Kerry was right in saying that 95 percent of containers entering the United States as well as cargo in commercial airlines aren't inspected. The Sept. 11 commission called that a huge gap in security. But while not manually inspected, every container is electronically inspected and profiled for risk. Furthermore, Bush's 2005 budget calls for a 628 percent increase in port security funding over 2001.
But according to Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, a new classified report by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general says that the current screening system is too weak to stop weapons of mass destruction from entering the country. An unclassified version of that report is expected to be released today.
Despite Kerry's assertion on cargo and commercial airlines, the Transportation Security Administration said Sept. 20 that it would expand the use of explosives detection devices at airports.
The difference between the two candidates on border security is splitting hairs. Both are right. There is better border security now than when Bush was elected. That's in large part to actions after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. For example, the United States is about to start a program that will record virtually every foreign visitor who enters the country.
But Kerry is right that there is more than can be done. The Department of Homeland Security hasn't filled all its slots for border patrol agents. There are wide swaths of the northern and southern borders that aren't secure. The department hasn't moved as quickly as Congress would like to create an air patrol system over the U.S.- Canada border. The department is looking into the feasibility of using advanced biometrics, including the ones mentioned by Kerry.