Leadership Journal Archive
October 12, 2007 - January 19, 2008

October 31, 2007

Securing Our Schools

Yesterday I visited a local high school in Northern Virginia to meet with school officials and local emergency managers to discuss school safety, and the federal government’s efforts to help schools prepare for emergencies – both man-made incidents and natural disasters. I was joined by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who outlined their respective departments’ efforts to enhance school safety.

The tragedies we saw at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and even earlier this month in Cleveland seem to point to an increased risk of violence in schools. But despite these high profile incidents, the fact remains that schools are some of the safest places for children in our country.

We would be remiss however, if we failed to acknowledge that our children do face a minimal amount of risk at school. We need only recall earlier this year when a tornado hit Enterprise High School in Alabama, tragically killing several students.

In light of this risk, teachers, parents, administrators, and local first responders should take a few common-sense steps to be prepared for an emergency of any kind. It’s important that schools have emergency plans in place, practice those plans, coordinate with parents and local first responders, and if an incident does occur, follow the plan to reduce potential harm to students.

DHS is actively engaged with our federal partners, as well as with state and local officials to help schools be prepared. We have a number of resources available for teachers, parents, and school administrators, including interactive threat assessment CDs, safe school design manuals, and funding available through our grant programs. I encourage you to visit our Ready Kids website at http://www.ready.gov/ for additional information and preparedness tips.

I’ll leave you with an important statistic from the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education’s Safe School Initiative. They found that in 81% of the cases of targeted school violence they studied, other people had some type of prior knowledge that an attack was being planned. The lesson here for everyone – students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents – is if you see something, say something.

We can’t completely eliminate violence in schools, and we certainly can’t prevent natural disasters or other emergencies from occurring. But we can ensure that our schools are as prepared as possible and that we’re all working together toward the common goal of safer schools for our children.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Chertoff

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October 26, 2007

The California Fires

Mark Everson, American Red Cross, Governor Schwarzenegger, California, and Secretary Chertoff discuss status of the response to the fires on Tuesday. (Photo USCG) America has witnessed the wildfires raging in California this week, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims, evacuees, and responders who are working around the clock to gain control of this disaster. I want to take a brief moment to share a few comments with you from my experience on the ground.

Early Tuesday, FEMA Administrator Dave Paulison and I flew to Southern California to assess the situation and support the state and local officials managing the response effort. When we arrived we saw massive fires fueled by near-hurricane force winds engulfing thousands of acres of land and threatening property and lives.

What we also saw were heroic firefighters battling these infernos with exceptional bravery. We witnessed emergency managers efficiently directing relief supplies, personnel and evacuations. I want to personally thank all the men and women who have had a hand in fighting these fires and helping during this disaster. Many firefighters and response personnel work 18 to 20 hour shifts, rest a few hours, and then go back into the hot zones to relieve their colleagues. They are the true heroes of this story, and deserve the support and gratitude of everyone in southern California and throughout the country.

These wildfires have demanded an efficient, coordinated response from all levels of government, and have underscored the value of being prepared for emergencies. San Diego’s reverse 911 system is a great example, and the shelter situation at Qualcomm Stadium is a useful model for future disasters.

We were also impressed by the incredible spirit of volunteerism throughout the communities we visited. The massive volunteer effort, coupled with orderly and successful evacuations, are examples the entire country can learn from when preparing for and responding to emergencies of any kind.

Thankfully, Mother Nature is beginning to cooperate and reduced winds are allowing firefighters to get a better handle on these massive fires. We’re still not out of the woods, but as we begin to transition from response to long-term recovery, the people of southern California can rest assured that we will continue to support them as they rebuild their homes and businesses.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Chertoff

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October 23, 2007

Responding to the California Fires

Billows of smoke at western wildfire. I’m writing this from the air as I make my way to southern California with Secretary Chertoff to take a closer look at the areas impacted by the wildfires. Later today, we’ll meet with the local officials on the ground that are fighting the fires and coordinating the emergency response to make sure they have everything they need to gain control of the situation. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the steps the Administration is taking to support the emergency response effort.

