Homeland Security Update: Catherine Herridge

Catherine Herridge
We asked FNC Homeland Security correspondent  Catherine Herridge to give us an update on three issues of concern since 9/11:

How is the hunt for sleeper cells in the U.S. going?

As the president said in his address to the nation, nearly two-thirds of Al Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed, and we're still on Al Qaeda's trail. Shortly after 9/11, a senior justice department official told me the primary objective was disruption — preventing attacks before they happen.  And in the last year we have seen some evidence that that has come to fruition. For example Iyman Faris, the Ohio truck driver who acted as an Al Qaeda scout, or Ali al-Marri, an alleged fixer for terrorist cells are both now in custody. Faris has even cut a deal and is now providing information.  

However, Larry Mefford, who oversees Counterterrorism for the FBI, cautions that Al Qaeda remains the agency's number one concern, adding that the group's base of support in this country "is very small, but it certainly exists."

Watch Catherine's report, Under the Radar.

Are containers still going unchecked at our ports? 

Officials at customs and border protection, which now covers port security, say they are doing risk assessments. All containers that are determined to be high risk (roughly 5 percent) are now physically searched.

As for the other 95 percent, they generally come from known shippers, or have been pre-screened before they enter the country as part of the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which was expanded significantly this year. Governments in 19 of the top 20 ports have agreed to implement CSI. 16 of these top 20 ports are now operational, and more countries will be added under phase two of the program. Essentially, foreign ports will have teams of US customs and border protection officers on site to prescreen containers. The idea is to stop any problems before they get to the United States. 

Are airlines more prepared then they were on 9/11/01?

Airline security initiatives have grown substantially in the last year; the most recent of which has included the Federal Air Marshall program. Earlier this month, Secretary Ridge announced that 5,000 customs and immigration agents will be trained and in "reserve" as undercover air marshalls for when there is an increased threat to aviation security. 

Also, Homeland Security officials continue to pursue the threat of shoulder-fired missiles to civilian aircraft. Special teams from the FBI and the transportation security administration have been doing site assessments at U.S. airports for nearly 9 months, which has led to significant improvements including additional patrols, and more lighting and fencing. Recently, officials have turned their sights to 12 airports overseas.  Homeland Security officials say countries are inviting these special U.S. teams to help them assess vulnerabilities at their airports, used by many American Airlines for scheduled long-haul flights.

Since a failed attempt last November to shoot down an Israeli chartered jet in Mombasa, Kenya, the department of Homeland Security has been working behind the scenes, asking Congress for $2 million and a new office to deal specifically with the missile threat.

To put this in context, officials said recently that there is no intelligence that Al Qaeda has shoulder-fired missiles in the U.S. with plans to use them — Nor is intelligence suggesting that U.S. carriers are being targeted overseas. This is just an example of one of the department's primary functions; to disrupt and detect possible attacks.