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Indian train bombing prompts renewed debate over U.S. rail security

(The following story by Monisha Bansal appeared at CNSNews.com on February 21.)

In the wake of Monday's bombings of a passenger train in India, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security plans to introduce a bill to help secure America's "vulnerable" rail systems.

"This legislation is meant to be a floor for securing rail and mass transit, not a ceiling, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told Cybercast News Service. "Basic security measures have been notably absent thus far."

Thompson introduced a bill last June aimed at beefing up security for rail and public transportation. The bill did not gain much support: it had 14 cosponsors and died in subcommittee after introductory remarks.

"Next month marks the third anniversary since the Madrid bombings; while later this year marks the second anniversary of the London bombings and a year since the Mumbai blasts," Thompson said.

"Sadly, despite a history of terror attacks against rail and transit systems around the world, millions of men and women who travel America's rail and public transit systems remain vulnerable to known security deficiencies," Thompson added.

"Terrorists have yet again demonstrated that transportation systems are targets, and this notice must not be ignored," he said.

"I call upon my colleagues in the House and Senate to work with me to secure our trains and public transit systems. We have received enough warnings. History will judge us if we don't act now," said Thompson.

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation argued that the government shouldn't "throw money at rail security."

"After the terrorist railroad bombings in London and Madrid, Congress fixated on addressing the vulnerabilities of the American rail system," he said. "Focusing myopically on specific threats such as a terrorist attack on a U.S. train is a grave mistake.

"America is a vast nation with millions of people and trillions of dollars of infrastructure. Everything can't be hardened to the point that terrorists will be deterred, and hardening one target to the exclusion of everything else won't stop terrorists," said Carafano.

"The Indian example just shows why throwing lots of money at rail security at the end of the day doesn't make you a lot safer, because somebody is still going to find a way to get on the thing and bomb it," he said. "They have all kinds of security measure, and they still got bombed.

"The vulnerabilities are so huge and so giant, you really can't defend the whole thing, and so they're already doing what's reasonable. Any more of this is really just wasted money," Carafano told Cybercast News Service.

"Terrorists go after mass transit, because it is a vulnerable system," he added, noting that "securing a train, particularly mass transit, is a thousand times more difficult than a plane."

"We live in a country of infinite vulnerabilities. You can't childproof your way out of these problems," Carafano said.

In January, Kip Hawley, assistant secretary of the Transportation Security Administration, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation as to the security challenges posed by America's rail systems.

"As we continue to strive to improve the security of these vital transportation systems, we must not forget the principles that make them viable and efficient," Hawley said. "Many of these systems were designed with mobility and ease of access as an enabling fundamental underlying their operational success.

"Our security efforts must work within the framework of these systems and not hamper them. That inherent openness and mobility also presents us with our greatest security challenge," he said.

"The best defense is one that prevents the terrorists from ever entering the United States," said Hawley.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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