Bush highlights port security; Senate critic says effort not serious
President Bush visited the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center Friday, one day after making a speech at the Port of Charleston that focused in part on the administration’s port security efforts.
The National Targeting Center in Reston, Va., is the home of the automated system used by Customs to filter commercial shipping data and identify which imports and travelers need a more thorough check for potential links to terrorist or criminal activity.
There was no press coverage of the event and no comments by the president were released by the White House. The exact location of the National Targeting Center is supposed to be secret.
In Charleston, Bush touted policies ranging from jobs to Iraq and said his administration had done a good job protecting the homeland since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He noted that his 2005 budget includes increases for Customs programs like the Container Security Initiative.
But Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., principle author of the Maritime Transportation Security Act that requires ports to identify and correct security vulnerabilities, took Bush to task for not providing the resources to help ports meet their security needs.
“I find it ironic that the president has proposed increased funding for our antiballistic missile defenses but so little for port security. We’re in a terrorism war, and I find it far more likely that a nuclear weapon would arrive by ship than by missile,” Hollings said in a statement.
Hollings has been a persistent critic of Bush’s port security policy since passage of the law in late 2002, and has tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to pass a user fee or some other mechanism to help ports pay for security evaluations, surveillance equipment, container screening technology, radiation detectors, guards and other measures.
He applauded Bush for increasing the Coast Guard and Customs’ budgets, but said those monies would not help individual ports bolster their security infrastructure.
“Apparently, the White House is proposing to create one large pot of money for all of the nation’s homeland security needs, with no details as to how the money will be spent,” Hollings charged. The Republican-controlled Congress is poised to “grant the White House total discretion over, what appears to be, a Homeland Security slush fund to be utilized for the greatest political advantage in an election year.”