Jewish World Review June 1, 2004 / 12 Sivan, 5764
Our first line of defense still needs attention
Last week's announcement from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding the probability of another terrorist attack on American soil provoked both serious concern from the public and suspicion from several Democrats and members of the media. Since the color-coded terror threat level was not raised and no new information was offered, speculation grew as to whether the new warning was just more political posturing rather than a genuine attempt at communication.
"We'll never know if the administration has new and justifiable information for this new warning," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said following Ashcroft's announcement "I think there's a building skepticism about warnings from the Bush administration."
Ashcroft rebuffed insinuations about political motivations for the announcement by saying, "I just don't think my job is to worry about what skeptics say."
Regardless of the rationale behind the warning, the fact is that the United States remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The Century Foundation gave the Department of Homeland Security a mediocre grade of C-plus for total performance in its annual appraisal. And the Progressive Policy Institute gave President Bush a grade of D in its assessment of the state of homeland security.
Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet recently cautioned that it will be another five years before the CIA is adequately positioned to effectively combat the terrorist threat. Nearly two years since President Bush officially proposed the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, our borders remain porous, our ports are dangerously penetrable, and our local firemen, police, paramedics and emergency workers still lack sufficient resources to adequately respond to a terrorist attack.
"From a practical point of view, first responders are our first line of defense," says Dr. Peter Chalk, a terrorism expert with the Rand Corporation, "not only in terms of preemption but actually in terms of consequence management. It is absolutely critical that local first responders have the necessary resources and equipment at their disposal in order to react and to manage attacks. And that obviously requires funding."
Unfortunately, funding for first responders won't increase next year. In fact, the federal budget for 2005 allocates $1 billion less for state and local first responder grants than the previous year's budget.
Despite the knowledge that several of the Sept. 11 attackers were here illegally, our borders remain dangerously open to intruders. Detentions at the border, which are used to gauge illegal immigration levels, jumped 25 percent over the previous year during a six-month period ending in March. In addition, it is estimated that illegal crossings increased by roughly 10 percent in January and February alone following the announcement of President Bush's proposed guest worker program.
And our ports are hardly more secure than our borders. The United Nation's maritime agency announced last week that fewer than 6 percent of the world's seaports and ships comply with UN rules geared towards preventing terrorist attacks. Frighteningly, only 5 percent of cargo containers entering U.S. ports last year were inspected, according to U.S. customs data.
Much has been achieved by the administration in the fight against radical terrorists, but we must further bolster our defenses. And the first line of defense should be, without question, our borders and ports.
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