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.
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."
Obama Administration to Implement New Air Travel Security Measures
After Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab unsuccessfully attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas day, President Obama introduced what one White House adviser called a "blunt investment," screening passengers from countries considered either "state sponsors of terror" or "countries of interest": Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
"The new layer will add measures that utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence and will apply to all flights entering the United States," a senior administration official told ABC News. "To more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats, these measures utilize multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen and are tailored to intelligence about potential threats."
Under the new measures, every passenger from every country traveling to the United States will be subjected to additional screening "if they match current, intelligence-driven and threat-based characteristics." Homeland security will implement new technology such as explosives trace detection, advanced imaging and accelerate other traditional methods of searching, such canine teams, or pat downs, among other security measures.
The changes are a result of the review Obama ordered after the Christmas day incident.
Whereas the "no-fly" and "selectee" watch lists are name-based, this system -- which will augment those systems -- is intelligence-based.
"When we have partial information -- partial descriptions, names -- that can be put into the system" and sent to airports and airlines, where individuals fitting those descriptions will be subjected to secondary screening, pat downs, and more rigorous screening, the official says. Officials who work for carriers that fly into the U.S. will be given not only names but descriptions, stamps on passports, identifiable features to look for.
This focus comes one week after the president's second nominee to be TSA administrator, Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, withdrew his name from consideration amidst questions about his professional dealings as a defense contractor.
The president's first nominee, Erroll G. Southers, withdrew his name from consideration in January 2010 after lawmakers asked about a background check Southers conducted on his ex-wife's boyfriend 20 years ago when he was an FBI agent.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the president continues to have confidence in the acting administrator of the TSA, Gale Rossides, thanking her and the myriad professionals at the agency for their service.