Bush Asks States to Help Secure Airports
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
President Bush wants the states to help secure the nation's airports as part of his plan to aid the struggling airline and reassure Americans it's safe to fly again.
Speaking at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the nation's busiest, Bush Thursday called on the governors to deploy up to 4,000 National Guard military police at federal expense to bolster airport security. He said the MPs would man checkpoints to help identify people, screen vehicles and look for suspicious baggage.
Several governors have already taken that step. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack called up guard troops earlier this week to take over security from private police at the Des Moines airport. The Iowa MPs are now manning airport entrances and parking garages
Bush also said the federal government would establish a $500 million fund Oct. 1 to help the airlines make security modifications to their fleets, such as adding stronger cockpit doors and video monitoring systems.
At the same time, he said, the Federal Aviation Administration will be working with the airlines to develop better technology to track flights and even help controllers on the ground land a plane by remote control if necessary.
Bush's plan stops short of a federal takeover of the airports, but he said the government would take responsibility for overseeing baggage screening by contract workers and training for private security officers and police. He also noted that the expanded and newly invigorated sky marshal program would be handled by the FAA as well.
"Get on the airlines. Get about the business of America," Bush said, speaking to a large crowd outside an Illinois Air National Guard hangar.
Bush's announcement came as his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and other state leaders took steps to strengthen their own anti-terrorism efforts. Florida legislative leaders have appointed a special Select Committee on Terrorism that was to begin meeting in secret this week. But Gov. Bush may add a special anti-terrorism coordinator to his office, a move that would mirror Missouri Gov. Bob Holden's appointment Wednesday of a special Cabinet-level adviser on home security.
Nearly every governor has appointed a task force to review emergency preparedness and to make recommendations about what can be done to prevent terrorist attacks. The state chief executives are turning to former military experts on terrorism, emergency management personnel and high-ranking state officials to lead their efforts. Ohio Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor was appointed by Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday as the state's anti-terrorism czar. The former prosecutor will head up a task force that will try to identify and respond to potential terrorist activities.
The creation of the state-level anti-terrorism entities may signal a dramatic change in federal policy regarding the sharing of intelligence data with the states. Governors have long-complained that federal officials are often reluctant to share information on terrorism-related investigations. But Ohio's O'Connor said the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is forcing needed changes in the federal-state law enforcement partnership.
"In the past, the intelligence work on terrorism was left to the federal government, with the CIA and the FBI," O'Connor told the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this week. "Now, there is coordination, with the federal, state and local governments working together to investigate all the issues that are quickly presenting themselves."
On Thursday, there were signs all across the country of that new partnership:
- The U.S. Department of Transportation asked state troopers across the country to begin stopping all trucks bearing hazardous material warnings to check drivers' licenses and hauling permits. The move came after FBI agents discovered that terrorists cells operating in the U.S. may be planning to use chemical agents or other hazardous materials in another attack.
- Michigan, Kansas and other states are also helping federal officials run identity checks on all drivers permitted to haul hazardous materials and those who have applied for licenses. The states are also reviewing their permit rules in anticipation of tightening restrictions on shipments of dangerous materials that could be fashioned into terrorist weapons such as bombs or chemical agents.
- Florida and other states are beginning to implement new regulations on crop duster flights as well following reports that terrorists may have been trying to acquire a plane used to spray insecticides and other chemicals on crops. The Florida Department of Agriculture is now requiring all 150 of the state's licensed agriculture pilots to file flight plans. The pilots will be asked from now on to identify their planes and the kind of chemicals they will be spraying from the air before takeoff.