Friday, November 20, 2009

The Fort Hood Attack: A Preliminary Assessment

Weekly column by Senator Collins

In investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission discovered vital information scattered throughout the government that might have prevented the deaths and destruction of that terrible day if only the dots had been connected. 
In the wake of the mass murder at Fort Hood, our nation once again must confront a troubling question: Was this another failure to connect the dots?  
Much has been done since 9-11-01 to respond to the failures exposed by those attacks. We created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), additional Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and fusion centers. We revised information sharing policies and promoted greater cooperation among intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 
The results have been significant. Terrorist plots, both at home and abroad, have been thwarted. The recent arrest in Denver of a suspected al Qaeda terror cell operative demonstrates the benefits of information sharing and joint efforts by the NCTC and other intelligence agencies, as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement.
But the shootings at Fort Hood may indicate that communication failures and poor judgment calls can defeat systems intended to ensure that vital information is shared to protect our country and its citizens. This case also raises questions about whether or not restrictive rules have a chilling effect on the legitimate dissemination of information, making it too difficult to connect the dots that would have allowed a clear picture of the threat to emerge.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I joined Chairman Lieberman in the first Congressional examination of this terrible tragedy. Our ongoing investigation will seek answers to questions such as how did our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies handle intercepted communications between Major Hasan and a radical cleric and known al Qaeda associate? Did they contact anyone in Major Hasan’s chain of command to relay concerns? Did they seek to interview Major Hasan himself?
When Major Hasan reportedly began to openly question the oath that he had taken to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, did anyone in his military chain of command intervene?
When Major Hasan, in his 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recommended that the Department of Defense allow “Muslim soldiers the option of being released as ‘conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events,” did his colleagues and superior officers view this statement as a red flag?
Were numerous warning signs ignored because the Army faces a shortage of psychiatrists and was concerned, as the Army Chief of Staff has subsequently put it, about a “backlash against Muslim soldiers?”
For nearly four years, our Committee has been investigating the threat of homegrown terrorism. We have explored radicalization in our prisons, the cycle of violent radicalization, and how the Internet can act as a “virtual terrorist training camp.” We have warned that individuals within the United States can be inspired by al Qaeda’s violent ideology to plan and execute attacks even if they do not receive direct orders from al Qaeda to do so. And we have learned of the difficulty of detecting “lone wolf” terrorists.
To prevent future homegrown terrorist attacks, we must understand why our law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and our military personnel system may have failed in this case. 
Major Hasan’s attack targeted innocent soldiers and civilians regardless of their religious faith. These patriotic soldiers and civilians were injured and killed not on a foreign battleground but rather on what should have been safe and secure American territory.
With so many questions still swirling around this heinous attack, it is important for the nation to understand what happened so that we may work to prevent future incidents. We owe that to our brave and dedicated troops, to their families and communities, and to all Americans. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Boosting Deepwater, Offshore Wind Research

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

Here in Maine, we pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. These high prices are not only difficult for residential customers, but they are also an impediment to doing business in our state. During a recent tour of National Semiconductor in South Portland, company officials told me that the high cost of electricity is their number one issue in terms of adding jobs in Maine versus other states.

I believe that deepwater, offshore wind has enormous potential to help us meet our nation’s electricity needs and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, it also presents an exciting opportunity for the State of Maine to help stabilize high electricity rates and create much-needed, good-paying “green jobs.”

I am introducing legislation that would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application to advance offshore wind turbine technology. This bill would advance the goal of the Department of Energy to produce 20 percent of our nation’s electricity from wind resources by 2030.

Sixty-one percent of our country’s wind resource is in deepwater, greater than 197 feet depth. Winds at these offshore locations, out-of-sign from land, are stronger and more consistent than closer to shore or on land. It will, however, take technological advances to harness this energy efficiently and cost-effectively.

My bill would focus national efforts to develop offshore wind technologies. This should be a national priority because it can produce clean, renewable energy for major U.S. population centers. The 28 coastal states use 78 percent of the electricity in the U.S. For example, Maine’s offshore wind resource is close to the 55 million people live in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This is 18 percent of the total U.S. population.

Developing cost-competitive offshore wind technology will require improvements in the efficiency, reliability, and capacity of offshore wind turbines and reductions in the cost of manufacturing, construction, deployment, generation, and maintenance of offshore wind energy systems. That is why my bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to support existing university centers, like the new one at the University of Maine, and establish other centers to support research, development, demonstration and commercial application. The bill would authorize $50 million annually over ten years for:

* the design, demonstration, and deployment of advanced wind turbine foundations and support structures, blades, turbine systems, components, and supporting land- and water-based infrastructure for application in shallow water, transitional depth, and deep water offshore;
* full-scale testing and establishment of regional demonstrations of offshore wind components and systems to validate technology and performance;
* assessments of U.S. offshore wind resources, environmental impacts and benefits, siting and permitting issues, exclusion zones, and transmission needs for inclusion in a publically accessible database;.
* design, demonstration, and deployment of integrated sensors, actuators and advanced materials, such as composite materials;
* advanced blade manufacturing activity, such as automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components, to stimulate the development of a U.S.-blade manufacturing capacity;
* methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on marine ecosystems and marine industries; and
* other research areas as determined by the Secretary.

