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Homeland Security Chief Outlines Initiatives to Make U.S. More Secure

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2003 – Outlining a series of initiatives implemented to make the country more secure, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge declared here today that the United States is at the "highest level of protection this nation has ever known."

Speaking at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the American Enterprise Institute, Ridge told the audience, "We can never guarantee that we are free from the possibility of terrorist attack, but we can say this: We are more secure and better prepared than we were two years ago," he said. "Each and every single day we rise to a new level of readiness and response."

Ridge said the department has instituted several measures to thwart terrorist efforts, beginning with the new Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Unit. Ridge said the unit focuses exclusively on threats to the United States by researching ways to reduce vulnerability to attack while strengthening critical infrastructures, both "cyber and physical."

He also said his department is working to share critical intelligence with key people at the state and local level, and beefing up security at the nation's borders, stating that cooperation between Mexico and Canada to patrol borders to the United States has "improved significantly."

In addition, his department has hired and trained new inspectors and border patrol agents. The secretary added that by the end of 2003, his department will have launched U.S. Visits, a virtual border that will use biometrics to confirm the identity and status of travelers both to and from the United States.

Other improved security measures that he called "layered defenses from the curb to the cockpit" have been implemented around airports. Those include hardened cockpit doors and measures to arm pilots, as well as allowing more air marshals to accompany travelers on flights. He said thousands of passengers and baggage screeners are better trained to do their jobs, and federal security officers have been hired to oversee airports.

In addition, Ridge said that under federal law all air carriers now must provide advanced passenger information on international flights, "This enables us to identify high-risk passengers attempting to enter or leave the United States," he said.

He also said the United States is seeking ways to stop the threat of shoulder- fired missiles that could attack commercial aircraft taking off and landing. "This effort encompasses strategies to stop the proliferation of these weapons, work with state and local officials to improve perimeter security at our busiest airports, and develop new technologies that can counter this threat."

Ridge said progress has been made to protect U.S. ports and waterways as well.

"That's why we work so very hard to extend our zone of security outward," he said. "So that our borders are the last line of defense, not our first line of defense. And that's why we built security measures that begin thousands of miles away, long before a container is first loaded on a ship."

Ridge credited President Bush during his speech for having "no tolerance" for hatred and "no patience" with terrorists he called "cold-blooded killers." He stated that under the president's leadership, the United States and its allies have "exacted a war unknown to terrorists in decades before -- a global war on terrorism, distinct from any battle, any conflict, any world war ever waged."

"From Beirut to Lockerbie (Scotland) to the U.S.S Cole, we can see that terrorists are not deterred by time. But as our country has made clear, their time is up."

Ridge said the reason terrorists have lashed out in Iraq and elsewhere is not because the United States is failing in its efforts to defeat terrorism, but because it is succeeding.

"These successes remind us why we fight," he said. "because every single victory in a faraway land makes us safer here at home."

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