NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES
Monday, January 26, 2004
Hart Senate Office Building
CHAIRED BY: THOMAS H. KEAN
MARY RYAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE;
DORIS MEISSNER, FORMER COMMISSIONER, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE;
JOSE E. MELENDEZ-PEREZ, INSPECTOR, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY;
MAURA HARTY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE;
RUSSELL E. TRAVERS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, INFORMATION SHARING AND KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT, TERRORIST THREAT INTEGRATION CENTER;
DONNA A. BUCELLA, DIRECTOR, TERRORIST SCREENING CENTER, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION;
JAMES ZIGLAR, FORMER COMMISSIONER, IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE;
ROBERT C. BONNER, COMMISSIONER, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY;
PETER F. VERGA, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HOMELAND DEFENSE, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
MR. ROBERT C. BONNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to appear before the 9/11 Commission and to discuss with you the ways that 9/11 and the aftermath impacted on the United States Customs, how Customs responded to 9/11 and ultimately, the evolution, as Mr. Ziglar alluded to, of the creation of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Bureau within a new department of our government.
On the morning of 9/11, I had not been confirmed yet as the Commissioner of Customs. I was, I guess, a commissioner designate, had a temporary office on the fourth floor of Treasury Department and with all the other employees of Treasury, at about 9:30, 9:35 a.m., I evacuated the Treasury Department and joined the then acting secretary of the Treasury, Ken Dam at the Secret Service Headquarters Command Center a few blocks away. And, once there, I did establish immediately contact with U.S. Customs Headquarters at the Ronald Reagan building.
At about 10:05 a.m. on the morning of September 11th, U.S. Customs went to Level 1 alert at all the ports of entry in the country and that is the highest level of security alert short of actually shutting down the border ports of entry. We did so, as Commissioner Ziglar indicated, in coordination with the INS. Besides going to Level 1 alert, which, by the way, means significantly increasing the questioning of people entering the United States, passengers, vehicles, as well as the inspection of vehicles and cargo, Customs also repositioned some of its Black Hawk helicopters from the southern border with Mexico to the northeast to aid the recovery efforts.
On the morning of 9/11, through an evaluation of data — by the way, this was the passing through manifest, which U.S. Customs was able to access from the airlines — I would say, within about an hour of 9/11 U.S. Customs Office of Intelligence had identified the 19 probable hijackers as well as the complete list of the passengers on the aircraft. By the way, Customs was also struck directly on 9/11. The U.S. Customs cell in New York City was located at 6 World Trade Center. It’s an eight story building that was immediately north of the North Tower and it was destroyed, of course, completely when the North Tower fell. Fortunately, all 800 Customs employees in New York City that were in that building, that worked in that building were unharmed. Of course, the loss of our building is nothing in comparison to the thousands of people that were murdered on the morning of 9/11.
I was confirmed on September 19th by the Senate and sworn in a few days later. Let me just say, first of all, that it was very apparent to me and I think many people at U.S. Customs that the agency’s mission and its future had been dramatically changed by what had happened. It certainly was clear to me that our priority mission had changed from one of interdiction of illegal drugs and trade regulation and the like to a security prevention mission and, to put it very plainly and bluntly, preventing terrorists or terrorist weapons from entering our country.
We also saw, by the way, after 9/11, on the 12th and 13th and 14th, we saw that Level 1 alert was one thing but on the day after and the few days after 9/11, we saw wait times go at our border ports of entry go jump, particularly at our northern border, from about an average of 20 minutes before 9/11 at the Ambassador Bridge, for example, from Ontario into Detroit, they jumped from 20 minutes to 12 hours overnight.
So, by September 12th, there was a 12-hour wait time which was impacting many of the companies on our side of the borders, including auto makers who had just in time inventories. By the way, that was across the border. At Buffalo, the bridges over Buffalo were also 10- to 12-hour wait times within a day or two of 9/11 as well as the bridge at Port Huron. So we virtually shut down the borders by going to Level 1 alert.
Suffice it to say — and I won’t go into detail, it’s in my testimony — we worked with Governor Engler to get National Guard support. We worked — the inspectors were working 12 or 16 hours a day, seven days a week. We TDY�d temporarily duty assigned people to the northern ports of entry from as far away as Los Angeles. We did everything necessary to both maintain security but by September 17th or September 18th, we had gotten the wait times down to near where they had been prior to 9/11.
