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Susan Collins

Protecting Communities from Threat of Bomb Attacks
By Senator Susan M. Collins
Nov 3, 2007 - 7:39:06 AM

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Senator Susan Collins serves the State of Maine in the United States Senate.
Terrorist bombings have a long and bloody history around the world and here in the United States. In 1920, for example, an anarchist bombing in front of the New York Stock Exchange killed 38 people and wounded hundreds more. The 1990s bombings of the World Trade Center and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the more recent attacks in Indonesia, Spain, and Great Britain remind us of the vicious and indiscriminate threat posed by bombs. As Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has noted, bombs are the weapon of choice for terrorists.

The FBI and DHS tell us that the threat from these devices is not only real, but growing. Furthermore, the National Intelligence Estimate has identified improvised explosive devices or IEDs as a significant homeland-security threat.

As recent bombings demonstrate, the costs of inadequate precautions can be horrendous. And as the threat of bomb attacks by home-grown terrorist increases, such as the thwarted plot to bomb the JFK airport in New York, we must be increasingly on guard. Much effort and much funding has been directed to train and equip law enforcement and other personnel to detect and disrupt bomb plots, yet we still lack a full-fledged national strategy to coordinate and improve the effectiveness of those efforts.

Along with Senator Joe Lieberman, I recently introduced bipartisan legislation, titled "The National Bombing Prevention Act of 2007," that will help improve our defenses against these weapons.

Our bill would build on past efforts of the DHS Office of Bombing Prevention (OBP). Among other things, the bill designates the OBP as the lead agency in DHS for combating terrorist explosive attacks; tasks it with coordinating national and intergovernmental bombing-prevention activities; assigns it responsibility for assisting state and local governments and cooperating with the private sector, and authorizes $25 million a year in both 2009 and 2010 for the OBP.

A key element of federal assistance is training. Recently, for example, members of several Maine police departments received DHS training and briefings in Washington, as well as an FBI update, and fresh information on improvised explosive devices. Our bill would bring more of that training home and make it more accessible to local law-enforcement officers in states such as Maine. This training will be particularly helpful to Maine's three bomb squads, one of which is deployed by the State Police, the others in Bangor and Portland.

Our bill also directs the President to accelerate the release of the National Strategy for Bombing Prevention and to update it every four years. As terrorists' tactics change, we must review and adjust our counter-measures to defeat them.

Finally, our bill would promote more research and development of counter-explosive technologies and facilitate the transfer of military technologies for domestic use so the countermeasures used to detect and defeat IEDs in Iraq can be made available to state and local bomb squads in this country.

This legislation is badly needed. We need to make sure that local bomb squads have the latest and most accurate information on bombing threats. We need to raise awareness of the signs of possible threats, including purchases of precursor materials and other suspicious activities. We need to improve information sharing and coordination of activities among all levels of government as well as the private sector.

Under our legislation, the Department of Homeland Security will have the legal authority, the responsibility, and the resources to ensure that state and local law enforcement personnel receive the training and information they need to help protect us.

The National Bombing Prevention Act of 2007 will give our country important new protections. The need for that protection has been amply demonstrated, and the threat of terrorist bombs continues to grow.

Senator Collins is Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.


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