Full-Length Interview With Norman Mineta

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The Daily Californian: How did your Berkeley education prepare you for a career in public service?

Norman Mineta: Well, both in terms of classroom as well as other activities at Berkeley, it really did. First of all, I majored in business administration with a minor in transportation, but in those days, transportation really meant the economics of more about regulatory processes. One of our professors, Dr. Carter, had been a staff person with the old Interstate Commerce Commission, so he looked at issues from an economic perspective in terms of what impact regulations had on the operations of a regulated carrier. That was rail and trucking in those days ...

I was active in all of the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior class councils ...

It was to me, all the way around, a great experience.

DC: What has it been like being the only Democrat in President Bush's cabinet? Do you feel you have been fully included?

NM: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I probably get chided more for being a Californian in a sea of Texans than about anything having to do with being the lone Democrat in the president's cabinet. I think realistically, I am a member of the president's team. There is no exception to that. I am not excluded from anything because I am that Democrat or anything else. I am totally included in everything.

DC: Now that the new security measures have been in place for a while, how would you evaluate them? What has worked and what hasn't?

NM: The Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Act. The hot focus has really been on aviation. But when you look at the law passed by Congress, it really gave to the Department of Transportation the responsibility for the safety and especially the security for all modes of transportation whether it be highways, rail, transit, ports, pipeline, everything.

But as it relates to transportation, we have made a number of significant changes, since that responsibility was given to the Department of Transportation under the new legislation. The culmination of those activities will be November 19, 2002, when we will have federal employees and the screeners at 429 commercial airports and probably upwards of 40,000 employees, at that point, providing the screening of baggage and the screening of passengers.

Then by December 31, 2002, we will have to be putting all the baggage through explosive detection system machines or explosive trace detector machines. So those are the two critical benchmarks we are going to have to meet. We are starting from scratch and creating a new Transportation Security Administration that will be larger than the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Border Control, by November 19, 2002.

In terms of aviation, on the 17th of February, the law said that we had to assume the direct responsibility for all the screening contracts that heretofore had been contracts between airlines and security screening companies.

So the screening of baggage and passengers was in the hands of the airlines. So on the 17th of February we had to assume all of those contracts and there were 117 contracts that we had to assume to cover all 429 commercial aviation airports. All that was in place by the 17th of February.

All the employees of the screening companies are still the employees of those screening companies. But instead of the contract being with the airlines it is now with the Security Transportation Administration.

On top of that, now that this is our responsibility and because we want to have a well-trained work force, we are imposing higher standards of training and levels of how those screeners will do their job. So we have interim federal security representatives at all the airports to oversee and monitor the actions of those screeners at the airports.

We have heightened the security level, and we have increased the training requirements on the present employees. Now because we have to have (30,000) to 40,000 of these new screeners in place by November 19, 2002, we won't be able to do it all at one time, so we are right now starting to ... We have already issued the announcements on hiring the new screeners. We are recruiting for them now, and then we will do the hiring, do the background investigation, do the training and the testing, and then start deploying these folks to the airports. So hopefully by the end of May, early June time, we will start deploying the new federally hired-trained people to the airports and start replacing the screener work force that is there right now.

DC: What do you think are the biggest challenges the country faces in securing transportation both within the aviation industry and also aside from that?

NM: Without a doubt, because of the horrific attacks on September 11, right now the immediate focus is on aviation. But probably the next would be port and maritime security. We have over 300 sea ports. We have something like 361 ports as I recall. So we have 16 million containers that come in through those ports. And those containers are coming in from all these foreign ports on predominantly foreign flagged vessels. So right now we don't have a good means of checking to see what's in those containers, and because of the heightened awareness about biological, chemical, and radiation type weapons of mass destruction, we are giving a lot of attention to port and maritime security.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Transportation, so they have instituted a number of programs, including the sea marshall program that was developed right here in San Francisco so that Coast Guard personnel will board a ship prior to it coming into San Francisco harbor and will have three or four people who board the ship at that time. Someone will be in the bridge and the engine room to make sure that the pilot brings it in safely.

The next step will be how do we take a look at what is in those containers because once those containers come off the ships they are put on truck beds or rail beds, tomorrow they are in the heartland of America. The next thing we are taking a look at is how to surveil those containers when they come in through those major ports.

DC: How do you respond to criticism that the random searches of airplane passengers have stopped the elderly and even government officials? What is your feeling about profiling?

NM: First of all, when it comes to the whole security of passengers, it is really a multilayered approach. From the time a person makes a reservation with an airline to the time when the person is traversing the security into the airport to the gate prior to boarding the airplane, not only do you have everyone being surveiled or being searched in one way or another, but there is also random sampling.

Every passenger basically is profiled. Then from there it is multilayered in the sense of being random searched. So to me, every passenger is subject to being looked at. I think that is the way it should be. So that is what we are doing in terms of the aviation traveler.

