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 Home > News & Policies > March 2003

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 11, 2003

Secretary Ridge Speaks to VFW
Omnishore Hotel
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EST

SECRETARY RIDGE: Thank you very much. I want to thank you, Commander, for that wonderful introduction. And to my fellow members, VFW, for your warm response, and to my friends from Pennsylvania, it's great to see you again. Great to be with you. (Applause.) Thank you. All right. I miss you. You know, I loved being your governor. You were very, very supportive of me back then, and I'm grateful to be with you today.

Where are the Voice of Democracy winners? Congratulations to each and every one of you. You are an inspiration not only to this organization, but to the entire country. And we wish you the very, very best. (Applause.)

Also want to commend the Ladies Auxiliary for the extraordinary work they continue to do in the 13 million plus hours of community service. That's really a remarkable contribution you continue to make to your country, and we thank you for it very, very much. (Applause.)

We've got our own version of the wave going on down here. (Laughter.) That looked pretty good. Do you want to do it one more time? (Laughter and applause.)

You know, it's always a great privilege and a great personal honor to be with the men and women who have served this country so ably, and I know, at such a high personal cost. I've said this before, I say it again, and until the day I die I'll continue to remind America every chance I get, that when a member of the family puts on the uniform of this country, the whole family puts on the uniform of the country. (Applause.) And it's the spouse and the kids and everybody else --

And so, we, at times like this, has a tendency to -- and very appropriately so -- acknowledge publicly the men and women who wore the uniform, but we've got to talk about the spouses and the kids and the mums and dads who endured, many times suffered the most grievous pain, because of the loss of one of their family members. It's really great to be with you. It's really great to be with you, because this is a critical time for our nation and for the men and women who serve it.

Some of our troops are overseas fighting the war on terrorism -- and as the President has said, "Bringing our enemies to justice, or justice to our enemies, one at a time." And I'm here representing another fighting force. They wear a different uniform, they work for a different department. But they've got the same objective, protect America and our way of life. And that's the 170,000 plus men and women in the Department -- in the new Department of Homeland Security.

They, too, are dedicated patriots. They do a difficult job every day. And I believe they do it very, very well. For them, the war doesn't end. It's a day to day responsibility they will have on a permanent basis to protect our borders, to defend us in this first, newest and most difficult war of the 21st century. And we owe it to them, as well as ourselves, to give them the support they need, as well.

There are many ways to support homeland security. After the vicious attacks of September 11th, 2001, we realized we had to take immediate action to close the gaps in our defenses on land, sea and in the air. We had to unify our homeland security efforts under one roof, under one chain of command. Moreover, we had to be able to deploy these men and women wherever and whenever they were needed, to meet the ever changing threat.

So on March 1st, the Department of Homeland Security came into being. President Bush had the vision and the tenacity and the resolve to promote and support and take on the responsibility of the largest reorganization since the Department of Defense began its reorganziational efforts under President Truman. One team, one enemy, one fight to protect our homeland and our way of life. And I want to take this opportunity to thank the VFW for its unsteadying and unqualified support for the department from the very conception stage all the way to the day we opened our doors. Your support was instrumental in getting it done on the Hill. (Applause.) We thank you for that.

So we've got the right structure in place now. We must provide the resources and the right kind of leadership. The President and Congress have nearly doubled spending on homeland security, nearly doubled spending in the past year, government-wide, across the board. And that's funding that will go to states and cities and counties and others out in the field this year.

It's very important for all of us, I think, in the country to understand is, as hard as we might try, you cannot secure the country from the nation's capital. You really need to understand that we can provide the resources and the leadership, but when something happens back home, people don't pick up the phone and dial area code 202. You call your first responders back home, you call your law enforcement folks back home, you call the folks back home.

And so as we reorganize this department and as we get dollars for the new department, our job is to reorganize it around an ability to build the partnerships with the states and local communities and to see to it that the dollars get out to the states and local communities.

For several purposes, but at the heart of homeland security, there are three purposes: prevent a terrorist attack, reduce our vulnerability to an attack, and thirdly, be prepared to respond as quickly and as effectively as possible in the event an attack should occur. But at the very heart, the very heart of our effort, is prevention.

