The following is the transcript of the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 12, 2005.
Secretary Ridge: John, thank you very much, David. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is true as of February 1st I’ll be able to walk through the front door. That’s a good thing. It’s a much abused reference for those who enter public service and then leave it, but I am reminded from time to time, particularly by my children, that there will be a point in time when I get into the back seat and the car doesn’t move. That means I’ve got to get out and get in the front seat and move it myself.
So I do thank you again, John and David, for the opportunity to share a couple of thoughts with you publicly today prior to just going over to Europe for just a couple of days and back on Saturday to complete some of the work that we began a couple of years ago and actually, hopefully, to set the stage for my successor to continue to build on the international relationships that we’ve been, I think, fairly successful in establishing during the two years of the department. I’m honored to join you today for an important discussion about the role of international cooperation in homeland security.
And I am pleased, John, that it is taking place at this center; a place where great thinkers put ideas into action. For forty years, this organization’s put the issues of our day through the crucible of debate. And in doing so, you open the realm of possibility for politicians and policy makers to really help shape the world. Yours is important work, work that we need now more than ever. We need dedicated thinkers to help shape the discourse and to define the way ahead as we confront the menace of international terrorism.
The tragic events of 9/11 obviously were the opening sally in a new chapter of terrorism. That dark day forever changed our nation, and also illustrated to the world the scope and scale of which terrorists are now capable. Subsequent attacks in Madrid, Beslan, Bali, Jakarta, Istanbul and Baghdad have hammered home that what was once the purview of individual nations is now the responsibility of every nation that stands on the side of hope and liberty.
The scourge of global terrorism requires the strength of a global response. And the means to confront the terrorist threat rests in our ability to engage the world community, work together multilaterally and foster healthy dialogue and strategic cooperation among allies.
As we have seen with the recent tsunami disaster, when tragedy strikes, its impacts are felt far and wide. The loss of so many lives, mothers, fathers, children gone in an instant. It is a powerful reminder, a reminder that we are indeed one people. That at the end of the day our differences do not outweigh the humanity that defines us and binds us. And that the most effective course to protect our citizens and our homelands is the course that we pursue together.
Something that I will always remember as Secretary was the impact of the very first question that was asked of me at the very first town meeting I ever held with my employees as Secretary of Homeland Security. As a matter of fact, we held this first town meeting with several hundred employees before we officially even opened the front door. A gentleman stood up, approached the microphone and asked – this is the first question at the first town meeting -- “What are the international implications of homeland security?”
Now, I certainly expected the first question to be about pay or benefits or cultural changes or the integration of procurement and IT. That wasn’t it. Instead, I was confronted by someone who was “looking over the horizon” as you might say here at CSIS.
This person already had an intuitive understanding, not only of the reach of our organization, but the importance of international partnerships. Even as we set out a national strategy to prevent, detect, respond and recover from acts of terrorism, we knew instinctively that there was an international need, responsibility and opportunity as well. We had an opportunity to build relationships that would prove mutually beneficial to the protection of our people and economies.
Within the national strategy, as we outlined domestic security priorities, it became clear that our efforts to secure America would not succeed without international cooperation. We realized that homeland security is more than just the integration of our nation. It’s about the integration of nations; the notion that we are all more secure in solidarity, working together in unified effort versus a patchwork of unilateral actions. And it is because of our work together with the international community that we have been able to travel, I think, a fairly lengthy distance in a short amount of time.
Before the Department even opened its doors, I traveled to Brussels and London to begin our formal outreach to the European community. I see my friend, Dr. Falkenrath (phonetic) who was working with us in the White House at the time and NSC joined us on that trip.
What began as fruitful bilateral and multilateral discussion has now resulted in positive outcomes and, I think, significant security achievements. And over the past two years, a remarkable record of accomplishment has been achieved. Again, I remind you, we didn’t achieve it by ourselves. We couldn’t have achieved it without the help of our allies.
