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25 June 2004

U.S. Favors Multilateral Approach to Fight Terrorism, Ridge Says

International "interconnectedness" will defeat terrorists

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 said.

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:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Press Release
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 warm welcome.

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 things interesting.

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 terrorism-related activities.

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 freedom.

"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 time."

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 trade.

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 us harm.

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 tightened security.

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 growth.

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 checks.

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 secure.

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 cause.

Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this special celebration. Again, my congratulations to you all.

(end transcript)