- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Metro officials are considering random searches of passengers’ bags on its trains and will visit New York tomorrow to observe that city’s implementation of similar searches.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said it’s too early to say when a decision will be made about searching the subway system’s 700,000 daily passengers.

“They’re just going to meet and see how it’s going, gather more information and details and then come back and study the information and proceed from there,” Mr. Taubenkibel said of the New York trip.

He made his comments after transportation officials addressed a House panel regarding safety.

The nation’s mass-transit systems remain on high alert after terrorist attacks earlier this month that targeted London’s transportation system.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the random searches show the “pitiful state of where we are on mass- transportation funding.”

Transportation officials in Los Angeles also are studying whether to randomly inspect passengers and also plan to visit New York to observe procedures.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has dispatched monitors to question commuters in New York and is considering filing a lawsuit concerning the searches.

“We believe it opens up the door to profiling and potential discrimination,” said Roger Vann, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.

At yesterday’s hearing, mass-transit officials told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on emergency preparedness, science and technology that they have the training and plans necessary to help prevent and, if necessary, respond to terrorist attacks.

Transit officials and Robert Jamison, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), told the panel that individual plans for each city’s system are in place to confront terrorist plots, contrary to suggestions by some politicians that the systems are vulnerable.

“The nation’s transit operators have responded admirably to the new threat environment,” Mr. Jamison said. “Thanks to their efforts, transit is more secure and more prepared to respond to emergencies than ever before.”

Committee leaders, however, said they will insist that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff present a national plan of action. They also want more money for training, planning and equipment nationwide.

“You’ve all done a very credible job with individual plans, but what we don’t have is a national transit security plan for all of America, which we are in charge of protecting,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and ranking committee member.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and subcommittee chairman, agreed and said a formal request will be sent to Mr. Chertoff directing him to complete such a plan.

“A plan is long overdue,” he said.

The FTA has provided security training for 77,000 transit employees and conducted risk and vulnerability assessments for 30 systems that carry 90 percent of all transit riders. It also created a system to communicate security messages to 100 of the largest systems.

Within the $8.6 billion available to transit systems in grants, Washington Metro has received $15 million, New York has received $48.4 million plus $142 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Los Angeles received $13.7 million including state funding.

Mr. Chertoff warned the full committee in a hearing late Monday against earmarking funds specifically toward mass transit.

Officials need to shift funding as quickly as terrorists can shift targets of attack, which can be done only if the money stays “nimble,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“I deeply understand the impulse to react to the London attacks. But if we go back and forth with terrorists, we cannot win,” Mr. Chertoff said. “They will change tactics, and we must anticipate the next attack.”

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