Boston Herald September 10, 2006
Are we any safer today? Sources say U.S. targets vulnerable
By Laura Crimaldi
While terrorists have not struck on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, security officials have not done enough to protect vulnerable targets such as trains, subways and the borders in the past five years, security experts said yesterday.
“There’s no question we’re more secure than we were, but since 9/11 the threat has increased during that period of time as well,” said Neil C. Livingstone, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based GlobalOptions Inc. “The Department of Homeland Security has to do more than it’s doing today to address the new threats.”
On Friday, DHS issued a fact sheet detailing 41 steps taken since the Sept. 11 attacks to improve national security. The list covers changes made to airport, seaport, railway and border security. It also details steps taken to improve local preparedness, increase information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies and diminish threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons.
Aviation security tops the DHS overview of security changes, a list that includes the introduction of hardened cockpit doors, additional air marshals and screenings for all passengers and checked baggage.
But security experts point out there’s still no missile defense system for passenger aircraft or mandated cargo screenings.
“They spent most of their money on the passengers and their carry-on luggage,” said Livingstone. “We still don’t do anything for the cargo hold. We still don’t do an adequate job of screening people at the airport in terms of people who have access to airplanes, like people who clean the aircraft are mostly immigrants.”
Another weak point is mass transit, where federal officials have spent $375 million so far on rail security and backed pilot programs to screen commuter rail passengers for explosive materials in a few states.
“Two of the biggest attacks since Sept. 11 have included subways in Madrid and London, and they’re not even trying on that,” said John Pike, director of the Virginia-based GlobalSecurity.org.
Border patrol staff has increased from 9,000 to more than 12,000 agents since the 2001 calamities, and DHS has ended the federal “catch-and-release” policy for people coming into the country from anywhere but Mexico, but the border is still far from secure, experts said.
“We have been a bit slow about doing anything about the southern border,” said Fred Burton, counterterrorism vice president for the Texas-based Stratfor. “To try to secure that stretch of geography is really a daunting task.”
Security experts agree it’s less likely to see another “spectacular” attack, such as Sept. 11 or the USS Cole bombing in Yemen, but the country may face more enemies than it did five years ago.
“We are not safer. Because of the war in Iraq and other things that have happened, al-Qaeda has decentralized. It has gone from an orgranization to a movement,” said Jim Walsh, an international security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We now have people in Britian who want to attack. There are attacks in Morroco. There are attacks in Spain. There wasn’t this before 9/11. In the big picture, we’re in worse shape.”
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