WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. seaports, energy systems and food and water supplies are vulnerable to terror attacks despite government attempts since the Sept. 11 attacks to improve security, former top government officials and other experts said Friday.
If the country does not deal urgently with its security shortcomings, the panel warned, the next attack could result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to daily life and the economy.
The panel's report said the need for action was made more pressing "by the prospect that the United States might go to war with Iraq and that Saddam Hussein might threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction" in the United States.
"America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil," said the task force, chaired by former Sens. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and Gary Hart, D-Colo.
"The more we move to tighten up on external threats, the higher the risk becomes at home," Hart said at a news conference presenting the report. "We have to face up to that threat."
Rudman said legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, which is stalled in Congress, should pass without delay.
According to the report, the nation's 650,000 local and state police "operate in a virtual intelligence vacuum," without access to the State Department's terrorist watch list.
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