By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/6/2004 5:16:13 PM ET 2004-08-06T21:16:13

At Los Angeles harbor Thursday — one of the world's busiest ports — a terror drill — a simulated "dirty bomb" contaminated with radioactive material, hidden in one of the millions of huge containers unloaded there each year, explodes. First responders carry off more than 60 "victims." But the bigger threat, if this were real: a radiation plume drifting toward the city.

With a huge backlog of cargo in the nation's ports and only five percent of it screened, the 9/11 commission asks: are we fighting the last war?

The weapons of terror on 9/11 were commercial jets. Now, 90 percent of the billions spent on transportation security still goes toward commercial passenger screening. Critics say that severely shortchanges security for private aviation and air cargo, often carried on passenger planes.

"While most of us are going through and getting our shoes taken off and getting thorough examinations to make sure we are not bringing anything dangerous on planes, all that stuff underneath us is basically being weighed by the airlines and loaded aboard," says terror expert Stephen Flynn.

Also vulnerable says the 9/11 report — trains and ships. Gary Hart co-chaired a commission that warned before 9/11 that America would be attacked.

"There is no absolute security, it's a question of relative security, and we're a long way in my judgment from achieving even relative security," says Hart.

The 9/11 commission also recommends following the money. Because of pork-barrel politics, of the billions spent on homeland security, low-risk Wyoming still gets more money per person than high risk New York.

"We need to be sure that we get homeland security dollars to the cities in New York to be able to provide the law enforcement support that is needed," says Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY.

The 9/11 commission says nothing has been harder for the White House and Congress than deciding where to spend limited dollars, but that the risks are now too high for politics as usual.

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