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Smarter Security Spending

If the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, last year's Madrid train bombings, and the July 7 transit blasts in London teach us anything, it is that even the unthinkable must be anticipated and planned for. That's why government and private spending on security is skyrocketing (page 30). But just as the targets of global terrorism are evolving, so, too, must security spending priorities be adapted to the changing threat.

For example, most transportation security spending in the U.S. has gone to make air travel safer. The big increase in the screening of passengers and baggage at airports and the electronic reviewing of foreign passenger lists against registries of known terrorists are natural responses to the September 11 attacks. But a recent report by the Brookings Institution points out that 42% of all terrorist attacks worldwide from 1991 to 2001 targeted rail and bus systems. Yet the U.S. has invested roughly $9.16 per daily airline passenger, vs. about 1 cents for each daily public transit rider. So distribution of security spending needs to be rethought.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recognized that when on July 13 he acknowledged the need for more high-tech equipment to protect transit systems, including gear to identify bombs and biohazards. All this preparedness comes at hefty cost. Total U.S. spending on all types of security is estimated to be about $90 billion annually, and the tab will continue to grow as global terrorists focus on "soft targets" that affect people. That will pinch the purses of government and business. But the cost of doing nothing -- and being unprepared for the inevitable next New York, Madrid, or London -- is far greater.

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