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Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism
ing as key nodes in networks and corridors that handle the movement of large volumes of people, goods, and services, including military transports. Moreover, transportation systems are international in scope and intertwined in economic and social activities. For instance, a few seaports handle a major share of the goods moved in international trade, and commuter and rapid rail transit systems are the circulatory systems of urban environments, critical to the functioning of some of the country’s largest cities. Hence disruptions to these systems can have potentially far-reaching and long-lasting economic and social effects.
To be sure, transport vehicles and containers can be tempting weapons in and of themselves, as most vehicles are powered by flammable fuels and some carry bulk shipments of extremely hazardous chemicals. By their very nature, they are highly mobile and thus capable of being used to access a range of targets quickly. And they are ubiquitous, moving unnoticed within industrial locations and major population centers and across borders. Their mobility, range, and omnipresence make transportation vehicles a ready means of delivering terrorist weapons, from conventional explosives to unconventional chemical, biological, and radiological agents. And in the case of mail and express package services, the weapons could be carried into nearly every household, business, and government office in the country.
In the following sections, the committee describes the characteristics of transportation systems, security systems that take these characteristics into account, and the kinds of research that will be required to support the development and deployment of such security systems. After the September 11 attacks, President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security. Congress soon afterward passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which established an Under Secretary for Transportation Security and a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) within the Department of Transportation.2 Civil aviation security had previously been overseen and regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but operational and financial responsibilities rested with the private airlines and the airports owned by state and local governments. Security in other modes of land and maritime transportation had been, and largely remains today, the responsibility of state and local law enforcement authorities, the many public and private entities that own and operate the transport systems, and various federal agencies responsible for port and border security. The committee urges the new TSA to take the lead in identifying coherent security systems for each mode of transportation, to work with the private and public sectors in this country and abroad in deploying these systems, and to further the development of supporting expertise and technologies.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-71) was signed by President Bush on November 19, 2001.