Maine is already leading the way when it comes to deepwater, offshore wind research. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced an $8 million grant for research at the University of Maine. In addition, the final version of the 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill included $5 million that I secured for the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine. The State of Maine has also committed its own funding and policy initiatives toward supporting a deepwater, offshore wind research center at the University.

This is a critical investment in Maine’s future. Estimates are that development of five gigawatts of offshore wind in Maine – enough to power more than 1 million homes for a year -- could attract $20 billion of investment to the state and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that will be sustained over 30 years. Maine has the manufacturing infrastructure and workforce to partner with the University to make this new industry of deepwater offshore wind technology a reality.

My bill would further support important renewable energy research that would help reduce our use of fossil fuels, improve our energy security, and help stabilize electricity rates. This is a great technological challenge, but we must begin to make the investments now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Senate Homeland Security Committee to hold hearings on Ft. Hood attack

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., formally announced on Monday that their Committee will be conducting an investigation into last week’s murders at Ft. Hood, beginning with a public hearing next week.

The Senators released the following statements today on their inquiry and intention to hold hearings on the attack:

“This murderous attack should be examined from every angle to make sure nothing like this occurs again,” Lieberman said. “While we in no way will interfere with the Army or FBI’s criminal investigations, the Committee will be conducting an investigation into what Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s motives were, whether the government missed warning signs that should have led to expulsion, and what lessons we can learn to prevent such future attacks. As this investigation continues, we would do no favor to the thousands of Muslim Americans who are serving our military with honor and the millions of patriotic and law-abiding Muslim Americans by ignoring real evidence that an individual Muslim American soldier may have become a violent Islamist extremist.

“Three years ago, this Committee, then led by Senator Collins, started an investigation into the threat of homegrown Islamist terrorism. That resulted in a bipartisan report concluding ‘no longer is the [terrorist] threat just from abroad, as was the case with the attacks of September 11, 2001; the threat is now increasingly from within, from homegrown terrorists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology to plan and execute attacks where they live.’ This attack, in addition to recent cases in Minnesota, Arkansas, North Carolina and elsewhere, appears to be a further example of that threat. At a September 2007 hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Committee that ‘lone wolf’ terrorists were of particular concern to law enforcement and that we needed to take steps to address that particular threat. The United States needs to heed his warning.”

Senator Collins said: “The Fort Hood slayings were tragic and heartbreaking. It is important for our nation to understand what precipitated this horrific attack so that we may work to prevent future incidents. The investigation is about understanding the factors that led Major Hasan—a senior Army officer and a psychiatrist trained to ease human suffering—to kill and injure so many of his fellow soldiers. We owe that to our military, to their families, and to their communities.

“Our military must be prepared to detect the warning signs for potential violence and to intervene and prevent similar attacks in the future,” she said. “This hearing is vital to assuring the men and women serving in our military and their families that their safety is a top priority for us.

“Let me express my personal gratitude to the thousands of American Muslims serving in our military and working to defeat terrorism. Any of them could have been another victim of Major Hasan’s attack,” Collins noted.”

Since December 2006, the Committee has held nine hearings on the threat of homegrown terrorism. In May 2008, the Committee released a report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Snowe, Collins Announce $9.4 Million for Verso Paper Corporation

Funding Will Boost Energy Efficient Projects for Paper Mills in Jay and Bucksport

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today announced the U.S. Department of Energy will award Verso Paper Corporation $9, 356, 177 in federal funding to assist with the deployment of waste energy recovery technologies at three paper mills including those located in Jay and Bucksport. The funding is being distributed to Maine through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Senators Snowe and Collins worked with a bipartisan group of senators to craft the legislation that became law in February.

“This funding award will provide the Verso plants in Jay and Bucksport with the resources they need to stay competitive in the 21st century global economy, improve energy efficiency and create good-paying jobs in Maine,” said Senators Snowe and Collins in a joint statement. “Reducing our consumption of energy at these facilities will keep these mills competitive with international competition, reduces carbon emissions, and builds on the company’s effort to invest in the mills that continue to be a bedrock to the Jay and Bucksport communities. We are pleased the Department of Energy recognized Verso for such critical assistance.”

Earlier this year, both Senators Snowe and Collins in a letter, urged Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support Verso’s application for the funding, which will be used to implement 12 waste energy recovery sub-projects at Verso paper mills located in Jay, Maine; Bucksport, Maine; and Sartell Minnesota. The sub-projects were chosen for their energy savings potential for immediate implementation. The bundled project will save an estimated 1.28 trillion British Thermal Units (Btu) annually.