Obama Administration Focuses on Transporation Security Systems, Vulnerabilities

Two big items in the world of transporation security from the Obama administration -- one having to do with a new system for airport security; the other having to do with ground transportation security systems not working as they need to. The first -- The Obama administration is preparing to brief foreign nations and members of Congress about changes to airline security for passengers flying into the U.S., senior administration officials tell ABC News. As you may recall, after the failed Christmas Day bombing by Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the Transportation Security Administration administered some emergency regulations on Jan. 3 requiring an automatic secondary screening of any passenger from 14 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. That policy no longer will be in effect. "That was a blunt instrument that we used after the attempted attack," a senior administration official tells ABC News. President Obama told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to "make the system more refined, focused and efficient." Instead, officials say, the TSA will use a system based on threat assessments and intelligence for every single person from every country coming into the U.S. 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, patdowns 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, identifable features to look for. The second -- A new report from the Obama administration -- "Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment" -- paints a picture of a security system for surface transportation (subways, trains, highways) in which "a lot of work needs to be done," according to the senior administration official. Read the report HERE .

As a security issue, land transporation doesn't get the attention of air transport, but it is far more of a target for terrorists. Brian Michael Jenkins , a counter-terrorism expert with the Mineta Transporation 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. 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. The report cites Najibullah Zazi’s plans to attack the 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. Then we get the news: The report paints a picture of a national transportation system that is big, sprawling, and not particularly coordinated. The federal government is urged over and over to improve security efforts, making them more efficient. The report states that the transportation system’s coordination among agencies and governments “is not functioning properly. ... Established roles and responsibilities have not been well-communicated and are being disregarded." Amid references to ”inconsistent or duplicative training programs," and “stakeholder confusion” that may “waste resources and undermine stakeholders’ willingness to cooperate," the report issues 20 recommendations. Some of the recommendations, you 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.” -jpt

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