Monday, January 17, 2005

Al Qaida Poses Threat To U.S.

By Jerry Seper
Al Qaeda terrorists continue to pose a significant threat to the United States, which includes the use of nuclear devices and so-called "dirty bombs," but U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner believes his agency can stop that threat at the U.S. borders.
"After September 11, we knew we had to act quickly to protect our country, our citizens and our economy. And act we did," Mr. Bonner said yesterday during a CBP trade conference at the agency's Washington headquarters. "We reorganized a huge portion of our federal government. We ratcheted up our border security. And we implemented sweeping initiatives to protect global trade and travel -- and the global economy.
"We 're not done yet, but combating terrorism is the number one priority of our country -- now and for the foreseeable future. Yet, it is critical that we maintain the sense of urgency and action that galvanized us and the world against terrorism," he said.
Mr. Bonner told 800 business and community leaders, trade representatives and importers that the threat of future terrorist attacks in the United States is real, adding that al Qaeda's leaders have vowed to "strike America again, even harder than September 11."
He said there was "credible intelligence" that al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, was plotting multiple terrorist attacks in this country to influence the 2004 presidential elections, but was "unable to do so." But he warned that U.S. authorities could not underestimate al Qaeda's patience and determination to strike America again.
"We must not become complacent. We must not let down our guard," he said.
To defend the country, he said, CBP has implemented a maritime security system -- working in conjunction with border agents and inspectors at and between the nation's ports of entry -- to detect terrorists and deter their efforts to enter the country or bring their weapons of mass destruction into the United States.
Mr. Bonner, who formerly headed the U.S. Customs Service, said the system includes four interrelated, interlocking initiatives now operational that have extended the nation's borders "by pushing our zone of security out beyond our physical borders."
"Every one of these initiatives is designed to meet the twin goals of vastly increasing security, but doing so without choking off the flow of legitimate trade," he said. "And not one of these initiatives existed before September 11."
Mr. Bonner said the new system includes:
c The 24-Hour Rule, which obtains advance electronic information on all cargo shipped to the United States 24 hours before it is loaded at foreign seaports.
• The National Targeting Center, which houses CBP's Automated Targeting System. It evaluates every one of those containers for terrorist risk before they are loaded and shipped to U.S. seaports.
• The Container Security Initiative (CSI), which inspects -- with the help of trading partners -- high-risk containers before they are loaded onboard vessels bound for the United States.
• The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), now at 34 of the largest seaports in the world, which increases security from the foreign loading docks to the U.S. ports of arrival in exchange for expedited processing -- working with more than 8,000 private companies.
In addition, Mr. Bonner said, CBP is moving forward with the "Smart Box," which allows agents to secure cargo containers with an imbedded, electronic device that can determine if a container has been opened or tampered with at any point along its journey from a foreign manufacturer to the United States.
Mr. Bonner noted that in the wake of September 11, the priority mission of Customs -- much of which became CBP after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security -- changed from the interdiction of illegal drugs and regulation of trade to preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from getting into the United States.
"As you know, the effects of September 11 still reverberate in America ... even now, though, it's hard for some to imagine a plot so treacherous and evil that turned commercial passenger airplanes into missiles that brought huge skyscrapers to the ground," he said.
Mr. Bonner said the creation within Homeland Security of one border agency to manage, control and secure the nation's borders at and between the ports of entry was one of the most important aspects of the reorganization effort.
"Customs and Border Protection is the largest honest-to-goodness merger taking place within the Department of Homeland Security," he said. "Needless to say, no other agency of the U.S. government has a more important mission."

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