U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5) recently introduced a piece of legislation that -- if passed -- would require rental car companies to notify federal agencies of the renters of commercial trucks and vans to enable the easy identification of known terrorists. Sound a bit like political grandstanding to you? It does to us as well. Named after Darren Drake, a New Jersey resident sadly killed in the Hudson River Park terrorist incident, the "Combatting 21st Century Weapons of Terror Act" would put restrictions on rentals of trucks or rentals vans. What would the Act require? Per the legislative synopsis:
- Requiring dealers and rental agencies that provide trucks or commercial vans to share critical information on with (sic) the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to find potential matches in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database or in FBI case files
- Immediately reopening any federal law enforcement case files on any matching suspects
- Requiring the FBI to notify and coordinate with the relevant Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) if a known or potentially dangerous terror suspect acquires a truck; and
- Establishing a competitive grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to help state and local governments prepare for and protect from the threat of terrorism and terrorist attacks using heavy vehicles by protecting exposed public and pedestrian areas with security barriers and bollards.
How Does the Bill Read?
That's unknown -- at the time we wrote this post (a week afterward), there was still no record of the bill being submitted. So "introduced" is a bit of a misnomer; Representative Gottheimer had conducted a publicity event, not filed the declared "bi-partisan" initiative. Much like our Felony Friday series, we have to admit that one has to be a really inept criminal (in this case, an incompetent terrorist) to be caught by the stated intent of this act. The rental car companies with trucks and vans would have to supply information to the federal government, leading to a relatively depressing process.
- The federal government would then check to see if they've investigated the renter for terrorism before.
- Reopening terror investigations if they receive information about a past terrorist suspect.
- Look for the truck or van if a "known or potentially dangerous terror suspect acquires a truck".
- Municipalities could then get money to protect our open space by putting up walls and barriers.
Translation -- if known terrorists, suspected terrorists, or people we've investigated for terrorism get a van or truck, we have to act.
Here, we have to call out the legislation for concepts that are absurd on the very face, especially the "known terrorist". If Ayman al-Zawahiri gets into the U.S. and rents a truck under his own name, our government has already failed us horrifically.
And even without knowing the provisions of the bill, anyone with a reason for being suspected for terrorism would simply avoid renting trucks in their own name. Multiple #FelonyFriday AutoSlash posts start with a person who rented a vehicle handing over the keys to another (such as Pennsylvania Case 1 and Case 2). The keys to a truck could even "fall off a truck"; full-fledged tractor-trailers are stolen every day. And then there's renting under another's identity or with a patently false name. Does the name Robert D. Kling seem familiar? No?
So there are some options -- passing a bill that's intended to keep large vehicles out of the hands of terrorists or actually doing something about terrorists. We don't (and won't) live in fear and we'll continue to travel domestically and abroad; however, we would much prefer that our government focused on terrorist investigations rather than waiting for suspected wrongdoers to acquire a vehicle, then scrambling to investigate usage that's routinely for productive purposes!