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Sen. Ed Markey Headshot

Commerce Won't Trump Homeland Security in the 110th Congress

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Democrats campaigned on significant promises to lead our country in a new direction. No issue since September 11th has marked the incompetence of the Bush Administration and the Department of Homeland Security more than a loophole in our cargo security systems that I've been talking about and trying to close for years.

Every time we board an airplane to go on a business trip, take our kids to see grandma and grandpa, or head back home from vacation, we show government-issued ID's, take off our shoes, submit our carry on bags and checked luggage to vigorous explosive screening, and often allow TSA to pat us down to ensure we are not bringing weapons aboard a plane. All of these measures - and some we are unaware of - are intended to prevent another 9/11 from occurring.

But as we sit waiting for our planes to take off, and glance out the window to make sure our luggage got on, a forklift approaches with a pallet-load of completely unscreened packages to be loaded into the cargo hold right under our thoroughly screened feet! I'm not talking about the baggage we checked an hour before our flights. I'm talking about boxes and crates, shipped by people and to people who are not even flying on that plane, which are not inspected or scanned for explosives.

Finally, the new Congress appears to be ready to take this long-overdue step to close the dangerous air cargo security loophole that has left airline passengers and crew members vulnerable to another deadly terrorist attack.

Democrats are fulfilling a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission by strengthening the security measures applied to the billions of pounds of air cargo transported in the belly of passenger planes every year. This Congress will be siding with the families of the victims of the September 11th attacks and the airline pilots and crew members as we require all cargo on passenger planes to be screened.

Another loophole exists in the security of our maritime cargo.

The 9-11 commission determined that our ports and maritime cargo were at least as vulnerable to terrorist attack as our aviation system. And although Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that preventing the introduction and use of weapons of mass destruction has to be the "number one thing we attend to in the years to come," Republicans in Congress and in the Bush Administration repeatedly resisted democratic efforts to scan all cargo being loaded onto ships headed for the u.s. to make sure it doesn't contain nuclear weapons.

If a nuclear weapon smuggled into our country inside a cargo container were detonated, it could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. The new Democratic Congress will close this reckless loophole.

The American people deserve to know that when they fly on planes, the cargo underneath their feet is as rigorously checked as they and their bags are checked. Americans deserve to know that maritime cargo headed for our shores is scanned before it reaches our shores to ensure it doesn't contain a nuclear weapon. And they also deserve to know that commerce doesn't trump homeland security when it comes to securing our transportation systems.

A new Congress, under the historic leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will offer a profound sense of security to the American people as we begin our work in the first 100 hours. The cargo loopholes are two of many that will be closed, making our country more secure and making good on our promise to the American people.