Earlier today President Bush issued an emergency disaster declaration for California. FEMA began mobilizing resources on Sunday, and we are currently establishing a Joint Field Office in Pasadena. The Joint Field Office will coordinate federal, state, tribal, and local response to operations throughout the area.

FEMA has also established a staging area in southern California that will assist in mobilizing federal assets for emergency response operations. We have stood up our Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) which will function around the clock to support operations. The RRCC consists of federal agencies including the Department of Interior, Department of Transportation, United States Forest Service, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Heath and Human Services, and the DHS Infrastructure Protection Office.

The American Red Cross is also playing a crucial role in assisting our operations. Currently it has opened shelters in five counties throughout southern California. Numerous Red Cross assets have been mobilized and deployed to the affected areas.

My biggest concern is the safety of the firefighters, individuals and families of those impacted in the area. I want to stress how important it is for all individuals and families to have a plan in place in case of an emergency such as this. Whether it’s a hurricane, wildfire or terrorist attack, families need to be prepared. I encourage everyone to visit http://www.ready.gov/ and learn what you and your family can do to be prepared.

We’re fully committed to assisting state and local responders and officials on the ground, and will provide whatever assistance they need to control these dangerous wildfires.

Thank you.

R. David Paulison
FEMA Administrator

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October 22, 2007

Securing the Border While Protecting the Environment

Today, we informed a federal judge in Washington that I am exercising the authority granted to me by Congress to waive legal restrictions that impede our border security efforts. This means that we’ll soon resume construction of a stretch of fencing near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) in southeastern Arizona.

I want to stress that it’s not our intention to run roughshod over existing laws and regulations. But, Congress recognized the significance that secure borders have on our national security and provided legal authority for me to waive any restrictions that may impede our progress.

Let me explain the context behind my decision.

The SPRNCA has been a high traffic area for smugglers for several years. In fact, last year over 19,000 illegal entrants were apprehended in the area – 11 percent of whom had criminal backgrounds. Unfortunately, among these illegal entries, there were also 14 deaths. So there is a clear need to establish effective control of this part of the border for security, as well as humanitarian reasons.

But there are also environmental reasons to stop illegal crossings in the SPRNCA. Illegal entrants leave trash and high concentrations of human waste, which impact wildlife, vegetation and water quality in the habitat. Wildfires caused by campfires have significantly damaged the soil, vegetation, and cultural sites, not to mention threatened human safety. Indeed, illegal entry in and around the SPRNCA is such a problem that the Bureau of Land Management has had to impose restrictions on public recreation due to high levels of smuggling activity, vehicle thefts, and assaults.

To stem the flow of illegal entrants across the border in and around the SPRNCA, we began installing tactical infrastructure and pedestrian fencing as part of our Secure Border Initiative. Because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the area, we consulted four environmental reviews dating back to the mid-1990s to ensure our construction project would not result in significant impacts to the environment. Two separate federal land management agencies (whose mission includes administering and protecting the SPRNCA) also authorized the department to proceed with construction.

But, now we are enmeshed in a court case which is designed to further delay our construction. That delay will result in more drug and human smuggling through this corridor.

So, I’ve exercised my authority to waive the judge’s order. I think that further delay in securing the border in and around the SPRNCA presents an unacceptable risk to our national security, in addition to the environmental and human problems that will continue to occur if this area of the border is not secured.

To further ensure that our construction minimizes impact on the environment, we’ll be implementing several environmental mitigation measures and best practices. Specifically, we’ll work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to wildlife concerns; we’ll erect temporary river barriers and remove them during flood season; we’ll work to prevent the introduction or spread of invasive weeds and restore temporarily disturbed areas with native plants; and provide a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.

