- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

The federal government is developing a priority list that would guide its transportation-security efforts instead of focusing on aviation, Department of Homeland Security officials told a Senate committee yesterday.

It is likely to include greater emphasis on protecting ports, rail systems and air cargo.

“What we’re calling for are plans, and plans require that you make these tough priority judgments,” said Lee H. Hamilton, vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly called the September 11 commission. “What are the targets you ought to protect, and in what order?”

Mr. Hamilton testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the panel’s recommendations to improve security. The commission delivered its report based on a 20-month investigation to President Bush last month.

The recommendations included national standards for a driver’s license, which could show the owner’s fingerprints.

Government witnesses said a standardized license could have been used to track and identify suspicious movements of the September 11 hijackers while they were planning the attacks.

They also said a standardized license might be a first step toward a national identification card.

“The American public is becoming more and more agreeable to intrusiveness in order to protect themselves against terrorist attacks, and a national ID card does not offend me,” Mr. Hamilton said.

In its final report last month, the commission recommended a seamless biometric border, in which anyone entering or leaving the United States would have his identity biometrically confirmed.

The American Civil Liberties Union said federal standards for a driver’s license constitute a “backdoor attempt to create a national ID card system and a serious threat to privacy, liberty and safety.”

Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said the government already plans to follow another recommendation of the September 11 commission in which the Transportation Security Administration would search passenger registries to find people on the government’s “no-fly” list of suspected terrorists.

The searches, which currently are done by airlines, have resulted in at least one lawsuit by an airline passenger misidentified by the no-fly list.

The current method “is not a comprehensive check for security reasons, because it’s an airline-based system,” Mr. Hutchinson said.

“That’s what has to change, we recognize that and agree with that recommendation and will be taking steps to accomplish that.”

At the hearing, several senators questioned whether the Homeland Security Department had left too much of the transportation infrastructure vulnerable to attack while it concentrated on protecting airlines.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the committee, said an argument could be made that “we’re fighting the last war in that we are spending 90 percent or more of the funding on aviation security as opposed to rail or port security.”

Thomas H. Kean, September 11 commission chairman, responded, “We are spending a tremendous amount on aviation security, because the problems there were so dense and so difficult to solve and cost money.”

However, he agreed that there were security shortcomings with other transportation modes.

“We know that security on rail — both in the cargo and the passenger area — has got to be improved,” he said.

• United Press International reporter Shaun Waterman contributed to this report.

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