Bush signs 9/11 bill

President George W. Bush on Friday signed legislation implementing key counter-terrorism recommendations that emerged from the independent probe into the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The measure requires the introduction of a system to screen all cargo loaded onto passenger jets within three years, improves airport and port security, and hands out grants to protect against terror strikes to US cities based on risk.

“This legislation builds upon the considerable progress we have made in strengthening our defenses and protecting Americans since the attacks of September 11, 2001,” Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

The Democrat-led Senate led the way by passing the bill by 85 votes to eight on Thursday night, and the House of Representatives followed suit on Friday, by 371 votes to 40.

The bill’s other provisions include 100 percent screening within five years of maritime cargo before it is loaded on ships in foreign ports bound for the United States.

The measure also calls for:

– greater distribution of homeland security grants for states and high-risk urban areas based on risk of terrorism, while still ensuring that all states have funds available for basic preparedness.

– stronger security measures for the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from select countries to visit the US without a visa, through creation of a new Electronic Travel Authorization system and improved reporting of lost and stolen passports.

– more than 4 billion dollars (2.9 billion euros) over four years for rail, transit, and bus security grants.

– 250 million dollars annually for airport checkpoint screening, 450 million annually for baggage screening, and 50 million annually for the next four years for aviation security research and development.

– a dedicated grant program to improve interoperability at local, state, and federal levels.

“Senate Democrats are continuing to make America safer after years of Congressional and administration inaction,” said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

“This bill is long overdue. With our intelligence experts saying Al-Qaeda is at its strongest since 9/11, there is no time to waste,” he said.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to the relatives of the nearly 3,000 people killed on the airborne terror strikes on New York and Washington in 2001 for the way they had forced change.

“We could not have accomplished this without the courage and determination of those whose loved ones were lost on September 11,” she said.

“The families of 9/11 turned their grief into strength and advocacy, and that made America safer.

“Implementing the recommendations will fundamentally change the way the president and the Congress deal with matters related to terrorism — making us more unified and more effective.”