Democrats say security revamp won’t stop attack
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Long-awaited reforms at the
Department of Homeland Security are not enough to stop attacks
like those in London last week, Democratic lawmakers said on
Thursday, saying a focus on aviation had left mass
transportation at risk.
They said security measures for trains, subways and buses
such as passenger or luggage screening remained inadequate
because the Transportation Security Administration spends 90
percent of its budget on aviation — trying to fix loopholes
that let 19 men hijack four airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The London bombing last week, coupled with the Madrid
bombing last year, should be a wake-up call to us all that our
trains and transit system are an attractive target for
terrorists,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top
Democrat on the House of Representatives Homeland Security
“I’ve asked myself the question, ‘Will the department’s
proposed reorganization prevent what happened in London from
happening here?’ Unfortunately, I concluded, no,” he said.
Thompson was speaking at a committee hearing at which
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined the
reforms he had announced on Wednesday.
The proposed changes to his mammoth two-year-old department
have been short on specifics, but included plans to improve
transportation security for people and cargo, including better
technology, screening and explosives detection.
Democrats said the proposals were not enough.
Critics have long complained that the vast majority of U.S.
transportation security measures have involved aviation, at the
expense of trains, subways and buses.
The government has spent nearly $20 billion on aviation
security to avoid a repeat of the hijacked airplane attacks. By
comparison, the government has spent $250 million on rail and
transit system security since Sept. 11.
Critics also say public transport systems lack key security
measures such as explosives detectors, armed patrols or sniffer
dogs, and not all areas have security cameras in place.
Democrats have listed such concerns in the past, but did not
specify these shortcomings on Thursday.
More than 16 million people use mass transit in the United
States each day.
Several lawmakers at the hearing, including Republican Rep.
Christopher Shays from Connecticut, complained that Chertoff’s
department had still not presented a strategy for protecting
mass transportation which had been due on April 1.
Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, said she and her
colleagues felt angry and anxious.
“As a New Yorker, I went to too many funerals. We can’t
afford a 9/11. We can’t afford what happened in London,” she
told the hearing.
“I understand that you’re coming here and that you put a
plan in place. But we don’t have the luxury not to consider
what just happened as a wake-up call and to act now in addition
to putting a plan in place,” Lowey said.
Chertoff told the hearing his department would present the
complete strategy “promptly,” making sure it is right, not
rushed. He said the government had already taken a series of
steps to boost mass transportation security, but said officials
had to weigh all security steps against issues such as the
disruption they cause.
Detractors on both sides of the aisle also complained that
cargo transported on passenger planes is not routinely checked
before it is loaded.
“I will just say to you that I think it’s really outrageous
that we at least don’t warn passengers that the cargo on a
passenger plane has not been checked,” Republican Shays said.
“I will tell you, I fly less because my knowledge of the
system is better than the general public. And I think we
endanger the general public by not checking the cargo in the
belly of an aircraft.”