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Speaker shares fears of terror

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jimmy Gurulé, professor of law in the Notre Dame Law School and former Undersecretary for Enforcement in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, presented a lecture on “The Need for Immigration Reform in the War on Terror” Wednesday.

The lecture, which focused on issues of terrorism, border security and global trade, was part of an ongoing lecture series featuring Latino and minority speakers sponsored by Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies.

In addition to his work with the Treasury, Gurulé has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Gurulé, an expert on international criminal law with regards to terrorism, terrorist financing and the prevention of money-laundering, set the tone for his discussion by saying, “Terrorism, border security and global trade all intersect.”

“In August 2001, I was sworn in as Undersecretary of Enforcement at the Treasury Department,” he said.

There, he was in charge of 30,000 people and a $5 billion-per-year budget. Just a month after he took office, on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed.

“I was in my office at the Treasury Department and felt the explosion of the plane that hit the Pentagon,” he said. “At that point, we moved security to the highest level.”

Gurulé, who went on to draft and implement the U.S. Government’s anti-terrorist financing strategy, discussed the unintended consequences of securing the border in that high-security post-Sept. 11 environment.

“One very interesting thing happened,” Gurulé said. “We saw lines of traffic back up that were six to eight to ten hours long at the border. We need to understand and appreciate that we live in a small, interdependent world.”

Gurulé went on to discuss future threats. The media has focused heavily on preventing the entry of undocumented workers, he said, who are not a security threat. Instead, he said a container or a vehicle with an explosive or even weapon of mass destruction should be the main concern.

“The fear a WMD could be smuggled across the border is well-founded,” he said as he described how the millennium bomb plot involving Al Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ressam was foiled by an observant customs agent.

The practicalities and limitations of protecting the borders were also discussed. Gurulé noted that in 2003, 412.8 million people were processed and 132 million conveyances entered the country.

“Searching everyone is neither practical nor justifiable,” Gurulé said.

In addition, he also mentioned the threat posed at seaports.

“Nine million containers are unloaded every year,” he said. “Conceivably, any one could serve as a carrier for a nuclear device. Not every container can be searched.”

Gurulé addressed this by explaining how gamma X-ray machines scan suspicious containers. He also cited the largely successful Container Security Initiative, in which U.S. customs inspectors check containers before departure at foreign ports rather than at arrival at U.S. ports as a way to not only keep the U.S. safer, but also to speed up the inspection process benefiting security and trade alike.

However, Gurulé was much more critical of other post-Sept. 11 reforms.

“There is no bigger bureaucracy than the Department of Homeland Security,” he said, adding that merging 20 very different agencies creates severe problems with regards to direction and efficiency. He said among other things, the separation of U.S. Customs Service from the Treasury and its subsequent division into two agencies undermined morale in the agency.

Gurulé also warned of old habits creeping back into the system.

“Sometimes we’re our worst enemy,” he said. “We weren’t very good at intelligence-sharing before 9/11.”

Though he stated that Sept. 11 had changed that attitude, he also said, “That attitude has become retrenched.”

Gurulé ended his discussion with a message for Notre Dame students.

“The one message I want to communicate is that this whole issue of terrorism will be here for years to come,” Gurulé said. “I hope that Notre Dame students will dedicate themselves to public service so as to defeat it. We need the best and the brightest to solve this problem.”