We’ve been mindful about how and when to use our environmental waiver authority. We stand ready to engage the public on the environmental effects of our activities, and to make reasonable accommodations. The process must be sensible and expeditious, however.

We’ve done so when environmental assessments have been exhausted but interest groups still stop or slow down projects by throwing up obstacles or litigation.

National security must take precedence. But, we will continue to carry out these security responsibilities with environmental stewardship. Thanks for reading.

Michael Chertoff

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October 19, 2007

Preventing IED Attacks

An improvised explosive devise explodes next to a humvee.Earlier today I gave a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the Department’s efforts to prevent the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against our country. All of us have seen the horrible images of our soldiers being attacked overseas by roadside bombs and other forms of IEDs. Over the past two decades, IEDs have been used by terrorists in attacks ranging from the U.S.S. Cole to the London and Madrid bombings to the Oklahoma City attack in 1995. IEDs remain a terrorist weapon of choice: they are easy to make, difficult to defend against, and cause untold death and destruction.

Our Department is 100 percent committed to protecting the people of the United States from IEDs. All of our counterterrorism efforts focus directly or indirectly on bombing prevention--whether that involves screening passengers for explosives at airports, checking cargo for radiological materials that can be used to make “dirty bombs,” protecting dangerous chemicals from theft, hardening critical infrastructure, advancing research and technology to defeat IEDs, or sharing information and intelligence with state and local partners.

These efforts are not scattershot or uncoordinated. Within the Department, we established an Office for Bombing Prevention specifically to work with other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as members of the private sector, to implement a national strategy to address IED threats. This office also sponsors TRIPWire, an information sharing portal that brings together bomb squad technicians, intelligence analysts, and state and local law enforcement to share expertise on the latest terrorist IED tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Our Science and Technology Directorate is also leveraging the vast knowledge and expertise of our nation’s science and research community to develop next generation IED screening tools and countermeasures. This includes technology to identify and alert authorities to suspicious behaviors that precede an IED attack, and developing bomb-resistant materials and barriers to minimize damage after an explosion.

At our airports, we’ve deployed a full complement of screening tools and procedures, from bomb-sniffing “puffer” machines to explosives detection canine teams to Bomb Appraisal Officers trained to look at a person’s behavior for signs of malicious intent. We’re also stepping up security requirements for chemical sites and facilities, small planes, and small boats operating in U.S. waters.

In all of this, we are making it harder for terrorists to acquire materials to make IEDs. We are educating state and local partners on the latest IED threats and techniques. We are working with the private sector to elevate security in and around critical infrastructure. And we are providing substantial resources, including $1.7 billion to date in grants for IED prevention, detection, protection, and response.

There is no guarantee against an IED attack, but we are raising our barrier against the use of this deadly terrorist weapon. Of course, an alert and informed public is a key part of our nation’s defense. We appreciate your continued vigilance and your support.

Michael Chertoff

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October 17, 2007

The Battle for Our Future

Winston Churchill at Westminister College, Fulton, Mo.Earlier today, I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the site for one of the greatest speeches of modern times, Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” address.

Delivered in 1946, Churchill’s speech eloquently outlined Soviet communism’s threat to the free world and called for firm and principled resistance. Like his warning a decade earlier about Nazi Germany, his words that day were roundly criticized. On both sides of the Atlantic, Britain’s greatest statesman was called a fear-monger for his efforts.

A half century later, in 1996, the words of Margaret Thatcher, another great former British prime minister, were also unheeded after she had come to Westminster and warned of the rise of Islamic radicalism.

But as I mentioned today, time has vindicated them both.

Appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930s led to World War II. Containing the Soviet Union following the Second World War led to its downfall. Downplaying the threat posed by Bin Laden a decade ago led to the horrific 9/11 attacks.

Incredibly, we face exactly the kind of complacency in our post-9/11 world that Churchill and Thatcher confronted in decades past.

