Testimony by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge Before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

Washington, DC
September 13, 2004
(Remarks as Prepared)

Good morning. Chairman Collins, Senator Lieberman, and Members of the Committee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to update the Committee on the Department's activities and improvements to our nation's homeland security posture, and to discuss important new initiatives undertaken by President Bush to enhance our intelligence capabilities and strengthen our ability to fight the war on terror.

This is particularly timely in the wake of the thoughtful and thorough recommendations made by the Commission on the Terrorist Attacks on the United States.

As the Commission recognized, in the aftermath of September 11th, it was clear that the nation had no centralized effort to defend the country against terrorism, no single agency dedicated to homeland security. As all of you know, these tragic attacks required a swift and drastic change to our understanding of what it mean to secure America.

With your help, the Department of Homeland Security was established to bring together all of our scattered entities and capabilities under one central authority to better coordinate and direct our homeland security efforts.

In the span of our eighteen month existence, we have made tremendous progress. I want to thank the Commission and Congress for recognizing the tremendous strides we have already made.

From our borders to our "hometowns", from our coastline to the skies, we are safer, more secure and better prepared today than ever before.

Yet, we must not rest on past accomplishments; we must look toward the future and guard vigilantly against complacency. Nowhere is this more important than with our intelligence operations. Every day, terrorists are hard at work to discover a vulnerability, to uncover a gap in our substantial network of layered security.

Every day, hundreds of pieces of intelligence come to us, some the public is aware of, such as the recent Al-Zawahiri tape and information gleaned from the tragedy at the school in Beslan, and much that the public never hears about. We must be even more determined and more diligent in our efforts to detect and defeat their plans for terror.

That is why improved coordination and cooperation across all segments of the intelligence community has been an absolute imperative of the homeland security mission…and one which the President has fully embraced and addressed with recent reform initiatives.

Since the inception of the Department of Homeland Security, we have improved intelligence capabilities and information sharing with our partners in the federal government as well as state, local, tribal and private sector partners on the front lines of homeland security across America.

The President has already undertaken a number of important initiatives that reform our intelligence collection and analysis. Last month, he issued a series of executive orders implementing some of these reforms.

The President established the National Counterterrorism Center, which will build on the important work already underway at the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, or TTIC. TTIC, itself, was an initiative of this administration that recognized the need for a centralized approach to terrorist threat assessments for the nation. This new Center—the NCTC-- will become our Nation's shared knowledge bank for intelligence information on known or suspected terrorists.

It will centralize our intelligence efforts, and help to ensure that all elements of our government receive the source information they need to combat terrorist threats.

It will provide a better unity of effort within the Intelligence Community, and improve our linkage with law enforcement. By enhancing the flow of critical information, we greatly enhance our ability do our job -- protecting Americans and securing the homeland.

The President has also directed that additional actions be taken to improve the sharing of terrorism information among agencies and that needed improvements be made in our information technology architecture. And last week, the President announced yet another important step in his reform agenda. In a meeting with senior Congressional leadership, he conveyed his proposal for the creation of a National Intelligence Director.

The creation of both the National Intelligence Director, and the new Counterterrorism Center, were recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission and endorsed by the President. They are critical building blocks to enhancing our nation's intelligence system.

Under the President's plan, the National Intelligence Director would be given full budgetary authority over the National Foreign Intelligence Program appropriation.

The Director will also be given responsibility for integrating foreign and domestic intelligence, and will be provided with the management tools necessary to effectively oversee the intelligence community.

The Director will report to the President, and serve as the head of the U.S. Intelligence Community. He will be assisted in his work by a cabinet-level Joint Intelligence Community Council. The JICC is critical to ensuring solid advice to the National Intelligence Director, as well as the opportunity for Departments to shape intelligence priorities together. The new Director provides centralized leadership for our national intelligence efforts, and will ensure a joint, unified effort to protect our national security.

The Department of Homeland Security will play an important role within this new structure, and will directly benefit from this centralized leadership and the enhanced flow of information it will provide. The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Information Analysis will participate in the new Counterterrorism center.

