passports' issuance. So that is an ongoing debate.

Thank you for your comments. But I did want to make it clear that we do have the capacity in US-VISIT --

SEN. ALLEN: However, the --

MR. HAMILTON: Senator, may I make a point here?


MR. HAMILTON: I think the-our view is that the current timetable for implementing the US-VISIT Program is too slow, and it really needs to be speeded up.

The US-VISIT Program requires the recipients to provide pictures-a picture and fingerprints, and that is to try to ensure that people are who they say they are.

And I know that the administration is working to apply the program to the visa waiver countries because it applies to the visa recipients now, and that's a very important extension. And we have to work, as you suggested, internationally in order to try to get international standards here that are effective. And my understanding is the US- VISIT program today applies only to air travelers from overseas; it does not apply to land borders and other areas.

So what we really are arguing for is a biometric entry/exit system that is a single system across all of the various checks that we have on visitors coming into this country, and we also recognize that this can't be implemented immediately. The technology is evolving and all the rest of it, so that it's a question of timing. But we consider this to be an urgent matter, that it has to be an integrated system, that it has to use the biometric standards that are effective, as the governor has said, and there really does have to be a sense of real urgency in putting this into place.

SEN. ALLEN: Thank you very much, and I look forward to working with all three of you all on that.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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