WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday the alleged plot in England to blow up U.S-bound airliners spotlights weaknesses in domestic safeguards, and the slow pace of adopting high-tech detection equipment in airports.
Schumer's criticism comes as Republicans and Democrats jockey for a political advantage in the wake of the high-profile arrests last week in London, where authorities say they interrupted a plan to use liquid explosives to take down as many as ten airplanes.
The Democratic senator from New York said the Department of Homeland Security responded quickly to that threat, but has been slow to install Explosive Detection Systems, or EDS, a type of advanced X-ray to detect explosive material.
By one congressional estimate, it will take another 18 years to install EDS widely in U.S. airports. There are currently only 24 airports with the technology, and none are in New York.
The agency, Schumer said in a statement, "tends to be penny wise and pound foolish. There is always a lot of attention when reacting to a known terrorist threat, but we should be looking at investments over the long term."
A DHS spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, New York's other Democratic senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the government had done a number of things right in beefing up airport security, "but not in every way that matters."
Republicans argue the recent arrests show they have a better approach to protecting the United States.
Gov. George Pataki, a Republican eyeing a possible run for president, said at a New Hampshire fundraiser Tuesday that after the arrests, "there were those in the Democratic Party who said, 'Oh, they're blowing it out of proportion, they're making too big a deal out of it, they're trying to raise the issue of terror because it's something that might help them in November."'
"Well, it's something that we should be aware of this November because where there is a difference between the two parties more starkly than anyplace else is when it comes to protecting our freedom."