Monday, July 11, 2005

How Much Will Security Cost?

Last week's terrorist attack in London demonstrates the vulnerability of open, free societies to killers who have no respect for human life and no concern for the consequences of their acts. Terror is a strategic weapon that is designed to destroy the fabric of the society under attack.

The military is always accused of preparing to fight the last war instead of planning for the next. That adage is even truer in dealing with the potential for future terrorist attacks.

In a Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne quotes Senator Susan Collings (R-Maine) regarding the inadequacies of our current state of preparedness.

"We have overinvested in airline security at the expense of mass transit but also chemical security and our ports," Collins, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said in an interview. "We always look backward, rather than anticipate the next threat."

Last week, several people in San Diego thought "the next threat" might be an abandoned 44 car freight train in a suburban neighborhood.

Given the recent terrorist bombings in London, it was probably not the best
time for a train crew to stop its 44-car freight train in the middle of
, leave the engine humming and disappear into the night.

But that's what happened Thursday.

Officers discovered the train around
11 p.m., parked on Morena Boulevard
not far from
Mission Bay.

Police Sgt. Kerry Tom said the crew left a little note behind: "We've
worked our maximum allotted hours and we took a taxicab home."

Railroad personnel and even Transportation Security officials were surprised that anyone was even worried that the train had been left unattended.

A spokeswoman for the railroad said the practice is routine, and that the train was never in any danger of being stolen.

"It's not like an automobile," said railroad spokeswoman Lena Kent. "You can't just press the pedal and go."

"This is in no way a security breach," she said. "It in no way posed a security threat to anybody. This has been blown way out of proportion and completely sensationalized."

A federal Transportation Security Administration official said his office doesn't regard the San Diego incident as cause for alarm.

"TSA doesn't see this as a security or a safety breach," said Nico Melendez, the agency's western field director for public affairs. "It is rather standard for locomotive companies to do this. . . . There are steps they take to disable the train."

While spending billions to prevent another 9/11 style aerial attack (and keep U.S. airlines aloft) , the Bush Administration has done virtually nothing to secure rail transportation. And, as the above seems to demonstrate, nothing has been done to change an environment where business as usual might create potential opportunities for terrorists.

Democrats also say that the Bush administration hasn't moved quickly enough to spend the money it already has. Congress approved $150 million in local grants for upgrading transit security beginning last October, but the money didn't begin flowing until April.

Lawmakers also gave the Transportation Security Administration $10 million to make sure rail systems are taking enough precautions to prevent terrorist attacks. But spending reports show that as of May 31 _ two-thirds of the way into the federal budget year _ the TSA had made plans to spend only $711,000.

And it had yet to spend any of the $2 million for canine teams to patrol rail and subway stations in search of explosives.

"How hard is it to spend money that's already been allocated, especially since these security measures are so badly needed to protect America's commuters?" asked Mississippi Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

What we should have learned since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the 9/11 attacks and subsequent bombing in Madrid and London, is that terrorist will find a way and that they will change their tactics based on finding the weakest link in our defenses.

When, a day after the London bombing, a train crew can climb down off of a 44 car train and leave that train unattended for over an hour and then not understand why anyone might be upset, that defies logic. Still, it is a clear demonstration that no matter how much we spend, there will always be some new direction from which the next attack can come.