Representative Jane Harman (D-CA-36) blogs in her spare time and reads The Washington Note frequently. She also occasionally guest blogs at Huffington Post. Like the proprieter of TWN, she considers herself a “radical centrist” and presently serves as Chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security
In the partisan paradigm under which Congress operates, compliments are rarely paid to good policy initiatives by the opposite party.
Here goes. I applaud the recent initiatives of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to focus on threats posed by small boats and general aviation aircraft. Just this week, his Department sponsored a small vessel security summit in Washington as part of an effort to understand potential threats to our country’s 150 ports.
Yes, I know. Some regulations may affect or interfere with some recreational boating and business air travel. But how short is our memory? 17 American sailors were killed in 2000 when a small boat loaded with explosives slammed into the USS Cole at port in Yemen. Numerous small aircraft have targeted the White House; a small plane accidentally flew into it in 1994.
Senator Susan Collins and I recently visited the Port of Los Angeles and were briefed by the Coast Guard (now part of the Homeland Security Department) about its impressive program to track ship traffic headed for the port complex.
But what about small boats, we asked. The answer was that a 100-foot perimeter was set around commercial and tourist vessels — “controlled navigation areas” — and that any boat invading that perimeter is breaking the law.
But the terrorists who smashed into the USS Cole didn’t care about breaking the law — or staying alive.
This is what we’re up against — and a bigger worry than a suicide bomber acting alone is a suicide bomber carrying a radiological weapon.
The bipartisan SAFE Port Act, which passed the last Congress with overwhelming support, creates a layered maritime security strategy for America’s ports. So-called “Marine Domain Awareness” is a big part of this, and exempting small boats and general aviation aircraft would create a loophole for our agile adversaries to exploit.
So, I believe Secretary Chertoff is onto something important, and am happy to say so. If ever there was an issue that should not fall victim to the vicious partisanship now plaguing Congress, it is national security.
— Jane Harman