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Bush defends efforts to secure mass transit

(The following article by Brian Knowlton was posted on the New York Times website on July 20.)

WASHINGTON -- In his most extensive comments on homeland protection since the bombing attacks in London, President Bush today promised significantly higher spending on transit and port security and vowed that "these terrorists will not shake our will."

"We're spending unprecedented resources to protect our nation," Mr. Bush said at a marine terminal at the port of Baltimore, standing before a crowd of blue- and gray-uniformed officers. "We will not let down our guard."

After the July 7 attacks in London, which killed 55 people in the subway and on a bus, some critics here noted that homeland security spending in the United States was skewed strongly toward protection of airports and commercial aviation, with far slighter emphasis on protecting rail and subway facilities.

Mr. Bush, in a speech billed as primarily a defense of the Patriot Act, which bolsters law-enforcement powers against terror suspects, offered an extensive defense of administration efforts to protect ports and mass transit facilities.

He called administration spending plans "unprecedented."

"We've provided more than $350 million to help state and local authorities to improve security on mass transit," he said. "That's what the enemy hit the other day on one of our strong allies," referring to London.

"At home, we're doing everything we can to protect the American people."

But Mr. Bush also said that in the face of what he called a war against "cold-blooded ideologues who will kill," it was necessary for the country to "plan for the worst" - studying the most likely and vulnerable targets, then securing them.

Democrats have said the administration, preoccupied with fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, has slighted security at home. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, referring to homeland needs, spoke recently of "a general feeling and consensus that the administration is not paying attention to the second front."

The president said that cities like Baltimore had received $2.4 billion in urban security grants that they could use partly for transit protection. His proposed budget envisages a 64 percent rise in grants to protect roads, bridges, subways, light rail and other infrastructure, Mr. Bush noted. Port security had been tightened; spending was 10 times the pre-Sept. 11 levels.

In addition, he said, "We're widening the use of explosive detection teams and nearly doubling the number of rail security inspectors," while developing better technologies to detect possible biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was criticized by some Senate Democrats when he said last week that a federal focus on aviation was logical because attacks using planes could be so catastrophic, as they were on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The truth of the matter is, a fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," he said. "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people. When you start to think about your priorities, you're going to think about making sure you don't have a catastrophic thing first."

Mr. Bush, who was in Scotland for the Group of Eight summit meeting at the time of the London attacks, spoke with particular intensity today about the fight against terrorism.

"See, these people believe that there should be no dissent, no freedom, nor rights for women, that there only ought to be one religion, which is a great misinterpretation of the great religion of Islam."

Their goals, he said, were anything but ordinary: "They want to topple nations."

And he again urged renewal of the Patriot Act, which includes provisions some critics call improperly intrusive and unnecessarily broad.

Mr. Bush said that "the Patriot Act helps us defeat our enemies while safeguarding civil liberties for all Americans" and that it gave anti-terror investigators the tools they badly needed without violating constitutional protections.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

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