- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Border Patrol has failed to meet staffing levels set by Congress and the administration, leaving one agent for every 5.5 miles of the United States’ northern border, and the nation’s ports remain vulnerable, a congressional report released today says.

The report — “America at Risk: Closing the Security Gap” — suggests tripling the number of patrols on the northern border by moving hundreds of employees from the southern border.

“Our nation remains vulnerable to potentially catastrophic attacks involving nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons,” according to the report compiled by Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

The report, being released days shy of the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security’s creation, also suggests having the United States lead a global coalition to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.

“The real question we need to ask today is whether we are as safe as we need to be today in light of the terrorist threats we face. The answer is, unfortunately, no we are not,” said Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat and ranking member of the Homeland Security committee.

A summary of the report yesterday outlined gaps in the U.S. efforts to secure commercial ports, particularly failures by the Bush administration to establish security standards for such safeguards as tamper-resistant seals on the 7 million cargo containers unloading at U.S. ports annually.

Noting that funds are available to ensure cargo containers entering U.S. ports are free of nuclear material that could be used in a “dirty bomb” or a crude nuclear weapon, Mr. Turner said, “The job is not yet done.” He also said although technology is available to ensure first responders can communicate with each other at a disaster site, the equipment is not deployed.

Created as part of massive reorganization by the Bush administration of federal agencies such as the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service after the September 11 attacks, the Homeland Security Department officially will turn 1 year old on Sunday.

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