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Bush vows to safeguard U.S. transit against attack

(Reuters circulated the following article on July 20.)

BALTIMORE -- President Bush pledged on Wednesday to boost protection of U.S. transit systems against an attack in the aftermath of the London bombings and urged Congress to renew provisions of a post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law.

At least 56 people were killed in the bombings of underground trains and a bus at the height of morning rush hour in London on July 7.

``It should be a vivid reminder about the world in which we live, we will not let down our guard,'' Bush said during a visit to the Port of Baltimore.

The president's comments on fighting terrorism came on the same day that the United States warned Americans in Saudi Arabia to keep a low profile because militants were planning fresh attacks.

``The best way to protect the homeland is to go on the offense, is to find these people in foreign lands and bring them to justice before they come here to hurt us,'' Bush said.

``We're working with people around the world. We're on the hunt and we will stay on the hunt,'' he said.

About a dozen provisions in the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are set to expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress.

Critics say some provisions infringe on civil liberties and should not be renewed. But Bush repeated his call to renew them, saying they strengthen efforts to fight terrorism.

``The Patriot Act closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities, gaps the terrorists exploited when they attacked us on September the 11th,'' Bush said.

During the port visit, Bush got a demonstration of new technology to inspect cargo, including radiation detectors and X-ray equipment that can penetrate steel containers.

While Bush touted $700 million in federal grants that he said has gone toward protecting ports, Democrats accused him of using Baltimore port as a backdrop for a ``photo opportunity'' while shortchanging that area in the homeland security budget.

``The administration has been asleep at the switch while shipload after shipload of cargo goes uninspected,'' Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said.

Kerry, who unsuccessfully ran against Bush in 2004, said that according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, only a fraction of the grants for port security has been spent, and a lot of the spending has been ``mismanaged.''

Bush said his budget for next year proposes a 64 percent increase in infrastructure protection grants -- ``to safeguard, subways, light rail, city buses and other critical systems.''

The administration is pushing to have the money allocated in the form of flexible grants, but Congress has resisted and would rather earmark the money for specific purposes.

Bush fiscal 2006 budget seeks $600 million in flexible grants for infrastructure such as buses, ports, rails and chemical facilities, up from $365 million at which those programs were funded in fiscal 2005, said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Democrats have accused Bush and Republicans of not doing enough to protect mass-transit systems.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stirred outrage recently by saying that localities had to bear the brunt of protecting their mass transit systems since hijacked airliners have proven to be a much bigger threat to domestic security.

The government has spent nearly $20 billion on aviation security to avoid a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airplane attacks. By comparison, the government has spent $250 million on rail and transit system security since Sept. 11.

``We're going to continue to make sure that we assess our weaknesses and strengthen our transportation systems,'' Bush said.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

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