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NY Daily News May 8, 2005

Security comes at high cost

By James Gordon Meek in Washington and Maki Becker in New York

America spent $4.5 billion in the rush to shield the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks - and now the government has to spend billions more.

That's because, homeland security officials say, the screening equipment and related technology at airports, harbors and federal sites still needs to be better.

"Three years ago, there were few if any detection technologies deployed at key ports of entry around U.S.," said homeland security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

"In a matter of weeks after 9/11, the government mobilized a number of off-the-shelf detection technologies that were developed without the benefit of market demand," he said.

That haste had a price. Last month, two separate studies found that despite the government takeover of security screening at airports, no improvements had been made and better technology was needed.

Problems have also been cited with radiation detection devices that are too sensitive and trigger alarms for cargo as innocent as Italian ceramic tiles that naturally give off radiation, pointed out John Pike, executive director of Globalsecurity.org.

"Homeland security has never had the focus and understanding of what a large task it is to make our homeland secure," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "When they do things too quickly or on the cheap, they end up not doing the job."

Roehrkasse said that given the rapid deployment of new technology, the government made "considerable progress in reducing vulnerabilities in our ports, population centers and border crossings."

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Hatfield acknowledged that aviation officials were under pressure to get new technology in place quickly. "We got the best equipment we could given the statutory deadlines," Hatfield said. "But three years later, can we do better? Absolutely."

With a new secretary of homeland security at the helm and a congressional committee on homeland security in place, leaders hope better oversight will lead to smarter spending.

"This is a very expensive war," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), who is on the new permanent committee. "It's like the Cold War. It's all the more important to cut down on waste as much as possible."


Copyright 2005, Daily News, L.P.