As I said today, too many members of our “thinking” classes deny or downplay the fact that war has been declared against us by an ideology that is as ruthless and fanatical as that of Nazism or communism. Spread by a network of cult-like entities that span the globe, this ideology denies the dignity and humanity of its opponents, and sanctifies the slaughter of innocent people, especially mainstream Muslims, for rejecting its hateful and bigoted message.

Members of Al Qaeda and their fellow travelers seek not only revolution in their own countries, but domination of many countries. Beginning in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa, they seek control over actual territory where they can train, assemble advanced weaponry, impose repressive law, and plan further attacks against our nation and its allies.

How have we responded? Under President Bush’s leadership, we’ve destroyed Al Qaeda’s Afghan headquarters, deployed our intelligence assets globally, captured or killed terrorists on nearly every continent, partnered with allies on information sharing and intelligence, and adapted to the evolving threats we continue to face here and abroad.

By responding in strength, we’ve applied Winston Churchill’s words at Westminster to our enemies today. As Churchill said of the communists, “There is nothing they admire so much as strength and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness.” Whether it’s Hitler or Stalin, Bin Laden or Iranian President Ahmadinejad—for ideological fanatics, weakness is provocative.

Were Churchill alive today, he would encourage us to maintain our resolve, preventing our enemies from launching further attacks, gaining control of nation states, and obtaining weapons of mass destruction. He would tell us that we must have a clear vision of the threat, not one colored by wishful thinking.

I’m also certain that Churchill would recognize that ours is ultimately a battle of ideas, a clash between the forces of reason and modernity and those of medieval fanaticism. Through the liberation and exercise of reason, we’ve witnessed wondrous things – the conquest of ancient diseases, the freeing of legions of people from poverty and starvation, and the unleashing of the information age. Ours is not a struggle against religion, for there is no necessary contradiction between reason and faith. Indeed, reason is God’s gift to humanity.

This is a battle that we must win, and one that calls on all of us to be engaged.

Michael Chertoff

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October 15, 2007

Exercising the Team

T4 Command Post, Fair Oaks. Federal employees monitor a practice disaster at TopOff 4, an exercise designed to bring Federal Government Agencies together and train them to respond during a disaster or terrorist attack. (DHS/Bahler)This week we’ll conduct a major counterterrorism exercise, so I want to take an opportunity to fill you in on just what it will entail, the benefits it will produce, and why we conduct exercises in the first place.

The Top Officials 4 exercise (or TOPOFF 4 as it’s commonly called) is a week-long endeavor that starts today and focuses on simulated terrorist incidents occurring in Arizona, Oregon, and the U.S. territory of Guam. It’s the fourth of a series of congressionally-mandated exercises that involves participants at all levels of government, the private sector, as well as some of our international partners. In fact, TOPOFF 4 will be the largest and most comprehensive national-level exercise to date, and will include more than 15,000 participants.

It will not only test our ability to respond effectively to multiple attacks, but also provide a realistic environment in which to assess our preparedness efforts and enhance coordination among federal, state, local and international partners.

A full-scale exercise like TOPOFF 4 is incredibly valuable. Responding to and effectively managing a terrorist attack or natural disaster requires close coordination with a variety of people and organizations. Problems with logistics, personnel, and information flow can cost lives and must be worked out before a disaster strikes, rather than in the middle of a crisis. Exercises are a welcome opportunity to address these issues.

Similar to the way football teams practice for game day, we prepare for real world disasters by constantly conducting small exercises throughout the year, and applying what we learn to larger and more complex events like TOPOFF. Our goal is to push our systems to the breaking point--and beyond--to help us better understand what things perform well and what areas need work.

After we complete an exercise, we review the results, address any problems that arose, and share the lessons learned with our homeland security partners throughout the government and private sector. While not released to the general public, we do circulate these results promptly to our state and local partners to reduce vulnerabilities identified within the exercise. Most importantly, we apply these lessons learned to real-world situations.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Michael Chertoff

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October 11, 2007

Beyond the Checkpoint

Transportation Security Officers in Orlando screen luggage.A discussion on aviation security almost always starts at the familiar TSA security checkpoint. For the two million travelers a day who fly, the checkpoint is TSA. We look at the checkpoint, however, as a piece - an important piece - of a much larger picture.