It was also clear to me that, if we were going to be able to perform our anti-terrorism mission, that we were going to need to have advance information about people and cargo coming into the United States. And we did — just very quickly, there were a couple of things that were very important. One was, we did obtain legislation, with support of the Administration, in the Transportation Security Act that mandated for the first time that all airlines that were flying passengers into the United States from abroad had to — were required to provide the advance passenger information with respect to everybody on that flight and also the personal name data with respect to those passengers. That was enacted in November of 2001 and we were able to get very fast compliance with that law, in part by making it clear to airlines that didn’t comply with the law that Customs was going up to 100 percent inspection of all their passengers arriving at JFK and other airports around the country.
The second thing we did was we also needed advance information electronically with respect to cargo shipments coming into the country and we promulgated in Customs what’s called the 24-hour rule. But that rule essentially required that Customs be given advance information with respect to a complete information electronically with respect to all cargo shipments, ocean-going cargo shipments that were being shipped to the United States 24 hours before those cargo containers were loaded on board vessels outbound from the foreign ports. Not 24 hours before arrival into the U.S., 24 hours before they left the foreign ports for the U.S. Similarly, under what’s called the Trade Act legislation of 2002, we were able to essentially extend these advance manifest information on cargo shipments to all other modes, commercial trucks, rails, rail shipments and air cargo and the like.
We also, as Mr. Ziglar indicated, realized that we had to push our border outward. We had to extend our zone of security and we did three key things in that direction. One was to create in late 2001, November 2001, the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. This was essentially partnering with the private sector to get a commitment from them to give increased supply chain security literally from the foreign loading docks of their vendors to the U.S. borders.
In an exchange, if they met the security standards that we set out, in exchange, we would give those companies — we call it C-TPAT — expedited processing through the borders of the U.S. That started off with just seven companies, seven major importers of the U.S. in December 2001. There’s over 5,000 companies that are now members of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and they represent over 40 percent of the volume by value of imports into the United States. That’s probably the largest, and I believe, most successful public-private sector partnership that was formed out of the ashes of 9/11.
And then secondly, as an extended border program, we implemented the Container Security Initiative. And the Container Security Initiative was to recognize that particularly when you’re talking about the terrorist threat and potential use of a container to conceal a terrorist weapon, even — particularly a weapon of mass destruction — or use the container as a weapon, that we needed to do our targeting of cargo containers that we’re moving for the U.S., and the screening of those containers for at least the high-risk containers, the containers that were identified as posing a potential terrorist threat at foreign seaports. And we proposed in January of 2002 that we start with the top 20 foreign ports, which represented almost 70 percent, over two-thirds of all the containers coming to the United States, and that we implement it at those ports.
And we have been able to implement the Container Security Initiative. The countries representing 19 of the top 20 ports have agreed to implement CSI, the Container Security Initiative, and we have in fact implemented it at 17 foreign ports around the world. And we are continuing, by the way, now to expand that to other ports that ship significant volumes and are strategically located, of cargo containers to the U.S., places like Malaysia.
Let me also just say — it’s in my testimony — we’ve had some excellent cooperation with Canada and Mexico with respect to smarter borders, that is to say borders that add security to both the movement of people and the movement of goods across our borders, and at the same time do it with respect to some initiatives that actually facilitate the flow of legitimate trade and people. These are programs like the Free and Secure Trade Program with Canada, which we’ve expanded to Mexico, programs that we worked on with the INS, the NEXUS program, which we’ve expanded, which is for people who are travelling across our border who are willing to give up basically some of their privacy to submit an application, pay a small fee, and are vetted through the criminal and terrorist indices of both Canada and the United States, and are personally interviewed. And if they are determined not to pose a terrorist threat or a threat for smuggling, they are given a proximity card and can get through the border expeditiously.
MR. KEAN: Mr. Bonner, could you start to sum up, please?
MR. BONNER: I will. Those are a few of the initiatives that we took as part of U.S. Customs. One of the most important initiatives actually was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and within this new department the Customs and Border Protection, which is for the first time unifying all of the personnel or agencies that had border responsibilities into one border agency to manage and secure the borders of our country. We have begun to do that as of March 1, 2003, with the stand-up to the department. That is to create what Secretary Ridge has called one agency — one face at the border, which is one border agency of the federal government to manage, secure and control our borders.
