Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, on February 26, a massive bomb exploded in the World Trade Center in New York City; 6 people died, over 1,000 people were injured, and at least a billion dollars of damage resulted as the explosion ripped through seven concrete floors and destroyed the building's power, communications, and safety systems.
The terror felt by those present at the explosion--visible on the faces of survivors who streamed out of the building--was palpable. While not matched, this terror was mirrored in the minds of all Americans who felt suddenly and gravely at risk.
For many years, we have watched as deadly terrorist attacks flared in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
Americans have been the targets of terrorism abroad, suffering devastating loss of life, including the leveling of the Marine barracks in Beirut, and the bombing of Pan Am 103.
But, although a few incidents of deadly terrorism occurred in the United States in the 1970's, we have been largely safe from such violence here at home.
So the attack in New York--on American soil indeed on a major American landmark--makes us feel vulnerable to the threat of violent terrorism with a depth and immediacy not felt strongly before.
In the month since the bombing, law enforcement officials have made substantial progress in uncovering who carried out the World Trade Center bombing.
Several suspects are now under arrest and indictment, and many facts about how the attack was carried out are known.
Nonetheless, it is clear that many questions remain to be considered and, hopefully, answered. Restoring peace of mind to all Americans depends on our ability to address these questions effectively.
Later this month, the Judiciary Committee will convene several days of hearings to examine the questions raised by the bombing of the World Trade Center. Experts from Government and from academia will testify on all aspects of domestic terrorism.
At the outset, we will seek an overview of the problem.
First, what are the causes of such terrorist acts? Although terrorist violence--often claiming innocent men, women, and children as victims--seems senseless, there is usually an underlying logic. Sinister means are engaged to serve what the perpetrators believe is a persuasive purpose--however murky that purpose may seem to outsiders.
We must learn to read the danger signs--to identify individuals who trade in terror before they act, to be sensitive to the potential motivating factors that may cause them to act, and to identify potential targets and reduce their vulnerability.
In short, we must better understand the nature of the threat we face on American soil and the means to attack these threats.
Second, can we respond to terrorist acts, when they do occur, so as to deter future violence? For example, when airport security measures were improved following a wave of hijacking, the incidence of such acts decreased dramatically.
Is focusing quickly on counteracting a developing pattern of a particular form of terrorism where our emphasis should lie?
Is a demonstrated willingness to retaliate--as with the 1987 bombing of Libya--effective in deterring terrorist acts?
Third, does law enforcement have the tools it needs to prevent terrorist acts from occurring? The key question here is--do we have resources sufficient to target all those reasonably capable of inflicting injury here?
Fourth, can we improve international cooperation in the fight against terrorism? The recent return from abroad of one of the suspects in the New York bombing is a tremendous success in the area.
Still, we must ask: Is our intelligence capability adequate? Do we have the necessary ability to obtain foreign cooperation in the investigation and extradition of suspects?
Examining these broader questions will provide the necessary underpinnings for the committee to review existing Federal law on terrorism, identify any gaps in coverage, and propose needed legislation.
Last Congress, many of us worked to pass a comprehensive crime bill that contained my Counterterrorism Act of 1991.
This bill was explicitly designed to address the threat of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, due to the opposition of the previous administration, the omnibus bill was not passed. Had it been enacted, the bill would have, among other things:
Made it a Federal crime to use, or attempt or conspire to use, a weapon of mass destruction against persons or property within the United States;
Established a new criminal offense for providing material resources or support to terrorists;
Provided the death penalty for terrorist acts committed within the United States or against U.S. citizens abroad; and
Authorized additional funding for the counterterrorist activities of the FBI, the State Department, the Secret Service, and State and local law endorsement agencies.
I will ask my colleagues again this year--and soon--to support the comprehensive crime bill containing these important measures on terrorism.
At the same time, at the committee's hearings, we will expand our review to other areas that may need legislative attention.
For example, in my view, existing Federal regulation of explosives is insufficient. Restrictions on the purchase of explosives and requirements for obtaining permits are minimal and must be enhanced.
Today, a person can obtain a 30-day license to manufacture or sell explosives for $5. A one-time-only user permit is available for $2. Convicted felons--who are prohibited from buying guns, can easily obtain an exemption from ATF to purchase explosives.
Strengthening these laws is an important step, but not a complete defense to the risk of bombings. Explosives can be made at home from relatively common chemicals that are readily available. Indeed, press accounts suggest that the World Trade Center bomb was just such a mixture.
The committee will look to whether there are other appropriate steps we can take to limit the ability of terrorists to wreak havoc through explosion.
We should also explore the feasibility and effectiveness of using taggants--enabling explosives to be tracked from manufacture, to purchase, to use.
Another issue raised by the World Trade Center incident is whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service has the resources necessary to identify those individuals who should not enter or remain in this country and follow through on that determination.
We are a nation of immigrants whose strengths is founded in our diversity. We must not close our borders to today's immigrants who will continue that tradition. We must also continue to offer a safe haven to those who face persecution at the hands of authoritarian regimes.
But, with procedural safeguards intact, we must ensure that those who come here to do violence are excluded quickly and with finality.
The full committee, and Senator Kennedy's Subcommittee on Immigration, will review the INS policies and practices and seek answers to key questions:
When an individual is on the list of suspected terrorists, is entry to the country denied?
Is such information available to embassies abroad which issue visas for entry?
If such a person enters somehow, what is the procedure for deportation?
Finally, the committee will examine whether building and communications security needs improvement and what technologies for improvement exist:
Can garage security procedures be reasonably changed to facilitate detection of explosives?
Can communication, fire, and escape systems be located or otherwise protected so as to better withstand attack?
In short, we will try to identify measures that architects, engineers, and building managers can use to increase the odds that communications and safety systems remain operational in the event of a terrorist attack.
For many years, there has been a perception that the United States was somehow immune from terrorism--that because of good law enforcement, refusal to negotiate with terrorists, and a willingness to retaliate--terrorists steered clear of our shores.
Whether or not the bombing in New York crosses a threshold to a new era is unclear. But it serves as a reminder that we should not take our safety for granted. We must reassess the threat of terrorist violence in the United States.
And we must prepare to deter and to respond to specific acts of terrorism that put American lives at risk here at home.
I hope the hearings convened by the Judiciary Committee later this month will begin this process. Following the hearings, the committee will make its findings available in a public report, and will draft and introduce necessary legislation for consideration by the full Senate.