Congress backs new 'anti-terror' laws

Congress approved new laws to step up anti-terror efforts in the US, shifting money to high-risk states and cities and expanding screening of air and sea cargo.

Congress approved new laws to step up anti-terror efforts in the US, shifting money to high-risk states and cities and expanding screening of air and sea cargo.

The measure carries out the major recommendations of the September 11 Commission.

The Bill, passed by the House on a 371-40 vote, ranks among the top accomplishments of the six-month-old Democratic Congress. The Senate approved the measure on Thursday by 85-8.

The White House said President George Bush would sign the Bill.

Six years after the September 11 2001 airline terror attacks and three years after the September 11 Commission made its recommendations, “Congress is finally embracing what the 9/11 families have been saying all along”, said Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat.

“It takes a willingness to do things a different way.”

The Bill elevates the importance of risk factors in determining which states and cities get government security money and puts money into a new programme to assure that security officials at every level can communicate with each other.

It would require screening of all cargo on passenger planes within three years and sets a five-year goal of scanning all container ships for nuclear devices before they leave foreign ports.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joe Lieberman, an independent who steered the legislation through the Senate with Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, said it would “make our nation stronger, our cities and towns more secure and our families safer”.

Republicans generally backed the Bill while stressing their own administration’s success in stopping another major terrorist attack. The Bill, said Rep Peter King, top Republican on the Homeland Security panel, “is another step in the right direction building on the steps of the previous five and a half years.”

“These efforts build upon the considerable progress we’ve made over the past six years,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Completion of the Bill, six months after the House passed its original version on the first day of the current Congress, was a major victory for Democrats who have seen some of their other priorities – immigration and energy reform and stem cell research funding – thwarted by Republican and presidential resistance and House-Senate differences.

The independent September 11 Commission issued 41 recommendations in 2004 covering domestic security, intelligence gathering and foreign policy. Congress and the White House followed through on some, including creating a director of national intelligence, tightening land border screening and cracking down on terrorist financing.

Democrats, after taking over control of Congress, promised to make completing the list a top priority.

Former Rep Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, the vice chairman of the September 11 Commission, said with enactment of the Bill some 80% of the panel’s recommendations will have been met.

“The bottom line is that the American people will be safer,” he said.

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