Homeland Security

8/4/2005

Keeping New Jersey Safe: Jon Corzine’s Plan for Homeland Security

Coming here to speak in the shadow of the New York City skyline – a skyline forever marred by the September 11th attacks…

And standing in front of the Exchange Place PATH station just weeks after terrorists murdered innocent civilians in the London subway … the need for a serious public commitment to homeland security is undeniable.

All those who aspire to public office have a fundamental responsibility to tell the people they seek to lead how they plan to promote safety and strengthen security in an unsafe and insecure world.

Today – more than ever – enhancing homeland and hometown security must be the single highest priority for the Governor of New Jersey.

Yes – property tax relief, affordable healthcare, disciplined fiscal policies, ethics reform, clean air and water, and access to quality education are all critically important to the people of this state.

But without basic safety and security, everything else we care about is at risk.

I am here today to speak to my plans for homeland security because slogans and sound bites will not solve our security challenges.

Only the best ideas and the best implementation will.

It comes as no surprise that the assets that are essential to New Jersey’s economic future – our airports, seaports, highways, mass transit system, chemical plants, casinos, and financial institutions – also attract the unwanted attention of terrorists whose primary objective is to kill Americans and disrupt our economy.

The objective of a Corzine Administration will be to make certain that terrorists fail.

While it is impossible to stop every conceivable plot, each of our decisions must be calculated to make the probability of an attack as close to zero as possible.

People are not perfect, and neither is government. But with the lives of New Jersey families at stake…with our community still living in the shadow of 9-11…with our families acutely aware of the way that terrorism rips apart lives and causes lasting pain…our goal must be to do all we humanly can to protect our people and this state.

From published reports, we know that al Qaeda has targeted New Jersey infrastructure.
— The George Washington Bridge.
— The Prudential Plaza Building in Newark.
— The Lincoln Tunnel.

Other New Jersey locations are believed to be high on the list for terrorists looking to kill Americans, disrupt commerce, and grab headlines – an unfortunate reality made clear in my work on the Intelligence Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.

A two-mile stretch near the Pulaski Skyway, in fact, includes so many high profile targets – from facilities working with deadly chemicals and flammable materials to major transportation assets – that the FBI dubbed it the most dangerous two-miles in America.

And we know terrorists have operated here before. The anthrax letters were traced back to a mailbox in Princeton, several of the 9-11 terrorists lived and worked in New Jersey, and flight 93 – one of the four planes hijacked in the September 11th attacks – took off from Newark Airport.

I believe that New Jersey’s entire homeland security effort must be directed towards a single aim – moving terrorism from the front pages of newspapers to the back pages of history.

Since 2001, the people responsible for New Jersey’s law enforcement, counterterrorism, public health and emergency response activities have done a first class job dealing with the new realities of a post 9-11 world.

Our local police, fire, and emergency services on up to managers at our state agencies deserve our appreciation for adapting to emerging threats and new preparedness requirements.

Fort Monmouth along with other military installations should be recognized for their homeland security contributions too, developing cutting-edge electronic technologies used to harden key infrastructure.

Now – armed with the knowledge that comes from nearly four years of experience with the new security environment – we must move this process forward. We need to bring seamless coherence to a system that was constructed on the run in the aftermath of 9-11.

For New Jersey’s homeland security efforts, centralized decision-making is extraordinarily important.

Unlike other states confronting security challenges – sensitive infrastructure in New Jersey is not concentrated in a single city – like New York – but distributed all across our state, from tunnels in the north to nuclear power plants in the south.

Just as our challenges are spread around the state, so are the agencies that we rely on to meet these challenges.

By my count, no fewer than two dozen state agencies and departments take part in homeland security – from the Attorney General and the Department of Health, to the National Guard and the State Police.

We have 566 municipalities, with 522 police departments, 852 fire districts, and hundreds of EMS squads spread across New Jersey – posing more than just a budgetary problem, but a real challenge for coordination and integration.

The Governor needs to be able to cut across jurisdictions, streamline inefficiencies, and proceed with a consolidated approach.

