November 17, 2004 - Volume I: Edition VIII
Even as the 108th Congress draws to a close, there are a number of major issues – many related to security and 9/11 – on which I believe our government should take action and on which I continue to work hard.
Intelligence Reform Still Not Enacted
9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, former Republican Governor of New Jersey, warned that if the House-Senate conference negotiators could not complete an intelligence reform bill before the election, the odds for having a strong, bipartisan final product anytime soon would dwindle. The negotiators indeed failed to finish the bill before Election Day. And now, as the momentum and accountability needed for meaningful reform fades, it seems that the only intelligence bill we may get is an unacceptably weak one.
This week, Members of Congress return to Washington to take care of unfinished business, but it is looking increasingly doubtful that intelligence reform will be included. It would be a shame if the 108th Congress – the first session of Congress post 9/11 – ends up taking no action to better secure our nation. There has been a lot of rhetoric around Washington over the past three years that 9/11 was a “wake-up call” to make America safer, but the reality is that many of the same people have shown that they are unwilling to change and perhaps relinquish some power, even in the name of security.
Together with the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and I have worked to enact reform true to the spirit of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations from the beginning. Our 9/11 Commission Caucus supported the Senate’s bipartisan reform bill, but we had reservations about the House’s weaker and divergent bill all along. It appears that the provisions in the House bill are the reasons there has been a delay and are the reason that we may end up with a weak bill and a weak National Intelligence Director, if any at all. That is an unfortunate development for our nation’s security.
Standing up for Health and the Environment in Queens:
Upon hearing reports from the community about the noxious odors and fumes emanating from the excavation of the former Pepsi Co. site in Hunters Point, Queens, I recently spoke in favor of air quality protection measures at a public meeting of the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC), November 9, 2004.
The excavation of this site must not produce the environmental risks it did before. The DEC is now involved in implementing several measures which would monitor and prevent these environmental hazards from continuing. I am working to ensure that the measures suggested by the DEC be put in place well before excavation of the site resumes.
Are We Under Threat From the Explosives Stolen in Iraq?
In late October, word leaked of 380 tons of military-grade explosives that went missing from the Al Qaqaa facility in Iraq since the war began. I believe that the American people need to know how much of a threat these deadly weapons pose to our security and our troops’ security. In fact, we need to know whether these explosives are already being used to attack our troops in Iraq and in other terrorist attacks around the world.
That’s why I have requested that the Government Accountability Office investigate the fate of the missing explosives. Is there a way to tell if those specific explosives are being used to attack our soldiers? Were they used in the Madrid train bombing? What about in attacks on Israelis?
If we do find that the Qaqaa explosives have fallen into the hands of terrorists and are actively being used in attacks worldwide, we can better assess the threat to our homeland and Americans abroad. Since my request for an investigation, we have seen news reports confirming that the type of explosives used in major bombings in Iraq is the same type that was stolen from Qaqaa, further increasing the need for a GAO investigation.
I, along with a number of colleagues, also have asked the Speaker of the House to direct the relevant committees to conduct public hearings on the stolen explosives. I believe that the American people deserve answers about who is responsible and what kind of threat we face. According to one press report, Army Reservists and National Guardsmen saw looters emptying the Al Qaqaa facility with trucks in the weeks after Baghdad fell, but their calls to their commanders for reinforcements went unanswered. Don’t we deserve to know why?
FEMA’s Accusations About Fraud in 9/11 Air Quality Aid Were Wrong
In February 2003, Brad Gair, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) lead officer in New York after 9/11, claimed that 90% of the applicants seeking aid because of contaminated air purifiers were fraudulent. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector General said Mr. Gair was wrong.
Rep. Jose Serrano and I originally requested the investigation, which showed that while FEMA only considered residents of lower Manhattan as subject to air contamination, residents of other parts of the city were also affected and should have been eligible for aid. Additionally, the misinformation FEMA distributed about air quality may have confused citizens and caused many who were not eligible for aid to apply. The results of the investigation add to the growing list of missteps in the federal government’s immediate response to 9/11.