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Feds are gauging vulnerability of foreign airports to shoulder-fired missile attacks but are failing to take comprehensive steps to protect commercial airliners flying out of US airports

Schumer accuses White House of using 'penny-dumb, pound-foolish' strategy to protect commercial airplanes from shoulder-fired missile attacks

US Senator Charles Schumer today took the White House to task over what he called its 'penny-dumb, pound-foolish' plan to deal with the threat posed by shoulder-fired missiles to commercial airliners. According to recent reports, American security officials have been dispatched to airports around the world in order to inspect security arrangements in place to prevent attacks from shoulder-fired missiles. However, US officials are planning to take four years just to develop a plan to protect the US commercial air fleet.

"I'd say that the White House is taking a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to this issue, but the reality is that it's taking a penny-dumb, pound-foolish approach," Schumer said. "By skimping on the investment needed to safeguard planes from shoulder-fired missiles now, the White House is leaving us vulnerable to an attack that would be even more costly later, both in human life and in economic terms. What makes this situation even more frustrating and reckless is that top US security officials have acknowledged that there is a strong chance of these attacks occurring."

Hundreds of shoulder-fired missiles are readily available on the black market and US intelligence suggests that at least 26 terrorist groups around the world possess these weapons. General John Handy of the United States Transportation Command has said that, in the war on terror, shoulder fired missiles pose “perhaps the greatest threat that we face anywhere in the world.” Admiral James Loy of the Transportation Security Administration has echoed this assessment stating, “the potential for actual attacks is very real.”

Despite these comments, the Administration is taking a go-slow approach to bolstering the defenses of US planes. In a letter sent today to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Schumer wrote, “While I have generally supported your efforts to improve our security, I am very disappointed that, thus far, the Administration has decided only to conduct a $60 million study of anti-missile systems in the hope that a prototype system will be available for commercial airliners by 2005. Given that these shoulder-fired missile pose a clear and present danger to our security, I think you would agree that this approach is far too slow and incomplete. I strongly encourage you to accelerate the process to install anti-missile systems on American commercial airliners.”

"The 'wait and see if it works' approach is flawed because we know that it works," Schumer said. "In just the last few weeks, two US military cargo planes in Iraq were attacked by shoulder-fired missiles. These planes emerged unscathed from these attacks in large part because they were equipped with anti-missile jamming technology. So it's baffling that the White House is sitting on its hands when it comes to dealing with this vulnerability."

In February, Schumer co-sponsored the Commercial Airline Missile Defense Act, legislation that requires all commercial airliners to be equipped with missile defense systems and directs the Secretary of Transportation to purchase this technology and make it available to all air carriers.

For a copy of Schumer's letter to Secretary Ridge click here.


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