He needs to be equipped with the best information, the most highly qualified personnel, and an organizational structure designed for effective command and control.

That’s why – in a Corzine Administration – there will be a new cabinet-level official – a Director of Homeland Security who will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating homeland security efforts in New Jersey.

Similar to the newly created Director of National Intelligence in the White House, the Director of Homeland Security will report directly to the governor with daily threat briefings – including classified information – and timely policy counsel, while managing the intra-governmental homeland security effort.

This new official will not be tucked away in a state agency or heading some vast, new bureaucracy. He or she will command a top-flight team of Homeland Security professionals drawn from various relevant agencies – including the Office of Counter-Terrorism.

He will be a professional, not a politician – picked for what he knows, not whom he knows.

The failure to meet this standard for the Governor’s homeland security advisor in the past – appointing an individual obviously not qualified to do the job – represents a colossal mistake and an embarrassment.

The position initially will be created by executive order, and then made permanent through legislation. I expect that any appointment ultimately will be made in consultation with the Senate and subject to advice and consent.

If I am elected – the people of this state will get nothing less than a Director of Homeland Security who exemplifies the highest standards of competence, merit, and integrity.

We also need a clear command structure that lays out how the various agencies will interact and who will be responsible for each part of the mission.

We need to ensure that we receive the best and most timely intelligence available, and that it is disseminated to those charged with protecting us.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to generate a consensus for how to move forward – what steps need to be taken and on what timeline – something the 9-11 commission successfully accomplished on the national level.

Now, I want to see the success of the 9-11 Commission brought home to New Jersey.

If elected, I will establish a new Homeland Security Commission – a bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel of experts modeled on the 9-11 Commission – to conduct a top-to-bottom review of homeland security in New Jersey.

New Jersey retains some of the best minds in homeland security in the country. All New Jerseyans are proud of the tremendous contributions that Governor Kean made as Chairman of the 9-11 Commission, and that Former Attorney General John Farmer made as counsel to the Commission.

It’s time to tap the expertise of our most talented and nuanced thinkers – people who will make certain our state does everything necessary to keep our citizens safe and secure.

By providing the kind of thorough analysis this state needs, this Commission will go a long way towards making sure the quality of our own structure matches the quality of the people who are on the front lines, protecting us every day.

Coordination must happen not just within New Jersey but across state borders and with the Federal Government. If the Holland Tunnel gets flooded, water will pour out both ends.

When the World Trade Center was attacked, New Jersey firefighters and emergency personnel raced to ground zero. Staging areas were setup in Hudson County, the National Guard took up positions on our bridges and tunnels, and we sent specialized units along with construction workers and other volunteers to assist in the rescue effort.

It is clear that in today’s highly integrated world, terrorist attacks often require a regional and national response.

Trains originating in New Jersey end in New York and vice versa. To defend our mass transit system, we need to make sure that – where necessary – police officers have the authority to work across jurisdictions. It’s a discussion already initiated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force that must continue.

If I am elected, I will work closely with Governors from other states – New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware — with regional authorities, and with relevant federal agencies to develop a master plan to pool resources and work together in a thoughtful and strategic way.

By approaching security as a common endeavor, we can prevent unnecessary duplication, avoid confusion in the event of an attack, and establish a common effort to press the Federal government for changes vital to our shared regional interests.

New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania face a common foe.

We are addressing common challenges.

It’s time to adopt a common security strategy.

In at least one area of common interest, New York and New Jersey are already working together closely: to secure risk-based terrorism funding.

Although the 9-11 Commission are our allies in changing the misguided funding formula – it remains in place, sending millions in terrorism funding to places where there are more grain silos than schools, chemical plants, rail links, and all other sensitive locations put together. It means that Wyoming gets $27 per-capita in homeland security grants, while New Jersey gets only $7.

Until New Jersey gets its fair share of homeland security funding, I will continue to fight this imbalance – in the Senate or as Governor – through every avenue available.

But the fundamental principle that we should base our funding priorities on risk applies with equal weight here in New Jersey.

As Governor, I will not fall into the trap of formula-based funding that leads to resources stretched so thin that no one ends up as safe as they should be.