And I can’t tell you how important that is to our effectiveness in terms of the terrorist threat. It is extraordinarily important to bring together men and women like Inspector Melendez, who testified earlier here, a former INS inspector, and people like Diana Dean, who was a Customs inspector in the state of Washington who was responsible for catching Ahmed Ressam, the millennium bomber.
So let me conclude my remarks with that. Mr. Chairman, thank you and the Commission for your indulgence. I’ll answer any questions you have when we get to question time.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Let me turn to Mr. Bonner, if I may. Obviously mindful of what I think Commissioner Gorelick has earlier indicated in this day, long day of hearing, that we’re not going to obviously talk about specific instances where our staff or we have perceived holes, in the procedures, practices or policies that are now in place, but let me ask you generally with respect to container security, which you have brought up in your statement. It has been widely discussed that only a very, very small percentage of shipping containers coming into this country from foreign ports are physically inspected. Can you provide some details with respect to that and whether there is a program underfoot to increase the physical inspection of shipping containers?
MR. BONNER: Be happy to. First of all, there’s sort of a — one of the urban myths is that there’re 2 percent of the containers approximately that come into the U.S. are inspected and the reality is, of course, we’ve been increasing the rate of our inspections, but the premise, the underlying premise for our inspection is a risk management one. That posits with the right strategic intelligence, the right anomaly analysis, the right detection equipment, you don’t necessarily have to inspect all containers coming into the U.S.
If we have to do that, we don’t have the resources to do it and I think it actually would be rather foolish, a waste of resources. But basically I can tell you that if you take all cargo shipments which basically would be both trucks and ocean going cargo containers, the number is close to 10 percent.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: And if you limited yourself to ocean going containers?
MR. BONNER: If you limit it to ocean going containers, it’s between four and 5 percent, I mean, it goes up and down, it varies. But I will hasten to add, as I think you know, Mr. Ben-Veniste, that the premise here is that we actually get information on all containers that come into the United States before they arrive. We do an analysis of those containers, we select out the ones that we think pose a potential risk for the terrorist threat and we screen through both radiation detection and large scale imaging equipment 100 percent of those containers.
Now, with CSI of course we’re doing more and more of that, not just on arrival at USC ports, but where we have CSI in place, doing it at the outbound ports before they’re even loaded on board vessels to the U.S.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: So is it fair to say that since 9/11 the percentage, the quantity of shipping containers from overseas ports have increased?
MR. BONNER: Yes, unquestionably. Probably in the order of doubled or tripled.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: So, pre-9/11 it might have been about 2 percent and now it’s 4 or 5?
MR. BONNER: But by the way, I don’t know that it was 2 percent before 9/11, I mean I don’t know where the figure comes from.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, if it’s 4 percent now and it’s doubled —
MR. BONNER: But I feel confident that it’s increased by 100 percent and I actually think it may well be more than that.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Do you have a goal, a target —
MR. BONNER: Yes.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: — as to the — where you’d want to be, can you share that with us?
MR. BONNER: Yes. The goal is screen and do a security inspection for 100 percent of all containers that we identify as potentially risky for the terrorist threat, and I believe we are doing that, that’s the goal and I think we’re either doing it or close to doing it at ports of arrival into the U.S. and we’re now through the extended border strategy being able to do that more at foreign sea ports before they’re shipped to the U.S.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Do I understand you to say that you are at your target now?
MR. BONNER: We are — yes, I think we are at or close to our target, which is to say that one thing I didn’t mention in my testimony for a lack of time is that one of the things we set up in October 2001 for the first time in the history of Customs, was a national targeting center to target all containers, who also gets all the information on arriving passengers too, but all containers that are coming to the U.S. and essentially taking strategic intelligence and developing targeting rules, there are 150, 200 targeting rules in the system to score and target for potential threat.
It doesn’t mean they are an actual terrorist threat, but because of a variety of factors, we have identified those containers that pose a potential security threat, terrorist threat. And with respect to those, we are, I believe, we are screening 100 percent, every one of those we’ve identified as a potential terrorist threat according to our targeting rules that have been set up through the targeting center by U.S. Customs. By the way, it’s a 24/7 watch that takes all this information and essentially evaluates it and analyzes it through these rules.
