US security chief warns against stifling industry

10 September 2008 21:55  [Source: ICIS news]

DHS Secretary Chertoff warns of continuing terror threatWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The top US security official cautioned Congress on Wednesday against tightening federal antiterrorism mandates for chemical plants and refineries, warning that legislators risk smothering industry and undermining protection.


Speaking with reporters on the eve of seventh anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the country “is no doubt safer than it was on 9/11”.


He cited widespread security measures implemented in aviation, border protection, immigration controls and “dramatic enhancements” in intelligence cooperation with other nations as “positive developments that suggest we are safer now than seven years ago”.


However, Chertoff added, “the fact that we are safer does not mean that the job is done, and if we even think we’re done, we’d be making a grave mistake”.


Noting that “We in the US have difficulty in sustaining interest in long-term commitments”, he said that “taking additional steps to protect our nation against terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction will require exactly that kind of long-term investment and dedication”.


“I worry that we don’t have that sustained commitment,” he said.


Chertoff said he already has seen indications among academics and others who suggest that federal officials have overblown the terrorist threat, what he called “a September 10 mindset”.


“We face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat, and we will be facing that threat for years to come and we must evolve as well to meet it,” he said.


Although he cautioned against complacency, Chertoff also warned against going too far in the other extreme with hysteria-based policy decisions.


Citing work his department has done with industry to beef-up security at thousands of US chemical facilities, refineries and other critical manufacturing and infrastructure sites, he said that the fact that the country has been spared any further terrorist action in seven years is evidence that precautions are working.


Asked about legislation pending in Congress that would broaden federal control over existing antiterrorism security requirements at chemical facilities and other high-risk plants, Chertoff said “it would be unwise to have a circumstance where people sitting in Washington tell everybody how to do it, where to place guards at every particular plant”.


“I think that would not only stifle industry but it also would be the least effective way of securing these facilities against terrorist attack,” he said.


Chertoff is near the end of his tenure as head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He will leave that position in January 2009 when a new US administration takes office.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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