News Releases

UPDATE: The Senate Passed Senator Murray’s Bill on 9/14/06

Mr. President, it's been five years since the September 11th attacks, and our country is still dangerously vulnerable. We have huge loopholes at our ports and in our cargo container system. None of us should sleep well at night, until we close those security holes and protect our country. That's why I'm here on the Senate floor once again pushing for us to pass the bipartisan GreenLane bill.

I’m excited that after working on this for several years, we are on the verge of making our country more secure. The full House of Representatives passed our bill. The Senate Homeland Security Committee passed our bill. We have worked with the Commerce and Finance Committees to address issues in the bill they had raised. Now it's up to us in the Senate to finally pass this bill.

Today, I want to explain –

  • why our ports are so vulnerable,

  • how an attack would affect our people and our economy,

  • and finally, how this bill will make us more secure and keep trade flowing.

We Are Still Vulnerable

To understand why our ports are so vulnerable, you just have to look at something that happened in my home state of Washington three weeks ago.

On August 16, there was a big scare at the Port of Seattle. Two containers originating in Pakistan were offloaded at Terminal 18 and targeted for closer inspection. They were first scanned by a gamma-imaging machine, which is essentially a giant X-ray machine for cargo containers. The initial images suggested that what was supposed to be in the container was different than what an x-ray scan showed. Next, port officials brought in two security dogs. Both of the dogs detected what they thought were explosives in a cargo container on Terminal 18.

To understand why this was such a scary incident, you just have to look at the Port of Seattle and what surrounds it. This photograph shows the Port of Seattle in the foreground and downtown Seattle in the background. This view shows that once a bomb reaches the port, it's too late. That's because in many cities like Seattle, our ports are very close to downtown areas. That means a lot of people and a lot of economic activity could be threatened if there's an incident at one of our ports. Here's Terminal 18. You can see just a short distance away is downtown Seattle. Here's Interstate 5 – our most important north-south route in western Washington. During this scare, officials had to close the terminal, establish a 500-yard safety zone surrounding the terminal and create a 300-yard safety zone along the Seattle waterfront.

Now fortunately, further testing showed that this was just a false alarm. I want to commend everyone on the ground for doing an excellent job of responding to the incident.

We Didn't Know What's In Many Containers

Here's the problem – we didn't know this container could have posed a problem until it was sitting on the dock in Washington state. By the time a cargo container is sitting on American soil, it is too late.

The main idea behind this bill is to push our borders out – to do the screening and testing overseas – so that a container never even gets close to our shores if we think it might be dangerous. But today, too often, we wait until a container is sitting on American soil – dangerously close to our cities -- before we find out whether or not it could pose a danger. Fortunately, the Seattle incident ended well, but that same week, we got a very stark warning about how it could have ended differently.

New Report Shows the Catastrophic Impact of an Attack

In August, the RAND Center for Terrorism and Risk Management Policy issued a very troubling report that showed what would happen if there had been a nuclear device in that cargo container. The RAND Corporation looked at the following scenario. Terrorists put a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb inside a cargo container and detonate it at the Port of Long Beach in California. The researchers chose that scenario because as they put it, "analysts consider it feasible, it is highly likely to have a catastrophic effect, and the target is both a key part of the U.S. economic infrastructure and a critical global shipping center."

Mr. President, here's what would happen.

  • Up to 60,000 people would be killed instantly from the blast or from radiation poisoning.

  • 150,000 people would be injured by radiation exposure.

  • Up to 6 million people would flee Los Angeles.

  • Two to three million people would need to be relocated because their land would be contaminated by radiation.

Finally, the economic losses would be about $1 trillion – that is ten times worse than September 11th. Those costs would include medical care, insurance claims, workers’ compensation, evacuation, and construction.

Imagine that – the economic damage would be 10 times worse than what happened on September 11th. How many more reports like that is it going to take? How many more port evacuations and scares is it going to take before we get serious about port security? Time is not on our side. Each year, six million cargo containers enter U.S. seaports. And that number is expected to quadruple in the next twenty years. These cargo containers carry the building blocks of our economy.

The One-Two Punch of an Attack

But without adequate security, they can also provide an opportunity for terrorists to deliver a deadly one-two punch to our country. The first punch would create an untold number of American casualties. The second punch would bring our economy to a halt. Today, we are not doing enough to keep America safe.

Standing in this Chamber, it can feel like the dangers at our ports are a distant concern. But given that our ports are connected to our nation’s transportation system and are often close to major population centers, the threat is never far away.

Example: The Hyundai Fortune

Mr. President, I want to share a disturbing photo that shows us what a terrorist attack could look like. On March 21st, a container ship called the Hyundai Fortune was traveling off the coast of Yemen when an explosion occurred in the rear of the ship.

Here is a photo of what happened next. About 90 containers were blown off the side of the ship, creating a debris field 5 miles long. Thankfully there were no fatalities, and the crew was rescued. Fortunately, this incident does not appear to be terrorist-related, but it gives us an idea of what a terrorist incident on a container ship could look like.