This investment will create new capabilities to protect us against terrorism. We will also integrate traditional security functions in a new and much more effective way. Now, prevention of terrorism begins at our borders. We have anywhere from 500 to 600 million people come across our borders every year. Think about that. What an incredible country, to have that many people -- most of them come from Canada and Mexico, back and forth on an ongoing basis -- but millions and millions come by plane and by sea, every single year.

So clearly, the soldiers begin thinking about the perimeter defense that you put up. We're going to begin part of that defensive layer at the borders. And the President and the Congress have seen to it that the 2003 investment includes funding to hire more than 1,700 new inspectors at our ports of entry -- air, land and sea -- and 600 more border patrol agents.

We also have to reform the system. I can recall coming across from Ottawa, Canada, at one point in time, and there were three difference faces of the government at the border. One group had a uniform, then they had a piece of tape. And another group had another uniform. And depending on what happened there, you could have had a third person come in with another uniform. Now, they're all representing the federal government; but we don't need three sets of people, three separate chains of command.

So what we're going to do is reorganize to create strength and new capacity at our borders. As part of our restructuring, we're going to move all border and immigration enforcement duties into just two bureaus -- the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection -- and that's going to deal with those attempting to cross into the country -- and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for those who are already here. And I think this change, in time, makes us much stronger across the board.

We understand that our safety depends not only upon our secure borders, but on sound and well enforced immigration laws. Our investment must reflect both. And the new department does just that. We are a nation of immigrants. If any of you have had the opportunity to go to Ellis Island, you would understand in very emotional kinds of ways. They've got an extraordinary display, among many, where there's just suitcases that have piled up, that have accumulated over the years since the Statue of Liberty beckoned, and millions and millions of people went through Ellis Island. And you say to yourself, people left these far away places and took all they owned and put it in that suitcase and set out for the opportunities available in America.

We are a rather incredible place because we are a nation of immigrants. But we have to develop an entry-exit system in response to the reality, new reality of the 21st century. And Congress has given us nearly $400 million to do that. The purpose is to make sure that those who we permit to enter our borders, give them a visa, we want them to stay, we want them to seek medical care, go to school, visit, recreate, be here for economic reasons -- plenty of reasons to welcome immigrants to our border, plenty of reasons to invite people in for a period of time, but when that stay has expired, when that time has expired, we have to make sure, that unless for some other good reason they are allowed to stay, that they return to their country of origin. The Congress has been very helpful developing an entry or exit system. We need to know why they're here. When their time has expired, we have to make sure that they leave. (Applause.) So identifying and removing --

We also know that it's not just looking for terrorists that's part of the responsibility of the new department, but we must be equally adept at spotting deadly cargo. But we must do so without putting a halt to trade, trade between our friends in Canada and Mexico, global trade. So we must distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate people and goods at our borders. And that's one of the new critical responsibilities of the new agency. And here we've made great progress in the past 18 months that I can report to you.

First of all, we are working very closely with our counterparts in Mexico and Canada on Smart Border 21st century agreements, where we use people and technology, and we tie up in a much more collaborative way the respective agencies on either side of the border to make sure that we can facilitate, actually, the flow of goods and people. If you're from a border state, you know how important it is. There are families depend on it, communities depend on it, jobs depend on it. So we want to make sure that those who have legitimate reasons for coming back and forth across the borders do so. We also have to make sure we inspect some cargo and challenge some people about whom we might be concerned, for a variety of reasons. We have to think a little bit differently at the borders. And our friends in Canada and Mexico have been very helpful and very supportive in that regard. And you need to know that.

We now have a Customs trade partnership. We need to get private companies involved. And we basically said to many of these private companies that send goods across the border, if you will agree to a certain protocol along your entire supply chain, if you agree to secure this merchandise along your entire supply chain, you agree to be audited and you agreed to be checked once in a while to make sure you're complying -- you remember -- trust but verify; not a bad way of doing business -- then we'll facilitate the passage of those goods across the borders. And we have over 2,000 companies that have agreed to it.

