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Published: Saturday, 2/7/2004

Security shortcomings

ONE truth apparent in the aftermath of 9/11 is that we still have no seamless national security system. Not that such a system would guarantee safety; our country is too large, its people too diverse, and its borders too porous. Nonetheless, progress should be better.

Consider that we had terrorist concerns canceling airline flights from Europe and to the Super Bowl on the one hand; but, on the other, illegal immigrants from other countries are being released in the United States after being stopped because the Department of Homeland Security can't afford to rent local jail cells for them.

Also, on the one hand, we have Attorney General John Ashcroft looking to further restrict constitutional guarantees in the name of national security; while on the other we have a budget proposal from the President that cuts money to state and local law-enforcement agencies whose mandates have been expanded in the name of terrorism preparedness. If that weren't bad enough, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, responsible for getting anti-terrorism grants to state and local governments, is to be cut $800 million.

Not to worry. The Washington spin is it won't matter because police and fire departments have already been given a lot of anti- terrorism assistance since 9/11. Besides, large cities where a terrorist could possibly wreak more damage, are now the Homeland Security Department's financial focal points.

Despite the fact that intelligence agencies are now taking the rap of Mr. Bush's wish to avenge Saddam Hussein's assassination attempt on his dad, and the chilling energy aspirations of their coterie, well documented in Kevin Phillips new book, American Dynasty, our purveyors of foreign intelligence do have their moments. There is no apparent reason to doubt the validity, say, of the recent spate of flight cancellations.

But there is reason to be critical of a national security policy that is as inconsistent as the one we have, one that appears jury-rigged rather than planned, one in which there seems to be no general oversight. The Congress needs to exert more control and direction over this administration, whose flim-flam-afflicted leader seems unable to level with citizens.

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