Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

Floor statement – Sen. Dorgan

7/10/2006, Floor Statement by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) upon consideration of H.R. 5441, the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I listened to my colleague from West Virginia in his description of amendments he intends to offer. It is a description of the legislation. This Appropriations subcommittee is a very important subcommittee and raises a good many issues dealing with the security of our country. I want to talk about them briefly, and then I want to talk about something that occurred last week.

First, with respect to homeland security, a book was written a while back about October 11, 2001. We talk about September 11, 2001. On 9/11/2001, a tragedy was visited on this country when airplanes loaded with fuel crashed into the Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, and thousands died. It was a devastating terrorist attack against our country. That was on 9/11/2001.

According to information in a book printed some while ago, on October 11 of that same year, a CIA agent with a code name Dragonfire reported, and apparently through the Presidential daily briefings, the head of the CIA, Mr. Tenet, reported to the President, that they had picked up a rumor or intelligence had gathered information that a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon had been stolen from the Soviet arsenal, or the Russian arsenal, and had been taken to New York City and was to be detonated in a major American city by a terrorist organization.

Graham Allison, who wrote the book “Nuclear Terrorism,” described the plot that was told to the CIA by an agent called Dragonfire. As a result of that description 1 month after 9/11 that there might be a 10-kiloton Russian nuclear weapon in this country already set to be detonated in an American major city, there was great concern, obviously. Many people were apoplectic about what was happening. This did not become the product of news stories, for obvious reasons. But the administration and others responded to it with some concern.

About a month later, it was apparently discerned that this was not a credible threat, or at least the circumstances that brought that threat were not credible. But as they post-mortemed that period, they discovered it was probably perfectly credible: We know the Russians had 10-kiloton nuclear weapons; they had built them. They don’t have the best command and control of their nuclear weapons. It is perfectly plausible that someone might have stolen or purchased a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon and it was not outside the scope of probability that someone might have brought a nuclear weapon into this country and a terrorist organization could well have detonated a nuclear weapon, all of which caused great concern.

We have roughly 30,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in this world. The disappearance of one to a terrorist organization, in the hands of a terrorist organization will cause a terrorist act in a major city unlike any we have ever seen.

It is interesting that when the Defense authorization bill comes to the floor of the Senate, we spend billions and billions of dollars defending against a rogue nation or a terrorist acquiring a nuclear weapon, putting it on the tip of an intercontinental ballistic missile and shooting it at our country at 18,000 miles an hour. So we are spending billions on an antiballistic missile system to try to hit a bullet with a bullet. It is my judgment–and I think the judgment of most people who evaluate what is the most likely threat against our country–that the most likely threat is a container ship pulling up to a dock at a seaport in this country at about 3 miles with a container on board, with a weapon of mass destruction inside that container that has not been inspected. That is a far more likely threat to this country than a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile acquired by a rogue nation or a terrorist organization. Yet we are spending thousands of times more money on the antiballistic missile program than we are on port security.

It is why port security is of such great importance to this country. We have a large border, and we had some discussion with respect to the immigration bill about border security–border security with respect to immigration, yes, but also with respect to keeping terrorists out. But our borders not only include the landmass between Mexico and the U.S. and Canada and the U.S, our borders include port facilities and a substantial number–I believe the number is close to 6 million containers on ships each year come into this country, with a very small percentage of them actually investigated or inspected. That is why port security is so very important.

It is also the case, as my colleague from West Virginia has described, that first responders in this country will almost inevitably be first to respond to not only a terrorist act should one occur in the future, but first responders will likely be first in contact with the terrorists. It is a fact that one of the terrorists who flew an airplane into a building in this country on 9/11/2001 was apprehended for speeding in the State of Maryland but apparently was not on a watchlist and so was given a speeding ticket and then drove off.

It is likely that the first acquaintance with a terrorist or a terrorist act will be someone in local government–local police, county sheriff, a local emergency crew, an ambulance. That is the first responder.

We have just had testimony from sheriffs and local police officers about the issue of critical interoperability of communications. Is the local police organization able to communicate with the highway patrol? Can the highway patrol communicate with the fire department? Can the police communicate with the fire department? All of that is very important. Yet at the same time we ask these questions, the President is recommending very substantial cuts in these programs–Byrne grants, law enforcement block grants, COPS Program, and others. It is exactly the wrong time, in my judgment, to retreat. At the same time violent crime is increasing, by the way, the President is recommending those same cuts.

With respect to this issue of the Department of Homeland Security, it is very important we get it right. My colleague, Senator Judd Gregg, I know works hard on these issues, as does my colleague from West Virginia, Senator Byrd. I hope this week, as we work our way through this legislation, we can thoughtfully consider amendments and evaluate those that will strengthen this bill and perhaps discard those that will not we will come out of it with legislation that will give us the feeling that we have improved substantially homeland security in our country.

Homeland security is also about hometown security because that is where homeland security starts–with first responders.

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