Again, the President has said, we can't impede Congress [sic]. We need to try to facilitate it. But at the same time, we have to ensure there's greater security at the borders. And these Smart Border agreements, I think, are taking us very quickly in that direction. We're going to spend nearly $50 million this year for non-intrusive inspection systems. Everybody at the borders now, whether they used to work for the former INS or Customs or anybody else, are going to have portable radiation detectors. We also have non-intrusive technology for inspection of rail containers and shipping containers that come to our ports. Because we can target shipments, we can do a better job of targeting our human resources to inspect them.

You know, there's a lot of discussion in the public and you hear about it from time to time, and you hear this figure quoted, some of the talking heads on television, well, they're only inspecting 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the ships that come into this country. I'm just here to assure you that they're not randomly inspected. They just don't wake up in the morning and say, hey, let's go inspect a ship. They board those ships for very specific reasons. So they're not randomly selected -- a fairly sophisticated piece of work they do about the ship, about the crew, about where the ship has been before they make the decision to board it.

They also are now beginning to deploy Customs agents -- men and women -- to the 20 largest ports around the world. Interesting fact that you may forget, but it is rather astonishing to me, we get about 65 percent, almost two-thirds of our cargo in these containers, from about 20 ports around the world. And again, if you're a soldier and you're thinking about your perimeter, you want to push that perimeter out as far away as you possibly can, so we're going to put Customs people and technology in these 20 large ports so they can inspect those containers before they even get on the ship. Again, significant progress in the past 18 months, still more to go. But you take good people, technology and we do a better job of protecting ourselves and reducing our vulnerability. (Applause.)

Now, I am very, very privileged as the Secretary of Homeland Security to have assigned to the new department the United States Coast Guard. (Applause.) I will tell you that I think they are probably one of the most undervalued, under-appreciated assets this government has ever put together for 200 years. And they've been doing homeland security for two centuries, plus, and they do a darn good job. (Applause.)

They have been securing our coast line and navigable waterways -- check this: 95,000 miles worth -- for more than 200 years. And since the attacks of September 11th, they've really ramped up and are doing a lot more with regard to port security. Matter of fact, in the past couple of years, they've have 35,000 port security patrols alone, in addition to all the other work they do. The investment in 2003 provides for the largest increase for Coast Guard operating expenses since World War II, enough to place an additional 2,200 men and women on active duty, develop 44 port security response boats and fund six new maritime SWAT teams, and equip these extraordinary men and women with the equipment they need, and additional personnel they need to protect our ports.

Our first objective is obviously prevent terrorism. Our second is to reduce vulnerability to attack. The new department will be tasked with the mission of analyzing threats and then taking that information, taking a look at where the threat is targeted, for the infrastructure of this country, and then making sure the protective measures are taken to protect that piece of infrastructure. The Congress gave us a couple hundred million dollars to begin that process.

You should note that the President has authorized, for the first time ever, the creation of a terrorist threat integration center. Any of you that were in MI, military intelligence, you know that there are several dozen agencies in the federal government that gather intelligence, from around the world, various means. But we've never had one single place -- one single place -- where it was all integrated, where we had a group of analysts who had access, immediate access to all that information.

So we will have some of our analysts in that new terrorist threat integration center that will make our ability to harden America -- 85 percent of the infrastructure is owned by the private sector -- we'll have an enhanced ability to do that with the integration of all these intelligence agencies, basically, the integration of their information.

And then finally, our third objective, preparedness and response and recovery. The 2003 investment will give state and local governments nearly a billion dollars for anti-terrorism equipment, training and exercises. In addition, tens of millions of dollars will be invested in urban search and rescue teams, interoperable communications, and the popular community emergency response teams.

Our efforts will be aided by more than a half a billion dollars transferred into the new Department for science and technology to spur research and development. We aim to attract the very best minds from the private sector and the academic community and get them working on high-stakes, high-payoff projects. America has historically used to its advantage the science and technology and the creative minds of Americans. We've always used our edge in innovation to defeat our enemies. We built an arsenal of democracy to win World War II; and we will build a shield of science to deter and defeat terrorists today.

Just as in World War II, this homeland security army will be supported by the home front. Terrorism gives Americans a choice: we can be afraid, or we can be ready. We're not afraid of anybody, so we will be ready. (Applause.)

