Dems push to alter anti-terror efforts

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

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WASHINGTON — With Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee leading the way, House Democrats on Tuesday rebuked the Bush administration for focusing their anti-terrorism efforts on air transportation rather than urban mass transit, railroads, highways and pipelines.

Jackson Lee, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's panel on transportation security and infrastructure protection, told Transportation Security Administration Director Kip Hawley that the White House has "disproportionately" focused on protecting aircraft in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, without giving "enough attention to other potential vulnerabilities," such as those on buses, subways and railroads.

Surface transportation remains "an extremely attractive target" for terrorists looking to cause panic and mass casualties, Jackson Lee said at the hearing.

Public transportation has become the target of choice for some al-Qaida affiliated terrorists after the tightened aviation security imposed after the attacks in 2001.

Terrorists in Spain subsequently killed 191 people and injured another 1,755 in 2004 by leaving satchels of explosives on morning rush hour trains. Bombers killed 52 commuters and injured 700 others with a series of coordinated bomb attacks on London's subway and bus system in 2005.

Hawley acknowledged that his agency has focused efforts on aviation security to protect 2 million domestic air travelers each day. The agency has 55,000 employees, including airport screeners, to help protect 450 airports, as well as air marshals to fly aboard some of the 28,000 daily U.S. flights.

The TSA director boasted of agency successes, including the disruption of a 2006 terrorist plot to smuggle liquid explosives aboard trans-Atlantic passenger planes in London.

Hawley said authorities also have tried to step up terrorism prevention and emergency response capabilities in the nation's passenger transit systems and trimmed risks posed by rail cars ferrying toxic inhalation hazards near urban areas.

But Hawley acknowledged the logistical difficulties in trying to impose airport-style screening in far-flung public transportation networks.

Jackson Lee said she would take her subcommittee to New York later this spring to conduct a field hearing in a metropolitan area credited with dramatic improvements in counter-terrorism measures in the transit system.

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