Mineta: Guarding ‘freedom of mobility’ is key

Jodi Genshaft

When four jumbo jets became weapons for the Sept. 11 attacks, the terrorists threatened “America’s most cherished freedom – the freedom of mobility,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday.

Speaking to more than 400 people in Coon Forum, Mineta outlined new security methods for all forms of transportation to defend the country against threats such as terrorists, drugs and disease.

Mineta said the Department of Transportation has worked “to prevent terrorists and other criminals from ever again using any facet of our transportation system as a weapon against any American anywhere.”

The Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency created after the attacks, will have more than 60,000 employees by the end of 2002, he said.

On Wednesday the TSA announced a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. – an aerospace, defense and technology company – to provide 40 hours of training for all airport security screeners. Employees also will receive 60 hours of on-site training and take a final examination. Mineta served as a vice president for Lockheed Martin in the mid-1990s.

Overlapping security measures, ranging from visible airport screening to undercover intelligence operations, will ensure both world-class security and customer service, he said.

Despite the increased security efforts, people don’t have to be concerned that Arabs will be singled out by safety personnel, he said. “Racial profiling … is not an effective means of doing security,” Mineta said.

Instead, a computer-assisted security system selects airline passengers for screening before flights are boarded. Among the criteria flagged by airlines are one-way tickets and cash purchases.

The department is developing new bomb-detectors after Richard Reid allegedly snuck through security with plastic explosives in his shoe. At the time, technology could only detect nitrate-based bombs.

Mineta said the new detection measures are classified, “but we’re good at it.”

Several Amtrak employees in the audience asked Mineta how the rail company is going to stay afloat without strong government support. While Congress is prepared to dole out $1.2 billion in support for Amtrak in fiscal year 2003, President Bush on April 16 recommended only $521 million.

Mineta said the company needs to make structural reforms before the government is ready to put more money into it. As of now, increased federal funding for the transit system would send “more resources down the tube,” he said.

“That’s like ready, fire, aim,” Mineta said.

Still, new legislation must provide sufficient funding for surface transportation and waterway infrastructure systems, he said.

The easiest way to get a missile into the country is through one of the 16 million containers aboard ships that enter the United States’ ports each year, he said. Customs officials are not searching for drugs and weapons of mass destruction, Mineta said, instead focusing on commercial claims to collect import taxes.

“It really scares me,” he said.

Kellogg Prof. Aaron Gellman said Mineta is both a victim and a beneficiary of the American experience. The secretary was imprisoned in a Japanese-American internment camp in Wyoming during World War II. But his national pride moved him toward careers in both politics and business.

Before joining the Bush administration, Mineta served as Commerce Secretary under former President Clinton. He is the first Asian American to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Mineta also lived in Evanston briefly as a teenager and attended Evanston Township High School.