In the area of maritime security, we have made marked progress with programs such as the Container Security Initiative. During that first trip, in fact, the Container Security Initiative existed only as a pilot in Rotterdam where U.S. Customs inspectors were working alongside our allies to target and screen cargo.
Now since that time, the United States and European Union have signed an agreement to expand CSI throughout the European Community and to increase cooperation and mutual assistance on other customs matters. So what began in Rotterdam as a bilateral initiative has now grown to include 33 other locations around the world, ports through which 88 to 90 percent of the shipping containers flow on the way to the United States. We couldn’t have done it without the acceptance of our employees, mutual understanding of the role to work together to secure commercial shipping without the cooperation of other countries and their leadership.
In addition, efforts to secure the vast global shipping industry that was once isolated and scattered are now coordinated under the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code developed by the International Maritime Organization and put in place this July. At the very heart of that debate and discussion over the past couple of years – actually, I believe the entity that drove the international community to this set of standards has been the United States Coast Guard, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security
For the first time ever, this international effort establishes one world standard for ship and port security. It helps to create a culture of security at ports around the world and mandates specific security improvements and safeguards. On a daily basis, we share information with other governments about a variety of threats to clearly help us work together to remain ahead of our creative and determined enemy.
From a personal perspective, through the work and negotiations during my time as Secretary there are two specific accomplishments we’ve made in the international arena that have also provided valuable lessons learned.
During the holiday period of 2003 – you may remember it -- we came into possession of intelligence that terrorists might attempt to take over several international flights and, therefore, at my direction we issued emergency aviation requirements. Quite frankly, I erred in going directly to the airlines rather than to the governments. There was a point in time where there was a little confusion and uncertainty because of our reach to the airlines rather than to the governments. However, a positive security outcome did result -- the creation of a 24-hour civil aviation point of contact network to facilitate similar communication in the future.
Yet perhaps more important was the lesson we took away from that experience -- that the primary means of communication must be government to government. We gained a greater understanding of the value and necessity of the international partnerships we’d been working so diligently to build with our friends.
The second lesson was learned during our negotiations with the European Union to address mutual privacy concerns governing the transfer of sensitive passenger name records, data on flights between Europe and the United States.
Another lesson learned. Even though we may have differences of opinion, the starting place to resolve these differences is often closer than we think.
Americans care about privacy just as deeply as Europeans do. And while negotiations were intense and lasted several months, the ultimate PNR agreement that emerged reflects the shared value both Europea
ns and Americans place on civil liberties. Having access to PNR data will facilitate the entry of legitimate travelers and expedite the entry of the vast majority of visitors who travel throughout the world without any malicious intent or evil design.
But it will also help identify people who could pose a threat to passengers on the flight or to the security of countries. And yet this measure of security will not come at the expense of personal privacy.
To ensure that the privacy protections we put in place are sufficient, in the coming months the United States and European Union will conduct our first joint review of how we use PNR in our counter-terrorism efforts.
So let me be clear. All of the additional security capabilities that we are building have not cannot and will not ever come at the expense of our fundamental values or individual liberties. We should never underestimate our commonality – the collective commitment to freedom that propels our sense of urgency to come together, debate complex issues and work together through difficult decisions.
As we draw closer together and build bridges to one another, those partnerships build barriers to terrorists and eliminate the gaps our enemies could otherwise exploit. Obviously, we must continue to chart our way forward. In the way forward, in many ways, will be more of the same. Relationships must continue to get stronger. Information sharing must become even more transparent and swifter. Public communication must be improved. Emergency response protocols must be honed. And the latest scientific and most advanced technologies must continue to be sought out, utilized and then shared. For the work of science and technology knows no bounds and the more we can strengthen the sharing of ideas and best practices, the better off the international community will be.
And to that end, common international standards of biometrics must be developed, and the sooner the better.
Biometrics is a remarkable, tremendous technological tool, the use of which can not only accurately identify and cross-check travelers and potential terrorists before they enter our countries, but biometrics also provide increased travel document security and guard against identity theft. We have already seen through our US-VISIT program that biometric information can provide an added layer of security, while at the same time bring travelers across our borders with greater ease and greater convenience.
Since the beginning of this year, US-VISIT has processed more than 17 million legitimate passengers. And since the program began, more than 370 criminals and immigration violators have been stopped at our borders.
But recently, we’ve established a registered traveler program that provides frequent travelers an opportunity to voluntarily provide biometric information as well as some background personal information that can be used to perform a security check against law enforcement and terrorist watch lists. We’ve got the five pallets running. People give us finger scans and iris scan, a little background information. We use that to confirm their identity, do a quick background check. And there’s no secondary screening for these individuals.
When we’re in the business of managing the risk, you cannot possibly eliminate the risk, but you can make reasonable judgments based on information that you have and information that is voluntarily provided to you. And the more we can go to that approach and then focus our human and technological resources on people that we don’t know anything about, I think, frankly, the safer not only commercial aviation will be but the safer the country will be. As I said before, we use that fingerprints and iris scan. I’ve actually enrolled in the program myself, although I do expect in the near future to be standing in line with a large cup of coffee waiting to get through. But I know while I’m standing there, the people at the TSA and Admiral Stone are working very hard not only to improve security but also to continue to make improvements in providing courteous and professional security coverage of all those people and all that baggage that we put on board our airplanes.
The program has been widely popular and successful. And frankly, one of the reasons I’m going to Europe is to launch a similar program of an international version over at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands.
Again, if we can get the world community engaged in a common standard, using biometrics, I think we open the door for not only greater security, but greater cooperation.
In spite of these initial successes with biometrics, we must mutually produce a set of international standards for capturing, analyzing, storing, reading, sharing and protecting this sensitive information in order to ensure maximum interoperability between systems and maximum privacy for our citizens. Moving forward we must also remain aware of other agendas beyond homeland security that need to be addressed in this ongoing conflict. Dismantling the terrorist threat is not possible unless we make the necessary investments to better understand, to root out and stop terrorism at its source.
We must work to understand how terrorist groups form, how they operate, what’s the motivation, how do they target, do they grow, how do they sustain themselves, what takes a moderate Muslim and pushes him or her to become an extremist, someone to be willing to give up their lives and abandon everything that they have spent a lifetime to work on regardless of where they live in the country.
The military writer since Sun Su (phonetic) and the Art of War in China have been talking about the need to understand and know your enemy. We need to make some investments in those ourselves. And there is another extraordinary, important arena for the international community to cooperate within.
These are important questions, and that’s why earlier this week we allocated $12 million to establish our fourth Homeland Security Center of Excellence at the University of Maryland to study the behavioral and social aspects of terrorism. If we do not address the cause that fuels this barbaric and merciless movement, then we can not stop the cycle of young boys and girls who are at this moment being indoctrinated in hate and manipulated into acts of terror.
The way ahead holds immense undertakings, yet it is paved with, my judgment, limitless opportunities. We can see our way toward a boundless future of security and peace but only if we do so together with our allies in the international community.
John Maynard Keynes once said, “Ideas shape the course of history.” And throughout history, the great ideas of one age do not always survive the new. In just the past century, we have witnessed the rise of subversive ideas, Nazism, fascism, communism, and we have also lived to see their defeat.
A defeat won by those who clung to a different idea, an idea that has weathered the storms and endured through centuries and thrives today. An idea that brings hope to the oppressed, light to the dark places of the world and comfort to all those who live under its watch.
For freedom is a conquering ideal. It is the idea that shapes our history, the cause that strengthens our resolve, and the place from where we start.
So as we press onward, our course stretches out ever clear before us, but our touch point is ever fixed toward the hope of a future of prosperity, security and peace. And until that day dawns, we will not rest and we will not waiver and we will not relent in the fight against international terrorism. And by working together across all nations that share a love for liberty, I am confident that we will triumph.
I want to thank you again, CSIS, for the opportunity to share these few thoughts with you and those who support your work.
Thank you very much.
Question: (Inaudible) charter member of your advisory council, currently director of transnational threats at CSIS.