TSA looks at the entire transportation network in evaluating risk. A large part of our work involves daily interaction with the intelligence and law enforcement communities and our global partners to try to stay ahead of evolving threats and emerging vulnerabilities.

Risk-based security means taking the whole picture into account and implementing selective and unpredictable security measures -- deny the terrorists a stationary target where they can take the time to plan an attack with high odds of success. To be successful in the long run, we need to play offense, not just defense.

Playing offense means getting out past the checkpoint to identify people with hostile intent or conducting surveillance. By spreading our layers of security throughout the airport environment and elsewhere, we have multiple opportunities to detect terrorists and leverage the capabilities of our workforce, our partners, and our technology.

One of these layers involves placing specially trained Transportation Security Officers at the front of the checkpoint to review travel documents, find fraudulent identification and identify and disrupt a problem before it becomes dangerous. We are making it harder for people to use fraudulent documents and IDs by raising the standard of inspection and providing additional equipment for our security officers to do their jobs.

We also continue to expand our behavior detection program, which uses non-intrusive behavior observation and analysis techniques to identify potentially high-risk passengers throughout airports. This added element of the screening process is transparent for normal passengers but makes it troublesome to someone conducting surveillance or doing something that could be dangerous to the public. It requires no additional specialized screening equipment and TSA frequently deploys our specialized officers in support of transit, rail, and ferry systems.

Another security program beyond the checkpoint involves employee screening. We deploy Transportation Security Officers and Inspectors throughout airports to screen airport, airline and other employees, their accessible property and vehicles. This random screening at unexpected locations cannot be avoided and allows airport workers to perform their duties with minimal impact on airport operations.

We recognize that the checkpoint is an interruption in the way of boarding a flight and often can be a source of frustration for travelers. TSA is moving to an approach where we spread out and calm down the security process. This should decrease stress at checkpoints, improve security, and improve the passenger experience. We're working with our airport and airline partners to establish a more calm security environment while leveraging emerging technologies such as millimeter wave, backscatter, liquid bottle scanners and advanced x-ray systems to help security officers detect explosives and other threats.

Getting away from the tunnel vision of looking for prohibited items at the checkpoint and moving toward a calmer, more nimble process focused on finding people with clever as well as obvious weapons will be good for security - and we hope it will also be better for passengers.

Kip Hawley
Transportation Security Administration

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October 5, 2007

An American Story

Employees at the Department of Homeland SecurityAs Secretary of Homeland Security, I am deeply inspired by our 208,000 employees who go to work each day to protect America. Combining hard work, initiative, and ingenuity with a heartfelt love of country, they exemplify what is truly great about this nation and its people. Coming from every background and walk of life, they are indeed a microcosm of America.

I am particularly inspired by immigrants and their children who have made this nation their own and are serving our Department with pride and patriotism. I was reminded of this while reading an outstanding op-ed piece by Jason Lim in last Sunday’s Washington Post.

In the article, he tells the remarkable story of how his father, a hardworking Korean immigrant, drove him to downtown New York City after September 11, and there, in the shadow of where the Twin Towers had stood, asked him to give up a promising corporate career and work for the United States government.

I am honored and proud that Jason now serves our Department at the Transportation Security Administration. I can imagine how proud his dad must be.

It takes a special courage to leave one’s native land as Jason’s dad once did in order to pursue the promise of a better life elsewhere. It takes a special person to make that choice and a special country like America to attract special people like Mr. Lim.

Mr. Lim and Jason, like so many other immigrants and their children, had already given much to our country – Mr. Lim through his small business in New York and Jason through completing a superb education and deploying his talents in the private sector. But after September 11, in gratitude for the opportunities they’ve had, they decided to give more.

