President Bush yesterday invoked the terrorist attacks in London as a compelling reason for Congress to renew the USA Patriot Act and for local governments to beef up security on mass-transit systems.
“As we saw in London, the terrorists are still active and they are still plotting to take innocent life,” Mr. Bush told law-enforcement officers in Baltimore. “So my message to the Congress is clear: This is no time to let our guard down, and no time to roll back good laws.”
It was the first time the president cited the July 7 London attacks, which killed at least 56 persons in the British capital’s subway and bus systems, to bolster support for renewal of the Patriot Act. The U.S. House is scheduled to vote on the measure this week.
“The Patriot Act is expected to expire, but the terrorist threats will not expire,” he said. “I expect, and the American people expect, the United States Congress and the United States Senate to renew the Patriot Act.”
The London attacks also have prompted a re-evaluation of mass-transit security by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
“He took a look at the situation and said, ‘Let’s enhance our security and infrastructure points,’” Mr. Bush said. “We’re widening the use of explosive detection teams and nearly doubling the number of rail security inspectors.”
The president also defended Mr. Chertoff’s assertion to the Associated Press last week that local communities are responsible for protecting transit systems. City officials in San Francisco and Chicago professed shock that the federal government was not assuming that responsibility.
“Those who are going to be responsible for responding to an attack are at the local level,” Mr. Bush said. “I think that makes sense to say to a mayor, ‘If you’ve got a problem with your mass transit, here’s a grant, and if you feel that’s the best use of the money, use it there.’”
Although the federal government has provided $14 billion since September 11 to train and equip local emergency workers to respond to terrorist attacks, city leaders and some members of Congress insist that job should be handled at the federal level.
“Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, demanded that Mr. Chertoff apologize for putting the onus on local communities.
Mr. Chertoff said he does not want to load the nation’s buses and trains with federal police. He emphasized that the federal government is moving to a risk-based management approach to focus limited federal dollars on the biggest targets.
“A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people,” Mr. Chertoff said. “A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people.
“When you start to think about your priorities, you’re going to think about making sure you don’t have a catastrophic thing first.”
The Bush administration views the federal government’s primary role as the source of funding for local officials.
The federal government has been paying for New York’s mass-transit protection since September 11, 2001, and the Homeland Security Department has provided an additional $2 million per week for transit safety in the wake of the London bombings. The state of New York has received nearly $300 million in grants for terrorism prevention programs, medical response and emergency management since 2002.
California has received more than $280 million for protective equipment and training for first responders. Illinois has received more than $100 million in grants issued from 2002 to 2004.
“We’ve increased federal homeland security funding by more than tenfold for firefighters and police officers and other responders,” Mr. Bush said. “I mean, if we’re asking you to be on the front line, we ought to help you.”