All of us are very very worried about terrorism and how to prevent it. I am committed to doing everything I can to fight it. I know the president is very much interested in terms of the security of the aviation system. So we are going to do everything we can to ensure the multilayered approach we are taking is put in place and used effectively.

Now there are some issues about whether or not Arabs, people who appear to be of Arab ancestry or Muslim or Sikh are being pulled aside for additional questioning. The mere appearance is not the reason for their being pulled aside. Anybody is going to get pulled aside because it is a combination of a random search as well as behavior. That is why we have to make sure that our security system searches everybody. That is why I say everybody is being profiled.

DC: Having worked in the Clinton administration as well, how would you compare the managerial styles of the two presidents?

NM: Well, I think President Bush is much more focussed in terms of how he goes about doing his work. In the Bush administration, we have a cabinet meeting once a month. ...

President Bush is much more focused . He is the chairman and CEO. We all have input. He seeks input from us. It is really very, very business-like.

DC: What was your day like on September 11?

NM: That morning, I was having breakfast with the Deputy Prime minister of Belgium Isabelle Durant. Mrs. Durant is also the minister of transport for Belgium. So Jane Garvey, the administrator of the FAA and I were having breakfast with her in my conference room.

My chief of staff then came in and said, 'Mr. Secretary, can I see you?' The television was on and obviously it was the World Trade Center with all this black smoke coming out of it. So I asked John, 'What the heck is that?.' And he said, 'Well we don't know. We have heard explosion, we have heard the possibility of an airplane that went into the building.' And so I said, 'Keep me posted,' and I went back into my breakfast meeting. I explained to Mrs. Durant what was going on.

Then in about five or six minutes, the chief of staff came back in and said, 'Mr. Secretary, may I see you again?' He said at that point that it has been confirmed it was a commercial airliner that went into the World Trade Center. And as I was standing there watching the television set, all of a sudden from the right side of the screen came a gray object and then it sort of disappeared and the next thing, from the left of the screen was this white yellow orangey billow of cloud coming out of the left side of the screen, so I ran into the conference room and told Mrs. Durant I was going to have to leave and take care of whatever this was about.

I told Jane to come back in with me, and soon after that, I got a call from the White House saying for me to get over there right away. So I grabbed some papers, grabbed some stuff and went to the garage. I got in my car and went over to the White House. Its only seven minutes away. I drove into the White House grounds, and everyone was running out of the White House, running out of the Executive Office Building.

And I said to the people with me, 'Is there something wrong with this picture? We are driving into the White House and everyone else is running out of it. So I went into the White House and was briefed by Dick Clark of the National Security Council and he said, 'You have to get over to the Presidential Emergency Operation Center to be with the vice president.' ...

We started to monitor what was going on. We knew that there were now two airplanes that had gone into World Trade Center 1 and World Trade Center 2, and I had a direct line set up with the FAA.

Someone came in and said, 'Mr. Vice President, there is a plane 50 miles out.' I asked our FAA people, 'Can you see an aircraft coming in 50 miles out?' and they said, 'Yeah, we're tracking it, but the transponder is off, so we don't know what the identification of that airplane is.' Pretty soon the same person came in and informed the vice president, sitting right across from me at the conference table, that the airplane is 30 miles out. I asked the FAA about it and they said, 'Yeah, we know where the plane is, but we don't know who it is.'

Then they came in and said it was 10 miles out. Soon after that, I was talking to the deputy director of the FAA, and he told me they had lost the target off the screen. Soon after that, then, the vice president was informed that there was an explosion at the Pentagon. So I was trying to relate with the air traffic controllers where that plane went to see whether it was close to the Pentagon. The radar is very difficult to pinpoint it to a ground location.

But while I was talking to the FAA, someone broke into the conversation and said, 'Mr. Secretary, we have just had confirmation from the Arlington County Police Department that they saw a commercial airliner-an American airline-go into the Pentagon.

Well, its like anything else, if you see one of something occur you consider that an accident. But when you see two of the same thing occur then you know that there is a pattern or a trend. In this instant we had three of the same thing occur, and that is a program or a plan. So I then informed the FAA to bring all the airplanes down.

I said, 'Any airplanes coming into the Eastern seaboard, turn them around and get them out of the Eastern seaboard heading west. Any planes heading west, have them go on to their destination if they are close by. But in any event bring all the airplanes down."

At that point we had something like 4,836 airplanes in the air and with the skill of the air traffic controllers and the professionalism of the flight deck crew, the pilots and co-pilots and the professionalism of the flight cabin crews, they were able to bring those 4,836 airplanes down in about two hours time, safely and without incident.

Later on that morning, I talked to the Minister of Transport in Canada, David Collenette, and said, 'I have over 200 airplanes coming in from overseas points, and I need you take in these airplanes.' And they did. They took in over 200 airplanes that day. Their population went up by over 19,000 people and they very graciously and generously accommodated those airplanes and passengers. A lot of people were stuck there until Saturday.


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