The nation’s homeland security chief urged Congress on Friday to approve plans to better protect seaports and chemical plants from terrorists _ or risk another attack on the scale of 9/11.

In a speech outlining public protections the government has taken since Sept. 11, 2001, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also rebuked critics who have resisted stepped-up safeguards that might be costly or inconvenient.

"That kind of backsliding runs directly contrary to the lessons of 9/11," Chertoff told an audience of hundreds at Georgetown University. He was referring to critics, including lawmakers, of plans to require tamper-resistant driver’s licenses and border-crossing cards that some consider too costly.

"If we had it five years ago, there would not have been a 9/11," Chertoff said, noting that nearly all the 9/11 hijackers had fake ID cards. "God help us if we don’t take the steps to put into place as soon as we can to prevent another 9/11."

Approving tougher security measures at ports would "be a fitting tribute to the fifth anniversary" of 9/11, Chertoff said. And if Congress gives Homeland Security authority to regulate chemical facilities, "we will implement it promptly," he said. "That will raise security for Americans all over this country."

The Senate is considering port security legislation, which lawmakers are pushing to win full congressional approval by the end of the month. But plans to let the Homeland Security Department regulate the chemical industry are stalled.

House Democrats, too, faulted the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to close security gaps highlighted by the 9/11 Commission earlier this year. The commission gave Congress and the Bush administration several failing grades for remaining vulnerabilities that could be exploited by terrorists.

"We created the 9/11 Commission to ensure that our nation was never left unprepared again," said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "Five years after 9/11, it is time to move forward and do the right

© 2006 The Associated Press

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