Home / White House, DHS Spin Chertoff Comments Comparing Aviation, Mass Transit Needs

White House, DHS Spin Chertoff Comments Comparing Aviation, Mass Transit Needs

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Yesterday’s attempted terrorist attack on London mass transit — coming just two weeks after a successful terrorist attack killed 50 — has once again raised the question of what the U.S. is doing to protect its mass transit systems.

Rather than address that, however, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have instead tried to spin comments made July 14 by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The strategy: Chertoff was misunderstood (by everyone). He really does care about the safety of millions nationwide that use mass transit daily.

Chertoff, you may recall, explained to the Associated Press why mass transit security should take a back seat to aviation security: “A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people,” he said, evoking 9/11 imagery. Then, he added words that infuriated urban leaders nationwide: “A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people.”

Why would Chertoff say such a thing? We have to assume he was following some larger Republican gameplan on how to spend Homeland Security dollars, for on the same day, the Republican-controlled Senate nixed two amendments to increase mass transit spending. Since the Madrid train bombing last year, Senate Republicans have now stopped five pieces of legislation regarding mass transit spending, including two proposed by Republicans.


But that brings us to the 24-hour news cycle following yesterday’s attack. Seems some in the media wanted to know if now, after yesterday’s attempted London attack, did Chertoff stand by his inane comments?

And wouldn’t you know it, DHS and the White House, as if coordinating, tried to spin what Chertoff said.

DHS spokeswoman Valerie Smith told The Jersey Journal that the secretary understands the need to provide a well-rounded system of security.

“The Department of Homeland Security is concerned about all risks and vulnerabilities and is at work addressing each of them with the unique solution that each requires,” said Smith, noting that part of Chertoff’s comments were not included in the AP report.

Yes, when the boss says something dumb, blame the media.

What was the missing comments? I’m assuming it wasn’t “Just kidding.” But either the Journal doesn’t ask, or Smith doesn’t say, because the article never follows up on the point. All Smith added to the story was a review of the paltry amount that DHS devotes to mass transit security.
But White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan offered a similar, almost coordinated comment at the July 21 press conference.

After offering the same review of DHS’ paltry spending for mass transit security, there was this exchange:

Q: The Secretary of Homeland Security stirred some controversy, I think it was last week, when he said that the risks are greater from an airplane than from mass transit. Has the second attack in London made people reconsider that perspective?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you ought to look at the full context of his remarks. I think he was talking in the context of the federal responsibility. Aviation security is solely a federal responsibility. The mass transit systems — when you talk about subways and trains and things of that nature, that is a shared responsibility of local, state and federal authorities, and that’s what he was talking about.

Is that what Chertoff said? I don’t think so. McClellan says we didn’t understand the “context” of Chertoff’s comments. But what context do you need? Chertoff makes it clear — an airplane can kill 3,000, a subway can kill 30. Pretty straightforward.

And that’s why Democrats and Republicans have criticized what Chertoff said. “Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, told the AP.

In the wake of yet another terrorist attack on mass transit, the people want answers. Our Republican leadership is giving up spin.


This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.>/a>

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About David R. Mark

  • >>Why would Chertoff say such a thing?<< Ummm, because it's the truth? I know you don't expect or like to hear the truth from members of the administration. Chertoff may be tactless, but he's not wrong. Dave

  • As I pointed out my blog, Chertoff is being incredibly naive. A bomb planted on a subway or train heading into Penn Station would kill hundreds, and if it caused greater damage to the terminal (and Madison Square Garden, which sits above) the deaths could potentially be in the thousands or tens of thousands.

    If a bomber were to strike a train heading into Grand Central Terminal, the deaths could be in the hundreds, if not thousands.

    If a bomber were to strike a train at Hoboken Terminal (near where I work), the death toll could be in the hundreds.

    And even if any of those bombs went off when the trains were out on the tracks (rather than in the terminals) the death tolls could be in the hundreds.

    As I pointed out on my blog, more people use mass transit in the major urban centers — NY, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington — than use airplanes.

    So, no Dave, Chertoff’s comments aren’t all that truthful. They’re inane, which is why they got such a broad bipartisan reaction.

  • Let’s turn EVERYTHING up a notch. You take your bombed train into Penn Station and kill 5000. I take my bombed plane into the Rose Bowl and kill 75,000. The fact remains that a plane is more mobile and has more choice of targets than a train does and therefore can do more damage.


  • And a train is more accessible, because of lax security and open spaces on tracks.

    To suggest that $250M for the entire country’s transit system is sufficient, when a DHS study suggested the cost was $6 billion just to bring it up to snuff, is ludicrous.

    But let’s stay on topic. If Chertoff really believed what he said on July 14, why is his office suggesting otherwise? Why is McClellan suggesting otherwise? Maybe they’re trying to cover up for what became very embarrassing comments?

  • The Duke

    The bomb that blows up Madison square garden, or a whole train going into Penn station would have to be BIG, even with advanced propellents.

