- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

A recent CNN-Time poll showed that the majority of Americans give the president an "A" for the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, a richly deserved grade for excellence.
However, the public is far less sanguine about the success of homeland security. Only 30 percent grant the president the same grade when it comes to their safety at home.
Many Americans are afraid to fly, barely saved from another holocaust in the sky planned by the "shoe bomber." Americans are also worried about biological warfare, and especially about a nuclear incident, including an assault by terrorists on a local nuclear power plant replete with a meltdown.
The president's response has been to double the homeland security budget to $38 billion, a good move designed to strengthen our borders to keep out illegals. But his most significant move to date was to appoint a Homeland Security Director a seemingly tough ex-Marine, former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania soon after September 11.
But he forgot one vital component of homeland security. President Bush forgot or feared to give Mr. Ridge real authority to order agency heads to do their jobs properly. Instead they do what they want, which is often highly insufficent to protect us against terrorism.
What is not being done? What should be done? What examples are there of bureaucratic timidity, distortions created by political correctness, and just plain agency ignorance?
Here then, from a nonbureaucratic American, is a partial list of dangers that still await us despite the existence of a homeland security director.
For fear of a domestic nuclear attack, Americans are feverishly buying potassium iodide pills to protect their thyroid glands. Why that fear? Because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has blatantly announced that security at our 103 nuclear power plants is legally in the hands of the lightly armed private cops hired by the utilities. The National Guard has been called out to do the job in only 13 of the 32 states affected. The answer? The use of some 2,000 U.S Army troops with tanks and anti-aircraft to guard all 103 plants.
Just as we detain al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and here in the states, the myopic State Department continues its active visa program welcoming in Middle Easterners. In 2001, some 300,000 came here on various visas. Today, with new security rules, those ranks have been cut to a mere 160,000, still enough to fill many terrorist cells.
The new State Department background check of incoming Middle Easterners excludes all women and men over 45, an important oversight considering the female suicide bomber in Israel. Next time? A woman or able-bodied Muslim man of 50 could well be the agent of mayhem in the U.S. Only 900 consular officials worldwide handle millions of visas, mainly without any personal interviews.
When Congress declared that all bags going into the hold of planes had to be screened, the FAA fought the idea of reducing the number of bags. By limiting travelers to one bag instead of three, it would be possible to check every one by hand. Meanwhile the FAA has ordered only a handful of luggage screening machines since September 11.
We invite in some 600,000 foreign students a year without a system to keep track of them. One of the hijackers, Hani Hanjour, was a "student" who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Another Middle Eastern student, who never showed up at school, helped engineer the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Who is at fault? The State Department, the INS and college authorities who want the student money and have been lobbying Congress not to crack down. The answer? Eliminate, or severely cut down, student visas for Middle Easterners until we have a good tracking system.
Political correctness is hindering our system. Transportation Department of Transportation Secretary Minetta, who still harbors resentment that his parents were interned in World War II, has directed that no one is to be given extra airport screening for reason of race of religion. The result? A 73-year-old Anglo grandmother was put through a rigorous screening at the Denver Airport, as was an 86-year-old winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor elsewhere. The answer? We need the total airport screening of all Middle Eastern visa holders, the most likely source of terrorism.
Only Connecticut refuses to give drivers licenses to foreign visa holders. We need a national law that forces all states to do the same. Otherwise, the present ludicrous situation, in which terrorists can get an "American ID" to show police when stopped, and to identify themselves at airports without revealing that they are foreigners, will continue.
The 5,000 Middle Easterners the government wanted questioned by local officials were never fully interrogated. Why? Because some local police refused to participate as did some of the visas holders. We haven't even revoked their visas.
The INS admits that there are more than 300,000 visas holders ready for deportation, but that they are missing. In addition, the Census Bureau tells us there are 115,000 Middle Easterners living in the U.S. illegally.
After another terrorist incident there will be a hue and cry and a lot of finger pointing. Wouldn't it be best for the Director of Homeland Security to do something about it now?

Martin Gross is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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