Ex-DHS watchdog: Random searches, more cameras needed to protect mass transit

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The Homeland Security Department’s former chief watchdog says the government needs to do more to protect mass transit in the United States from the sort of terror attacks that occurred earlier this week on Moscow’s subway system.

Clark Kent Ervin, who served as the department’s first inspector general in 2003 and 2004, told the Center for Public Integrity it is impossible to fortify U.S. mass transit in the way airline travel has been secured. But protective measures like random bag searches, widespread monitoring cameras and bomb detection dogs should be regularly used at mass transit across the country, he said.

Right now, mass transit authorities take some of those actions during periods of high threats but can’t afford to do it regularly. And the federal government has been reluctant to pick up the tab, said Ervin, now the director of homeland security at The Aspen Institute think tank.

“I’ve long been concerned that, despite the occasional foreign incidents (London, Madrid, Mumbai, now Moscow again), we’ve not focused nearly as much money and attention on mass transit security as we should,” Ervin wrote in emailed answers to questions from the Center.

“We can’t replicate the measures in the aviation sector, but, the steps taken after incidents (increased police presence; a greater deployment of bomb-sniffing dogs and technology; the greater use of surveillance cameras, both as a deterrent and a post-attack forensic tool; and, in certain places like NYC, even random bag searches) ought to be institutionalized and regularized,” he said. “Otherwise, terrorists will just wait out the authorities and strike when these measures are relaxed or done away with altogether.

The Center reported Monday that despite more than $1 billion in recent aid from the Homeland Security Department, many mass transit agencies across the country have been slow to adopt anti-terror protections for subway systems, buses, and rail, and are only now starting to address potential threats.

In New York, for instance, a high-profile effort to install electronic monitoring throughout subway tunnels and stations is significantly behind schedule, well over budget and tied up in litigation.

Ervin said the Homeland Security Department has been “loath” to cover local transit authority’s added costs for increased patrols, detection and prevention.

“The Obama administration has, commendably, been more open to this than the Bush administration, and I think they need to fund still more of it,” he said.

“Any terror attack inside the United States is necessarily an attack on a given city or town in a given state. And, an attack anywhere in America would have some effect on all of America. Therefore, the nation as a whole should pick up the tab for necessary and prudent security measures in those cities most likely to be attacked,” he said.cpikftag

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