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Random screenings and camouflaged soldiers in airports have not made flying more secure. Sensible proposals long sought by aviation experts--such as requiring carriers to match all bags to passengers on connecting flights--have not been adopted. The congressional mandate to install 2,200 explosive-detection devices in all 429 airports by the end of the year has been scaled down; the new Transportation Security Administration does plan to buy almost 5,000 trace-detection devices. The TSA is having trouble recruiting more than 40,000 new screeners. So far, government-trained screeners have taken up positions in exactly one airport.
Some experts say the U.S.'s haphazard security procedures may only invite terrorists to try their luck. Because airports, carriers and the government haven't yet implemented a methodical system for identifying potential terrorists, everyone from pilots to grandmothers is subject to random screening. In the long run, that can work in the enemy's favor. "The U.S. has the bad guys celebrating this inefficient use of resources," says Lior Zoucker, who heads an aviation-security firm. "Terrorists like a system that treats everyone the same."
The greatest challenge in fighting terrorism is not to prevent terrorists from repeating their last attack but to anticipate where and how they will strike next. U.S. officials have picked up intelligence about threats to targets ranging from the electric-power grid to the water supply. Last week two Muslim men not connected to al-Qaeda were indicted in South Florida for conspiring to blow up two electric-power stations. The Administration dismissed as unreliable a tip that terrorists may be planning to hit a U.S. nuclear plant on July 4. But that was a reminder of the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear facilities. Staged terrorist attacks on commercial power plants succeed about half the time. After 9/11, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered a review of security at the U.S.'s 103 nuclear plants. But the agency has yet to close glaring security holes. On Nov. 7 the government lifted a temporary ban on the use of airspace over nuclear plants, and officials say they don't plan to equip them with antiaircraft weapons, as the French do. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, says, "The agencies responsible...have not increased the security requirements to adequately match the threat we all know exists."
The first lines of defense against terrorism are the country's borders and shores. But the U.S.'s perimeter is long and porous. The government still lacks a system for determining whether immigrants who enter legally overstay their visas, as two 9/11 hijackers did. The Immigration and Naturalization Service's new budget request includes money to hire 570 more border-patrol agents by next year, but experts think the U.S. needs to add at least twice that number. The border-security act that Bush signed last week aims to modernize the country's system of tracking those who want to enter the country. The ins has more than a dozen computer programs for processing visas and green-card applications; it should have just one.