Terrorist-Tracking System 'Much Improved'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2004 America's ability to track and intercept potential terrorists before they can enter the country to do harm is "much improved" since the 9/11 attacks, a senior Homeland Security Department official said here Sept. 30.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Patrick M. Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis at DHS, told House Select Committee on Homeland Security members that today's airline watch lists represent "a tool we did not have before" the attacks.
Improved travelers' registration and documentation systems, as well as more comprehensive passport and visa examination procedures, Hughes noted, also provide "a big gain" in capacity to stop terrorists compared to pre-9/11 days, he said.
Hughes said knowledge gained from years of manning checkpoints at the Canadian and Mexican borders to prevent illegal crossings into the United States is being put into use today to deter terrorism.
"You can, in many cases, anticipate movement (of potential terrorists)," Hughes pointed out. "And we often do interdict persons on those two borders because we knew something about them."
Stopping terrorists from entering the United States "is a complex, multiagency undertaking," noted C. Stewart Verdery Jr., DHS's assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy.
"We're working in close cooperation with our interagency partners on this important task," Verdery said, noting DHS and other agencies have "implemented a number of successful programs denying terrorists the ability to travel freely into the U.S."
Officials at Homeland Security and other agencies, he said, are scrutinizing travel documents to detect fakes, improving and expanding travelers' watch lists, and sharing anti-terrorist data with foreign countries to identify and thwart terrorists.
"And, of course, these efforts are designed to protect and respect the civil liberties and privacy of U.S. citizens and residents and our visitors," Verdery concluded.