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Homeland Security



Schumer: New facts mean President can no longer duck issue

White House plan won't start outfitting planes until 2006;
Administration thus far refuses to allocate the necessary dollars

Pointing to yesterday's arrest of a man accused of smuggling a shoulder-fired missile into the US for use in a possible attack against a US airliner, Senator Charles Schumer today sent a heartfelt letter to the President pleading with him to take the lead in equipping the 6,800 planes in the US commercial air fleet with anti-missile technology. Schumer said the Homeland Security Department's (DHS) current plan for protecting US airliners would not start until 2006 despite the fact that the technology is viable and is already being used on some El Al planes and the US military.

"I'm a Democrat who has tried to support the White House's efforts on homeland security and anti-terrorism but I am baffled by its go-slow-as-molasses approach to dealing with the shoulder-fired missile threat," Schumer said. "For months, Administration officials have been warning that these missiles are one of the greatest threats facing the US. But the White House has basically let its penny-pinchers at OMB block any substantive effort to begin installing anti-missile equipment on planes. The President needs to get personally involved and show some leadership to get this done before there's an actual attack and it's too late."

In a letter being sent to the President today, Schumer urged him to publicly address the issue and to get personally involved in ensuring that US airplanes are outfitted with anti-missile technology. "Mr. President, I am writing today, not out of partisanship, but as someone who has seen the devastation of terrorism firsthand. I knew people who were killed on September 11 and I see the terrible grief of their loss etched on the faces of their family members whenever we meet. For these reasons, I am deeply disappointed by the Administration’s all too halting, slow and incomplete approach to protecting American commercial aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles," Schumer wrote.

Yesterday’s arrest does not mark the first time attempts have been made to smuggle shoulder-fired missiles into the United States. In May 2002, US intelligence officials alerted airlines and law enforcement agencies that terrorists had already smuggled these weapons into the county. In June 2001, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested two men in Florida seeking to purchase missiles from undercover federal agents. At least 27 terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and al Qaeda, possess shoulder-fired missiles.

General John Handy of the US 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, head of the Transportation Security Administration, has echoed this assessment stating, "the potential for actual attacks is very real." Steven McHale, the TSA's second ranking official, has said there "are thousands available on the gray and black markets, and many of these are finding their way into the hands of terrorist groups."

While American security officials are currently focused on developing anti-missile security plans at airports OUTSIDE the US, Schumer said their efforts miss the mark and fall short of the only proven way to neutralize the missile threat – plane-mounted anti-missile systems. These systems exist and are operational on US military transports. The most modern systems, such as those installed on US C17s and C5As, identify when a plane is threatened, detect the source of the threat, jam the guidance system of the incoming missiles and steer it off its flight path. Similar systems are currently used on low-altitude military aircrafts.

Installing such a system on an individual plane requires one week and would cost between $1 and $1.5 million depending upon the number of planes equipped. It would $7 to $10 billion to equip the 6,800 US commercial jets with the system. Despite intelligence reports underscoring the imminence of the threat, the Administration has supported using only $60 million to begin the process of outfitting commercial airliners starting at the end of 2005. The viability of this technology is proven and is a major reason why at least three shoulder-fired missile attacks on military cargo planes in Iraq this year have been unsuccessful, including two in just the last few weeks.

"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. I believe it is simply that they don't want to spend the necessary dollars."

"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," Schumer said. "The second that one of these missiles gets shot at an airliner, plane ticket sales will stop, the airline industry will fail, and the economy will tank. After 9/11, we spent billions to bail out the airlines, If we don't take steps to defend US airliners from shoulder-fired missiles, the price is going to be even greater. I want to work with the White House to get this done and make our skies safer."

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 is click here.


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