What an inspiring example! The Lims, like so many others at DHS and elsewhere – in federal, state, and local governments – demonstrate the spirit of America.

Michael Chertoff

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October 4, 2007

It's The Law

Two editorials in today’s Washington Post and New York Times offer a good illustration of the kind of obstacles our Department faces in dealing with the problem of illegal immigration.

The Washington Post writes that our use of Social Security no-match letters to prevent the hiring of illegal workers actually harms legal workers as well. That is simply not true. Legal workers can provide any number of identity documents to establish or clarify their work eligibility, including a passport. Having incorrect information in our databases, such as a name and Social Security Number that do not match, is not grounds for termination. Moreover, employees have up to 90 days to resolve a no-match issue, which is ample time to update information in our system. And it is hardly a good idea to discourage legal workers from correcting errors that may cost them benefits in future years.

Supporters of immigration reform hold signs and U.S. flags during a rally at the National Mall in Washington Monday, April 10. (State Dept. photo - Janine Sides)But the Post raises what I suspect is the real argument being mounted against the no-match rule. The Post asserts that there will be negative economic consequences if illegal workers are fired due to receipt of a no-match letter. That may be true; it’s the reason we supported immigration reform earlier this year. But the fact remains – Congress rejected the reform measure. So my Department is charged with enforcing the law as it is. Those who say we should only make a tepid effort to enforce the law are really asking us to pursue a silent amnesty.

The New York Times editorial staff also hyperventilates today about our efforts to apprehend criminal gang affiliates in the New York area as part of a nationwide initiative to take dangerous illegal aliens off the street. Our recent enforcement actions in Long Island resulted in more than 185 people being picked up for illegal presence in the country. One-third had criminal records. I can’t imagine any community that would urge us to leave illegal alien criminals alone.

People often wonder why it’s so difficult for the government to get a grip on illegal immigration. But interest groups often work to slow or stop our efforts through lawsuits or political pressure. We need to decide as a nation if we’re going to be serious about solving this problem. It is up to Congress to enact legislation that will fix the problem comprehensively. Until then, we shouldn’t tie the hands of the men and women trying to enforce the law as it is.

Michael Chertoff


October 3, 2007

Worth the Wait

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph BashamHomeland security often is a balancing act between two ideals: vigilance and convenience. Nowhere does this dichotomy between security and facilitation play out more dramatically than at our borders and ports of entry, where we work to secure our nation from those who would do us harm, while welcoming legitimate travel and trade.

One area where the balancing act is difficult is at our land border ports of entry, where wait times can reach an hour or more. While we would love to reduce this, the fact is that most of these ports were built decades ago, and frankly are straining to accommodate today’s national security operations and increased traffic.

To keep bad people and bad things from entering America, at a minimum we scan all vehicles for radiation and check all individuals for proper documents. This process is not a bureaucratic game, but a security imperative. At our 99 land ports of entry, we processed just under 300 million people last year. We spend approximately 45-60 seconds with each person at the primary inspection booth, where we check for terror watchlist matches, outstanding criminal warrants, public health and narcotics lookouts and other indications of risk. Those who present some concern and require additional scrutiny are then referred for secondary inspection.

This process has yielded approximately 25,000 arrests during the 2007 fiscal year that just ended, a 10 percent increase over the previous year and a two-thirds increase from the launch of DHS in 2003. Keep in mind that these arrests are more than just a number; they represent the capture of murders, drug dealers, child molesters and potential terrorists. We’ve kept 300 tons of marijuana from entering the U.S. through the ports, as well as 93,000 pounds of cocaine. Last year we encountered 270 people suspected of having terrorist ties.

The additional security at our borders since 2001 (much like additional security at our airports) is incredibly important and there is no denying it has contributed to added wait times. So we work each day to find ways to ease waits and facilitate legitimate trade and travel. We would add lanes if we could - and in some places we have - but in many sites we cannot (remember, most of America’s ports of entry are not owned by the federal government, but by state and local officials and private businesses).