As you know, the Department of Homeland Security initiated a "ready campaign." The precursor to that was several days of public discussion about duct tape. (Laughter.) Yes, you're right. My name was mentioned a couple times on more than one or two night shows, I guess. I happen to think humor is a good way of talking about serious subjects. So if you see any good political cartoons out there, send them on in. (Laughter.)

I had one fellow send one in that had a picture of a duck on a window, being taped -- and said, "Now that I have the duck taped, what else should I do?" (Laughter and applause.) Might want to keep him alive until Thanksgiving or Christmas -- (laughter) -- but probably not in that environment.

But it's been a good program. has empowered Americans with information. And this is the message that we're trying to get out. We've got professionals fighting terrorism around the world. We've got them in Afghanistan, we've got them in many, many places. They wear the uniform of this country. They're in the CIA, they're FBI, they're working at the borders. These are the men and women who have an aspect, some role in combating terrorism. And that's what they do every single day.

But for the individual American or the family, what we want you to do is have a communication plan in the unlikely, but possible, event that your family is affected -- a communication plan. Because if you're like my family, rarely are all of you under the same roof at the same time, except when you're all sleeping. Have this little emergency supply kit. And just be alert, be aware, be informed. But go about your business. Go to work, go to the factory, take the kids to school, enjoy being American. We are not going to surrender our way of life -- we will not surrender our way of life. (Applause.)

But armed with information and empowered to act, we will take and make preparations not unlike those who live in the panhandle of Florida or along the East Coast take preparations in anticipation of a hurricane. Not unlike those in other parts of the country that prepare for certain natural weather events. Not unlike families did in the '50s and '60s -- you remember what families did then, some of the young kids would. We used to have the civil defense drill in school, in the middle of the Cold War, in case of an attack by Russia. We used to either hide under the desk or leave the school. And we found out later on, neither one would have probably have done much good. (Laughter.)

But we got used to doing the kinds of things that society and the government and your families and everybody said, let's do this to be prepared. And that's what the campaign is about. And I say and I continue to make this appeal to you, your membership and everybody else: unless you're in the day-to-day business of homeland security, be ready; we're not going to be afraid; and then go about the business of enjoying America.

Michelle and I and our family have put together our own kit for the four of us and our three dogs. (Laughter.) As a matter of fact, the kids are more concerned about the dogs having ample food than their dad, but that's okay. (Laughter.) Michelle always points out that these steps aren't that different than what her family did in the '50s, during the Cold War, when her dad was a career soldier who was stationed in Germany. The Cold War, they used to have -- in their trunk they had supplies. The MPs could pull you over if you didn't have half a tank of gas.

Preparations were made in case, and that's all we're asking. It's not just common sense, I think it's community service. I think it's an especially important message, but this is a community the knows about service -- the VFW has always been about service in one way or the other. (Applause.)

So I believe that when these terrorists see that the door is closing to them at the borders and at our ports, and they see America hardening itself and its critical infrastructure; when they know that our firefighters and our first responders are trained to handle the very worst they have to throw at us; when they see the strength of our military, the commitment of our military; the resolve of a country reflected in the resolve and the steadfastness of our President -- it can't help but discourage them.

And so I'm reminded of what one our citizen soldiers said to General Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day -- you've probably heard this story before. He went walking down through the ranks and he turned to a young private and turned to the private and said, "Are you worried?" He said, "No, it's Hitler's turn to worry."

Well, it's the terrorists' turn to be concerned about us, because we are not fearful and we will be ready. Terrorists and tyrants do not scare Americans. (Applause.) They never have and they never will. (Applause.) They may be a threat from time to time to our personal safety, but they will never, ever take away our liberties and freedoms -- ever. (Applause.)

And for that, you and your members across this country, and so many others, deserve all the credit and the gratitude of this country. Freedom isn't free. You are the ones who've already paid the price. Some of you carry the scars that are a permanent reminder, and some of you have had friends who paid the ultimate price. We will never forget that. And we vow never to let terrorists destroy with their cowardice what you have built with your courage -- the greatest country on the face of the earth. (Applause.)

Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

END 11:35 A.M. EST