AJC Statement on Homeland Security

AJC Statement on Homeland Security

The American Jewish Committee

Statement on Homeland Security

The events of September 11, 2001 impressed upon our nation the need to enhance our national efforts to prevent acts of terrorism, and our preparedness for and response to terrorist attacks. In the wake of that terrible day, the Administration and Congress have taken steps intended to respond to that need, including, among other things, passage of the USA-PATRIOT Act, establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, and institution of measures directed at reforming the nation's intelligence structure. Nevertheless, substantial concerns persist about the adequacy of measures now in place, more than four years after the attacks of 9/11, to protect our nation and its vital infrastructure. These concerns have only been magnified by the inadequacies of the governmental preparation for and responses to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

While recognizing what has been done to date, the American Jewish Committee submits that there is much yet to be done by the Administration and Congress, as well as authorities at the state and local levels, to strengthen homeland security. We therefore urge these authorities swiftly to take action in the following areas:

  • Aviation, Port and Border Security. Our borders—land, sea and air—remain highly vulnerable both to terrorist infiltration and the importation of terrorist arms. Our land borders remain far too permeable, and, by all estimates, only about 5 percent of air cargo is screened, even if it is transported on passenger planes, while only a tiny proportion of the cargo on ships entering our nation's harbors receive security inspections. Moreover, officials at our nation's entry points still lack equipment to detect nuclear-radiological, chemical, and biological threats. Measures must be adopted to address these vulnerabilities.

  • Intelligence. The newly created post of director of national intelligence has been charged with responsibility for coordinating intelligence collection and analysis. It is crucial that the task of implementing this agenda, now in its initial stages, be effectuated across the many federal agencies with intelligence responsibilities. At the same time that impediments to communication of information are removed, safeguards must be in place to insulate the collection and analysis of intelligence from political considerations.

  • Immigration. Significant gaps remain in the developing US-VISIT program, which tracks foreigners entering the United States. Among other things, large numbers of airports and seaports are not covered by the program, and the program fails adequately to cover land borders and to monitor visitors while they are present in and as they exit the country.

  • Federal Coordination with State and Local Governments. State and local first responders are not afforded adequate access to intelligence necessary for them to prepare for or respond to a threat. This must be addressed as well as issues of chain-of-command and the need for systems that will allow communications among responders at all levels of government. Moreover, federal grants to state and local governments for first responders and other terrorism-related activity have been allocated on a per capita basis, rather than on the basis of assessed risk. This must be modified so that funds for terrorism prevention and response are allocated for maximum effect.

  • Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Response. The recent hurricanes underscored vast gaps in the adequacy of our nation's critical infrastructure protection, as well as our preparedness for emergency planning and response. On the infrastructure side, greater attention must be directed to protecting power, water, medical, and mass transit infrastructures, as well as "soft targets." In addition, we must address problems in planning for evacuation, provision of food, medicine and other resources to those affected, as well as the disruption of communication capabilities, energy infrastructure, and law enforcement challenges that will occur with less notice in the event of a terrorist attack. With respect to medical infrastructure, attention must also be directed to our ability to identify and respond to biological threats.

  • Government Organization and Funding. Funding of programs for terrorism preparedness has been greatly inadequate. Resources devoted to addressing the terror threat must be increased. At the same time, we must recognize that any additional necessary spending may currently be ineffective absent a much needed streamlining of government structures and the restructuring of congressional committees to correlate with the new governmental organization; a process that has begun but must be seen to conclusion.

Taken together, all of this demonstrates the reality that some four years after 9/11, we are still not prepared to cope with national disasters, natural or manmade. Long before September 11, 2001, the American Jewish Committee was at the forefront in raising concerns about the threat of worldwide terrorism and advocating for major policy initiatives to combat that threat. AJC has also played a crucial role in supporting government initiatives that respond to terrorism but do not undermine civil liberties and due process constitutional guarantees. The concerns that gave rise to these actions remain, but we must give no less attention to our nation's ability to prevent, prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks.

Adopted by the Board of Governors
December 5, 2005Date: 12/5/2005 12:00:00 AM