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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Not-My-Problem 

If it costs a billion and change a week to bring "democracy" to Iraq, the Bush administration is of course good for it. If, on the other hand, you're hoping to fortify American commuter trains, buses and subways against a London-style terror attack, we can only recommend you hold a bake sale:
The government must focus on preventing airline hijackings and other terror threats that could inflict mass casualties, and is limited in the help it can give cities and states to protect trains and buses, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday . . . .

With finite resources and a looming range of threats, Chertoff said the federal government is forced to set priorities to prevent attacks that would produce the highest number of casualties. In the interview with AP reporters and editors, Chertoff noted that mass transit systems are largely regulated by state and local authorities that he said should provide the bulk of security measures.

By contrast, he said, the commercial aviation system is "almost exclusively a federal responsibility" and demands extensive funding . . . .

The remarks touched off criticism among Democrats as the Senate debated a $31.8 billion Homeland Security Department spending measure for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Senators rejected a plan to spend $1.16 billion on mass transit security measures, favoring instead a competing $200 million proposal.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Chertoff's statements "just make one's jaw drop," and he demanded an apology. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., who has described Chertoff as a friend, said he hoped the secretary would reconsider whether "funding for rail and transit security is a lower priority for the federal government."

"It certainly isn't a lower priority on the terrorists' minds," Corzine said. "It wasn't in Madrid. It wasn't in Moscow. And certainly and unfortunately was not in London most recently."

Confronted later in the day at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Chertoff sought to clarify his remarks by saying the government has "an equal responsibility to protect Americans across the board."

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