Before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security

Testimony Homeland Security

Before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security

June 14, 2004 16 min read
Jim Carafano
Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

Statement of Dr. James Jay Carafano, Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security

Mr. Chairman and other distinguished Members, I am honored to testify before the committee today.[1] National efforts to enhance the security of the goods, people, and services that everyday cross the thousands of miles of land borders and tens of thousands of miles of coastline ringing the United States are a vital component of protecting the homeland. In my testimony, I would like to reaffirm the importance of this task as an essential component of the national homeland security strategy, assess the progress that has been made so far, make the case for further initiatives that will help create a more sustainable and integrated approach to protecting the flow of human and material capital transiting America's borders, and suggest some additional building blocks for creating a national system of systems for protecting the nation from transnational terrorist threats as well as other criminal and environmental dangers that may be carried through the crossroads of global commerce and travel.

The Terror War's Front Line

There are four reasons why border security must remain an essential element of national security.

·        First, in the global war waged by terrorists, visas can be deadly weapons. One ready means available to enemies wishing to enter the United States is the nonimmigrant visa, which can be obtained from any of the 211 American consulates around the world.[2]Travelers holding nonimmigrant visas represent the overwhelming majority of individuals entering the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas are ideal for supporting attacks that require brief or repeated trips to the United States.In fact, all of the September 11 hijackers entered the United States in this manner. The 19 terrorists received a total of 23 visas from five different consular posts over a four-year period.[3] Terrorists can also enter the United States through the permanent immigration system, obtaining a "green card" to live in the country or become a naturalized citizen. One study of 28 known militant Islamic terrorists found that 17 of them were in the country legally, either as permanent residents or as naturalized citizens.[4]The prevalent use of identity theft and false travel documents makes the current system particularly vulnerable to abuse. In 2001, officials at border crossing points seized over 100,000 falsified documents. Over 50 percent of these documents were border crossing cards, alien registration cards, and fraudulent visas and passports.[5]Such materials have been used by terrorists. For example, one of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing entered the country with a doctored passport.[6]Thus, intelligence is critical not only to keep suspected terrorists from legitimately obtaining and using passports, but also to prevent them from easily using falsified documents to travel into the United States.

·        Second, infectious diseases,[7] invasive species, other environmental threats pose Health risks and could cause environmental degradation, and economic damage by the inadvertent or intentional introduction of diseases; non-indigenous species, including animals, plants, insects, and single-cell organisms; or other environmental hazards. One study estimated that damages and efforts to control invasive non-indigenous species already cost the United States $137 billion per year, more than the cost of recovery from the 9/11 attacks.[8]

·        Third, as a component of America's borders, we cannot over estimate the importance and vulnerability of the maritime domain. About 95 percent by volume of U.S. overseas trade transits the waterways and the exclusive economic zone bounding the United States. In addition, many major population centers and critical infrastructure are in close proximity to U.S. ports or are accessible by waterways.Equally troubling are the prospects for criminals and terrorists to use the maritime domain for the conveyance of illicit goods and services. Nor are just the hundreds of ports of entry into the United States a concern. Coastal areas between the ports are perhaps even more vulnerable to exploitation.[9] Finally, as land borders and commercial air transport become more secure, criminals and terrorists will increasing look to the maritime domain as an attractive means to bring bad things to America's shores.

·        Fourth, securing the transport of material goods, services, and people across the border is not only important for keeping out terrorists and the instruments of terror. Equally vital to national security is maintaining the free-flow of legitimate commerce. Many American industries, for example, rely on "just in time" movement of goods and services. Quick and responsive delivery lessens the need to have large stockpiles on hand, thus reducing operating costs.[10] Increased security that delays the delivery of products can negate the advantages of inventories that are managed by the speed that orders are filled rather the size of a company's warehouse. For instance, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks security at the borders and Canada was significantly upgraded. As a result, many truckers were delayed at border crossings for several hours. Since many truckers are only permitted to drive 10 hours per day, significant delays at the border can add an extra day to delivery time. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, Ford Motor Company idled five U.S. manufacturing plants because of slow delivery from parts suppliers in Canada.[11] The increased cost of transporting or stockpiling goods is not the only concern. Many commercial enterprises, such as farming and tourism, rely on the import of foreign nationals for seasonal work. Any screening process that slows the flow of people and material will add to the cost that threats impose on the United States.

