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

Mr. President, we have wasted day after day in the Senate on political issues when we should be making America more secure.

Last week, the Majority Leader mentioned port security in a long list of issues to be debated before the August recess. While Senator Frist continues to pay lip service to this important priority, I remain concerned that with only a week left before the August recess we have no firm schedule or commitment to bring this bill to the floor. Unfortunately, I'm worried that the while majority says it wants to act, it refuses to put any action behind that rhetoric.

And here's the bottom line – if God-forbid there is an incident at one of our ports – the fingers will point to this chamber. And people will want to know –

  • Why did the Senate sit on a bill that passed the full House and passed the Senate Homeland Security Committee?

  • Why didn't we make our ports secure when we had the chance?

The only thing keeping the GreenLane bill from protecting us is the Senate's failure to take it up. We have to bring up and pass this bill before it's too late.

I'm here today because nearly five years after 9/11 our country is still vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Just this week, an article in the Seattle Times showed us that our ports are not secure. A reporter was able to enter two West Coast ports just by hiding in trucks that were entering those ports. The reporter walked around cargo containers in areas that are supposed to be secure. In this case, the security gaps appeared to be on the "land side," but as the article notes – an incident at any port – whether from the land or sea side – could shut down all of our ports. 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. 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.

Mr. President, a recent example makes this threat crystal clear. 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. Here's another picture.

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 a nuclear device exploded at a major port, up to 1 million people could be killed. 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. 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.

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. Nearly 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

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. I'm also grateful to Senators Lieberman and Coleman for their tremendous work.

The Threat

We know we're vulnerable. 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 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 had 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 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 Senators Collins, Coleman, Lieberman and I have been working with stakeholders and experts to strike the right balance. The result is the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. 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 Maritime Cargo Security Act 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 on our economy.

Fourth, our bill will secure our ports here at home by funding Port Security grants at $400 million.

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 this week's Seattle Times article.

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.

Many Co-Sponsors

I want to thank Senator Collins for her tremendous leadership on this important issue. I also want to thank Senator Coleman for his leadership and work as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Coleman has helped expose our vulnerabilities and has worked to develop solutions. I also want to thank Senator Lieberman for his leadership and support, and I want to commend our other cosponsors – Senators Feinstein, Snowe, DeWine, Salazar, Santorum, Graham, Cantwell, Durbin, and Byrd.

We're also seeing 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've heard the Majority Leader say that we need to address port security. But words won't protect us from terrorists. Words won't help us find a bomb that's hidden in a cargo container. Words won't help us tell which containers could be holding a group of terrorists trying to sneak into our country. We need more than words. We need to pass the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, and we only have a few days to get this right. Let's bring up and pass the GreenLane Act before it's too late.