25 June 2004
U.S. Favors Multilateral Approach to Fight Terrorism, Ridge Says
International "interconnectedness" will defeat
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says the United States favors
taking a multilateral approach to the multidimensional problem
of suppressing terrorism.
Speaking at the June 25 commencement at the Inter-American Defense
College in Washington, Ridge said 21st century homeland security
is all about the integration of nations with everyone pledged to
the cause of freedom as well as acting as each other's protector.
"It is about the interconnectedness of international leaders,
global law enforcement, emergency personnel, the health and science
communities, border patrol agents, citizens everywhere -- all joined
to the task of spotting and stopping those who wish us harm," he
said in prepared remarks.
It is necessary to exploit technological capabilities and to use "broad
channels of diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and asset
seizure" as part of the anti-terrorism campaign, Ridge said. "We
are enlisting stronger collaboration and cooperation and improved
information-sharing, both within nations and between them," he
In this context, Ridge said the concept of interdependence is
good because it serves to "inspire one another to higher standards." He
said it also "drives the global policies that daily shape the twin
pillars of security and prosperity" compelling innovation and unification
in the approach to security.
The only way to win the global war on terror, Ridge said is to
work "across many spheres" through cooperation among government
agencies, inter-American partners and international representatives.
Beyond the challenge of terrorism, the secretary also addressed
the Bush administration's plan to outline changes in the U.S. visa
policies and procedures in the coming weeks. The changes are designed
to "improve the integrity and security" of the U.S. system while
permitting legitimate travel, he said.
Following is the text of Ridge's remarks as prepared for delivery:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
June 25, 2004
(PREPARED FOR DELIVERY)
REMARKS BY SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY TOM RIDGE AT THE INTER-AMERICAN
DEFENSE COLLEGE (IADC) COMMENCEMENT
Thank you, Major General Freeman, for that kind introduction.
To Ambassador Einaudi, General Dominguez, Brigadier Leite-Lopez,
Dr. Goodman, distinguished faculty and guests...thank you for your
To our special honorees, IADC's class of 2004, my congratulations
on this wonderful day of achievement. I should say that in preparing
this speech, I thought I would start as most commencement speakers
do...with a joke. But then I remembered a story that former President
Carter once told...about the time he delivered a joke during a
speech that, like this one, was being simultaneously translated.
Mr. Carter's joke received tremendous laughter and applause -
and he was quite delighted. But when he later asked the translator
how he had interpreted the joke, the translator said that he had
simply told the audience: "President Carter has just told a joke.
Everybody laugh." So I will leave it to my translators to keep
For now, I join with many proud friends, family and faculty members
in honoring today's graduates of the Inter-American Defense College.
A free and open exchange of ideas is the foremost instrument of
democracy. It has been a plentiful and productive part of your
year of study at IADC - and is a vital component to the strong
hemispheric security our mutual nations enjoy today.
The American people know that we will always find friends and
strength in the Americas in our neighbors to the North, in Latin
America, in the Caribbean states in a true "culture of cooperation" within
the Inter-American community.
Your class is a fine example of that. Whether you hail from Canada
or Colombia, from the Dominican Republic or Peru together you have
formed a resilient and robust link, steeped in shared values and
new friendships and full of hope for all of us who will share in
the future you go forward to serve, enrich and protect. Your dreams
and pursuits will take many of you far from America's shores --
but never far from our shared desire for strong, democratic neighbors
as we fight a global war against terror. As you know, America's
shores have represented much to this country through the years.
To immigrants fleeing persecution, those shores meant freedom.
To citizens fleeing poverty and oppression, they meant hope. And
for Americans living between these shining seas they meant security.
And yet, the attacks of September 11th changed many of our perceptions
-- chief among them, the realization that two vast oceans could
no longer guard us from the cold-blooded enemies of freedom. While
terrorism is certainly not a new phenomenon, as you have learned
in your studies, in the 21st century, it is different. For the
first time in the history of humankind, a small group of people
with weapons of mass destruction can wreak untold damage. These
perpetrators seek chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and
before them lays a map of the world.
In this war, one army does not march against another. Rather,
cells of militant terrorists plot to use any means to attack the
innocent to undermine free enterprise to exploit open and free
societies. They seek the disintegration of these societies through
attempts to undermine free governments. They seek glory in casualty
and chaos - but find only solidarity among free nations unwilling
to discard freedom for fear.
The international terrorism threat in the Western Hemisphere is
low compared to other world regions. Even so, the region is by
no means exempt from exploitation by groups that would use it to
seek safe haven, financing, illegal travel documentation, or access
via long-established narcotics and migrant-smuggling routes. It
is comforting, and also vital, that we continue to thwart and drive
out those opportunities.
