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Clinton Seeks $1.1 Billion to Fight Terror

Security: Proposed package includes new screening devices for airline cargo and passengers, plus hiring or transfer of 500 FBI agents.

September 10, 1996|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Monday proposed $1.1 billion in new spending to tighten airline security and fight global terrorism.

The request to Congress ties together a number of long-standing anti-terror initiatives and a list of recommendations from a commission formed in the aftermath of the July 17 explosion of TWA Flight 800 to find ways to make air travel safer.

Among the items in the package are sophisticated new screening devices for airline passengers and cargo and the hiring or transfer of as many as 500 FBI agents to deter and investigate domestic terrorism.

"We know we can't make the world risk-free, but we can reduce the risk we face, and we have to take the fight to the terrorists," Clinton said at an Oval Office ceremony at which he accepted the recommendations of the aviation-safety panel. "If we have the will, we can find the means."

The $1.1-billion package has two primary components--$429 million in spending for aviation security urged by the commission headed by Vice President Al Gore and $667 million in anti-terrorism spending at a variety of federal agencies, from the CIA to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Among the recommended items in the package:

* Purchase of 54 computed tomography systems for screening airline baggage and 25 high-technology machines for detecting explosives ($91.1 million).

* Acquire 410 "trace detectors" for scanning carry-on baggage. These machines can detect minute amounts of explosives on the surfaces of laptop computers, cellular phones and other items ($37.8 million).

* Hire 140 additional U.S. Customs Service inspectors to screen outgoing passengers and cargo ($26.6 million).

* Increase FBI staffing devoted to investigations of potential terrorism and protection of critical U.S. facilities ($91.7 million).

* Fund 114 bomb-sniffing dog teams for use at U.S. airports ($8.9 million).

"We find that in improving aviation security, there is no silver bullet or single magic answer," Gore said during the ceremony. "There is no single technology process or change in procedure which by itself will address the security challenges that we face. So we're presenting a combination of approaches, some high-tech, some low-tech, even some no-tech."

The Gore panel also recommended the immediate imposition of security checks for all airline employees with access to aircraft, baggage and airport security systems. Earlier efforts to require such background checks met resistance from civil liberties groups and failed to win congressional approval.

The anti-terrorism components of the $1.1-billion package are a grab-bag of requests--including $260 million to pay for the relocation of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia to more secure facilities and to protect American military installations elsewhere from terrorist threats.

The Pentagon requested the funds after the June bombing of the Air Force barracks at Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Also included are requested funds for security upgrades at U.S. embassies and missions overseas; additional measures to protect federal museums, parks and monuments; enhanced INS surveillance of smugglers; and expansion of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center and hiring of a "significant" number of spies to gather information on potential terrorists abroad.

Clinton asked Congress to act before it adjourns for the session in October.

"Terrorists don't wait and neither should we," the president said.

White House aides said that most of the funds were being requested in the budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and that the money would have to come from existing defense, intelligence or domestic discretionary spending.

Although the Republican-led Congress is likely to approve previously requested funds for securing U.S. military installations overseas and hiring additional CIA and FBI agents, lawmakers may balk at some of the other requests, arguing that local airport authorities or commercial airlines should pick up more of the cost of flight safety.

Congress is not expected to approve the entire package before its scheduled adjournment, thus handing Clinton a likely public-relations victory just weeks before the presidential election.

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