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By Our Correspondent Philippe Gélie
Jule 9, 2005
Le Figaro - Home Page (French)
Washington: A railway bridge with one side facing toward southeast Washington [D.C.] causes the greatest anxiety for counter-terrorist specialists. Overhanging a little-frequented street just steps from the Capitol, it sees the daily passage, in plain sight, of railcars carrying dangerous chemical material.
It would be enough to blow up the bridge at the correct time with a booby-trapped truck to endanger the lives of 100,000 people in less than an hour, with the elected officials in Congress and the judges of the Supreme Court on the front lines. This catastrophic scenario motivated Democratic Senator Joseph Biden to propose a bill to prohibit the transit of highly toxic products in the downtown area. It is just the latest in a long series of warnings in regard to the weak points in the American security system: failings that are so exposed that they are likely to give ideas to the terrorists.
The attacks on London caused more than a sincere outburst of sympathy in
While admitting the difficulty of making
225,000 kilometers [140,000 miles] of roadways entirely safe, Americans had
other reasons for being startled by the events in London. Prior to the London attacks their intelligence services once again predicted
nothing. The FBI and the CIA were feverishly plunging into their files yesterday
to try and find any trace, alarm, or information that may have escaped them.
In particular, the
Since the 2001 attacks, $18 billion has been injected into air safety, compared to hardly $250 million on surface transport. This year alone, 90% of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) budget of $5.5 billion is earmarked for reinforcing the safety of aircraft and airports, while about $100 million is planned for railway infrastructure.
People responsible for the rails, however,
evaluate the needed funding at $6 billion. Senator Biden, again, proposed a
law to immediately multiply the budget by twelve, to $1.2 billion. With 26 million
passengers per day, trains and subways in the
The concern of American experts doesn’t stop there. Up to now, at 103 nuclear plants around the country in 64 locations, hardly a billion dollars has been invested in safety. A scientific report published last month suggests that of the information processing systems which control electrical supply networks, water purification and distribution systems, dams and refineries are all extremely vulnerable. The Environmental Protection Agency identified 123 chemical complexes in 24 States that constitute a potential threat. Part of New Jersey, the area between Newark and Port Elizabeth, was declared, “the most dangerous place in the country," with 12 million inhabitants within range of 100 potential targets.
Ports also appear to be among the weak links. According to a Congressional investigation, less than 11% of the 4,357 importers are certified by American customs as "secure." As for the checking that is carried out in collaboration with 36 foreign ports, only 18% of containers categorized as "high-risk" ever get inspected.
In Washington [D.C.], after municipal authorities issued a decree against the rail transport of dangerous chemicals, the railway company, supported by the Bush Administration, had the measure reversed by the Justice Department.