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U.S. Homeland Security head announces Amtrak information-sharing security initiative

(The following story by Steve Strunsky appeared on The Newark Star-Ledger website on July 1, 2010.)

NEW YORK CITY — Underscoring the government’s commitment to securing transportation on the ground as well as in the air, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano swore in the new chief of the Transportation Security Administration today at New York Penn Station, and announced a nationwide expansion of New York’s "See Something, Say Something," campaign.

Afterward, Napolitano and the new TSA administrator, John Pistole, boarded an Amtrak Acela train for Washington D.C. They were greeted there by New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator, Frank Lautenberg, who this week was named chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriation’s Subcommittee, replacing the late Sen. Robert Byrd.

Lautenberg has accused homeland security officials of neglecting ground-based transportation in favor of airline security. But today, Lautenberg’s office released a statement saying that today’s event was, "an important step forward." Napolitano and Pistole also said they looked forward to meeting with the senator.

"We get it," Napolitano said.

Before discussing "See Something, Say Something," Napolitano outlined a new nationwide intelligence-gathering scheme that will start with Amtrak Police.

"Today, along with the Department of Justice and Amtrak, we are announcing a significant step toward enhancing security of the nation’ rail infrastructure through the implementation of a ...nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting, or SAR, capability throughout the entire Amtrak rail system," she told reporters.

Under the SAR program, Amtrak officers will gather disparate bits of information that, when pieced together and analyzed, could indicate a threat. The DHS and FBI analysts receiving the information, "have extensive training to distinguish between legal and illegal behavior." She added the program will protect the privacy rights and civil liberties of the public.

Napolitano said the SAR program will complement an expanded "See Something, Say Something," campaign, originally developed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for riders on New York City’s subways, busses and commuter trains.

"The concept is simple," Napolitano said. "If you are on a train, or standing on a platform, on in a station or public place and you see something that doesn’t look right, or out of place, like an unattended package or bag, or an individual acting in a suspicious manner, report it to law enforcement."

With Penn Station’s main Amtrak Departure board as a backdrop, Napolitano swore in Pistole with a bible, a handshake, and a grin that seemed to convey both warmth and relief. Pistole, a former FBI deputy director, was confirmed by the Senate on Friday, after a protracted effort by the Obama administration to install its own, permanent TSA chief marked by the withdrawal of two prior nominees. He said the public’s eyes and ears were part of the nation’s anti-terror network.

"Any counter-terrorism effort has to include an engaged and informed public," Pistole said, citing the May 1 car bombing attempt in Times Square, reported by a T-shirt vendor. "So if it comes down to common sense: If you see something, say something."

Friday, July 2, 2010

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