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Jewish World Review April 22, 2003 / 20 Nisan, 5763

Roger Simon

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Why is Congress allowing our country to be so blissful? | If ignorance is bliss, then things are downright blissful when it comes to protecting this country from future terrorist attacks.

Instead of taking practical and possibly expensive measures to make ourselves safer, we are taking symbolic and cheap measures that will do virtually nothing to safeguard our nation.

Prime example: Instead of making sure that every cargo container that enters U.S. waters does not contain a nuclear device or other weapon of mass destruction, we have instead started handing out .40 caliber semi-automatic pistols to airline pilots this week.

Which measure do you think really would protect America? Cargo inspection or cowboys in the sky?

Back in January, I wrote about how putting a nuclear weapon in the hold of a cargo ship is the most likely way that we will be attacked by such a weapon.

While we have committed billions to a "Star Wars" satellite defense system, attacking the United States by means of a nuclear missile is extremely unlikely, even if a rogue state managed to gets its hands on such a weapon.

Missiles are easy to track. Any state that attacks the United States by missile would be obliterated in return.

But putting a nuclear device in a cargo ship of international registry, sending it into, say, San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles harbor and detonating it would be relatively easy. And we would not know whom to retaliate against.

Which is why we have to check all cargo on all ships entering our harbors.

But we aren't doing that. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story stating that about 12 million containers enter U.S. ports each year. Only 4 percent undergo security checks.

"Eighteen months after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the nation's ports remain conspicuously vulnerable to assault, law-enforcement officials say," the Journal reported. "They fear a chemical or nuclear weapon could be smuggled inside one of the estimated 12 million shipping containers to enter U.S. ports annually. Or, an underwater mine could destroy a ship, blocking the channel, or a large vessel could be pirated and used to crash into a bridge, historic landmark or shore-side tanks holding fuel or hazardous materials."

The story goes on to point out that while Congress has committed $8 billion to airport security, our nation's ports have been promised only about $350 million.

How much money is actually needed? The Coast Guard says it will need $6 billion over the next 10 years to safeguard our seaports.

That is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. But when Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., tried to add $1 billion for port security to the president's request for nearly $80 billion to fight the war in Iraq, the Senate voted it down.

And it's not like people have been silent about the problem. On the contrary, they have been sounding alarm bells. The Journal quotes Noel Cunningham, the port of Los Angeles' police chief, as saying that Los Angeles harbor is "wide open" to attack.

The Iraq war has cost us $20 billion so far and will cost us many times that by the time our occupation of that country is over (if it is ever over).

But we won't spend an extra $1 billion to begin protecting our own harbors against attack?

That's ignorant. And, somehow, I don't feel all that blissful about it.

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