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Across U.S., a Security Scramble

Patchwork Measures May Be Insufficient, Experts Say

By Eric Pianin, Bradley Graham and Ceci Connolly Washington Post Staff Writers Sunday, September 23, 2001; Page A01

Wracked by fears of a fresh round of terrorism attacks, the U.S. military, federal and state authorities and private companies have implemented security measures on a scale rarely seen since World War II.

From saturation U.S. Coast Guard patrols of New York Harbor to a ban on guided tours at the Hoover Dam to the deployment of heavily armed South Dakota state police in black tactical gear at airport gates, officials have taken defensive steps that are affecting many aspects of life for millions of Americans.

As part of this scramble, safeguards have been beefed up at government buildings, office towers, hospitals, power plants, oil refineries, sporting events, airports, reservoirs, and bus terminals. Military surveillance planes routinely buzz New York and Washington and last week resumed random patrols over other major cities.

Security is so tight at U.S.-Mexico border crossings that U.S. Customs Service officials report a sudden sharp decline in attempted drug smuggling. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is counseling families fearful of another disaster to "channel their energy" by stockpiling food, water, flashlights and batteries just in case.

"We haven't seen this type of level of readiness of forces within the United States since the chilliest days of the Cold War," said John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association.

The multitude of activity underscores how seriously authorities are taking the possibility of another terrorist attack. Although no solid evidence of an imminent threat has emerged, within the past week jittery FBI agents have checked out tips of possible assaults in Boston, Atlanta, Richmond and Hollywood. With President Bush vowing to lead a protracted war to root out terrorists worldwide, officials in states large and small are girding for the possibility of additional deadly strikes.

While extensive and sometimes dramatic, the new security measures were instituted hastily and often chaotically after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They rely on personnel with wildly divergent levels of expertise, ranging from highly skilled Air Force pilots and seasoned border patrols to local police officers with no anti-terrorism training and relatively inexperienced private security guards. And the measures still fall far short of what specialists say are necessary to fully protect Americans.

Moreover, many of the actions of the past 12 days have been taken with no central authority coordinating the patchwork of state, federal and private entities involved in ensuring that all vulnerabilities are protected. And it has occurred in the absence of a clearly defined governmental strategy for homeland security.

No joint assessment of the threat to U.S. citizens and property has emerged from the CIA and other intelligence agencies to guide organizations responsible for defending the homeland. Substantial gaps remain in monitoring who and what comes into the country and in identifying terrorists before they can strike, according to experts.

Bush moved Thursday to improve these links by establishing a Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security that will be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R). But many experts agree that eliminating U.S. vulnerabilities and grafting new restrictive layers on a country long accustomed to many freedoms will require more drastic and longer-lasting measures.

"One of the problems this country has had in coming up with a coherent counterterrorist policy is precisely that we do not get sustained attention in a balanced way to this problem," L. Paul Bremer III, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, told a Senate panel last week. "We need a sustained and balanced attention to this problem that's going to outlive the immediate emotions of this week."

In the broadest sense, the tightening of security is having its greatest impact on the airline industry, major ports and commerce centers throughout the country and along the borders with Canada and Mexico. Tough new Federal Aviation Administration security measures, including the indefinite closing of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and strict, time-consuming passenger boarding regulations, have discouraged travel and led to thousands of layoffs by the airline industry.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told Congress last week that he has taken steps to secure the safety of American ports and the 2 million miles of pipelines that carry petroleum products and natural gas.

"We're in a heightened state of security," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Jim McPherson. The Coast Guard is routinely boarding and inspecting vessels, something that until last week was done infrequently, usually when there was concern about a vessel's safety record. The Coast Guard is also closely scrutinizing the names and nationalities of crew and passengers in search of terrorists.

In New York, the Coast Guard is restricting ships into the harbor, and those allowed in must be escorted by two tugs to control their movements. On the Potomac, vessels traveling north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge are being boarded by the Coast Guard, while at Houston/Galveston, barges with chemical or hazardous materials must have round-the-clock security. In Boston, Coast Guard officers wearing riot gear and brandishing assault weapons are patroling the harbor 24 hours a day.

The Customs Service has placed all 301 ports of entry to the United States on its highest "Code Red" state of alert and devoted its fleet of P-3 surveillance aircraft to augment the Defense Department in its efforts to identify potentially hostile aircraft. Car and truck inspections along the U.S.-Mexico border have become so thorough, according to officials, that the incidents of arrests for attempted drug smuggling have plummeted. "The smugglers are watching us and holding back," said Customs spokesman Dean Boyd.

State police and Coast Guard units have provided added security to the nation's 103 commercial nuclear reactors. Yet the terrorists' use of hijacked airliners as weapons has confronted the nuclear power industry with a threat its plants were not specifically designed to meet, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledges.

"These are among the most robust structures in the United States," said NRC spokesman William M. Beecher. But "when they were designed, no one was conceiving of such an attack" as occurred Sept. 11.

An emergency committee of chief executives of the nation's electricity companies has been formed by the Edison Electric Institute to review security requirements. And Michehl R. Gent, president of the North American Electric Reliability Council, which oversees the nation's electric power grid, proposed last week that the energy industry reconstitute the Year 2000 security network created to protect against terrorist attacks and disruptions.

In the Pacific Northwest, several states and Canada are coordinating plans to protect the Bonneville Dam in Oregon, a major power generator. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Reclamation has discontinued guided tours of the Hoover Dam and has requested that the Nevada National Guard man checkpoints along nearby roads. Hoover Dam, near Las Vegas, generates about 4.5 billion kilowatt hours annually and powers a wide swath of southern California, southern Nevada and Arizona.

While the federal government struggles to coordinate its response to terrorism, governors and state officials have moved on their own. In sparsely populated South Dakota, Gov. William J. Janklow (R) has stationed police -- in black tactical gear armed with M-16 automatic rifles -- at every active airport gate in his state. "If there's ever going to be a shootout, I believe we have got to have massive firepower," Janklow said in an interview.

Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) has dispatched the National Guard to Canadian border ports to assist federal immigration officers. About 43 million people passed through the Detroit border point with Canada last year, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Washington state's Committee on Terrorism holds frequent drills and has begun stockpiling antidotes in the event of a biological or chemical attack.

In California, major Hollywood studios canceled tours and set up metal detectors and barriers to protect against attacks after receiving an alert from the FBI.

In Atlantic City, organizers of yesterday's 81st annual Miss America Competition implemented tight security measures. The annual parade, usually held the night before the pageant, was canceled for the first time after city authorities said they could not guarantee security along the 2 1/2-mile boardwalk.

Even with all those measures, the scale of the challenge in just getting a better handle on U.S. border traffic remains daunting. Figures compiled by a federal commission led by former senators Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) show that each day 340,000 vehicles cross U.S. borders, 58,000 cargo shipments enter the country and 1.3 million people come in. Yet less than 2 percent of those cargo shipments and vehicles were being inspected by the Customs Service.

"A lot of other things need to be done to defend the United States against terrorist attack," said Fred C. Ikle, a former undersecretary of defense for policy who has written about homeland security.

The range of threats now being anticipated extends well beyond the attacks of Sept. 11. They include the potential disruption of computer networks, the use of chemical weapons and the spread of infectious diseases.

The lack of U.S. preparedness only compounded the severity of the reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks, said Stephen Flynn, a Coast Guard commander who has been leading a study on homeland security for the Council on Foreign Relations. "When the system lacks integrity, the only option is to shut it down," he said.

Staff writers Caroline Mayer and Peter Behr and special correspondent Pamela Ferdinand contributed to this report.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 23, 2001

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