Now, by the way, we need — we are a consumer of intelligence and it’s not just tactical specific intelligence, what container or what person may be a terrorist. But we are a consumer of strategic intelligence too and so, some of our rules are formed by what we get through the intelligence community and the FBI to inform us just on how we set our rules. That’s the methodology. It’s a risk management methodology to identify every container that poses a potential risk and then make sure every container is screened for security purposes.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: I must say that I had the occasion to observe border security operation by the Customs service at the Niagara Falls U.S.-Canadian crossing and was very impressed with the dedication of the individuals who were working there and the level of instruction that they had obviously received. Let me ask you this. With respect to the inspections that you have conducted with respect to both land and sea containers since 9/11, have you interdicted any containers that would be regarded as directed toward terrorist activities in the United States?
MR. BONNER: I can’t say that there are any that are directly related to terrorist activities. We have interdicted containers that have contained automatic weapons. We have interdicted containers that contained essentially chemical, anti-chemical exposure kinds of suits and things like that. But I can’t say that they’re directly connected with terrorism. But I can say that the system works. I’d also say, since you were up at Niagara, you also saw — I believe you saw that there are portal radiation monitors there for the — coming across those bridges, both trucks and passenger vehicles.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: I did.
MR. BONNER: They didn’t exist on 9/11. So we’re getting a radiation read on every vehicle, truck and passenger vehicle. We also have deployed, which didn’t exist on 9/11, large scale X-ray imaging machines so we can do whole container truck X-rays and images which we didn’t have on 9/11. We’ve done that. We’ve put these in place on the northern border and sea ports of the country and the like. So —
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Getting a lot of hits on cancer patients who —
MR. BONNER: We do get some hits on cancer patients occasionally that are in vehicles crossing the Mexican or the northern border.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Let me ask you briefly about your statement about the day on 9/11 which I found very interesting. You say that, on the morning of 9/11, through an evaluation of data related to the passenger manifest of the four terrorist hijacked aircraft, Customs Office of Intelligence was able to identify the likely terrorist hijackers within 45 minutes of the attack, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community. How are your people able to do that?
MR. BONNER: Well, it was pretty simple actually. We were able to pull from the airlines the passenger manifest for each of the four flights. We ran the manifest through the TECS/IBIS system. This is essentially the lookout system that both U.S. Customs and INS use but it’s maintained by Customs. We ran it through the system. Two of the passengers on those aircraft were hits for having been entered on the watchlist in August of 2001. That was al Mihdhar and I forget the other one’s name but they were the two people that had gone to Singapore that the CIA had identified. But they actually were put on the watchlist in August of 2001 by the FBI. So they hit on those two.
Just using those two hits and taking a look at some other basic data about the flight manifest, both in terms of — I don’t want to go into a lot of detail — but where they were seated, where they purchased their tickets, you could do just a quick link analysis and essentially, I remember I was at Secret Service headquarters, as I said, but I would say whether it was 45 minutes, I don’t know but my recollection is that certainly by 11:00 a.m., I’d seen a sheet that essentially identified the 19 probable hijackers. And in fact, they turned out to be, based upon further follow-up in detailed investigation, to be the 19.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Was this more than looking at the two who were hits and then checking out the other Arab names?
MR. BONNER: It was partly that, by the way, but it was more than that. No, it was seat location, ticket purchase information. Again, I am on public record here. I don’t want to go into exact details since we use some of this information in terms of targeting today for potential terrorists. We actually use, as I was saying, advance passenger information to identify beyond just who’s on the watch list by biography to try to do a more intelligent job as to who, as the combined immigration inspection and Customs inspection, Customs and Border Protection who would you ask a few questions to as they’re arriving in the United States.
So you’re doing more than just looking at a watch list. You’re looking at a lot of data and trying to figure out who to look at, just as in the same way we’re looking at what cargo to look at by examining a multitude of factors. That is, to some extent, strategic intelligence driven. So it was looking at a bunch of relational data. Obviously, more refinement of that occurred later but it was — it didn’t take a lot to do, just sort of what I’d say a rudimentary link analysis to identify essentially all 19.