The United States and no doubt the world have all benefited greatly
from the actions of the inter-American community - actions such
as the Rio Treaty of Mutual Assistance, which declared the 9-11
attacks against the United States to be attacks against all treaty
members; actions such as the seven Latin American nations who joined
the "coalition of the willing" last year to liberate Iraq; and
certainly the member actions of the Organization of American States
and many other countries throughout the Hemisphere that ramped
up stronger border and financial controls to prevent and disrupt
September 11th certainly re-defined "security" for free nations
but it did not redefine freedom itself. It could not. No adversary
can knock down the hard-fought, hard-won, founding principles of
"There was a time," Ronald Reagan once said, "when empires were
defined by landmass, subjugated peoples, and military might." But
to our 40th president, a true empire is defined by the might of
its ideals. And the sum of free people bound by a common heritage:
liberty, loyalty, faith, free markets and human dignity. As President
Reagan put it, "We live in a world that is lit by lightning. So
much is changing and will change, but so much endures and transcends
For nearly 228 years, America's fortunes and freedoms have been
tied to wave after wave of immigrants from around the world. Such
openness to diversity continues today; it is a reflection of who
and what we are as a nation. Therefore, this nation's security
strategy can never, and will never, be one of closed borders and
high fences. It must be one of open borders and welcoming shores.
It must be enough to secure our nation and our people -- but also
to preserve and protect our way of life.
The complexity of that task in a post 9-11 world has required
a whole new philosophy of how we secure America and how we secure
open societies everywhere. In this Hemisphere, we are forging this
new path to security together, built on a mutual commitment to
freedom, the rule of law and open channels of prosperity and free
And so today, more than anything, homeland security in the 21st
century is about the integration of a nation and nations -- everyone
pledged to freedom's cause; everyone its protector, everyone its
beneficiary. It is about the interconnectedness of international
leaders, global law enforcement, emergency personnel, the health
and science communities, border patrol agents, citizens everywhere
-- all joined to the task of spotting and stopping those who wish
This type of "interdependence" is a good thing. It helps inspire
one another to higher standards. It drives the global policies
that daily shape the twin pillars of security and prosperity. It
compels us to be innovative and unified in our approach to security.
Together we work together, inter-agency wide -- inter-American
wide -- internationally, across many spheres. It is the only way
we can win this global war.
It is no coincidence that the threat to the stability and peace
of the world has coincided with the globalization of technology,
transportation, commerce and communication. The same benefits enjoyed
by freedom-loving people across the world are available to terrorists
as well. That means that terrorists themselves have greater mobility,
more targets and more places to hide than ever before.
That is why we, too, are working together to exploit those capabilities.
We are investigating and prosecuting. We are utilizing broad channels
of diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and asset seizure.
We are enlisting stronger collaboration and cooperation, and improved
information sharing, both within nations and between them. We are
taking a multilateral approach to a multidimensional problem.
Fighting this war in a spirit of cooperation is especially important
because homeland security cannot occur in a vacuum. We know that
the security policies and programs we put in place in our individual
countries impact the global community.
Here in America, we know that these policies affect travelers
to this country whether they are coming for work, study, research
or pleasure. And as those policies have altered to reflect the
new security paradigm in which we all live we rely more and more
on our partnerships in the Americas and elsewhere to advance their
scope, fairness and effectiveness.
After the attacks of September 11, America's logical reaction
was to invoke stringent, new security measures: U.S. air space
was closed; airports were shut down; Broadway plays and sporting
events were canceled.
All of the 19 hijackers who perpetrated the 9-11 attacks held
visas, so it made sense to clamp down and tighten up the visa process.
This was the correct reaction.
But these policies and procedures are not sustainable over the
long-term if they impede commerce and travel. And given the many
advancements in technology and information sharing we have achieved
since 9-11, these same policies must be updated and retooled so
that they represent the strongest way forward toward a future of
We recognize our policy for "entry and exit" into the United States
needs to evolve to ensure that all legal travelers are welcomed
to this country. At the same time, these same policies must evolve
so that we can beat back the constant, daily efforts of terrorists
who try to step foot on the American welcome mat.
Every year several hundred thousand international students attend
our colleges and universities. Every single day, thousands of international
travelers arrive at our airports, many as employees or partners
of American businesses. By land, by air and by sea, we welcome
annually nearly 600 million workers, tourists, students, business
travelers and families. These travelers enrich our academic communities
and contribute to the economic, intellectual, cultural and scientific
climate of our country.
Over the past two years, I've had the opportunity to meet with
many of my Homeland Security counterparts and other world leaders
some of whom, like you, have studied here in the United States
or have children enrolled in our colleges and universities.
These meetings, these friendships, have become personal reminders
of how closely connected we are to the international community
a connection each of you has likely experienced over the course
of your year at IADC.