Moving in the Right Direction

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Congress and the Administration have made significant efforts to enhancing the security of commerce and travel across U.S. borders. The following initiatives are particularly noteworthy:

·        First, the USA PATRIOT Act required the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to share information in its National Crime Information Center with immigration services and the U.S. Department of State.[12] It also instructs the Attorney General and the Secretary of State to develop a biometric[13] standard for verifying the identity of visa applicants and bearers of visas and passports, as well as querying law enforcement databases.[14]

·        Second, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The act places the responsibility for providing immigration-related services and benefits under the DHS's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) while the DHS's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has assumed the border security functions of the INS. The act also established an integrated investigative force, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

·        Third, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act called for intelligence sharing and visa issuance and monitoring through several important measures including requiring law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share relevant information with State and the BCIS; directing BCIS to integrate its data systems into an interoperable, interagency system; assigning the DHS the primary responsibility for developing an overarching information architecture to share immigration and intelligence data; and requiring the implementation of an integrated entry and exit database.

·        Fourth, the Maritime Transportation and Security Act (MTSA) required the establishment of maritime security committees and security plans for facilities and vessels, and strengthened and standardized security measures for domestic port security teams including federal, state, local, and private authorities.

·        Fifth, the Administration's establishment of two intelligence integration centers-the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC)-will help to consolidate terrorist information into centralized databases so that the information can be accessed by local, state, and federal authorities.

Among all the ongoing activities to improve border security these initiatives are particularly important because they recognize that border security means much more than securing the border. They provide the foundation for building a layered and coordinated approach to the challenge of protecting the border.

The Bush Administration's approach to homeland security rightly eschews the notion that there is a single, "silver bullet" solution to stopping terrorism. Rather, the President has adopted a multi-layered system that assumes no one security initiative will suffice. This strategy provides multiple opportunities to thwart or mitigate terrorist acts. Security is not provided by a single initiative, but by the cumulative effect of all the homeland security programs. For example, a terrorist might be discovered by an overseas intelligence operation while applying for a visa, by screening an international flight manifest, during inspection at a port of entry, or during a domestic counterterrorism investigation. Thus, improving security requires ensuring that each layer of the system is sufficient to do its part of the job and that efforts are complementary.

The Next Steps

Great strides in improving the security of the border will only be made when the components supporting border security are wedded into a "system of systems" or network-centric approach to homeland security. Network-centric operations generate increased operational effectiveness by networking activities, decision makers, and field officers to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater efficiency, increased security, and a degree of self-synchronization. In essence, it means linking knowledgeable entities in an effort to coordinate a comprehensive national border security plan. Such a system might produce significant efficiencies in terms of sharing skills, knowledge, and scarce high-value assets; building capacity and redundancy in the national border security system; and gaining the synergy of providing a common operating picture to all involved and being able to readily share information.

In building a "system of systems" approach to border security, both Congress and the Administration must work toward integrating border control functions, immigration enforcement, transnational supply chain security, and maritime domain awareness into a more seamless web of homeland security activities.

There are measures that Congress and Administration should consider now for building toward a "systems of systems" approach to border security. Our research at The Heritage Foundation suggests some initiatives that should be considered as building blocks toward a more integrated system for protecting the homeland. They include the following:

Rethink Responsibilities for Visa Services.

Congress should consolidate all visa activities in a single government organization. While the Homeland Security Act of 2002 gave the Secretary of the DHS exclusive authority to issue regulations and administer the visa program, consular officers remained part of the Department of State. This was a mistake. For the DHS to fulfill its responsibilities in the visa process and because of the national security aspect of visa approvals, the Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Visa Services should be placed under the DHS. Moving the Visa Office to the DHS would enable the DHS to focus on tightening, improving, and more broadly utilizing the visa function to meet the exigencies of homeland security.[15]

Improving Innovations in Intelligence Sharing.

The Administration should consolidate the TTIC and the TSC under the DHS. Since May 2003, two intelligence-sharing centers have been established by the Administration. The TTIC is designed to be a central location where all terrorist-related intelligence-both foreign and domestic-is gathered, coordinated, and assessed. It is composed of elements of the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and other intelligence agencies. The TSC has responsibility for coordinating information from all terrorist watch lists and provide around-the-clock access to local, state, and federal authorities. Although the establishment of the TTIC and the TSC are significant steps in the integration of intelligence data, these centers have been placed under the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the FBI respectively. This locates the centers away from the agency that is most in need of the information they provide-the DHS.

