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Homeland Security to launch rail security campaign

(The following story by Mickey McCarter appeared at HSToday.com on June 30, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. John Pistole makes his first public appearance as administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in New York City Thursday as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano swears him into office during a rail security event.

Napolitano will spend the day traveling from New York City to Washington, DC, via an Amtrak passenger rail train, inaugurating a national "See Something, Say Something" campaign. The rail security campaign takes its name from a catchphrase developed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City.

Napolitano will travel from New York's Penn Station to Newark, NJ, to Philadelphia, Pa., and then to Union Station in Washington, DC, Thursday. Along the way, she will make speeches highlighting steps the Obama administration has taken to secure US surface transportation networks.

At Penn Station, Napolitano will swear in Pistole as TSA chief. Pistole received Senate confirmation to become head of the agency last Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has timed the launch of the national rail security program to coincide with Operation Regional Alliance Including Local, State, and Federal Efforts (RAIL SAFE). Operation RAIL SAFE involves increasing security teams on passenger rail trains, conducting explosives sweeps with canine teams, and randomly inspecting passenger baggage.

TSA, Amtrak Police, and police agencies at the federal, state, and local levels of government have teamed up to initiate Operation RAIL SAFE throughout the northeast United States to test their counterterrorism capabilities, according to a DHS statement.

"The multi-force, multi-agency security surge from throughout the Northeast is not in response to any particular threat or incident. Rather, it is part of a routine effort by partners in the Northeast rail and transit corridor," the statement read.

Napolitano will tour rail stations, traveling by the Amtrak Acela Express on her route from New York to Washington. She will examine footage of US rail security operations on her way to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where she will discuss the "See Something, Say Something" campaign and Operation RAIL SAFE. The secretary will hold another launch event for the campaign and operation at Union Station.

Lawmakers consistently have questioned whether the United States has done enough to protect passenger rail systems, which have proven an attractive target to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Europe and Asia. In the past several years, terrorists have launched major attacks on passenger rail systems in Madrid, London, Mumbai, and Moscow.

Pistole testified in his confirmation hearings in the US Senate that he would complete threat analyses of US rail systems to determine if TSA is positioning enough resources into rail assets to protect them.

TSA so far has abandoned efforts to conduct threat assessments of the five major US modes of transportation, including surface transportation systems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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