Press Conference with Secretary Of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Deputy Administrator Of The Transportation Security Administration Robert Jamison

12/15/2006 in Government Initiatives News

Release Date: December 15, 2006

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
DHS Press Office, (202) 282-8010

Secretary Chertoff: Good morning, everybody. I'm joined by Robert Jamison, who is the Deputy Administrator of TSA. The Administrator is overseas working with our foreign allies.

One of the things that we have focused upon as we look at how to best protect the infrastructure and the people of this country is the possibility of a toxic chemical being turned into a weapon by terrorists. This would be essentially leveraging our own technology against us, in much the same way as the terrorists did on September 11th. And so we've talked for some time about what we need to do to minimize the risk of an attack on a chemical facility, a chemical plant, but we've also had to look at the entire system — not just the plants themselves, but the way in which the chemicals are moved from one plant to another plant. So we addressed the challenge by looking at the entire system end-to-end.

Now, let me begin by saying the vast majority of chemical shipments do not pose a risk to people. It would be a bad thing, obviously, if somebody blew up a tanker truck of olive oil, but it would not be an immediate threat to the health and safety of people around it. In fact, less than one percent of all shipments that travel by rail are toxic by inhalation, which means that they could create some kind of an emission if they were attacked that could affect people's respiratory systems and endanger their health.

But of this very small amount of toxic inhalation chemical that does move in our transit system from one place to another, approximately two-thirds of it does travel by rail. Another 25 percent travels by maritime transport in ships or in barges.

So that boils down to the fact that almost 90 percent of high-risk chemicals travel in bulk either by train or in barges or ships. If we focus on protecting those means of transportation, we are basically taking a very significant percent of the risk of high inhalation chemicals off the table.

Now, we've talked about taking steps to protect the end points of the system, the chemical plants themselves — chemical facilities that produce some of the most worrisome kinds of hazards, such as chlorine or anhydrous ammonia, which is commonly used as fertilizer. And thanks to congressional action of a couple of months ago, very soon we'll be releasing new chemical security regulations with newly granted authority that address these chemical plants very directly and give us the ability to impose a risk-based regime on the chemical industry.

But today I want to talk about that middle piece of the system, the piece that comes into play when you're moving chemicals from one plant to another plant.

Now, first let's look back and see some of the progress we've made to date in protecting our rail transit system. This year alone, we awarded nearly $110 million in grants for the protection of major rail systems. And we've also awarded more than $375 million to protect mass transit systems, including rail mass transit. We've been working with rail companies across the country to conduct vulnerability assessments of their facilities and of the rail corridors all around the country, including the seven-mile D.C. rail corridor here in Washington.

We've worked to develop 20 best practices that rail operators should put into place addressing a host of issues from access control to coordinating incident response with local authorities. We've deployed rail inspectors all over the country to conduct security reviews and implement those best practices with industry.

And to protect areas of rail other than the shipment of hazardous material, including passenger rail, we continue to develop, test and implement new screening technology to counter the threat of explosives and improvised explosives devices, and to improve chemical detection around the country. And of course we also continue to fund low-tech approaches, like explosive-detection canine teams and special multi-agency response forces to provide surge capabilities when we have a high threat period.

So now let's look specifically at these toxic inhalation hazards or risk. What are the risks we're most concerned about when we analyze the movement of these dangerous chemicals through our rail system? Let me begin by saying that very few tank cars actually carry these hazardous chemicals on any given day. Moreover, the movement of these chemicals through the rail system is very unpredictable because of the very nature in which rail systems operate. Moving targets are the hardest kind of target to attack, so the lowest-risk element of the system is when something is moving unpredictably from one place to another without stopping.

But the risk does increase when cars are sitting still, either in storage yards or transfer points. And the risk gets even greater when there's a change in custody or a handoff between one company and another company, because that's a time when something can fall through the cracks and someone may drop the ball.

So we don't want to have unattended toxic inhalation chemical cars, and we don't want to have gaps in security when we hand off a car from one rail company to another rail company, especially when that occurs in and around an urban area.

So what are we going to do about it? Well, today, building on some agreements we've already entered into with industry, we're announcing a new rail security regulation that will do a number of things to reduce the risk at the most dangerous parts of the process, when the moving stock is standing still or, worse yet, when there's a handoff from one company to another.

And the elements of our regulation involve the following: reporting, inspection authority, and rail security coordinators. Reporting means that we're establishing with this regulation new procedures for reporting security incidents or concerns to the federal government. We're codifying TSA's authority to conduct inspections of facilities to ensure compliance with the rules. And we're requiring rail companies to appoint a rail security coordinator as a single point of contact for TSA with respect to security-related activities.

