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Oct. 18, 2004

Bush Administration Fails to Effectively Fortify Nation’s Defenses Against Terrorism

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Since the 9/11 attacks, President Bush has made protection of the American people from terrorism the rhetorical centerpiece of his presidency.  He has continued to warn of terrorist attacks, and the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly raised the alert levels.

But are Americans safer today as a result of this administration’s efforts to fortify our key infrastructure against attacks?  The answer is a resounding no.  The White House says Americans are safer, but the rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground.

The polls show that this is an area Americans are deeply concerned about.

The fact is, while focusing most of its efforts on aviation security and overseas wars, this administration has failed to take the steps necessary to protect the public from potentially catastrophic attacks on chemical plants, nuclear reactors, seaports, hazardous materials transport and water systems.  Prior to 9/11, these were highly vulnerable, high-impact targets – and they still are today.

Just 4 to 6 percent of the 8 million cargo containers that arrive at our ports every year are inspected.  Millions of containers are loaded directly onto trucks and train cars that travel into our cities and into the heartland.  Imagine the massive loss of life and the economic gridlock that would ensue if terrorists managed to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into our ports.  But this president – and his Republican Congress – have barely lifted a finger to secure the ports, which are $1 billion short of funding to make what the Coast Guard says are basic, needed improvements.

But the problem with this administration is much deeper than money.

Eighty-five percent of this country’s critical infrastructure lies in the hands of private business.  Most corporations simply will not spend the money to secure the homeland unless the government creates standards and enforces those standards.  This administration, which has filled the top levels of government with corporate CEOs, lobbyists and lawyers, simply does not want to regulate business – even when the safety and security of Americans is at stake.

Corporate lobbyists have worked to block new security initiatives needed to protect us from the gravest threats. These risks include toxic clouds from chemical plants that remain unsecured.

The administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission actually opposed legislation that would have required nuclear plants to withstand attacks comparable to 9/11, and the NRC is even proposing to weaken fire safety standards at nuclear reactors.

Security requirements for trucks that carry hazardous materials are ridiculously weak. Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has conducted site visits with these carriers, it has hesitated to issue crucial standards, opposes electronic tracking systems, and has undermined the power of others to improve security.

In addition, the administration and Congress have failed to provide the funds needed just to assess the vulnerabilities of local drinking water systems.

This administration has worked hand-in-hand with corporate lobbyists.  Maybe it’s because these industries we’re talking about have provided 30 of President Bush’s Rangers and Pioneers, his super fund-raisers. Maybe it’s because they have contributed almost $20 million to his campaigns, his inauguration committee and the Republican National Committee since the 2000 election cycle.  Maybe it’s because they spent $200 million to lobby the White House and Congress.

Whether it is blind obedience to an anti-regulation ideology or simply cronyism with campaign financiers, or both – this president and this Congress are not getting the job done.  The report we are releasing today outlines these failures and the money connections in great detail.

This tragic failure must be confronted if the United States is going to secure our highly vulnerable vital infrastructure against terrorism.  Failure to do so will not only result in needless deaths and injuries but terrible disruption of our economy as well.

###

To read the press release, click here.

To read Greenpeace Legislative Director Rick Hind's statement, click here.

To read D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson’s statement, click here.

To read the report visit www.homelandunsecured.org.

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