Robert Whittel expressed his serious concern that, with only two weeks until the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code goes into effect, most American ports and ships remain inadequately secure against potential terrorist attacks. Whittel, a Naval Reserve Officer and former American Maritime Officer, stressed that the security of American maritime facilities is one the most critical -- yet overlooked -- elements of U.S. homeland security. "America's lack of port security provides terrorists with a huge window of opportunity," Whittel said. "It is essential that we strengthen this vital link in the national security chain." The ISPS establishes rules and regulations for the prevention of terrorist acts against seaports and ocean-going vessels. Whittel attributes his deep concern about port security to his military and maritime background and a desire to ensure that businesses, his community and the nation are safe from the threat of terrorism. Along with his experience as an American Maritime Officer and as a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy, Whittel also founded his own shipping business and reported directly to the CEO of one of the world's largest maritime fueling companies. "I've served my country and the industry as an officer aboard a ship and understand the extent of destruction that terrorists could do if they gained access to one of our poorly secured ports," Whittel said. "Congressional leaders must be able to balance the increased costs associated with security with the need to protect jobs of American workers in this critical industry." With more than five years of merchant marine industry experience, both ashore and afloat, Whittel's knowledge will be an asset in Congress. Whittel sharply criticized current Representative Brown-Waite for her unwillingness to focus on national security, specifically her failure to cast a vote on H.R. 2555, an important bill that appropriated $32 billion to the Department of Homeland Security. "When I discovered that Brown-Waite didn't even show up for this vote, I was shocked and appalled," said the attorney from Brooksville. "We deserve a Representative who is concerned enough about our nation's security to carry out his basic congressional responsibilities." Out of all cities with eligible ports, only 42 percent have received grants to help with port security (United States Conference of Mayors 9/17/2003). While many politicians have largely ignored the importance of port security, the intelligence community has stressed its significance. The Central Intelligence Agency recently concluded that the United States is more likely to be attacked with a weapon of mass destruction brought into the country aboard a ship than one delivered by a missile. "It's sad that some legislators fail to understand the importance of securing our maritime facilities," Whittel said. "If the United States wants to successfully prosecute the war on terror, we must elect leaders who value and understand national security." Whittel pointed out that Representative Brown-Waite's failure to vote on H.R. 2555 is emblematic of her consistent, blind, "rubber-stamp" support of the Republican Party line and her overall unwillingness to consider the interests of the voters of District Five. "She's either rubber stamping legislation for the Bush Administration or she's just not showing up," said Whittel. "The people of District Five need a representative who actually represents them."