And I will not let partisan politics get in the way of smart budgeting.

To that end, I will set new state guidelines for awarding homeland security funds that assure grants are based on risk, not politics. Aid should be targeted to the places where it will do the most good, no matter which party happens to be in charge.

No homeland security approach can fail to recognize the public service and public sacrifice of the people who stand on the front lines for our families – our firefighters, police, and emergency service personnel. From urban search and rescue teams to hazmat units, their contributions – often made at great personal and financial cost – make our communities safer for the rest of us. Although sometimes they get less media attention than their New York counterparts, our first responders represent some of the finest, most highly qualified, most courageous emergency professionals anywhere in the world.

It’s our responsibility to ensure they are equipped with the tools, resources, and training to do their jobs effectively.

We also need to do better at recruiting recent college graduates to take on this calling and to relieve some of the financial strain associated with public service. That’s why I proposed a loan forgiveness program that will provide up to $5000 in tuition tax credits for our firefighters, police officers, and paramedics.

A word of caution: even as we make the tough decisions needed to fix security weaknesses, we must not fall into the trap of xenophobia and bigotry that caused so much pain in the past.

The internment of Japanese-Americans stands as one of the most infamous chapters in our history. Prejudice and misdirected suspicion only impede counterterrorism operations, creating mistrust and discouraging people from coming forward with information that could help prevent an attack. It’s also wrong.

That’s why I will work with the Homeland Security Commission to make certain that its recommendations put a premium on protecting civil rights. The New Jersey State police have shown that protecting civil rights is a mission to be embraced, not ignored. Also, I will ask the public advocate to make sure that those recommendations are fully implemented.

All ethnic and religious communities in New Jersey want the same thing – to see their children grow up in a safe and loving environment. I plan to work with the Arab and Muslim communities in our state to foster the cooperation and trust so important to advancing our shared homeland security goals.

New Jersey needs to act quickly to fill various specific security gaps on our rail, mass transit, and aviation systems, at our nuclear power plants, casinos, ports, and chemical facilities.

For the past few years, I have been leading the charge for mandatory security upgrades at chemical plants. These facilities – loaded with dangerous toxins – can be turned into pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction. In New Jersey alone, there are seven facilities where a successful terrorist attack could release enough poison to kill a million people or more.

But chemical plant security is not just a New Jersey problem. There are over a hundred plants nationwide identified by the EPA as posing a similar risk.

Chemicals do not respect state boundaries. Depending on wind current and location, a chemical plant disaster in one state can represent a regional catastrophe.

To address this problem in the most effective and comprehensive way possible, we need mandatory security requirements at chemical facilities imposed at the Federal level. I’m still hopeful that we can pass this legislation before January.

But New Jersey should not wait for the Federal government to overcome its inertia. Just as our state has a security regime for our nuclear power plants that exceeds national requirements, we need to do the same thing for our chemical plants – and we need to do it now.

If the Federal government does not do what’s right to protect the citizens of this state and this country, we still have an obligation to make progress for the citizens of our state.

If I am elected, I will make sure that New Jersey has the strongest chemical plant security measures in the country. We should be providing a model for other states to follow, not languishing in the middle of the pack on this critical security matter.

Not a moment passes without a reminder of the way that American life was transformed by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The heartache and the courage of that day are etched indelibly on the collective conscience of all those who lived through it.

Since September 11th 2001, New Jersey families have developed a new awareness of the serious security challenges confronting our state.

Each time an official urges us to take note of suspicious activity or report an unattended package…

…Each time we are forced to walk through the airport barefoot, or to open up our luggage in front a crowd of perfect strangers…

…Each time we hear news reports about more bombings and more deaths overseas – like recent suicide attacks in England and in Israel – where they are facing the same brand of highly motivated, highly organized terrorists

…we are reminded of the fundamental need for homeland security in a post-9-11 world.

If I am elected, I pledge that no state will have a Governor more committed to improving homeland security than the Governor of New Jersey.

Working together, we will make New Jersey the best and safest place in America to grow up, to go to school, to live, to work, and to grow old with dignity.