Homeland security under Bush rates code red

Published October 20, 2004 8:45PM (EDT)

The Washington-based nonprofit group Public Citizen has a new report out this week assessing the state of homeland security under the Bush administration. A look at its contents is far more frightening than the hyperbolic rhetoric of any Dick Cheney speech on terrorism. The report, "Homeland Unsecured" finds that three years after the 9/11 attacks, Bush administration policies -- including its coddling of allies in big business -- have left the nation's ports, chemical and nuclear plants, hazardous materials transport, and water systems plenty vulnerable to a potential terrorist strike.

"The Bush administration has consistently ignored or opposed commonsense measures to protect Americans from potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks -- an inaction that reflects officials' aversion to regulating private industry and allegiance to key campaign contributors," the report concludes. "The Bush administration has failed to harden our defenses against terrorism and secure the most vulnerable, high-impact targets."

"'Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush has made protection of the American people from terrorism the rhetorical centerpiece of his presidency,' said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. 'Yet this administration has failed to use its executive powers or support legislation to mandate regulatory requirements that should be taken. Bush has abdicated his responsibility to protect America from the risk of terrorist attacks because he is fundamentally hostile to regulation of private industry, including the industries analyzed in this report, and is loath to cross his big money campaign contributors.'

The report further notes that 85 percent of the nations critical infrastructure is controlled by the private sector. Here are a few of the specific and alarming details:

Nuclear plants
"Twenty-seven state attorneys generals warned Congress in October 2002 that the consequences of a catastrophic attack against one of the countrys 103 nuclear power plants 'are simply incalculable.' The plants were not designed to withstand the impact of aircraft crashes or explosive forces, and the government does not require nuclear plants to be secure from an aircraft attack. Radioactive waste is stored in standing pools or dry casks, making it vulnerable, and the plants have grossly inadequate security. But the Bush administration and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have resisted congressional efforts for additional security regulation. In fact, the NRC proposed weakening fire safety regulations, which would make it harder for a reactor to be safely shut down in the event of a terrorist attack."

Drinking water systems
"Few acts of sabotage against the public could be more insidious than delivering poison into a familys home through tap water. The water distribution network -- the pumping stations, storage tanks and pipes that might cover thousands of miles within a metropolitan area -- provides countless opportunities to introduce biological, chemical or radiological contaminants. But there is no funding mechanism for the federal government to provide direct grants to cities to upgrade water security, and the private water utility industrys campaign to take over public water systems is getting a push from the Bush administration. This could make securing our water supply even more difficult because private water companies, like chemical companies, nuclear power companies and other industries, will resist strong security standards mandated by the government."

During his final debate against John Kerry on Oct. 13, President Bush intoned, "At home, we'll do everything we can to protect the homeland. I signed the homeland security bill to better align our assets and resources... We're doing everything we can to protect our borders and ports."

Examine the full report from Public Citizen and you'll get a chillingly clear view of what "doing everything we can" really means under the current administration.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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