The structure for intelligence sharing between agencies should be based on a consumer-driven model. The DHS was designed as the biggest consumer of intelligence information and has the most at stake in terms of intelligence sharing and dissemination, particularly in the areas of visa issuance and monitoring. The current arrangement leaves the DHS as little more than just another intelligence end user, competing with other members of the national security community to ensure that its priority requirements are met. Thus, the TTIC and the TSC should be placed under the DHS both to ensure the best possible establishment and operation of these centers and to make certain that the DHS has the tools and ability to fulfill its responsibilities.[16]

Improving State and Local Support for Counterterrorism Immigration Investigations.

The DHS and the states should pursue, and Congress should support, the use of Section 287 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) as a mechanism for state and local law enforcement to enforce the immigration aspect of border security. Section 287 (g) of the INA provides authority for state and local enforcement to investigate, detain, and arrest aliens on civil and criminal grounds. Officers governed by a §287 (g) agreement must receive adequate training and operate under the direction of federal authorities. In addition, in a civil lawsuit, the state law enforcement officers would be considered to have been acting under federal authority, thereby shifting liability to the federal government and providing additional immunity for the state law enforcement officers enforcing federal laws.[17]

The existing §287(g) pilot program with the State of Florida could serve as a national model. Under §287(g), Florida signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2002 to allow a small group of Florida law enforcement officers to conduct federal immigration investigations. Florida specifically limits its officers' civil immigration enforcement to situations in which they are part of a security or counterterrorism operation that is supervised by ICE. As the Florida MOU demonstrates, §287(g) provides adequate protection to states and their law officers while requiring that well-trained officers conduct immigration investigations. It also allows states to tailor the use of their officers to essential domestic counterterrorism missions.

Three initiatives would further enhance state and federal counterterrorism efforts through §287(g) programs:

  1. The DHS should encourage other states to adopt programs based on the Florida model,
  2. Congress should appropriate funds for the DHS to expand §287(g) initiatives, and
  3. States should use the Florida initiatives as a model for expanding their own domestic counterterrorism programs and improving cooperation with federal authorities.

Expanding the DHS Law Enforcement Capacity.

The DHS needs more aggressive programs to expand law enforcement capacity within the agency, establish closer coordination within the components of ICE, and expand the Coast Guard's law enforcement capabilities. In the end, investments in domestic counterterrorism programs and intelligence and early warning may provide much greater security for value than physical security at the border or additional critical infrastructure protection at ports-of-entry. Key to enhancing the DHS capability to performing these functions will be growing its capacity to perform law enforcement operations.

It is not clear that Coast Guard and ICE law enforcements programs are being developed in tandem to create the objective law enforcement corps needed for border security. In fact, it is not apparent that the DHS has defined its long-term strategic needs in this area or that they dovetail with other ongoing federal and state efforts to expand the national capacity to conduct domestic counterterrorism.

One area that warrants particular attention is the future plans for the Coast Guard's marine investigative services and its sea marshall assets. Since 9/11, many of the local investigation and inspections arms of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Offices have significantly shifted their focus to supporting domestic counterterrorism efforts. In addition, the Coast Guard created the sea marshals program to create a cadre of specially trained law enforcement officers to escort high-risk vessels into port. While the Coast Guard law enforcement initiatives are a positive effort, there is little sign that the service is creating a comprehensive human capital plan, including the leader development training and education that are needed to fully exploit the potential of these programs.

Consolidate and Integrate DHS Aviation Support Activities.

To achieve greater efficiency, flexibility, and coordination for domestic airspace security and support operations, ICE's Office of Air and Marine Interdiction (OAMI) should be merged with Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aviation assets. Additionally, the aviation support requirements and acquisition for the OAMI and the U.S. Coast Guard should be integrated to the maximum extent possible. Building greater aviation support capacity and flexibility into the DHS is critical to the border security missions, as well as supporting other federal law enforcement activities, and lessening Defense Department requirements for reserving air defense assets of missions related to homeland defense protection.