A careful reading of the 16th, 17th and 18th message from Bin Laden since 9/11 would seem to indicate that your efforts have been so effective that he’s decided to re-focus his efforts on the Middle East, especially U.S. interests in the Middle East, getting the U.S. out of Iraq, and undermining the Saudi regime. Is that the conclusion of your intelligence advisory?
Secretary Ridge: Well, I certainly like the first part of the conclusion that you’ve – but I think it would be somewhat elusory to suggest that anything other than there may have been a strategic decision during a particular period of time to concentrate most of their efforts in a particular part of the world. But because they are also strategic actors and because we know that ultimately undermining U.S. economy and, frankly, trying to organize, plan for, and pull off a similar catastrophic series of events is still a very high priority for Bin Laden and al Qaeda.
So while I would like to say that what appears to be the primary focus now, I don’t think we can lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day the United States and our economy and our way of life is still their primary target. And we can’t be any less vigilant because the level of intelligence that speaks specifically about us over the past couple of months has been reduced. We cannot afford to luxuriate around such a wonderful notion. We still have a lot of work to do.
Question: I know you’ll be in meeting with Mr. Chertoff and of course giving him a lot of advice and so forth, but what advice that you would give to him, what main points that you could share with the public would you tell him as he takes the reigns?
Secretary Ridge: I think it would be better if I waited to share it with Michael first. I suspect he’d appreciate that as well. But I would tell him that he’s got an extraordinary workforce, that since 9/11 they themselves have realized because their family and friends have realized how important their day-to-day work is to the security of their community and country. I just don’t think too many people in this country on September 10th, 2001, paid too much attention to the folks at Customs or INS or to the baggage screeners or the passenger screeners. And people didn’t think too much about those folks working hard down along the borders of Mexico and Canada. We didn’t think too much – I mean it’s not that we were in a position to not appreciate what they were doing, we didn’t realize the value of what they did and how important it was for them to be empowered not only with training, with better technology to do their job even better than they’d done before.
So I do have – I hope Mike agrees – that we turn over a very strong foundation and a very clear way ahead about integrating the business lines. I mean procurement IT – we’ve certainly started that process. IT integration is one of the most important things we need to continue to do. Its well on its way but it’s still a couple of years until we get everything together the way we want it.
We are moving on to a single personnel system. We basically redesigned the human resource package so that management has a little bit more flexibility to move people around depending on the need of the department, but also down the road developing a pay for performance system with the employees.
I have some organizational recommendations I’m going to make to him, but I’d rather reserve the specifics until I can have that conversation with a very, very accomplished lawyer who enjoys a terrific reputation for a strong intellect, great energy, great work ethic, and I look forward to working with him, and I know a lot of people on my leadership team look forward to working with him as well.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you talked about the need of balance. I’ve also heard Secretary Powell talking about secure borders and open doors. It’s a difficult balance to strike. We have read in the press, and we have a case at the embassy right now, where the person finds himself blocked from going on an airline because his name resembles someone who is on a watch list. How does a person set about, you know, clearing his identity? Where would he turn? This person is then out-of-pocket because of tickets lost, etc. Thank you.
Secretary Ridge: It’s a very appropriate question, because as we share information, as we consolidate a lot of information that we have that previously was out among the different agencies and come up with a watch list that we want to use to protect the commercial aviation and the passengers on those planes and our country, we do run in to these common names.
And we try as aggressively and as quickly as we can at the airport to resolve the differences to enable the individual to get on the plane. But unfortunately, the cases are not always resolved in such a timely and easy fashion. And there is a very specific process. There are toll free numbers and information given out to anyone that unfortunately is caught in that particular situation.
We’re mindful of it. We’re working as hard as we possibly can to go through the list and to eliminate the confusion based on similar names.
That gives rise to the use of biometrics. If people would give us their finger scans or their iris scans, and as the world, as we move in that direction and take advantage of technology and come up with common standards, then we wouldn’t have to rely so much on – well, we wouldn’t have to rely on name or background information at all, we could actually rely on biometrics and the technology that would clearly distinguish one person from another.
