Homeland Security

A matter of congressional oversight

 In the past week I have often heard variations of the question:  “Why would Congress be spending its time with hearings about the attempted radicalization of American Muslim youth?" 

For me, that is the wrong question. The proper inquiry is why has it taken so long for the Homeland Security Committee of the House to follow up on the hearings held by one of its subcommittees in Torrance, California in April 2007. That hearing, presided over by then Subcommittee Chair Jane Harman (D-Calif.), concentrated on the narrower issue of the attempted radicalization by Islamic Extremists in our prison population. 


Homeland and hometown security

In September 2002, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks the previous year, the Department of Homeland Security was established to coordinate all the agencies charged with protecting the United States.

That same year, I joined department’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, the newly formed Select Committee on Homeland Security, as the senior policy advisor. With this reorganization of government functions – the largest in 50 years – we set out to better understand and address the new range of threats to the American homeland.

Now, the current chairman of the committee, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is planning to hold hearings on the recruitment and “radicalization” of American Muslims. Neither in my years on the committee staff nor in the years since I left the staff has the committee conducted hearings targeting a specific religious or ethnic group.  This is for one simple reason: it doesn’t work. 


Obama's backward budget priorities

Most Americans first learned of the Patriot anti-missile system during the Gulf War. The picture was harrowing: rockets blazed across the sky toward U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia and Israeli cities, where families huddled in their basements and bomb shelters. But just before one of Saddam Hussein’s deadly SCUD missiles could reach its target, another missile skyrocketed up and destroyed it in mid-air. The Patriot’s performance in the Gulf War, while not 100 percent, demonstrated what missile defenses could do.

The budget the Obama administration submitted to Congress last month will wisely extend the Patriot’s lease on life, but it will slash critical funding for other important missile defense programs. The budget cuts funding for the only system currently in place to defend the U.S. homeland against long-range missiles – the Ground Based Midcourse Defense system – and for systems designed to intercept missiles while they are still over enemy territory, before they can release decoys or countermeasures. 


Why we need to keep nuclear facilities in plain sight

In the 1980s, a couple hundred music albums filled all the shelf space in my apartment. Now, they all fit on a player that slips into my shirt pocket, out of sight. That's not the only technology over the last few decades that got smaller, more efficient, and easier to conceal. Facilities that manufacture nuclear fuel are following that same trend - one that's creating a national security risk the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is accepting comments on through March 8th.

Unfortunately, this is not a theoretical concern. We are already at a tipping point that is troubling both proliferation experts and Members of Congress. The concern arises from new and anticipated developments that will allow nuclear fuel facilities -- uranium enrichment technologies -- to get so small and so efficient that U.S. surveillance methods can't spot them. Then, a rogue nation might acquire the plans, covertly build the facility, use it to produce nuclear weapons material, and develop a nuclear weapon without the U.S. ever seeing a thing.


Space Code of Conduct a good start

On February 4, the Obama administration released its National Security Space Strategy (NSSS), a document jointly produced by the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The NSSS lays out the space security strategy for the next decade. It is none too soon.

The United States has a vital interest in keeping the space environment usable into the future, keeping satellites safe and secure, and ensuring that insecurity in space does not create instability on the ground.  The nearly 1,000 active satellites now in orbit have assumed critical roles in civilian, scientific, and military activities.

The space above Earth has come to resemble the Wild West, with a growing population but few laws or rules on behavior or technology. Without such rules and coordination measures, the risk is growing of accidents and of misunderstandings, and of interference with satellites that might also lead to conflicts on the ground. 


Protecting privacy at the airport

Around the holidays last year, we saw significant public concern about personal privacy at our nation's airports. At the time, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had expanded screening measures at security checkpoints in airports like the Albuquerque Sunport.

The new standard became Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) or whole body scanners, which produce highly revealing body images of the individual being screened. If you refuse an AIT scan, the alternative is a full body pat-down -- also hardly ideal for personal privacy.

I asked New Mexicans to share their thoughts with me on this issue. In more than 7,000 email responses, my constituents overwhelmingly expressed concern about these TSA screening procedures.


State of the Union neglects our borders (Rep. Peter T. King)

While the President did strike an optimistic tone in his speech, it was short on specifics.  What I did not hear in the President’s speech tonight is what concerned me the most. 

I had hoped to hear the President tell the American people, once and for all, that he has abandoned his plan to hold trials for 9/11 terrorists in New York or anywhere else in the United States.  Unfortunately, he failed to make this commitment.    

After hearing the President make but one cursory mention of border security, while at the same time promote amnesty, I am even more convinced that the Obama Administration simply lacks a sense of urgency when it comes to securing our borders. The Obama Administration must promptly present the people of this country with a comprehensive plan to secure our borders.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) is chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.


America’s third (undeclared) war (Rep. Dan Burton)

On December 17, 2010, I stood before the House of Representatives and once again expressed my deep concern about the ongoing violence in Mexico and at our southern border. This is no longer simply about stemming the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants. Our National security relies on strong and secure borders; however, the violence in Mexico is much more than a border issue. While our country has been distracted by other threats around the world, right in our own backyard Mexico has dissolved into organized crime and narcoterrorism. It is imperative that we work with the Mexican government to find solutions to the escalating and increasingly brutal violence, as we share nearly 2,000 miles of border with Mexico. As neighbors, our security is intertwined and our border problems are shared. We must be mutually accountable for the problems on our border and invested in a common security goal. 


Congress must get serious about the threat of nuclear terrorism

With winter in full swing, we all appreciate that salt and sand ahead of time helps us better weather the blizzard. This is because prevention is cheaper than cleanup, planning ahead is more effective than picking up the pieces. It’s unfortunate that Congress didn’t adhere to these commonsense principles when they failed to fund anti-nuclear terrorism programs this past December in their rush to get out of town. Fortunately, this issue could be the first low-hanging, bipartisan fruit of the 112th Congress.   

The fight to prevent nuclear terrorism will be lost without a serious commitment to the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe. Currently, more than 30 countries possess significant amounts of material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon, and much of it is stored in less-than-secure facilities. Enough material exists to create tens of thousands of new nuclear weapons, and the only way to ensure terrorist groups do not obtain even an ounce of it is to reduce the number of places nuclear material is stored and secure those facilities that remain. 


Come together in tragedy's wake (Rep. Steny Hoyer)

This week, we pause the work of this House to mourn the lost lives of six of our fellow citizens—one born on that day of tragedy and carnage when thousands were slain in an equally indiscriminate, heinous act of hate—citizens shot dead on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona in pursuit of their 'right to peaceably assemble.' We come, as well, to honor those who risked their lives to save others; to pray for the lives of the wounded; and to pray for our colleague and friend, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Today, this temple of representative democracy is a sadder place. But Congresswoman Giffords, with her intelligence and her toughness, her public spirit and her charm, will—God willing and with the extraordinary medical care she is receiving—soon return to this body and again be a practitioner of and model for the principles of civil debate and thoughtful deliberation on which this temple is founded.