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TB Scare Points Out Homeland Security Shortcomings

Andrew Speaker was a walking disaster waiting to happen, and he walked on and off airplanes, and in and out of the Untied States with relative impunity.

If we can't stop a disease-laden actor who is a known quantity, and who is already in the system, why not?

What does that say about the ability of a terrorist to walk into our country and walk among us spreading disease, and to do so entirely under the radar and outside of the system?

The globe-trotting groom with a highly dangerous strain of tuberculosis whose travels last month caused an international health scare told a Senate panel Wednesday that he had no idea he was contagious.

"I don't want this, and I wouldn't have wanted to give it to someone else," said Andrew Speaker, a 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer now in quarantine at a Denver hospital.

"CDC knew that I had this," he said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "I was repeatedly told I was not contagious, that I was not a threat to anyone."

But even as Speaker testified via telephone before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, House members in another hearing room raised concerns about the potential implications of his case for U.S. security against terrorists.

"We dodged a bullet," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "My question to the administration is: 'When are we going to stop dodging bullets and start protecting Americans?' "

Noting that the Sept. 11 commission had found "a failure of imagination" among intelligence officials and that the 2005 Hurricane Katrina postmortems found "a failure of initiative," Thompson said officials in this case "should have connected more dots."

Officials testifying before both committees outlined an array of failures that several members of Congress said were a wake-up call for a serious bioterrorism incident.

Good grief. This guy was in the system as a known threat to life, and he wasn't stopped. What that says about the holes in our borders is terrifying.

Apparently, the border agent in Champlain, NY who should have stopped Speaker...

"... made the determination that the information was not accurate and determined that he did not look sick," W. Ralph Basham, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, told the House panel.

Basham said the encounter happened about two hours into the agent's eight-hour watch, adding that the issue was not one of resources or training but of bad judgment.

"The failure is inexcusable," Basham said. "This has resulted in an awakening that we need to do a better job."

The ring wing nutcakes harp on profiling, and this guys walks through hoels in our borders because he doesn't look like a shoe bomber.

It's time to stop chasing Republican scarecrow boogeymen and use our heads, which means of course that a wholesale remake of this nation's Homeland Security is due... from the top down.

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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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