Chertoff stresses technology in Senate testimony

Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff repeatedly stressed the need to deploy technology to improve the department's operations in testimony today before the Senate Appropriations Committee Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Chertoff also emphasized the importance of DHS serving as a 'network' to coordinate the homeland security operations of other federal, state and local agencies.

Several Senators hammered Chertoff with critical questions about problems at the Transportation Security Administration that the department's inspector general described in a recent report. In response, Chertoff said he had read the report and was very concerned. 'I agree with the inspector general that technology is what we need to get to the next level.'

Chertoff discussed the privacy policy issues of using backscatter technology at airports to detect weapons carried by travelers. Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the X-rays that backscatter devices emit and their capability to 'see' through clothing. 'We need to not get so caught up in the endless debate [about privacy] when the technology is available and out there,' he said. 'We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.'

Speaking again about the effectiveness of TSA programs, Chertoff said, 'There's no question that we have to invest in technology [research].' He added that the department should roll out existing technology in addition to promoting new systems.

'We need to take cargo and container security to the next level of systems [technology],' Chertoff said during a discussion of port security with Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.). He added that DHS officials have been meeting with private sector experts in the field of tracking shipments. 'We have been talking with the private sector about building a security envelope so eventually we can put as much of the cargo as possible into the envelope and track it and screen it,' he said, referring to systems-intensive technologies for pinpointing risky shipments.

'A lot of what we bring is a network,' Chertoff said. 'We don't have to own [homeland protection assets], we have to network what is out there. We ought to pay as much attention to that network function [as to our own activities],' he said.

On another IT issue, Chertoff told the committee's chairman, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), that DHS officials are working to resolve issues preventing the full coordination and exploitation of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System database operated by the FBI and the department's own IDENT system. IAFIS is a 10-finger fingerprint system and IDENT is a two-finger fingerprint system. 'We need to continue the process of building the architecture [that would link the systems],' Chertoff said.

Several Senators, including Gregg, ranking Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Dianne Fienstein (D-Calif.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) questioned Chertoff tartly about the administration's failure to fund a congressional authorization law that directed the executive branch to expand the Border Patrol by 2,000 agents.

Chertoff defended DHS' plan to add 210 agents, and added that they would be helped by additional technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles and advanced sensor networks deployed under the patrol's America's Shield Initiative.

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