Are We Safer?
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KWAME HOLMAN: TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, was created after the 9/11 attacks to better protect the nation’s airways, railways, ports and borders. But seated before the Senate Commerce Committee this morning, the two chairmen of the 9/11 Commission criticized TSA for moving too slowly in its mandate. Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
LEE HAMILTON: Despite congressional deadlines, TSA has developed neither an integrated strategic plan for the transportation sector nor specific plans for the various modes. Without such plans, neither the public nor Congress can be assured we are identifying the highest priority dangers and allocating resources to the most effective security measures.
KWAME HOLMAN: As undersecretary of homeland security, Asa Hutchinson oversees the work of TSA.
ASA HUTCHINSON: As the Commission has recognized, the U.S. transportation system is vast and in an open society is impossible to secure completely against terrorist attacks. But despite this inherent challenge, we continue to make progress every day. We’re confident that we can significantly protect the transportation system by continuing to evaluate vulnerabilities, prioritize risks and focus resources accordingly.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nonetheless Hamilton said too little has been accomplished.
LEE HAMILTON: However, the time for planning to plan is past. We need specific blueprints that provide the architecture to defend critical transportation infrastructure.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hutchinson responded, arguing that improvements in transportation security have been made particularly with the use of no fly lists that screen out suspicious passengers.
ASA HUTCINSON: Prior to 9/11, there were fewer than 100 names on the no fly list. Today TSA provides carriers with no fly and select-t lists which have been dramatically expanded.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, commission chairman Tom Kean said the lists of potential terrorists given to air carriers still are incomplete.
THOMAS KEAN: As we understand it, the intelligence community doesn’t want air carriers to possess many of these names because they feel maybe they could tip off terrorists or compromise sensitive sources and methods of intelligence collection. Now as the Commission described in its final report two of the 9/11 hijackers were placed on the U.S. State Department’s tip-off terrorist watch list in August of 2001. However, these names were never reported to the FAA to be placed on the no fly security directive.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kean and the 9/11 Commission have recommended the federal government take from the airlines responsibility for the no fly lists.
THOMAS KEAN: If a terrorist attempts to fly, TSA, not the airlines, should be the first one to know and the first one to act.
KWAME HOLMAN: Asa Hutchinson agreed.
ASA HUTCHINSON: That’s what has to change. We recognize that and agree with that recommendation. We’ll be taking steps to accomplish that.
KWAME HOLMAN: North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan raised the case of Richard Reid who two years ago attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his shoe aboard an airliner. Dorgan noted reports that the FBI has determined Reid would have succeeded had he use add cigarette lighter rather than matches.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: With all of this knowledge and information and particularly the vulnerability with respect to the shoe bomber and what we learned about that, last September the new rules coming from TSA said that it will be all right for passengers to take two butane lighters and four books of matches on an airplane. I frankly think that’s nuts. But, you know, I’m not running things down there. Mr. Hutchinson when I raise that issue the last time you were here you indicated that you’re taking a good hard look of that in light of the new evidence. I’m wondering where you are in TSA on that issue.
ASA HUTCHINSON: The torch lighters, those that blow out those are prohibited. As you indicated the ordinary lighters are not. That is being looked at. But there is a concern that we just simply do not create rules that inconvenience the public but absolutely does not enhance our security capability so that’s what we’re weighing.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Mr. Hutchinson, you know, Sen. Wyden and I raised this issue six or seven months ago. It’s been looked at for six or seven months. I frankly see no reason for people to take butane lighters on airplanes especially given the fact that we now know according to an FBI official that Richard Reid might have blown that plane out of the sky had he had a butane lighter.
KWAME HOLMAN: Maine Republican Olympia Snowe turned to the nation’s seaports complaining the Bush administration hasn’t spent enough to protect them.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: We’re only spending $500 million on implementing port security mandates. We have 361 ports in America. All those plans have been in place as of July 1. The Coast Guard has estimated that it will cost $7 billion over the next ten years to implement those port security mandates. And yet we’re only $500 million. The requests for next year is down I think 63 percent, down 69 percent from two years ago in terms of our port security grants. We’re only going to provide $46 million. That’s the request for next year. That simply is unacceptable.
KWAME HOLMAN: Commissioners Kean and Hamilton head to the House side of the Capitol tomorrow where they will appear before the Select Homeland Security Committee.