    Everyone knows there are holes and every mass transit system. Airplane get the attention, due to their mobility and ability to strike numerous targets.

    Hard targets, meaning buildings, bridges are difficult to move without advanced logistics and capability. The terrorists don’t have that. But they do have access to transit systems, and can blow train cars, buses, park car bombs on busy streets, blow nightclubs and other gathering spots.

    In other words terrorize and harrass the general public. Then slip into hiding.

    In reality it is harrassing techniques in which they excell.

    I think they’re selecting targets or gateways to back up traffic, or people flow, which makes a clog, which affects more people, and creates larger footprints of harrassment.

  • I was just suggesting that Chertoff wasn’t completely goofy to make the statement he did. Obviously we need to anticipate as well as fix past problem areas.

    Personally I think a good portion of any future attacks will follow the established models which are hard to stop, like car bombs and suicide bombs.

    But the ones we really have to look out for are the creative new modes of attack. Personally I’m deeply concerned about the vulnerability of shopping malls.


  • Shark

    A few comments:

    1) Everything this administration says is suspect.

    2) Bush giving $15 billion to the bankrupt airline industry post-9/11 was intended as more stealth corporate welfare than security measures.

    3) We’ll continue to follow one step behind the terrorists; ie. secure the places the terrorists just left. Don’t expect the next wave in the US to be mass transit; as Nalle suggests, it’ll be something new and improved.

    4) As Duke points out, just the potential of a mass transit bombing can shut down an entire economy. How much money was ‘lost’ during those few days in London?

    5) “…To suggest that $250M for the entire country’s transit system is sufficient, when a DHS study suggested the cost was $6 billion just to bring it up to snuff, is ludicrous.”

    Maybe we could finance security improvements on our mass transit systems if we moved them to Iraq; that’s where all the money is going.

    $200 billion and counting.

    6) Thanks, George, you lying motherfucker.

    PS: Dear Iraq invasion supporters, two words:




  • Three words for Shark:

    Blinded by hate.

    When you let your hatred of Bush form opinions for you without thinking about them then you’ve already lost the argument.

    Prove to me how the $200 billion spent in Iraq has NOT made us safer. At the very least it showed that the 9/11 attack would be responded to, and that alone discourages future attacks. No bully wants to pick on a kid who fights back.

    And that’s what terrorists are, bullies. And people like you are the ones who volunteer their lunch money before the bully evena demands it.


  • The problem, of course, is that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. As I heard someone say a while back, it would be like FDR declaring war on Mexico after Pearl Harbor.

    Meanwhile, we can see that Al Qaeda is alive and well. Osama bin Laden is still at large. The Taliban is alive and well in Afghanistan.

    We’ve done very little to make the world safer. And given that Al Qaeda and splinter groups have committed roughly 20 acts of terror since 9/11, vs. roughly 8 before — the majority of which have been committed against Western nations (England, Spain, Turkey, etc.) — one could argue that our “War on Terror” has been unsuccessful thus far, and only complicated by Iraq.

  • Except that we have no idea how much worse it would have been had they been able to fully ride the success of the 9/11 attacks and exploit them for recruiting and increased enthusiasm among their followers to create more mayhem.


  • beg to differ, Mr Nalle…

    the paradigm would have been shifted greatly had our military and intelligence resources not been shifted away from al Qaeda and Osama and Afghanistan and towards Iraq…

    any unbiased military strategist will readily accede that finishing off the Mission in Afghanistan would have caused much greater damage to al Qaeda than anything we have done in Iraq…add the capture/killing of bin Laden into the mix, as well as removing the income from the explosion of the poppy crop in Afghanistan and you have an even greater impact…

    just my one sixth billionths of the world’s opinion

    your mileage may vary


  • It’s hard also to argue that the Iraq War has made the world safer when we’ve just seen terror attacks in London and in Egypt, and another unsuccesfful attempt in London, all within the past three weeks. And let’s not forget the terror attack in Israel — although that’s not tied to Al Qaeda.

    Meanwhile, how many suicide bombs have gone off in Iraq? Didn’t our military just tell us that the U.S.-led coalition in June experienced the worst month in terms of violent attacks since the end of major combat?

  • David, sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. I think of it as being like dealing with coyotes. If you leave them alone then every once in a while they come at night and steal a chicken or two – it’s too difficult time consuming to watch for them, so you just accept the loses. But if you want to actually get rid of them you need to put out bait and then wait for them and shoot them all when they come to take it in a pack.


  • Tell that to the victims’ families, Dave.

    Call me naive, but it’s called homeland security — not wishful thinking.

  • Which victims, David? The Victims of 9/11? The Victims of recent terrorist attacks? The victims who have yet to become victims because maybe we redirected the efforts of terrorists?

    Remember, our policies don’t CREATE terrorists. Even taken as negatively as possible the Iraq War is an opportunity for terrorists and bait to lure them in – it doesn’t make them. The madness has to be in your soul first before you decide that something – be it Iraq or the decadence of Desperate Housewives – drives you to take terrorist action.