By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2006 – The most solemn responsibility of the federal government is to protect the American people, and the U.S. government has taken many steps to better protect its people since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush said here today. Protecting our homeland also requires protecting our seaports," Bush said just before he signed the SAFE Port Act at a Capitol Hill ceremony.
America's seaports are vitally important to the nation's economic health, Bush observed, noting they are the gateways to worldwide trade and commerce.
"Our ports could also be a target of a terrorist attack, and we're determined to protect them," he said.
The new law leverages technology to enhance security at U.S. ports, Bush said. For example, customs inspectors can employ high-tech devices to look inside shipping containers without opening them. The bill also authorizes the use of radiation-detection equipment at 22 of America's busiest ports by the end of 2007, Bush said.
"America has the best technology in the world," Bush said. "And, with this bill, we'll apply that technology to make our ports the safest in the world."
The new legislation also codifies the Container Security Initiative implemented in 2002. That program deploys U.S. customs inspectors to dozens of foreign ports where they screen ship's cargo before it departs for American destinations.
The bill also codified the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a joint private/public sector initiative designed to bolster cargo security, Bush said. The program requires private shippers to improve their security measures. Participants receive benefits, such as faster clearance through U.S. ports, in return, Bush said.
In addition, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which guards against terrorists smuggling a nuclear device into America, gets added authority under the new law, the president said.
"All these efforts are smart; they're working; and with this bill, they're here to stay," Bush said.
The SAFE Port Act also tasks the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan to accelerate the resumption of trade in the event of an attack on U.S. ports or waterways.
"This bill makes clear that the federal government has the authority to clear waterways, identify clean-up equipment, and reestablish the flow of commerce following a terrorist attack," Bush explained. "We'll do everything we can to prevent an attack, but if the terrorists succeed in launching an attack, we'll be ready to respond."
The U.S. government has more than tripled spending on homeland security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush said. The Department of Homeland Security was established in November 2002, and hundreds of thousands of emergency first responders have been fielded across the country. Security at airports and aboard commercial airliners has been improved. Security at the U.S. borders has been bolstered, Bush noted, and there's added security for bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure across America.
"We have a responsibility to protect the homeland, and we're meeting that responsibility," he said.