WASHINGTON – Tougher airport screening, stable leadership at the Department of Homeland Security and better federal research into new terror threats are just some of the challenges cited Sunday by a top member of Congress and security experts.
The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Rep. Peter King , R-N.Y., said additional layers of security at U.S. airports are needed and more emphasis must be placed on training security screeners to spot suspicious people, even if that means looking at their race and nationality.
"The fact is the overwhelming odds are that it is going to be someone of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and of the Muslim faith. And I think a screener should be allowed to factor that in as one of many factors. Like if we were told that the Ku Klux Klan was going to attack Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant, I think we'd spend more time looking more closely at whites than we would at African-Americans," King told 'FOX News Sunday.'
It's a challenging job, King admits. About 746 million people fly in the United States each year aboard 11 million flights.
"There's another place where DHS has to do a better job, and that's getting the terrorist screening list more up to date so that we'll have a better idea in advance who's coming in who's not and also better background on the people," he said.
Rand Beers, a former counterterrorism adviser to President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said hiring and retaining a dedicated staff, not developing the latest technology, must be the priority in the fight to secure the homeland.
"The turnover at DHS is extremely troubling to me, the fact reported in the paper today that we have now the fourth person to head the Science and Technology Directorate in three years, represents, I think, a serious indication that we haven't gotten the management at the top right yet," he said.
The former chief of airport security in Israel, which has very intense airport screening, said that U.S. airport security have made a mistake by focusing too much on trying to find weapons instead of trying to find terrorists.
"In order to find the weapon, you need to invest tremendous amount of resources, both in terms of time as well as in other terms, which is impossible to do for 100 percent of the passengers. So you need to develop a tool that will allow you to focus on a very small number of people that you want to spend a lot of time on before you allow them to fly," Rafi Ron said.
This year, DHS tried, but failed, to cut $6 million from research into explosives. Still, King said the nation is at least a year away from having the technology to detect liquid explosives that passengers may attempt to bring on board flights.
That, and other issues, will be the focus of a congressional hearing next month.