Now I want you to imagine this same burning ship sitting just a few feet from our shores – in New York harbor or Puget Sound, off the coast of Los Angeles or Charleston, Miami, Portland, Hampton Roads, the Delaware Bay or the Gulf of Mexico.

Now imagine that we're not just dealing with a conventional explosion. We're dealing with a dirty bomb that has exploded on America's shores.

After an Incident

Let me walk through what would happen next. First, there would be an immediate loss of life. Many of our ports are located near major cities.

If this was a chemical weapon exploding in Seattle, the chemical plume could contaminate the rail system, Interstate 5 and SeaTac Airport, not to mention the entire downtown business and residential district. At the port, there would be tremendous confusion. People would try to contain the fire, but it's unclear who -- if anyone -- would be in charge.

Then when word spreads that it's a dirty bomb, panic would likely set in. There would be chaos as first-responders try to react, and residents try to flee.

Next, our government would shut down every port in America to make sure there weren't other bombs on other containers in other cities. That shutdown would be the equivalent of driving our economy into a brick wall. It could even spark a global recession.

Economic Shutdown

Day by day, we'd feel the painful economic impact of the attack. American factories would not be able to get the supplies they need. They would shut their doors and lay off workers. Stores around the country would not be able to get the products they need to stock their shelves. Prices for these goods would spike, as demand began to outweigh the supply. And consumers would not be able afford the items they rely on every day.

In 2002, we saw what the closure of a few ports on the West Coast would do. It cost our economy about $1 billion a day. Imagine if we shut down all our ports. One study concluded that if U.S. ports were shut down for just 9 days, it would cost our economy $58 billion.

The RAND report that I mentioned earlier found that the economic damage could top more than $1 trillion.

Next, we'd realize we have no plan for resuming trade after an attack – no protocol for what would be searched, what would be allowed in, and even who would be in charge. There would be a mad scramble to create a new system in a crisis atmosphere.

Eventually, we'd begin the slow process of manually inspecting all the cargo that's waiting to enter the U.S. One report found it could take as long as four months to get them all inspected and moving again.

Finally, we'd have to set up a new regime for port security. And you can bet that any new, rushed plan would not balance strong security with efficient trade.

Unfortunately, the scenario I just outlined is not the stuff of fantasy. Rather, it is a realistic portrayal of events that could happen tomorrow. Five years after September 11th, we still have not closed a major loophole that threatens our lives and our economy. Time is not on our side. We must act, and we must act now.

My Approach – Security & Commerce

I approach this as someone who understands the importance of both improving security and maintaining the flow of commerce. My home state of Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. We know what's at stake if there were an incident at one of our ports.

That's why I wrote and funded Operation Safe Commerce to help us find where we're vulnerable and to evaluate the best security practices.

It's why I've worked to boost funding for the Coast Guard and have fought to keep the Port Security Grant program from being eliminated year after year.

Right after 9/11, I started talking with security and trade experts to find out what we need to be doing to both improve security and keep commerce flowing.

Last year, I sought out Senator Collins as a partner in this effort. I approached Senator Collins because I knew she cared about the issue, I knew she'd done a lot of work on it already, and I knew she was someone who could get things done. Since that day, we have worked hand-in-hand to develop a bill and move it forward.

The Threat

And the reason we've worked so hard on this is because we know how vulnerable we are. Terrorists have many opportunities to introduce deadly cargo into a container.

It could be tampered with anytime from when it leaves a foreign factory overseas to when it arrives at a consolidation warehouse and moves to a foreign port. It could even be tampered with while it's en route to the U.S.

And there are several dangers. I outlined what would happen if terrorists exploded a container. But they could just as easily use cargo containers to transport weapons or personnel into the U.S. to launch an attack anywhere on American soil.

In April, 22 Chinese stowaways were found at the Port of Seattle. They reached the U.S. inside a cargo container. In that case, they were stowaways, but they could have been terrorists sneaking into our country.

Current Efforts Are Inadequate

The programs we have in place today are totally inadequate. Last year – thanks to the insistence of Senators Collins and Coleman – the Government Accountability Office found that C-TPAT was not even checking to see if companies were doing what they promised in their security plans.

Even when U.S. Customs inspectors do find something suspicious at a foreign port, they cannot force a container to be inspected.

So we have a clear and deadly threat, and we know that current programs are inadequate. What are we going to do about it? We could manually inspect every container, but that would cripple our economy.

The Challenge – Security and Efficiency

The real challenge here is to make trade more secure without slowing it to a crawl. That's why the Homeland Security, Commerce, and Finance Committees -- through the leadership of Senators Collins, Lieberman, Stevens, Inouye, Grassley, Baucus, and I have worked with stakeholders and experts to strike the right balance.

The result is the bill now before us. It provides a comprehensive blueprint for how we can improve security while keeping trade efficient. At its heart, this challenge is about keeping the good things about trade – speed and efficiency – without being vulnerable to the bad things about trade – the potential for terrorists to use our engines of commerce.

How the Bill Works

The GreenLane bill does five things. First, it creates tough new standards for all cargo. Today we don't have any standards for cargo security.

