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Bush Is to Propose Broad New Powers in Domestic Security

by Elizabeth Becker, New York Times, 16 July 2002


WASHINGTON, July 15 -- The Bush administration's broad new proposal for domestic security, to be made public on Tuesday, calls for sweeping changes that include the creation of a top-secret plan to protect the nation's critical infrastructure and a review of the law that could allow the military to operate more aggressively within the United States.

Tom Ridge, the president's adviser on domestic security, has been at work on the plan for more than eight months -- beginning long before the proposal for a new department of homeland security, which was hastily announced last month as Congressional investigators were making public new information about intelligence lapses before Sept. 11.

The administration could impose some changes on its own authority, while others would require Congressional action. Dozens of the recommendations are familiar initiatives that the government has tried to enact for years but are newly popular to help reach the goal of preventing terrorist attacks within the United States. Many fall outside the scope of the proposed new department.

Given the difficulties the president's proposal for the department is facing in Congress, the idea that this new plan could be enacted as written is questionable.

These are among the administration's proposals:

  • Establish national standards for state driver's licenses.

  • Create an "intelligence threat division" in the new department that uses what the plan calls "red teams" of intelligence experts. These teams would act like terrorists and plot attacks on vulnerable new targets in the country so that means of preventing such attacks can be devised.

  • Increase inspections of international shipping containers before they leave foreign ports and as they cross United States borders.

  • Ensure that government agencies can communicate with one another, something successive administrations have tried and failed to do.

The plan also calls for the first thorough inventory of the country's critical infrastructure -- both public and private -- followed by a secret plan to protect it. The inventory would include, for example, highways, pipelines, agriculture, the Internet, databases and energy plants.

"That's one of the big points," said a senior administration official, who provided a copy of the plan to The New York Times. "The whole society is vulnerable with hundreds, thousands of targets we have to protect, but the most important stuff we do won't be released."

In a letter accompanying the plan, also provided by the official, President Bush said that the federal, state and local governments and private companies should share the responsibility for -- and the $100 billion annual cost of -- combating what he called the greatest threat to the United States this century. It was a sign that full financing for his plan would not come from the federal budget.

"We must rally our entire society to overcome a new and very complex challenge," Mr. Bush said.

The senior official said that the idea for the homeland security department actually grew out of the secret deliberations on this broader plan. But the official insisted that the administration actively fought Congressional efforts to legislate a new department throughout the winter and spring because the White House wanted to keep deliberations secret.

"People were asking for a strategy, but we weren't ready," the senior official said. "We announced the department first because we had finished that part of the study."

Congressional Democrats are openly criticizing the White House for having been too closed and secretive in the development of what amounts to the largest reorganization of government in 50 years.

Democratic lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee issued a statement today complaining that the legislation for the security department was written by White House political appointees without proper consultations. "That kind of secretive and arrogant behavior has produced a plan that, in many areas, is poorly constructed and complicates Congress's ability to produce a good final bill," said David Sirota, a committee spokesman.

The plan begins with an acknowledgment of the difficulty of defining the problem: "Terrorism is not so much a system of belief, like fascism or communism, as it is a strategy and a tactic -- a means of attack."

Domestic attacks like Timothy J. McVeigh's on Oklahoma City in 1995 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon should be treated as terrorism even if the motives may differ widely, according the study. For that reason, it proposes to make better use of the military to counter domestic threats.

Before today, senior Pentagon officials had repeatedly said that they had no plans to ask Congress to revamp the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which sharply restricts the military's ability to participate in domestic law enforcement.

In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee in May, Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, asked Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld whether the administration was hoping to make changes in the act.

"No, Senator, we're not," Mr. Rumsfeld replied. "We're not looking for any long-term or short-term change with respect to Posse Comitatus."

But the Bush plan says that "the threat of catastrophic terrorism requires a thorough review of the laws permitting the military to act within the United States in order to determine whether domestic preparedness and response efforts would benefit from greater involvement of military personnel, and if so how."

Adding these initiatives could only complicate relations with Congress, where members of both parties insist that the administration's proposed department is conceptually too unwieldy. A series of House committees, controlled by Republicans, essentially rewrote the Bush plan last week, voting not to move the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a large part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the department.

Mr. Ridge, appearing today before a special House committee that is managing the legislation on the department, said the administration opposed each of those changes and more demanded by lawmakers.

"The president's reorganization is well planned and well thought out, based on input from every level of government, the private sector, the academic community and of course the Congress of the United States," Mr. Ridge said.

He also said the department must have wide-ranging flexibility to move money to different uses as needs arise.

The chairman of the special committee, Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the House Republican leader, told Mr. Ridge flatly that "it's not likely that that's going to happen," but Mr. Ridge said the usual close Congressional oversight could cripple the new department's ability to respond to terrorism.

"We're at war," Mr. Ridge said. "The enemy -- if you agree that they're agile, that they'll move and change targets -- we ought to be able to give the secretary some flexibility to target some of these resources based on the threat, based on the vulnerability."

© 2002 The New York Times Company
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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