WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush signed a law Friday to deter terrorists from smuggling weapons into the United States inside the 11 million shipping containers that enter the country from foreign ports each year.

An unrelated provision of the bill also seeks to put teeth into laws that forbid most online gambling. It prohibits Internet gamblers from using credit cards, checks and electronic fund transfers to settle their wagers.

At the signing ceremony, Bush spoke only about sections of the SAFE Port Act that tighten security and close a loophole in anti-terror defenses, especially at ports.

“Our seaports are a gateway to commerce, a source of opportunity, and a provider of jobs,” Bush said. “Our ports could also be a target of a terrorist attack, and we’re determined to protect them.”

Congress approved the bill two weeks ago before lawmakers left to campaign for the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which national security, the war in Iraq and terrorism are major issues. Democrats favored the bill, but said it failed to address rail and mass transit, other areas considered highly vulnerable to terrorists.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called the bill landmark legislation that will help close “a dangerous gap in our homeland security.”

Bush was accompanied at the bill-signing ceremony by one Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, alongside a slew of Republican lawmakers. For weeks the president has insisted that Republicans are tough on terror and that Democrats would make the country weaker.

He said the new law authorizes the development of high-tech inspection equipment so customs agents can check cargo containers for dangerous materials without having to open them.

It requires radiation-detection technology at 22 of the nation’s busiest ports by the end of next year.

“We’ll do everything we can to prevent an attack, but if the terrorists succeed in launching an attack, we’ll be ready to respond,” Bush said.

He said the bill codifies the Container Security Initiative, which deploys U.S. inspectors to dozens of foreign ports on five continents where they can screen cargo bound for the United States. He said it also codifies the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a joint public-private sector initiative in which private shippers agree to improve their own security measures in exchange for benefits, including expedited clearance through U.S. ports.

Bush said the bill provides more authority for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which was established to guard against the threat of terrorists smuggling a nuclear device into the country. And the act requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish a plan to speed the resumption of trade in the event of a terrorist attack on a U.S. port or waterway.

“This bill makes clear that the federal government has the authority to clear waterways, identify cleanup equipment and re-establish the flow of commerce following a terrorist attack,” the president said.

The bill was approved on a 409-2 vote in the House, and by a voice vote in the Senate.

Murray said that for the first time in many years, she will sleep well, knowing that ports in Seattle and other cities will be safer. Murray, who has been working on the bill for more than five years, said it was gratifying to see the president sign a bipartisan bill “in an extremely political month,” with midterm elections a few weeks away.

The text of the bill, H.R. 4954, may be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

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