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Interview: ‘Our people are at risk,’ Rep. Rohrabacher warns

Nov 4, 2008
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California, Nov 4, 2008 - First, sir, let me thank you for the support you and your office have given to the 2008 Maritime Security Exposition and Conference, to be held Nov. 18-19 in Long Beach. Moreover, thank you for this interview and for the strong stances you have taken in regard to maritime and border security. What is the single most important thing that we, as Americans, should be doing on the homeland security front?

The first priority would be: Watch your front door. The second priority is watching your back door. Third priority is making sure that you’re doing everything you can in hunting down the people who might want to bash down your back door.

Hunting down the people who might want to bash down your back door, hmm?

Well, we have a number of groups in the world that hate us. Some of them are active in terrorist cells that are related to Islam. There are other types of forces at play in this world that look at the United States as an adversary and would like to terrorize our people into retreat.
There are evil forces in the world that will want to smuggle in drugs or they will want to smuggle things into our country that will be harmful to us – explosives, etc. – or they will want to conduct an operation that in and of itself would terrorize the people into cowering before the challenges that we face.
And that’s our first priority, to make sure that we head them off before they get into the United States, through either the front door or the back door. And, if we can head them off overseas, that’s great, too.

As you are well aware, port security presents unusual challenges related to the need to protect the nation while continuing to ensure the movement of legitimate goods. How can government and industry succeed in addressing this difficult balancing act?

Well, it is a difficult balancing act, because we could make things so safe that nothing ever gets done. With a ship, if you say the ship should never ever do anything that would increase its risk, well, if that was the case, it would never leave port. So we’ve got to make sure that we are doing our best to thwart any type of terrorist attack or any type of malicious action taken against the United States in our ports – in our airports as well as our seaports – as well as in potential targets, like the U.S. Capitol, etc.
But, at the same time, we can’t be so security-conscious that we fundamentally change our way of life and disrupt our ability to compete and to be a productive society. One of the greatest helps we will have in finding that balance is to turn to technology that can help us achieve the security goals we’re looking for at a much more rapid pace than can be just done by an individual.

As a follow-up, how important are cooperation between public and private sectors and that use of technology in the maritime security effort?

The public sector has the money and will be the customer in providing overall security for the United States, because that’s the primary responsibility of government. The private sector, however, is that part of our society that usually comes up with the most innovative and creative and cost-effective ways of dealing with problems, because there is a profit motive in doing so.
What we have to do is marry the two and make sure that special interests do not dampen the enthusiasm in the private sector by freezing out anybody who’s not part of the clique. This is a problem with a number of things government does. Cliques are formed, and new innovators don’t get a chance to basically compete, because the good ol’ boys are already tied into agreements with older technology usually.
So, what we need to do is make sure that we have things like the upcoming Maritime Security Exposition and Conference and that we keep the communication lines open and that we do our best to focus public attention on the process, so that things are transparent and everybody’s treated fairly. Thus, you’ll have much more creative juices and energy going into finding the technologies we need for our safety.

Switching gears a bit, to the border security front, you have been a longtime staunch opponent of illegal immigration – from your support of Proposition 187 to earlier this month writing President Bush calling for pardons for Border Patrol agents Ramos and Campeon, who essentially have been imprisoned for doing their jobs. How has U.S. border policy failed, and what can be done to remedy it?

We have not had a border policy that was aimed at securing our borders and ensuring that the people coming into our country were legally entitled to do so. That was not our policy of our government. It obviously wasn’t, because, for over a decade, people have been drawing attention to this problem, because illegals are now basically undermining the quality of education in our state, undermining the quality of health care in our state, undermining the security of our neighborhoods.
So the illegal immigrant issue is just having an enormous impact on people’s lives, but yet the government continued to let millions of people over the last decade come into our country, either legally or illegally, and, if they came in legally, they were permitting – millions of them – to overstay their visas. And they permitted, also, millions of others to illegally enter our country.
So we haven’t had a border policy. And what’s failed is our government has failed. The policy hasn’t worked because we haven’t had one.

So how does that get remedied?

Unfortunately, we have a presidential [election] year with candidates in both parties who have not mentioned the words “illegal immigration” as if they were an oxymoron and didn’t exist. People have got to raise their voices. Again, there has been some movement in the last year, since the public rose up in anger and forced Sen. McCain and President Bush to withdraw their amnesty plan for illegal immigrants. So it’s up to the public to kick their government in the butt and say, “Pay attention and get this job done.”


Do you see current federal policies related to maritime and border security as putting our nation’s people at risk, and, if so, in what way or ways? How do you propose the ship should be righted?

I believe that our country is at risk, and the policies, or lack of policies, we’ve had toward border security, especially border security, but we have addressed some of the port issues, but still our people are at risk in that there are elements in this world that will take advantage of weakness, and we have not corrected problems that are very evident with how our system works.
We likely have right now hundreds of foreign terrorists in our country, either who have come in and overstayed a visa or, more likely, have crossed through our southern border, hiding among the army of illegals pouring into our country. If we have even 500 who are willing to give their lives to hurt our country, they could do serious damage and cause many people harm.
I’ve talked to people in law enforcement who supposedly are having policies that are trying to reform the system to make it have more resilience against this type of attack and try to prevent attacks before they happen, and I have not been satisfied that we are doing what’s necessary to protect our people who may be targeted by major terrorist attacks, even here in California. Although there is a high level of cooperation among the players right now, I just think that there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

It has definitely been a privilege to have this opportunity to chat with you. What else would you like readers of Maritime & Border Security News to know concerning your views on the topics we’ve discussed?

The primary job of the government is to make sure that we are secure, and there is a balance, and we’ve all got to talk about it to make sure that we don’t make ourselves so secure that we’re muscle-bound or that we have limited ourselves such that we can’t be a productive society.
Finding that balance is going to require a lot of open discussion, and I hope that’s what the Maritime Security Exposition and Conference will be all about.
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Original Interview: Maritime & Border Security News