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Sunday, January 31, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Transportation Security

John Frittelli, Coordinator
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The nation's air, land, and marine transportation systems are designed for accessibility and efficiency, two characteristics that make them vulnerable to attack. The difficulty and cost of protecting the transportation sector from attack raises a core question for policymakers: how much effort and resources should be dedicated to protecting potential targets versus pursuing and fighting terrorists? While hardening the transportation sector from terrorist attack is difficult, measures can be taken to deter terrorists. The policy problem for Congress is how best to construct and finance a system of deterrence, protection, and response that effectively reduces the possibility and consequences of another terrorist attack without unduly interfering with travel, commerce, and civil liberties. 

For all modes of transportation, one can identify four principle policy objectives that would support a system of deterrence and protection: (1) ensuring the trustworthiness of the passengers and the cargo flowing through the system, (2) ensuring the trustworthiness of the transportation workers who operate and service the vehicles, assist the passengers, or handle the cargo, (3) ensuring the trustworthiness of the private companies that operate in the system, such as the carriers, shippers, agents, and brokers, and (4) establishing a perimeter of security around transportation facilities and vehicles in operation. The first three policy objectives are concerned with preventing an attack from within a transportation system, such as occurred on September 11, 2001. The concern is that attackers could once again disguise themselves as legitimate passengers (or shippers or workers) to get in position to launch an attack. The fourth policy objective is concerned with preventing an attack from outside a transportation system. For instance, terrorists could ram a bomb-laden speed boat into an oil tanker, as they did in October 2002 to the French oil tanker Limberg, or they could fire a shoulder-fired missile at an airplane taking off or landing, as they attempted in November 2002 against an Israeli charter jet in Mombasa, Kenya. Achieving all four of these objectives is difficult, at best, and in some modes, is practically impossible. Where limited options exist for preventing an attack, policymakers are left with evaluating options for minimizing the consequences from an attack. 

Date of Report: January 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: IS40401
Price: $7.95

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