Next step, of course, is tracking. We want to know where these cars are and we want to know how to reach them if necessary if there's information about a threat. By next year, under this regulation, we will insist on knowing the exact location of a specific dangerous chemical car within five minutes of the time that we make the request. We will also require that the railroads give us the capability within a 30-minute period to find all the high-risk cars located within a given geographic area.

Let me be real specific about this: That means if we get threat information about a possible attack in a particular area, we will, within a matter of minutes, be able to know what are the cars that are potentially in jeopardy if that attack is carried out. That will give law enforcement a real-time response capability that will enable them to prevent an attack before it happens.

Second, the rule that we are issuing today creates a requirement for a positive chain of custody from beginning to end and requires a secure handoff from one company to another company when cars change hands. The bottom line is, someone has to have ownership of and accountability for the way this material is handled. We do not want to have a seam in which one company leaves a car, another company fails to pick it up, and the car is sitting there unattended and unknown to the authorities. So this regulation is going to require positive security handoffs.

And finally, we have an agreement with industry, which we achieved during the summer, that will require them to drive down the standstill time of these dangerous chemicals in the coming year. That standstill time arises when you have, for example, unpredicted stops or situations where a car may be shunted off to the side to allow other traffic to go by. We want to reduce and drive down that standstill time, because the vulnerability of the system is the greatest when the car is sitting still and there is the least vulnerability to risk when the car is moving rapidly.

So we look forward to driving this requirement under the agreement down, to substantially reduce standstill time, and to require that, under the agreement, that when cars are going to be sitting someplace for a significant period, they either have to be in a physically secure area, or they have to be personally attended by individuals.

Now, many of these steps are already underway. We haven't just sprung this as a surprise on the industry. And as I say, many of these steps are undertaken pursuant to an agreement that we reached earlier this year. But the regulation formalizes some of these important actions, and ensures compliance by making sure that these important measures, many of these important measures, have to be followed or there will be enforcement action, including the possibility of fines.

Finally, we are very grateful for the cooperation of our partners at the Department of Transportation. They have issued a companion proposed rule today that would require railroads to analyze the safety and security concerns of their entire routes for toxic materials and would require them to select the practical route that most minimizes the risk. So, again, that complements what we're doing with respect to standstill time, custody and location tracking.

The end result of this coordinated effort by both our departments is to cover the question of locating cars, reducing standstill time, assuring a positive chain of custody, making sure that we get prompt reporting, giving us inspection authority and tracking capabilities, all of which is designed to significantly reduce the risk that chemicals can be turned into deadly weapons when they are in transit between chemical plants. And then, in very short order, we're going to complete the approach to the system by putting our regulations for the plants themselves into place.

Through regulations and industry agreements, we will have addressed 90 percent of the bulk hazardous toxic inhalation shipments moving across the United States, plus the chemical facilities at either end. That is a big step forward for protecting the country.

It is also a great illustration of why DHS was created, because what we have done here is integrate the activities not only of TSA and the Department of Transportation, but the Coast Guard as well — which handles the maritime domain — as well as our capabilities with respect to science and technology to continue to do research on better sensing and better technology. All of this is a combined and integrated approach to raising the level of security for all Americans. And I think it's a good message as we begin this holiday season.

So with that, we'll take some questions. Yes.

Question: What's the projected cost to industry?

Secretary Chertoff: It will certainly have some cost. I can't tell you off the top of my head what it's going to be. We can probably supply that later.

Mr. Jamison: It's about $162 million over 10 years.

Secretary Chertoff: Good.

Question: Some of the congressional leaders say what needs to be done is to route this material around urban areas. Why is that not included in this?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, the first thing I'll say is the Department of Transportation is requiring the practical route that is the safest. You have to recognize, though, that much of our rail system was built at a time when it was considered desirable to put the rails through the cities. And that poses two challenges. First of all, if you're going to deliver these chemicals, like chlorine, which happens to be very important in purifying water, if you're going to deliver it to a city, you've got to get it into the city. And second, to do a lot of rerouting would result, I think, in a substantial reconstruction of the rail industry and the rail network in this country.

