Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Thinking Ahead On Security

Dec 28, 2008
Op-Ed

The deadly attacks in Mumbai last month were a grim reminder of how easily a terrorist strike can rock a nation and send shockwaves rippling around the globe. With Sept. 11, 2001, forever fresh in our minds, Americans empathize with the Indian people. We understand India's security challenges, pledge our support and pray for its resiliency.

When security is breached abroad, however, insecurities arise at home. Nowhere is this more evident than in New Jersey and the greater metropolitan region. We live in a densely populated coastal state with a notoriously complex infrastructure system of roadways, railways, bridges, airports, seaports and industrial plants.

With a new White House gearing up for 2009 and beyond, Americans are depending on a seamless transition of power that will uphold the safeguards already in place and strengthen national security.

I can attest to the strength, credibility and competence of the forward-thinking men and women who President-elect Barack Obama has selected to lead his security team. Their qualifications are indisputable, but their success will depend largely on how closely in-tune they are with the people on the ground — America's first responders, emergency managers, and medical professionals. The best homeland security strategies work bottom up, from the streets of our communities to the halls of Washington, not the other way around.

To that end, I strongly urge the Obama administration to conduct a comprehensive review of New Jersey's security infrastructure. The Garden State is home to what security experts call America's "most dangerous two miles," an area located between Newark Liberty International Airport and Port Elizabeth that is tightly packed with more than 100 terror targets including refineries, rail yards and chemical plants. It is a frightening local reminder of how the Bush administration has neglected our most serious security challenges.

Failure to secure chemical facilities ranks among the Bush administration's most dangerous gambles. A recent report by the Center for American Progress listed five New Jersey chemical facilities among the most dangerous in the nation. At the state level, Gov. Jon S. Corzine has done commendable work with business leaders to implement inherently safer technology and reduce the lethality of an accident or terror event at a chemical plant. But loose federal regulations still hold the potential to pre-empt New Jersey's tougher standards.

In order to mitigate chemical threats, the Obama administration must apply the weight of the federal government and appeal to the social conscience of industry leaders. A public-private partnership guided by strong federal standards is the best way to subdue the threats that chemical plants pose directly to millions of Americans.

The same holds true for security at America's ports. The Obama administration must strike a better balance between America's commercial and security interests. Stronger enforcement over private entities and foreign trade partners that participate in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism Program is one way to improve screening without slowing commerce.

Given the size and traffic at our ports, New Jersey holds an important stake in preventing a WMD attack. Nuclear technology is spreading rapidly in Iran and Pakistan while lightly guarded biotechnology labs loom all around the world. A report recently issued by a congressionally authorized commission gravely warned that a biological attack is likely within five years.

The commissioners specifically suggested the immediate creation of a new White House post designed solely to prevent a WMD attack. It is a recommendation that I strongly endorse. The Obama administration must be as imaginative as the terrorists who wish us harm.

At Newark Liberty, and in airports across the county, perimeters and cargo holds are still not impenetrable.

Testing has revealed that passengers are still able to sneak prohibited items onto commercial airliners.

I am pleased that President-elect Obama shares my commitment to strengthen the workforce of Transit Security Administration (TSA) screeners. Beyond that, the new administration should work with air carriers to tighten perimeter security and enforce tough employee screening standards.

These are only some of the pressing challenges that will confront America's next Homeland Security secretary.

More exist beyond New Jersey's boundaries and America's borders.

As the 9/11 Commission highlights, the mission to secure our homeland cannot be complete without a renewed diplomatic offensive determined to crush the fundamental ideals that breed hate and motivate terrorists.

For that, America will be well-served by the leadership of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as the new Secretary of State. Security in our neighborhoods will be equally well-served by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

As the leader of a border state with a strong background in justice, Napolitano is eminently qualified to lead America down a path to a safer, more secure future in the post of Director of Homeland Security.

For good of the country, I recommend that such a path begin in New Jersey at the earliest possible date.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District of New Jersey. He is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

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