Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff rates America’s ability to know who is coming into this country as “phenomenally better than 9/11” and says critical infrastructure protection is another “unsung” success story.
But Chertoff said in an interview Wednesday that he worries about other vulnerabilities, including the security of private planes entering the United States from overseas.
The Bush administration, he said, may try to require incoming private jets on transoceanic flights to stop first, either in Anchorage, Alaska, or Bangor, Maine, to be checked for signs of radiological cargo. There are about 400 such flights a day, Chertoff said.
Chertoff was in Cleveland to promote the need by next June for all U.S. citizens traveling overland to Canada or Mexico to have passports or new passportlike identification cards.
But he waved off persistent criticism of his agency’s lengthening reach into the personal details of travelers’ lives with its no-fly list and other databases.
Instead, the former federal prosecutor says he’s concerned the country is backsliding into pre-9/11 complacency driven by public cynicism and push-back from employers worried about costs.
“Having lived through 9/11 and having been responsible for investigating the hijackers in the attack,” Chertoff said, “I kind of felt like the house was burning down with terrorism. We really got a wake-up call. And it was like, no more pussy-footing around, you gotta really move into action.
“And we did, initially, but I’m finding business as usual coming back more and more . . . If everybody gets a veto, it would be very easy to get back to where we were prior to 9/11. And I don’t know, if we did that, what conceivable excuse my successor would have, or my successor’s successor would have. So, to me, there’s a little bit of passion about trying to get it moving quickly.”
Chertoff, homeland security chief for the last 3½ years, expects to leave at the end of the Bush term.