This is the wrong time to cut the city’s anti-terror funding
Everybody remembers where they were when the towers fell. As former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari’s chief of staff, I was in Borough Hall preparing for any work necessary to help our neighbors caught in the catastrophe unfolding just across the harbor.
Even while clearing the debris and burying the dead, we resolved to remain ever-vigilant. Have we kept our word?
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security — one of two committees on which I sit — held a field hearing at the 9/11 Memorial to answer that question. The proceeding investigated the new challenges facing our country 14 years after Sept. 11, 2001.
That year, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube didn’t exist. Today, our enemies use these tools to recruit terrorists in our own backyards. Just this summer, a Staten Island man was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiring with ISIS to attack the New York area.
Teenagers across the United States have been radicalized through social media to hate our country and work with ISIS to destroy our way of life.
To be sure, methods to harm the homeland have evolved. But the basic nature of the threat remains: There are people who wish to kill Americans and will themselves die to accomplish their objective. In fact, the NYPD, working with federal partners, has prevented 16 known terror plots since 9/11. Yet with each passing year, arguments to defund critical security programs gain supporters.
Alarmingly, funding is slowly decreasing for New York City under the “Securing the Cities” program, which helps first responders detect nuclear materials and prevent attacks. The initiative deploys radiation-detection capabilities to the region’s law-enforcement agencies to identify illicit radiological materials that could be used for an attack.
This type of work requires sophisticated equipment and constant training — both of which are expensive but plainly worth the cost. Yet the Obama administration has proposed repeated cuts to the program, this year requesting only $10 million compared to historic levels of nearly double that amount.
Meanwhile, as ISIS roams freely across large swaths of the Middle East, remnants of Syria’s nuclear program aren’t secure. Even radioactive waste from Iraqi medical and scientific research labs poses a threat when in the wrong hands, as terrorists could use the material to detonate a primitive “dirty bomb.”
Beyond the tragic loss of life associated with a dirty-bomb attack, the Congressional Research Service reports that site cleanup and remediation could cost tens of billions of dollars.
Our counterterrorism and law-enforcement agencies need reliable funding to maintain readiness to counter this threat. Above all else, national security cannot fall prey to budget negotiations in Washington.
Even funding for the Zadroga Act, which pays the medical bills of the brave men and women who suffer from chronic ailments resulting from their work at Ground Zero, has come in for increased scrutiny in an era of belt-tightening.
The first responders and volunteers who spent weeks digging through the remnants of the World Trade Center — and who now, years later, face deadly diseases as a result of their heroism — deserve the country’s support.
As New York City’s only majority representative, I want to make something clear: I will stand with my fellow New York representatives to fight with every tool at my disposal to ensure this great city and its residents have the funding and the support necessary to combat those who wish to harm us. Now, with a new monument to freedom erected next to a site of unspeakable tragedy, our vigilance cannot waver.
Rep. Dan Donovan (R-SI, Brooklyn) serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.