So we're taking it in stages. Department of Transportation is going to require — is going to put in place measures that drive industry, to the extent practical, to taking the safest routes, reducing the standstill time, and creating the positive handoff is going to mean that things have to move quickly so there's less opportunity to create an attack. And I want to remind the public that less than one percent of the traffic, less than half a percent of the traffic that moves by rail is this dangerous chemical, toxic inhalation chemical. So we're talking about a small number of cars, a significant reduction in risk, which we think is a very, very powerful step, and also a cost-effective step in protecting Americans.

Question: Just a quick follow-up, if I may. Can you put in perspective why you're so concerned about these kinds of chemicals? Can you talk specifically about the kinds of chemicals and what the risk is?

Secretary Chertoff: The biggest danger I think we are concerned about is the possibility of a terrorist blowing up a car which causes dangerous respiratory — dangerous chemicals to be emitted into the air that will affect people's respiratory system, where people are going to be breathing chlorine or breathing anhydrous ammonia.

The possible threat to the population in that immediate vicinity would be much greater than if you simply blew up a car full of olive oil, which there might be a little bit of shrapnel, but the olive oil is not going to in and of itself be dangerous.

So as with all our approach to the issue of chemicals, we recognize the greatest danger comes from chemicals that can affect your respiratory system. And other kinds of chemicals pose less of a risk, and therefore we need to worry less about protecting them.

Question: In arriving at this list for chemicals that you're concentrating on, are you looking at simple leaks or leaks that are associated with fire? And how does that change the picture? There are certain chemicals that are — like chlorine, that's hazardous if it leaks, and there's others that are hazardous when it's burning. Did you take that into account when arriving at this —

Secretary Chertoff: We have to — in the general way in which we tier chemicals, we look at — we basically break them into several tiers and we look at the ones that are the most volatile, the ones that are most easily spread in a wide area that could affect the largest number of people.

Obviously if you blow up a car and cause a large fire, that's going to pose a threat to people in the immediate vicinity, but the threat is going to be less, for example, than the threat of a plume of chlorine gas. So it's a question of focusing — risk management — focusing on the highest-risk things first, and then working our way down the list.

Question: But in your own example, you used the example of terrorists exploding a place, a chemical — or a car. Did your analysis include the burning of chemicals as opposed to just a —

Secretary Chertoff: Well, to the extent that the explosion causes a release of toxic inhalation chemicals, that's what this is focused on. If you're talking about just the ability to blow up a car and have a fire, as when you blow up anything, that's a different set of concerns, and frankly, the risk and the consequence of that is significantly less than the consequence of a chlorine emission which could spread and kill a large number of people.

Now, I should say that many of the measures that were put into effect apply to all rail traffic. The inspection capability, the requirement of security coordinators and the reporting of incidents, it applies to passenger trains as well.

So we are looking at the entirety of the system, in terms of protecting the system. But this is an effort, as we've always said, to attack the highest risk first, the risk that can cause the most damage and the risk that would be the most grievously harmful to the public.

Question: Can you give an idea of the area that would be affected if, let's say, one car of chlorine were to be attacked?

Secretary Chertoff: Can't get into the science.

Mr. Jamison: There are varying factors that go into that analysis, and you can look at several different research that predict different consequences. So we're mainly concerned about those materials in high-threat, densely populated areas. So that's where we put most of our focus. It's really a risk mitigation and taking risk off the table.

Question: Why did you take so long to come up with this regulation? I believe it was — for this NPRM, I believe it was due two years ago.

Secretary Chertoff: I don't think it was due two years ago. I can tell you we've made a lot of progress, as I've reviewed in terms of what we do with respect to treating the whole system.

But this issue of what we do in particular with toxic inhalation chemicals grew out of an analysis that began, certainly soon after I came into the job, of the entire chemical sector, to try to figure out what is it that is the greatest vulnerability, what would be the greatest consequence, negative consequence, and how do we attack that in a way that is most effective and focuses on the highest risk first.

We began the process by putting into place some voluntary agreements. Many of the things which are in the regulation that came out today are things which we've agreed and are already implementing under agreements reached earlier this year. So the regulation sums up and embodies a lot of these with the force of law, but we didn't wait until we got the regulation out to put many of these measures into force.

Question: I just wanted to know, you mentioned a minute ago the $160 million over two years. (Inaudible) enforcement of these proposals —

Mr. Jamison: It was over 10 years.

Secretary Chertoff: I think it was over 10 years.

Question: Oh, 10 years.

Secretary Chertoff: The industry has to pay — has to bear the cost of the measures that it's required to undertake. For example, to the extent you have to pay for people to do the positive handoff or to build security measures so that when you leave things in a standstill, you have it protected, that's going to be — obviously industry is going to have to pay for that. We obviously pay for our inspectors — they're TSA employees — so that's part of the cost the government picks up.

