Sunday, December 05, 2004

Bush Downplays Thompson's Terror Worries

Bush Downplays Thompson's Terror Worries

By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) played down on Saturday a stark warning from his resigning health chief that the nation's food supply is largely unprotected from terror attack.

Bush said that the government is doing what it can to safeguard the public from threats, but much work remains.

"We're a large country, with all kinds of avenues where somebody could inflict harm," said Bush, asked about the issue after an Oval Office meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "We've made a lot of progress in protecting our country, and there's more work to be done, and this administration is committed to doing it."

Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a speech Friday announcing his coming departure from the Bush Cabinet that he worries "every single night" about a possible terror attack on the food supply.

Despite dramatic increases in inspections of food imports, only "a very minute amount" of food is tested at ports and airports, Thompson said.

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," Thompson said. "We are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."

Asked to respond to Thompson's comments, Bush neither criticized them nor implied that the food supply is safer than Thompson asserted.

Bush asked for Congress' help to boost domestic security, urging lawmakers to confirm quickly his choice to take over leadership of the Homeland Security Department. On Friday, Bush nominated former New York Police Chief Bernie Kerik to succeed Tom Ridge, who announced his resignation Tuesday from the department created to oversee the nation's protection from attack.

Of Kerik, Bush said, "I hope the Senate confirms him quickly so he can get to work."