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Security must be paramount

The capture of al-Qaida leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan reinforces that the fight against terror is ongoing and the war must be fought on every conceivable front by military, government and civilian forces alike.

The Sept. 11 attacks punctuated the United States' tremendous vulnerability to terrorism. Although respective agencies of government have enjoyed unprecedented cooperation since, the fact remains that the United States' massive borders, its freedoms and ease of mobility render it open to attack.

Obviously, national security practices are vastly improved from the pre-Sept. 11 days. Yet, some lapses in security concern us greatly. Case in point: the considerable discrepancy between the number of civilian contractors who work at Utah's Hill Air Force Base and the number of identification badges issued by the base. According to a recent report by Deseret News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson, some 4,000 civilians work at Hill, yet 11,500 identification badges had been issued and are still out.

This is highly disturbing given that the unaccounted badges could have conceivably given terrorists access to one of the nation's three huge air logistics centers. Hill is responsible for engineering and logistics management of the F-16 fighter, the A-10 tank-killer aircraft and the Peacekeeper missile. Hill also performs maintenance for the F-16, the A-10 and the giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane.

A government report obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request said, "Recognizing that there were problems with controlled area badges in general, pass and registration personnel began a program to reissue and control all badges basewide."

We trust this process has been undertaken so this area of access is cut off except to the civilian contractors and military personnel who have legitimate reasons to enter the air force base.

It would appear that some of the issues revealed in Davidson's article were due to sloppy record-keeping. Training and security deficiencies — such as conducting criminal background checks on contractors with access to sensitive Air Force computers — are harder to understand and explain away.

Of all places, military installations must operate by the book because of the sensitive nature of the information and defense machinery contained there. Strict control of the base computer network is paramount.

These are the known problems, thanks to Davidson's dogged appeals to military officials to restore heavily censored government reports about security problems at Hill. At Davidson's insistence, the Pentagon has released most of the previously censored material. Now only six of 36 pages are partially censored. The Air Force says releasing them could jeopardize national security.

The known problems are disturbing enough, and we can only speculate what information the military has refused to reveal. Hill and other agencies responsible for homeland security should take a page from these revelations and take steps to ensure that the not-so-obvious avenues for potential terrorists receive a like degree of attention as security checkpoints.