Oliver North and ATA Chief Discuss Role of Trucking in Fight Against Terrorism

Oliver North told attendees at a trucking conference that truck drivers can play a crucial role in helping guard the nation against terrorists.

The retired Marine lieutenant colonel, who first came to prominence for his own role in national security, was the keynote speaker at the Randall Trucking Symposium 2002 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in May.

North noted that Timothy McVeigh, using a rented truck and without a commercial driver’s license, was able to demolish a federal building in Oklahoma City. Likewise, North said, it’s easy to imagine terrorists succeeding in blowing up a major tunnel or bridge.

“Most likely the next terrorist event is going to be a people, car or truck bomb in America,” North said.

Consequently, it’s important that truckers watch for suspicious people or activity on the highway, even though singling out individuals because of their appearance can be considered politically incorrect, North said.

“Is it profiling? Yes,” North said. “Does it hurt somebody’s feelings? Yes. My answer is: Deal with it.”

In the American Trucking Associations’ Anti-Terrorism Action Plan, the nation’s 3 million professional truck drivers will be trained to spot and report any suspicious activities.

North defended recent presidential administrations’ handling of tips about potential terrorist activity.

“The problem in counter-terrorism is you’re on the receiving end of a fire hose of information,” he said. “It’s a deluge.”

In his time with the National Security Council, 1983 to 1986, the agency received loads of information but was able to prevent only four terrorist events, North said.

Even though terrorists may successfully strike the United States again, North said, the future looks good for the war on terrorism except for a civic bias against military service. He urged attending fleet executives to accommodate employees on reserve duty and to help change the policies of high schools that do not allow military recruiters.

Randall Publishing, publisher of Truckers News, Commercial Carrier Journal, Overdrive and eTrucker.com, organized the symposium.

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ATA President Bill Canary shows off the new trailer logo that underlines his organization’s anti-terror campaign.

Also at the conference, Bill Canary, president of the American Trucking Associations, unveiled a patriotic trailer logo that underlines ATA’s anti-terror efforts.

“We’ve got 3 million drivers on the road every day,” Canary told fleet owners from around the nation. “We’ve got patriots in those seats. I don’t need to tell you that. We didn’t have to be drafted for the security effort.”

The placard, which has “On Duty For America 24/7/365” embossed on an American flag, will be available from ATA in the near future.

“I want motorists to look at our trucks and see a symbol of democracy,” he said. “I want them to see an American who will protect us.”

The extra attention on transportation security may benefit the trucking industry in unexpected ways, Canary said. Before Sept. 11, if a truck was stolen, the crime received little attention from law enforcement, even if its cargo exceeded $1 million.

“But things have changed,” Canary said. “When a load of cyanide was stolen in Mexico, the FBI put out an alert. Then they called us. That’s never happened before.”

The association has hired an ex-intelligence expert as a security adviser to the association. With more security information flowing, coordination among members of the industry will be important. “From this we could have a more secure industry, and insurance companies could give us a break for what we’re doing.”

ATA is working to make sure provisions of the Patriot Act, an anti-terror law passed by Congress last year, won’t be too burdensome on the industry. The organization has been involved with discussions on how background checks for hazardous material haulers will take place and on port identification issues.

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