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"Cargo screening provisions unlikely to survive"



Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Screening provisions unlikely to survive
BY BEVERLEY LUMPKIN
The Associated Press


WASHINGTON - House-passed requirements for intensified screening of cargo on
passenger aircraft and ship-borne goods heading toward the U.S. are unlikely
to survive in the Senate, a House leader on security issues conceded
Wednesday.

The provisions were part of a House bill that was ballyhooed as the first
legislation to pass in the Democratic-controlled Congress this year.
Approval was meant to signal the new leadership's priorities in pushing
through security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security
Committee, told reporters that two key provisions of the House bill are
unlikely to make it through the Senate.

"With the exception of ports and cargo screening," he said, "everything else
should go through."

In addition to the cargo-screening measures, the House bill provided funds
to improve emergency communications systems, make it harder for terrorists
to obtain nuclear weapons, and improve information-sharing between federal,
state and local agencies.

Thompson said his staff has heard from Senate staff members about what's
realistic to expect as the Senate considers the House-passed homeland
security bill. It is uncertain when the Senate will begin considering its
version of the measure.

The Bush administration and other opponents of the two screening proposals
have said the technology does not exist to scan all U.S.-bound cargo in
foreign ports for radiation, and all air cargo loaded onto passenger planes
for explosives.

Critics have further complained that implementing the measures would slow
global commerce to a crawl.

Homeland Security Department officials contend that through a variety of
methods, they now screen all high-risk cargo, but only a small percentage is
actually physically inspected.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security
Committee, believes his panel's bill "will be compatible with the goals and
spirit of the House bill," Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said in a
statement.

Thompson also indicated to reporters that the Senate may balk at the
percentage of homeland security grants guaranteed to states as a bare
minimum, before any consideration is given to the risk of a terrorist
attack.

In the House bill, that percentage was agreed to as 0.25 percent. Thompson
said the figure might go up to 0.50 or 0.75.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration and the
House have generally supported spending more money based on risk. The
Senate, where many leaders come from smaller or rural states, have been more
inclined to support traditional funding formulas that guarantee some share
of the pot to all, irrespective of risk.

Thompson also indicated he hopes that by the mid-March anniversary of the
Madrid, Spain, train bombing of 2004, his committee will be able to
introduce legislation in the House to provide rail security grant funding.

"We clearly do not do nearly enough to secure passenger-rail traffic," he
said.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report on progress made since
the Sept. 11 attacks found potential weaknesses in the handling of
radioactive materials.

During an undercover test, a small amount of radioactive material was
carried across the border by GAO investigators with phony documents. GAO is
Congress' investigative arm.

Even though the radiation monitors properly signaled the presence of
radioactive material, the investigators were able to enter the U.S. because
of fake documents that customs inspectors failed to check for authenticity.

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