You know firsthand the necessity to have access to this country
and you know that your country's colleagues, employees and citizens
share this same need in a world enriched by academic and economic
That is why we must continue to make the process workable to improve
where we can improve while keeping security paramount. And together
with the State Department, and input from the business and academic
communities, we are developing a strategy to do so.
In the coming weeks, the administration will outline changes in
our visa policies and procedures changes that will improve the
integrity and security of our system while facilitating legitimate
travel. These changes fall under a strategic framework that sets
out four main goals to help us fulfill this mission.
First of which is a commitment to enhance the use of biometrics
an innovative and important technology with the ability to significantly
raise our security standards.
We have already seen through our US-VISIT program how biometric
information can provide an added layer of security and bring travelers
across our borders with greater ease and convenience. Since the
beginning of the year, US-VISIT has processed more than 5 million
legitimate passengers. And since the program began we have matched
more than 600 potential entrants against criminal watch lists.
We want to build on this success to improve the integrity of the
visa system and eliminate burdensome security checks.
To that end, we have already incorporated this technology into
the visa process by requiring consular officials to obtain biometric
information before issuing a visa. And we are also working with
other international organizations to establish a worldwide standard
for biometric passports. Ultimately, biometric identifiers help
reduce fraud and protect the identity of the visa holder by making
it much more difficult to impersonate someone.
However, let me state clearly in spite of the extraordinary security
benefits of biometrics, the United States is mindful of concerns
over the issues of privacy and civil liberties with respect to
this information. America knows we get what we give; we cannot
seek a double standard. But to suggest that there is a trade-off
between security and individual freedoms -- that we must discard
one protection for the other -- to me, is a false choice. You do
not forsake liberty to defend it.
Biometrics is just one of the many tools that can move us closer
to our second goal, which is to promote economic interests without
compromising national security. At the core of this effort is a
commitment to a more streamlined, efficient and secure process
for low-risk travelers. We want to eliminate "broad brush" security
procedures that bog down our personnel and resources when processing
the vast majority of legitimate travelers ... and instead hone
in on those applicants where there may be cause for concern.
Our new guidelines are designed to better serve the fundamental
constituencies that travel on a regular basis academia, business,
cultural artists, and citizens.
With that in mind, we continue to look at every point in the process
to find ways to improve it -- from the moment a visa applicant
steps into an overseas consular office to the moment that same
citizen steps foot on American soil. Some changes in the pipeline
include the creation of a multiple year visa for students who register
under our student visit program, SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor
Information System). For business travelers, we may extend the
period of validity for a personal interview. For scientists, it
may be possible to extend the period of validity of background
In addition, we're exploring significant changes to the NSEERS
(National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) program, ways
to improve our information flow procedures during the security
advisory opinion process, and enhancements that would add greater
transparency throughout the entire visa application process.
That said our third main goal is to encourage legitimate immigration
of those fleeing persecution while implementing necessary security
measures. The United States has a proud history of sheltering and
protecting those who escape oppression in search of safe haven.
However, among those who seek protection in earnest, there may
be other individuals who intend to exploit vulnerabilities in our
refugee and asylum programs. By building an international biometric
database of asylum applicants, we can more effectively reduce fraud
and system abuses, while promoting genuine asylum claims.
Finally, while we make changes to ease delays, confusion and frustrations
travelers have sometimes faced, we are also pursuing our fourth
and certainly overarching goal, which is to ensure that the process
continues to maintain appropriate safeguards for our nation and
our citizens. That means better enforcement of penalties for those
who violate visa and immigration laws. It means enhancements in
both the consular interview process and background checks.
With the advent of advanced technologies, the significant increases
in our intelligence-gathering and information sharing capabilities,
and the cooperation we are seeing at all levels across this Hemisphere
and the globe, we know that a visa system that eliminates redundancies,
simplifies application processes and focuses resources on high-risk
applicants is a reachable reality that can and will make us more
Today compelled by necessity we have been presented with a historic
opportunity to improve a vital process for millions of international
travelers and visitors to engage the world community and redefine
how we approach visa and immigration issues and to stop terrorists
in their tracks. So let us seize this historic opportunity together.
With the passing of Ronald Reagan, we were reminded that, in the "empire
of ideals," ideals must have their champions. And they have. From
the stand allied nations made on the beaches of Normandy to the
one made in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, all of us in our lifetime
have seen the unstoppable force of a common commitment to freedom.
Those examples leave no doubt: great powers can work together
to do great things. And today's challenging times demand nothing
less. When it comes to the suppression of terrorism, we are all
equal to the task. And I am confident we will meet it.
So let us join together, neighbor to neighbor, nation to nation,
and summon ourselves to our best efforts. And, graduates, may you
go forward from this proud day knowing how vital you are to this
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this special celebration.
Again, my congratulations to you all.