We are working with our partners in the General Services Administration and state governments to upgrade and expand port facilities so they better accommodate their current and future functions. We are trying to ensure all locations are fully staffed during peak hours. We also recommend that frequent travelers participate in the many “Trusted Traveler Programs” available at northern and southern border locations. While we regret the inconvenience, we cannot apologize for doing our jobs.

Let me also frankly say that there are limits to what we can do about this problem at DHS. Additional security is not the only cause of wait times at the border, and it shouldn’t become the scapegoat. Much like rush hour in any major American city, congestion at our border is as much a factor of a large number of people wanting to go to a particular place at a particular time on finite roadways. Wait times are further affected by everything from Mexican holidays to the relative strength of the Canadian dollar. Those who are serious about solutions need to start thinking of the wait times issue much more as a transportation, infrastructure, and volume problem than a “security” problem. We must acknowledge that solutions to those types of big problems take years and cost money.

But any way you look at it, a safer, more secure border is well worth the investment and the wait.

W. Ralph Basham
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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October 1, 2007

151 Miles

Images of the fence being built on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.Many readers have asked about border security, in particular building a fence along our nation’s Southern border. Let me take a moment to update you on where we stand with respect to fence construction and explain how fencing fits into our overall strategy.

Last year, our Department made a commitment to have 145 miles of pedestrian fencing – including 70 miles of new fencing – in place on the Southern border by the end of this fiscal year. Well, the fiscal year ended September 30th. As of today, we have more than 151 miles of fence on the Southern border and 72 miles of new fence, which exceeds our goal. We also have 114 miles of vehicle fencing, with plans to reach 300 miles by the end of next year.

I fully recognize there is widespread cynicism about the federal government’s commitment to border security and immigration enforcement. It is a consequence of nearly 30 years of failing to do what is necessary to address this challenge. As someone who has sworn an oath of office to protect the country and enforce the nation’s laws, I am committed to seeing that our promises are kept and that we restore faith with the American people. Meeting this year’s targets for fence construction is an important step in that direction – and it is just the beginning.

Next year, if Congress supports us with the necessary appropriations, we intend to build an additional 225 miles of pedestrian fence along our Southern border and approximately 200 miles of vehicle fence. This will bring us to almost 700 miles of fence (including 370 miles of pedestrian fence) by the end of 2008.

Contrary to what’s been reported in the media, we haven’t decided where fencing will be built, nor will we make that decision arbitrarily. We will look to the Border Patrol to decide what it considers the highest priority areas based on illegal, cross-border activity and its operational needs. We will also seek input from local communities, including landowners and state and local officials. We’ve already contacted close to 600 landowners and held 18 town hall meetings to move this process forward, and I’ve personally met with community leaders in several states. In addition, we will conduct the necessary engineering assessments and weigh environmental concerns prior to fence construction.

Of course, while fencing remains a critical element of our strategy, it isn’t the only element. The reality is that fencing will never provide a total solution. A fence by itself can be tunneled under or climbed over. Fencing is also expensive to build – up to $3 million per mile – and equally expensive to maintain.

That is why we need a broader strategy at the border that leverages the right tools, technology, and people. This year we’ve increased the size of the Border Patrol to more than 14,900 agents. Next year we’ll have 18,300 agents – effectively doubling the size of the Border Patrol since January 2001. We’ve also deployed unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-based radar. And we’ve deployed the first 28 miles of our SBInet program to add high-tech cameras, sensors, and aerial surveillance to the border to increase our coverage and effectiveness. We expect this SBInet system to be fully activated in the coming weeks.

The bottom line? While we can’t solve a 30 year problem overnight, we are making progress. The fence is being built, we’re meeting our commitments, and we’re going to do even more next year. I look forward to providing you with regular updates.

Michael Chertoff

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