Second, it creates the GreenLane option, which provides an even higher level of security. Companies have the option to follow the higher standards of the GreenLane.

Their cargo will be tracked and monitored from the moment it leaves a factory floor overseas until it the reaches the U.S. We'll know everywhere that cargo has been. We'll know every person who's touched it, and we'll know if it's been tampered with.

The GreenLane will push out the borders by conducting inspections overseas before cargo is ever loaded onto a ship bound for the U.S. And we'll provide incentives for companies to use the highest standards of the GreenLane.

Third, our bill sets up a plan to resume trade quickly and safely to minimize the impact of a terrorist attack on our economy.

Fourth, our bill will secure our ports here at home by authorizing and funding Port Security grants.

This funding will help ports and port operators develop and implement security plans. They could use this funding to strengthen perimeter security, which could help prevent a number of security lapses that were highlighted in a recent Seattle Times article in which a reporter was able to enter a port and walk around the containers there.

Finally, our bill will hold DHS accountable for improving cargo security. DHS is long overdue in establishing cargo security standards and transportation worker credentials. We need to hold DHS accountable, and our bill provides the infrastructure to ensure accountability and coordination.

Our Bill Makes Us Safer

Let me share some ways that our bill will make America safer. First, we close the loopholes that leave us vulnerable today. Senator Collins and I have studied the 9/11 Commission report and the various GAO reports, and we've worked hard to put their recommendations into our bill.

Follows the 9/11 Commission's Recommendations

Mr. President, the 9/11 Commission examined what went wrong five years ago and how we can prevent another terrorist attack. We listened to the 9/11 Commission, and we worked hard to incorporate their recommendations and to close the loopholes the commission identified.

Implements Layered Security

The 9/11 Commission said we need a "layered" security system. Our bill adopts that layered approach. Here's what we envision as the Secretary of Homeland Security implements the bill. Each step in the GreenLane system will have multiple and redundant security layers. Cargo would be monitored and secured starting at a foreign factory overseas. In addition, containers will be sealed with high-tech container security devices, such as e-seals, to protect against tampering or compromise. Then, before the container is loaded onto a ship, its manifest is reviewed, and the container is inspected for radiation, seal tampering, and x-rayed. And finally, the cargo will be secured with access controls, ensuring everyone with access to GreenLane cargo has undergone a background check and possess verifiable identification. These multiple layers provide the type of layered security that the 9/11 Commission called for.

Centralizes Authority

The 9/11 Commission also said we need to centralize authority and responsibility so there is finally some accountability in our government. Our bill centralizes authority by establishing the Office of Cargo Security Policy within the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate federal cargo security programs and to advance security research and development.

Implements Information Sharing

The 9/11 Commission also said we need to do a better job sharing information throughout our government. Our bill promotes coordination by establishing regional Interagency Operational Centers to enhance cooperation between federal agencies. So our bill is responsive to the problems and the loopholes that the 9/11 Commission identified.

New Tools to Secure America

Our bill gives us new tools so we can approach cargo security in new ways. It gives U.S. officials in foreign ports the authority to inspect suspicious containers before they are loaded for departure to the United States. Our bill makes the haystack that we must search smaller. It allows the U.S. government to focus on suspicious cargo. It ensures that we are inspecting and stopping cargo that poses a threat. It cuts down on smuggling of weapons, people, drugs or other illegal cargo.

This bill will also protect America’s economy in the event of a terror attack. That's because it provides a secure, organized way to quickly resume cargo operations after any emergency shut-down. Because any shut down of ports has the potential to cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars a day, our bill will minimize the economic impact of a terror attack.

I'm very proud of this bill and I want to thank all of our partners and supporters. I want to thank Senator Collins for her tremendous leadership. I want to thank Senator Coleman for his work as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. I want to thank Senator Lieberman and all our co-sponsors. And I want to thank the Commerce and Finance Committees – especially Senators Stevens, Inouye, Grassley, and Baucus.

We've seen tremendous progress on the House side with the SAFE Port Act, and I want to thank Representatives Dan Lungren and Jane Harman for their leadership.

Finally, I’d like to thank the numerous federal, state and local officials, as well as industry representatives, for their tremendous assistance in crafting this legislation. They truly are at the front lines of securing our nation’s ports, and I've been proud to work with them all.

Today We Have a Choice

Today, we have a choice in how we deal with the cargo security challenges facing us. But if we wait for a disaster, our choices will be starker. Let's make the changes now on our terms before there's a deadly incident. Let's protect America before an image like this is on our TV screens. Let's not wait until a terrorist incident strikes again to protect our people and our economy.

Earlier this year, the American people woke up and spoke out when they heard that a foreign, government-owned company could be running our ports. That sparked a critical debate.

Now we need to set up a security regime that will actually make us safer. Until we do so, none of us should sleep well at night. A terrible image like this one – a burning container ship, with a dirty bomb, in one of America's harbors -- could be on our TV screens tomorrow, so this Congress must act today. We only have a few days to get this right. Let's pass the GreenLane bill before it's too late.