Mass Transportation Security Mess: Report Details Chilling Inefficiencies

The Obama administration announces new security measures for air travel.

ByABC News via logo
April 1, 2010, 9:01 PM

April 2, 2010— -- As the Obama administration today announced new security measures for U.S.-bound flights, a new study of the nation's ground transportation system shows some alarming vulnerabilities.

The administration's report paints a gloomy picture of the nation's ground transportation system -- trains, highways, subways, and reached the unnerving conclusion that security among the various agencies, government bodies and transportation systems is "inefficient" and "poorly coordinated."

"A lot of work needs to be done," a senior administration official told ABC News.

More than eight years after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks, coordination among agencies and governments when it comes to threats and data to ground transportation systems "is not functioning properly" and "established roles and responsibilities have not been well communicated and are being disregarded," the "Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment" report warns.

The report comes just days after Moscow's subway system became the subject of a deadly suicide bombing, and it could have significant ramifications for the U.S. ground transportation infrastructure.

As a security issue, land transportation doesn't get the same attention as air transport and no one agency takes responsibility, but experts say it is far more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than airplanes and airports.

Brian Michael Jenkins, a counter-terrorism expert with the Mineta Transportation Institute, says available data indicates since 9/11, there have been 125 deaths from eight aviation-related attacks, outside of war zones. During that same period of time, terrorists have staged almost 700 attacks on surface transportation systems -- such as London, or Madrid -- killing 2,500 people and causing almost 10,000 injuries.

Terrorists have targeted surface transportation around the world "20 times as often as they've attacked airplanes," said ABC News consultant and former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke. They are "much harder to protect than airplanes, which is why terrorists attack them more."

It's easy to see why, the senior administration official says. These are far more accessible areas where people congregate, have bags, and are in enclosed spaces.

Experts say the Transportation Security Administration, states and cities are not doing enough to address these threats. Per the report, no one single agency is taking the lead on all "security risk-related information on transportation systems and assets."

"Surface transportation has not received the same attention, the same priority and the same resources as aviation security," Jenkins said.

In fact, states and cities often point to each other for responsibility.

"It's very vulnerable and we're not doing enough," Clarke said on "Good Morning America." In New York City, for example, there are 4,000 cameras in subways, "but we recently discovered about half of them don't work because there's not enough money to do the maintenance to have them working properly."

"There's a fight between states and cities that run the subways and federal government, and they're pointing to each other as to who's in charge," he added.

The report cites Najibullah Zazi's plans to attack New York City subways as just the most recent evidence that "the nation's transportation network" is "at elevated risk of attack," and has been for the past decade. The review urges federal government over and over to improve security efforts and make them more efficient.

Amidst references to "inconsistent or duplicative training programs," and "stakeholder confusion" which may "waste resources and undermine stakeholders' willingness to cooperate," the report issues 20 recommendations.

Some of the recommendations Americans may be surprised to learn haven't already been implemented years ago, such as the fact that there isn't one single agency taking the lead on all "federally obtained security risk-related information on transportation systems and assets."

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced new air travel security measures, making a shift from requiring additional screening for passengers from 14 countries to replacing it with a system based on threats assessment and intelligence.

"These new measures utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats," Napolitano said in a statement, adding that the measures are "part of a dynamic, threat-based aviation security system covering all passengers traveling by air to the United States while focusing security measures in a more effective and efficient manner to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public."