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"Opinion: Transportation Security Still Stuck In Mid-Flight"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Transportation Security Still Stuck In Mid-Flight
The Nation 

The Department of Homeland Security is moving at a glacial pace to safeguard
trains, planes and automobiles from a terrorist attack and may not even have
a coherent plan to work with. These accusations were made Tuesday by both
Democratic and Republican senators who argued that the Transportation
Security Administration, a DHS agency, spends far too much time on aviation
security, but isn't even addressing the biggest terrorist threats concerning
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill
assailed TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley for having no plan to audit
foreign repair stations. McCaskill pointed out that five of these stations
are in countries designated as terrorist safe havens.

"There is no rule requiring even background checks," McCaskill said,
regarding individuals who enter and work at the station. "We might as well
have terrorists working under the hood of these airplanes."

Other Senators blasted Hawley and TSA for scrutinizing passengers carry-on
luggage while largely ignoring their checked luggage. Hawley admitted under
questioning that there was no procedure in place to prevent explosives from
being hidden in checked luggage.

"I am constantly amazed by the asymmetry of all the people getting stopped
while going through with their carry-ons," complained West Virginia Democrat
John Rockefeller, who leads the Senate's Intelligence Committee. "Why aren't
we looking at checked luggage?"

Hawley promised there was a plan in place to check 50 percent of such cargo
within 18 months and all checked bags within three years. To which
Rockefeller deadpanned, "Good luck."

The Senators spent much of the hearing giving Hawley grief about the
inconvenience of checking-in at airports and the ban on liquid items over
four ounces. "I hope you can be as righteously indignant about the foreign
repair stations as you are about mascara," McCaskill said.

The TSA has much more on its plate than airline safety. Unfortunately, its
efforts to secure ports, bridges, tunnels and railroads remain mired in the
developing stages as well. "This is a consistent inability of a major
government administration to meet deadlines," said New Jersey Senator Frank
Lautenberg. Lautenberg was specifically criticizing the delay in securing
New York and New Jersey ports and providing the proper identification and
training to transit workers.

This attack on TSA came on the day that the Government Accountability Office
reported that the administration was making "moderate progress" in securing
the nation's transportation system.

"You got a whole list of things to do and I don't believe you can get them
done," Rockefeller told Hawley. Hawley replied that the administration has
120 different tasks and is trying to "take them all seriously."

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