Are We Safer Now?

The Early Show, Tom Ridge
CBS/The Early Show
Since the Sept. 11 attacks Congress has created the Department of Homeland Security to focus on combining law enforcement agencies, intelligence, emergency management services, and air and transportation safety.

But,according to a CBS News poll, only 20 percent of Americans feel safer now than two years ago. Another 53 percent feel about as safe as they did two years ago, and 26 percent feel less safe today.

But Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler Americans are much safer today.

"There are men and women who started to work about 12 hours ago in ports over in the Far East," he said, "and six hours ago (in Europe) to begin the protection we put around our ports - we're going to have 50,000 employees go to the airports today."

Comparing security to the way it was two years ago, he said, "From the curb to the cockpit, we are a lot better off. We have more people at the borders, using more technology, better information sharing. So we're safer now, but that doesn't mean we don't have a journey to continue on. But we're considerably safer today than we were on Sept. 11 2001."

Asked about the young man who this week shipped himself in a crate from New York to Dallas, Ridge said, "Our primary concern for the past two years since Sept. 11 has been those who fly commercially and we've done quite a bit of work there. This individual who flew in a cargo plane highlights some challenges we have with the cargo, but we know one thing for sure, it's very unlikely he would have been able to get in that crate and flown commercially."

He said his agency is working with cargo airlines to ensure that there's enhanced safety and "protection from that kind of incident ever happening again."

Two months after the 2001 attacks, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration to protect aviation, shipping and transit. The agency was given dozens of deadlines, mostly dealing with air travel. Many of the deadlines were met, including those for the hiring of passenger and baggage screeners, checking of all bags for explosives and requiring background checks for airport workers.

But it could still cost hundreds of billions of dollars to secure the country's transportation network - 3.9 million miles of roads, 600,000 bridges, 361 ports and more than 5,000 public-use airports.

Today, for the Sept. 11 anniversary, the Homeland Security Advisory System is at yellow. That has not changed despite a new tape, which surfaced Wednesday, Sept. 10, showing Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant vowing more terror attacks.

Ridge explained, "The National Threat Warning System has us at an elevated level of risk. It is a new system where we alert the law enforcement community and we tell the general public, today, that we are still at a high level of risk to potential terrorist attack."

As for the tape, he said that is not news for him. He added, "We had had audiotapes and videotapes allegedly from bin Laden and we continually get those, but that is really not news. We know that America is their primary target and they know every single day, we're doing everything we can to not only prevent their attacks, but reduce our vulnerability in this country to their carnage and death and their destruction and their hate."

Asked about his budget, which is $32 million compared to the $87 billion the president wants to continue the war on terror, Ridge said, "The Department of Homeland Security and America has been given more money, with the exception of the Department Of Defense, over the past two years than any other agency in the government.

"We'll get more money if Congress quickly passes the '04 budget. Every year, as we set priorities and make requests of this president, this administration, this Congress, they've responded so that we can provide a more secure and safer America."