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Jewish World Review June 13, 2002 / 3 Tamuz, 5762

Martin Gross

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The wishes of one appointee should not be the determinant of whether many of us live or die | After much criticism by the press, including this commentator, the administration has finally shaped what could be the best thing that has happened to our security since Sept. 11.

No one can predict what an ingenious terrorist might accomplish, but from an organizational point of view, the newly planned Department of Homeland Security -- taking in 22 different agencies from the Secret Service to the Coast Guard and Immigration and Naturalization -- makes a good deal of theoretical sense. It may even avoid the necessity to formally declare war against terrorism, the final move for true security.

To date, the homeland security system has been dysfunctional. Only the timely incarceration of some 500 suspects by Attorney General John Ashcroft has possibly saved us from further terrorist incidents.

Now, the new Cabinet-level agency offers hope. One smart move was to take the Transportation Security Administration, responsible for airport and seaport security, out of the hands of the Transportation Department of Norman Mineta. In eschewing profiling, Mineta seemed to delight in carefully searching 79-year-old women while allowing 25-year-old men to walk blithely through at airports. He and some others would like to deny the simple truth, that virtually all terrorists are either Middle Easterners or Muslims from other nations.

A sign that under the new rules domestic security will be tightened is the announcement by the attorney general that some 100,000 visitors of "high risk" nature will be fingerprinted and photographed upon entry into the United States. No one is using the sensitive word "profiling," but other sources state that these visa-holders will be mainly men from some 20 Middle Eastern and Muslim nations, including Pakistan.

But there is one illogical, giant hole in the new Cabinet-level plan. Everyone seems to agree that the gravest danger is nuclear and radiological terrorism, yet the new Department of Homeland Security, surprisingly, is not going to be responsible for protecting our nuclear power plants. For some unknown, peculiar reason, they have been left out of the new department. I checked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which confirmed that they are exempt from the new plan.

The commission has a new security division, run by an amateur in the field. The 104 plants are protected by private cops hired by Pinkerton, Burns and Wackenhut-- the same group that generally fail to thwart bank robberies or takeovers of armed vehicles carrying cash. Yet we are expected to entrust our future to these generally underpaid and sometimes over-age utility-hired security men, and not to the U.S. Army or Marines.

We have seen that the latest arrest involved a terrorist planning to build a dirty bomb, using radiological material that is then scattered into the air by a conventional explosive. The reality is that the most plentiful and dangerous source of radiological materials is not the isotopes in hospitals and commercial plants, but the enormous amount of spent but still radioactive uranium fuel in cooling pools in our atomic power plants.

By defeating the private cops and seizing the fuel, which is lifted out of the pool with an on-site crane, terrorists could construct a deadly dirty bomb whose consequences in death and cancers would many times overshadow the smaller bombs now being discussed.

Richard Meserve, the head of the NRC, is a stubborn bureaucrat who is protecting his turf instead of the public by insisting that private cops will do. Not the entire NRC, but only its security set-up, should be taken from the agency, and like that of Transportation, moved into the new Department of Homeland Security. Either that can be done by Gov. Tom Ridge and the president, or by the Congress as it debates the parameters of the new department.

The wishes of one appointee should not be the determinant of whether many of us live or die.

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06/05/02: We need a declaration of war
05/23/02: Second warning
05/16/02: Who's trying to stop the missile shield?
05/02/02: The irresponsible U.S. Senate
04/25/02: How to slice the pork out of congress' hide
04/11/02: He's no American
03/31/02: Federal Aviation Administration is a threat to our security
03/14/02: Alaskan oil -- another Saudi Arabia?
03/07/02: Secretary Mineta must go
02/28/02: How to reform the IRS tax code
02/21/02: Those darn Europeans -- again
01/31/02: Director of Homeland Insecurity
01/24/02: Musharaff -- Gorbachev of the Muslim world?
01/17/02: Can we stop a nuclear plant attack?
01/09/02: More failed federal aid to education?
12/11/01: The 'American Giant' is still sleeping

© 2002, Creators Syndicate