As a member of the intelligence community, we will have full access to a central repository of intelligence information. DHS and other members of the Intelligence Community will now go to one place that will formulate an integrated approach to consolidated threat assessments and related intelligence and planning support.

This centralization is critical to our efforts. DHS analysts will have access to the work of other government intelligence analysts, and vice versa. This new, integrated structure will create a more open flow of information, leaving us better informed regarding terrorist threats, and better able to address vulnerabilities and secure our nation.

Just as important, we can effectively and efficiently channel that information to those who need it by using new communication tools such as the Homeland Security Information Network.

This network is a real-time, Internet-based collaboration system that allows multiple jurisdictions, disciplines and emergency operation centers to receive and share the same intelligence and the same tactical information. This year we have expanded this information network to include senior decision-makers, such as governors and homeland security advisors in all 50 states, territories and major urban areas.

It was an ambitious goal, but one which we met ahead of schedule. And we are still working -- namely to provide increased security clearances and secret level connectivity not only at the state level but also for private sector leaders and critical infrastructure owners and operators.

In order to increase compatibility and reduce duplication, we are working to integrate this information network with similar efforts of our partners in the federal government, including the Law Enforcement Online and Regional Information Sharing System.

And all of our federal partners -- as well as many others -- participate in the Department's new Homeland Security Operations Center. This 24 hour nerve center synthesizes information from a variety of sources and then distributes information, bulletins, and security recommendations as necessary to all levels of government.

Our progress in intelligence and information sharing demonstrates the links we have made between prevention and protection.

By establishing a comprehensive strategy combining vulnerability and threat assessment with infrastructure protection, we are taking steps daily to protect the public and mitigate the potential for attack.

We have significantly bolstered our nation's security by implementing a layered system of protections along our borders and at our ports of entry, on our roadways, railways, and waterways, and even far from our borders and shores.

I am confident that we are more secure today than we were on or before September 11th, 2001.

I would like to note that September is National Preparedness Month. This month, 82 organizations and all 56 states and territories are combining efforts to encourage millions more people to be prepared and get involved in the common effort for the common good.

Unfortunately, we've seen in the past few weeks just how important preparedness can be. The people of Florida have been hit with two hurricanes -- and the damage has been considerable -- but the long lines to purchase plywood and other supplies are indicators that citizens know how to be ready.

And the Federal Emergency Management Agency knows how to be ready as well. They have helped thousands of Floridians recover from Charley and Frances by strategically pre-positioning disaster supplies so they could reach affected areas faster.

Along with local authorities in Florida -- and volunteers from around the country -- they have done a remarkable job -- and the people of Florida are grateful for their efforts. The spirit embodied by FEMA workers is not unusual to the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security. We work together with countless partners every day to ensure that our country is protected.

I've focused today on the President's actions to strengthen and unify our intelligence efforts. However, there is a whole breadth of issues that are covered by the findings and recommendations of the Commission -- which are both indicative of, yet also insufficient to capture, the full scope of this Department and our mission.

We have pulled together 22 agencies and 180,000 employees into a unified Department whose mission is to secure the homeland.

We are operating as a single unit -- one team, one fight. Yet long term integration takes time -- and we are daily challenged to ensure strong internal organization, as we continue to build bridges with all of our partners.

As we continue to evolve into a more agile agency, we look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Congress. I appreciate -- and value -- the mechanism for Congressional oversight laid out in the Constitution.

This Committee faces the important work of building upon the President's initiatives to strengthen and improve our intelligence capabilities. I commend your efforts in this area -- and in examining and assessing the important work of the September 11th Commission. We, at DHS, look forward to working with this Committee, and with the Congress as a whole, in this important endeavor.

After all, working together is the only way we can accomplish our goals -- and no doubt, those goals are the same -- preserve our freedoms, protect America and secure our homeland.

I've said it many times, but it is no less true in this chamber -- homeland security is about the integration of a nation.

It's about the integration of our national efforts, not one department or one organization, but everyone tasked with our nation's protection. Indeed, everyone must be pledged to freedom's cause, because everyone is its beneficiary and, thus, everyone its ultimate protector.

In the end, we are all united in our determination to defeat our terrorist enemies and secure our nation for this and future generations.

Thank you.


Source: Dept of Homeland Security