Question: Yes, on another subject, there was some fanfare when DHS had — DHS announced the contract for US-VISIT. Now we understand that those goals are in jeopardy. Can you (inaudible) on that?

Secretary Chertoff: Thanks for the question, I was waiting for it. US-VISIT is divided into two parts. There's US-VISIT for people who enter the country, and US-VISIT for people who leave the country.

The first priority was and is US-VISIT for people who enter the country, and there's a common sense reason for that. Ask yourself, what's more important, keeping a terrorist out in the first place, or having a terrorist come in and finding out that he hasn't left after 90 days? Well, considering the fact that the 9/11 hijackers left by committing suicide, it seemed pretty obvious to us the first priority is keep them out in the first place.

So we have completed the task of US-VISIT for entry. That has been done; that was done last year. We are now moving to the next priority, which is 10-print for people coming into the country. That will allow us to run the prints of people coming into the U.S. against the latent fingerprints we pick up all over the world, which will dramatically increase our ability to keep bad people out. By the way, I should add, another way we keep bad people out is through this targeting system where we identify based on information who we ought to ask a few more questions of.

That being said, we are still committed to doing the outbound side of this. We have to divide the outbound side into two parts. The first part that we want to get into place is outbound for air travelers. That will address a very significant number of non-Canadians and non-Mexicans — people from overseas who come into the country and give us visibility into when they leave.

The hardest piece of this is for people who leave using our land borders, and that's because of the huge volume of people, literally hundreds of millions who cross that land border all the time.

The challenge that was identified in doing US-VISIT exit at the land border is not only the cost of finding technology, but the unbelievably long lines that you would see at the border crossings if we required all the people leaving the country by land going to Canada to stop to give a biometric print. You would see lines that are 10 or 15 miles long, stretching from the border deeply into New York or into Detroit or whatever it is. I don't think that that's a cost-effective or particularly sensible way to proceed. So we have to come up with a solution for monitoring the exit by land that will be practical and cost-effective. It may involve working with the Canadians as well.

This is a great — in a microcosm, a great example of what I talked about yesterday in terms of risk management and cost-effective thinking. The risk management was identifying the highest risk as being people getting into the country, rather than people failing to leave. And the cost-benefit part was looking at, what are the comparative benefits of getting fingerprints from people leaving in the land border, as opposed to the tremendous cost in terms of inconvenience and slowing everybody up, and frankly probably dealing a very substantial blow to the economy of communities on both sides of the border.

Question: Have your goals changed?

Secretary Chertoff: No, our goals haven't changed, but our priorities have been tailored to fit with what is the highest risk.

Question: Have your deadlines for measuring — for recording the exit of people, have they changed?

Secretary Chertoff: I don't think we actually had a deadline for recording the exit of people. We ran a pilot program — we did set a deadline for entry and we met the deadline — we had a pilot program for exit. That's why you have a pilot program, so you can evaluate it in real life. We evaluated it, and based on the evaluation, we've reconfigured or we're in the process of reconfiguring our approach to exit from the airports, and we've also made it clear that we're going to have to do a lot more work with exit of land. There was no deadline to get exit done.

Question: Is it a lower priority now than it was —

Secretary Chertoff: Let me try to be really clear. I can't tell you what was in the heads of people when it was announced, because I think it was announced in the '90s. What I can tell you is this — and I want to be unmistakably clear — the highest priority is to keep terrorists out of the country. Letting them come in the country, and then worrying whether they haven't left in 90 days, seems to me an inferior concern to keeping them out in the first place. If we keep them all out in the first place, then we don't have to worry about them staying over.

So we want to move ahead on all of these fronts, but what I don't want to do is slow up 10-print and slow up what we're doing to continue to build better barriers to terrorists coming into the country while we deal with what is frankly a much tougher practical problem. And this is all about — if I do nothing else in this job, I'm going to be completely straight with the public about what is doable in the real world and what is not doable.

I think having 15-mile-long lines of cars waiting to go into Canada from Detroit is not a particularly practical or cost-effective use of money, and is a huge imposition on the American public.

So we're still looking for solutions, and we haven't abandoned — now, it may involve exchange of information with the Canadians, when people go across into Canada.

So I'm always happy to think out of the box. What I won't do is continue to do something on a mechanized basis that's impractical and doesn't address the real risks, because then I'm not only wasting money, but what I'm doing is I'm not doing my job, which is to deal with the most risky and most dangerous threats to the American public.

# # #