The OAMI and the CBP already work closely together in a number of aviation missions. The OAMI currently has a Northern Border Initiative that established five OAMI air unites at strategic locations along the Northern Border. This initiative melds assets and operations with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and will provide a law enforcement presence within one hour of being notified, 24x7, of suspected incursions along the Northern Border. Integrating OAMI with other CBP assets would only further enhance the DHS's capabilities to conduct these kinds of operations.

Over the long term, fiscal concerns will no doubt play the significant role in determining the extent to which the DHS aviation component can be expanded to meet a range of mission requirements. Aviation support and acquisition requirements invariably consume a significant portion of operations and maintenance budgets. Here, the department can profitably learn a lesson from the Department of Defense (DOD), which maintains four air forces optimized for different tasks at great expense. As a result, today the lion's share of defense procurement will be for modernizing its air fleet of combat, transport, and support craft.[18]In addition to the cost of developing and maintaining separate air arms, the DOD has had to invest considerable resources in creating the capacity to integrate these arms effectively. Effective consolidation now will enable the DHS to avoid similar challenges in the coming years.

Place Greater Emphasis on Private-Sector Solutions for Supply Chain Security.

The DHS should pursue additional initiatives to encourage the private sector to improve security in transnational supply chains. As much as possible, the DHS needs to move away from making the border a bottleneck by using passage of the border as the place to screen the vast amounts of commerce entering and leaving the United States. Current efforts to achieve this goal rely heavily on two programs, the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT). It may not, however, be strategically prudent to pursue the current combination of measures alone. Layered security, after all requires not placing all the eggs in "one security basket."

The MTSA required the Secretary of Transportation to establish a program to evaluate and certify secure systems of intermodal transportation. It did not direct that these programs would have to necessarily be conceived or implemented by the federal government. In order to reduce risk, as well as exploit the capacity of the marketplace to create innovative and effective solutions, the DHS might consider establishing mechanisms to allow the private sector to develop and implement its own alternatives to the CSI/CTPAT regime.

Improving Congressional Oversight.

Congress should create permanent committees in both houses to provide oversight for the Department of Homeland Security. While security remains a cooperative government effort, we needed a dedicated Homeland Security Department. The rationale for the initiative paralleled the thinking behind the formulation of the 1947 National Security Act, consolidating key assets into one big, powerful organization and creating the means to orchestrate that department's efforts with other federal activities. Large, centralized organizations have drawbacks, the most obvious being the problems encountered in managing a vast bureaucracy. But big organizations can also have great strengths, providing unity of purpose, a wealth of capabilities, and economies of scale, and fostering a common institutional culture and practices that build trust and confidence and facilitate coordinated action.

The department now also faces the same challenges that confronted the Pentagon in 1947. In terms of efficiencies and improved coordination, the low-hanging fruit of corralling over 180,000 employees into one agency has been picked. What is left to be done is the hard work, the nuts and bolts of building a real department-implementing human capital, acquisition, and information technology programs; building security systems that match the national strategy; and standing watch every day against terrorist attacks. Oversight of these activities requires standing committees with the expertise and experience to see the big picture and dig into the details. No area demands more attention to ensuring that disparate programs work together than the complex challenges of border security.

The House Select Committee on Homeland Security has already demonstrated that there could be value added in consolidating oversight in a single committee. They've held productive hearings and rapidly assembled a capable staff with the energy, expertise, and dedication that make for good congressional oversight. The global war against terrorism will be a long, protracted conflict. We need a Department of Homeland Security that is built and run to protect Americans today, tomorrow, and 10 and 20 years from now. We need a Congress that is properly organized to support this effort. Leaving jurisdiction for the department's homeland security programs fragmented among a dozen committees runs counter to the intent behind the Homeland Security Act of 2002: Either merge functions, change cultures, and focus the federal government on homeland security or turn the initiative over to the terrorists.

Both houses of Congress should establish permanent homeland security committees.


A layered and coordinated approach is the only strategic solution that promises long-term success for protecting the U.S. borders. Congress and the Administration must work together to turn a number of promising initiatives into a comprehensive system of systems that will serve to deter, disrupt, and prevent acts of transnational terrorism upon the United States. I believe several of the building blocks suggested here could be important contributions to that effort.


Jim Carafano
James Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute