PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- It's no surprise that the port of Hampton Roads is an attractive target for terrorists, said security expert Joseph Bouchard. The problem is, the government isn't sending enough money here for protection, he said.
In an address Tuesday to the Virginia Ship Repair Association and the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads, the former commanding officer of Norfolk Naval Station blamed Congress for playing politics with homeland security. He said homeland security grants have become just another means of pork barreling.
"If that's how the game is played in Washington, then the Virginia delegation needs to play that game," said Bouchard, executive director of the Center for Homeland Security and Defense at Zel Technologies LLC in Hampton. Zel is a military contractor that does security work at the port.
Bouchard, a self-described straight-talker, said he wasn't telling anyone in the audience anything they hadn't heard. But he said he did see a few raised eyebrows.
The two groups decided to hold a joint meeting at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel and Waterfront Conference Center because they share common interest when it comes to security. The ship repair association has more than 170 companies that work on Navy ships. The World Affairs Council is a nonprofit that educates the community about foreign policy through speaking engagements and events.
Bouchard specialized in port security while at the National Security Council between 1997 and 1999. While in Norfolk, he and the Coast Guard captain of the port co-developed the Joint Harbor Operations Center, which connects the Navy and Coast Guard with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to respond to a threat to the port. The model has since been copied elsewhere.
While progress has been made since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bouchard said the nation's efforts to improve security are lacking in many areas. He cited numbers in arguing his case.
He said the fiscal 2005 budget for the Department of Homeland Security is one-tenth of the Defense Department's budget of $400 billion, making it a mere "window dressing."
"The creation of the department in and of itself does not mean security," he said.
Soon after 9/11, he said the government attempted to put together a list of the most vulnerable parts of the nation's infrastructure. Hampton Roads made it as high as No. 3, he said.
"The reason Hampton Roads is a lucrative target for terrorists is obvious," he said. "It is a target-rich environment."
He pointed out that the port of Hampton Roads, with its Navy ships and cargo containers, is the second-largest port in the East Coast and an attractive terrorist target. Yet Charleston, S.C., is getting at least four times the amount of money Hampton Roads does to protect its port.
"Too much is being spent on targets that are not targets," he said.
Jerrold Miller, chairman of the ship repairers association, said Bouchard brought the facts and figures to back up concerns ship repairers have about security in their own yards.
"From a private standpoint, everyone has their own risk," he said.
Bouchard said the government needs to raise Hampton Roads as a priority.
"Ship repair yards have been left out of the picture," he said. "Does that make sense? No, not really."