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Once intelligence has been collected, analyzed and shared, it must be acted on--used to set priorities and bolster defenses. The government knows it can't wait. In the past six months, billions have already gone toward reinforcing cockpit doors, tightening the airline baggage-screening process and hiring 28,000 new federal employees at airports to replace the private security firms that let al-Qaeda through on Sept. 11. In October the Administration created a new Office of Homeland Security to deal exclusively with the job of preparing the country for future terrorist threats. Since he took the job of Homeland Security czar, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has had some rough sledding; Bush gave him no authority over Cabinet members or agencies, which means he lacks the clout to win crucial bureaucratic fights. But Ridge has shown his skill in the Washington art of writing checks. The Administration's $38 billion homeland-security budget proposes a $380 million system to track the entry and exit of noncitizens and gives $282 million to the Coast Guard for protecting ports and coastal areas. This week, sources tell TIME, Ridge's office plans to announce a new color-coded alert system to warn local law enforcement and the public about threats within U.S. borders. Even the military is setting up a new bureaucracy, the U.S. Northern Command, dedicated to defending the homeland. By Oct. 1 the military hopes to put a four-star general in charge of a standing domestic military force devoted to flying combat air patrols, guarding the borders and responding to attacks on U.S. soil.
Terrorists aren't likely to be deterred. There's plenty of intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives want to bring down more airliners--witness Richard Reid--and the government is still trying to get serious about stopping them. As recently as last month, Transportation Department investigators succeeded in slipping weapons and explosives past screening personnel and onto an aircraft at Miami International Airport.
Thanks to the new airport-security bill passed in Congress last November, airline security has been taken out of the hands of the FAA and given to the newly created federal Transportation Security Administration. But many of the changes that were supposed to be carried out by the TSA either haven't been implemented or have been killed by compromise. Federal baggage screeners are in place at only 15 of the country's 429 airports, and the TSA has not yet bought the 2,000 large detection devices it aims to have operating within nine months to inspect checked baggage for explosives. Airlines still aren't required to match bags to passengers on every plane; on some aircraft, the improvements to cockpit doors amount to nothing but "a silly little bar," in the words of one pilot. "It's easy to imagine hundreds of horrific possibilities," says TSA deputy head Steven McHale. "We can become paralyzed if we start thinking about all possible threats."