Journal Archive > 2002 > April

Homeland security

Transportation secretary outlines measures to make U.S. borders safe

In the aftermath of the September 11, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has sounded an alarm for the United States to guard its borders as the first line of defense against terrorists.

Speaking in Cambridge at a national conference on homeland security March 25-26, Mineta stressed a major theme of the Bush administration's response to terrorism. "Fully recognizing that global transportation systems transcend national boundaries," he said, "President Bush envisions an American border that provides a strong defense against all external threats—most importantly against international terrorists, but also against drugs, disease and other dangerous elements."

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta © Associated Press/Elise Amendola

Mineta's remarks came at a conference co-sponsored by the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Institute of Foreign Policy Analysis, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. Nearly 350 people, including policy-makers, academics, students and corporate officials jammed the Royal Sonesta Hotel where the conference was held.

Mineta acknowledged that the unprecedented effort by the United States to deny terrorists access to targets has placed new strains on the ability of the government to perform its basic functions. "At the transportation department," Mineta noted, "we have worked literally day and night for the last six months to develop a security regime that prevents terrorists and other criminals from ever again using any facet of our transportation system as a weapon against any American, anywhere."

As airline passengers trudging through airport security checkpoints already know, the dilemma posed is that heightened security often comes at the cost of efficiency. "In the past, conventional approaches to border management placed security at one end of the spectrum and unimpeded commerce and mobility at the other," Mineta said. "Enhancements in one too often came at the expense of the other. We know that such a mutually exclusive approach is self-defeating. We know we cannot have border security without effective transportation security."

After September 11, the government sought new ways to improve security for the country's transportation systems while maintaining their viability for trade and travel. The recently passed Aviation and Transportation Security Act gives the government new tools to fulfil this mission. The law, Mineta said, "makes security for all modes of transportation, for the first time, a responsibility of the federal government."

That act federalized security personnel at every airport, a measure that Mineta says is only the beginning. "We will roll out this new federal aviation security regime with careful dispatch, terminal by terminal, airport by airport. In fact, at the peak this summer, we may well be managing some phase of the start-up at more than 100 airports simultaneously. Before the end of this year, we will have completed the transition to a full federal security screening workforce at all 429 commercial airports."

Another difficult challenge facing the transportation department is that of maritime security. With more than 25,000 miles of navigable channels and more than 350 ports, Mineta characterizes the U.S. maritime system as "one of our greatest security challenges." Obtaining information on the massive area patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard is the first step in creating marine security, he said.

"The core of a maritime domain awareness program is accurate information, intelligence, and surveillance of all vessels, cargo and people extending well beyond our traditional maritime boundaries. Our ability to achieve better domain awareness enhances our capacity to better focus security efforts on contacts and activities of interest," Mineta said.