Homeland Security Officials Reassure Public of Transit Safety
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 10, 2005 Top U.S. homeland security officials said today that while security is never an absolute, the U.S. is doing all it can to ensure the safety of those using passenger rail and transit.
This comes in light of the explosions of four bombs July 7 in London. Three in the subway system detonated within 50 seconds of each other and one exploded on a double-decker bus within a half hour of the others. The blasts killed at least 49 and injured more than 700, according to news sources.
"There are not guarantees in this world," Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser said on "Fox News Sunday." "We are working hard to ensure the safety as best we can." That, she noted, includes increased patrols of transit systems and using canines trained in detecting explosives.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff reinforced that view on ABC's "This Week." He said since the Madrid bombing March 11, 2004, the U.S. has "steadily put more emphasis on mass transit."
"There is no perfect security in life," he pointed out, "but we are constantly raising the base line of our security and we're making sure that we are using a multiple-faceted approach in terms of our tactics and our layers of protection."
The U.S. security level for passenger rail and mass transit was raised from "yellow" to "orange" in the aftermath of the London attacks. Chertoff said U.S. homeland security leaders officials would wait to see what develops out of the British investigation before reviewing the U.S. security level.
That investigation is being monitored hourly, Chertoff said, adding that FBI agents with forensic backgrounds have been sent to London to assist British authorities.
Chertoff said there was no specific credible information that would have indicated a pending attack in London. He refused to draw conclusions on who might have carried out the attack, such as followers of known terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"We know that Zarqawi is a very dangerous and evil terrorist," Chertoff said. "There's no question he's done things in Iraq which are about as bad as you can do. But ... before we reach a conclusion, let's look at all the evidence, let's see what they develop on the ground.
"I think we're going to pursue all the theories," he continued. "We're not going to jump one way or the other until we've actually completed the analysis in London."
Townsend said the timeline of the explosions would indicate that at least the first three bombs were on timers.
"The emergency response in Britain by British authorities may have prevented that fourth bomb from going into the tube (subway) system," she said, noting that after the first three explosions, the bus was diverted from its normal course.
Both Chertoff and Townsend contended funding is adequate for securing the country's rail and transit systems. "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos asserted that billions have been spent on aviation security, while only $250 million in federal dollars has been spent on securing passenger rail and transit systems.
"Many of the funds spent on rail and mass transit security are done at the state and local level, which are not factored (into the federal funds total)," Townsend said on "Fox News Sunday."
She added that there is more than $600 million from infrastructure protection that can be requested for beefing up rail and mass transit security. The funds are administered by the Department of Homeland Security and come in the form of grants.
That doesn't include more than $8 billion in the Urban Area Security Initiative that could be used for the same purpose, Townsend said.
Both homeland security officials agreed that it's better to be pre-emptive than to wait too long to react to a potential threat.
"You can't wait until the fuse is lit to arrest somebody," Chertoff said. "You've got to lean forward and anybody who is out there who has been trained by al Qaeda, who's gone, knowing that they are getting training from a terrorist group, is obviously a danger. And where we can find some way to make a case against that person, whether it be a criminal case or an immigration case, we have to do it promptly.
"We can't wait until a cell becomes operational because that is often waiting too long," he noted.
That includes working to make U.S. borders more secure.
"I would tell you there's more we have to do," Townsend said. "We do have a plan now and includes increasing personnel."
She said the government is also looking at leveraging technology to aid in border protection, adding that unmanned aerial vehicle have already proven to be a great asset.
"We're always looking at putting more into resources in terms of prevention," Chertoff said. "We want to do it in a disciplined way. We want to do it in a risk-focused way.
"And we want to be driven not just by last week's events, but by all kinds of threats. Because, you know, we still worry about aviation, we worry about bioweapons. So we're looking across the board at a strategic way of applying resources to protect Americans."