So we are mindful that we are still pressed to do a better job. We try to do a better job every day, but it’s just one more reason that the world community, hopefully in time, and sooner rather than later, moves quickly to adopt common standards.
I, for one, believe if we’re going to ask the rest of the world to put fingerprints on their passports, we ought to put our fingerprints on our passports. I mean you can go out to the rest of the world and say we’d like to engage you in this discussion. We’d like you to consider doing these things. I think you’re in a much better position to discuss issues if you have made the commitment to getting them done yourself.
Now culturally, historically, there are a lot of reasons that some countries are adverse or very reluctant to give people finger scans. We understand that. But I think through not only the discussions, but reassuring that the use will be limited, access will be limited, and the benefits are quite obvious, we could get the world to move more quickly towards a common international standard. And I think we ought to take the lead. And that’s one thing I’ll say publicly. I think one of my recommendations to Mike is be aggressive. Go after 10 fingerprints on the passports. It’s a lot easier to negotiate with your allies if you’ve already done what you’re asking them to do.
Question: Mr. Secretary, I’ve had conversations with individuals in your department who have suggested possibly needing a foreign service in DHS similar to the State Department as opposed to sending staff members over on an ad hoc basis. And I’m wondering if you can comment on whether you think that’s an appropriate course of action.
Secretary Ridge: We do have several hundred people assigned, obviously because of legacy responsibilities around the world. What we have done, and we’re in the process of doing, is identifying a single person who can work with the Diplomatic Corps through the embassy, basically as our lead attaché, someone that knows the broader – someone to whom the ambassador or other people can go to get questions answered with regard to the department’s mission and how that country or some citizen within that country can engage us.
So I really don’t think we want to build up another diplomatic corps. Frankly, it would be to our benefit if the State Department had a few more people in the Consular Affairs offices so they could deal with the passports more quickly.
So we don’t need more people. I’ll put in a plug for the State Department. I think they could use a few more people to process these visas. Now there’s a lot of concern and somebody mentioned open doors, secure borders. We’ve been working with Secretary Powell and Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller. We’ve begun to make some significant changes in visa policy, how we do the background check, trying to move things along, expedite the process. But I’ve been to enough embassies around the world to know that in many instances our ability to respond quickly is because of the physical limitations and the number of employees, the men and women at the State Department is.
So we really don’t need to have that. We will take advantage of the skilled people that we have within our department. But if we’re going to move things along, frankly, I’d put a plug in for the State Department having a few more folks overseas that could work with us.
Question: You mentioned that you are going to Europe for some negotiation that also Mr. President Bush is going to Europe and also to my country, Slovakia. So we are happy for that.
And I would like to know if you will have a chance also to discuss in Europe and maybe in Slovakia also the questions of European immigration policy, immigration policy with the European Union and particularly with some countries and visa waiver program? Thank you.
Secretary Ridge: Well, we are going to – well, one of the stops will be in Brussels. We’ve got some work to do there and some announcements to make. And one of the other lessons learned as Secretary of the Department is the very important, somewhat complex relationship the United States has with the European Union as it grows. It goes from 15 to 25.
We’ve had several initial discussions about the visa waiver program. That is a program around which there are very specific requirements set by the Congress of the United States. Again, showing the complicated nature of the relationship within the European Union, the nations agree that no policies directed toward will be viewed as discriminatory.
So if you have a group of countries within the European Union that are visa waiver countries and a group of countries that are not, it’s viewed as a discriminatory policy. It creates some concern within the EU.
On our side, it’s not a unilateral action that we can take. Any change in visa waiver policy has to be done through the Congress of the United States. So that just highlights, I think, the importance of maintaining day-to-day contact with the European Union and the continued discussions that I’ve had for two years, will have when I go there, and I’m confident my successor will have as well.
By the way, I think you probably know I’ve got some deep roots in your historic country. I think my great grandfather was from Bratislava. They said he worked – he was a public employee. I just hope, as a republican, he wasn’t a tax collector.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.