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Source: Insight on the News, March 26, 2001 v17 i12 p40.

Title: symposium.(National Homeland Security Agency proposal)
Author: William Thornberry and ERIC R. TAYLOR

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 News World Communications, Inc.

Q: Is a new federal agency needed to defend against terrorist attacks?

Yes: Key agencies must be realigned and consolidated to better defend the U.S. homeland.

America's leadership position in the world has produced what some are calling the "Superpower Paradox": The stronger we become, the more we induce those who wish us harm to develop novel techniques to strike at the United States.

Potential adversaries cannot hope to be successful against us in traditional military terms and thus look to nontraditional methods of attack such as terrorism, information warfare and use of chemical or biological weapons. Attacks such as the one against the USS Cole in 2000, against our embassies in Africa in 1998, against U.S. troops living in the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and against the World Trade Center in 1993 well may represent our future.

But there's a flip side to the Superpower Paradox, and it lies in the fact that we are the world's most open society and, thus, the most exposed and vulnerable to the growing dangers of a new era. Both the CIA and FBI have warned that terrorists are trying to acquire and exploit dangerous technologies to generate "mass-casualty events." These terrorists make no attempt to conceal why they want these weapons of mass destruction. To many such groups, the United States is the first and only target.

To make matters worse, the diffusion of knowledge and technology in today's expanding global economy makes the task of acquiring such weapons easier, while the volume and velocity of modern trade makes detecting and intercepting attacks more difficult. Millions of people enter and leave this country every day, and thousands of containers, packages and vehicles move through our borders each hour. As few as 1 percent of these containers are inspected today.

But it's not just weapons of mass destruction we have to worry about. We also have to be concerned about weapons of mass disruption. Modern Western societies increasingly are networked and increasingly dependent on information systems. These systems, almost entirely run by private-sector businesses, are critical to modern financial, banking, energy, telecommunications, medical and transportation networks. The health, welfare and prosperity of the developed world now depends upon this infrastructure.

Yet, today, this infrastructure remains remarkably vulnerable to cyberattacks. CERT, a federally funded research and development center operated by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, reported about 25,000 cyber incidents from 1990 to 1999. Last year alone, CERT reported, the number of incidents skyrocketed to 21,000. A similar trend in attacks against unclassified Defense Department computer systems also has been detected.

These new challenges -- against our cities, homes and businesses and against the electronic networks that link them all together -- must force us to rethink the way we defend ourselves. Unfortunately, as a number of important reports and studies during the last several years have warned, our national-security structures and bureaucracies still are thinking in terms of Cold War threats and traditional military problems.

A July 1999 report by the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, for example, concluded: "A cardinal truth of government is that policy without proper organization is effectively no policy at all. If the federal government's policy is to combat the threat posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction, then the government must be organized to do so."

A June 2000 study by the National Commission on Terrorism echoed this conclusion when it found: "This country's seeming inability to develop and implement a clear, comprehensive and truly integrated national domestic preparedness strategy means that we still may remain fundamentally incapable of responding effectively to a serious terrorist attack." The commission also found that "the complex nature of current federal organizations and programs makes it very difficult for state and local authorities to obtain federal information, assistance, funding and support."

And at the beginning of this year the Commission on National Security/21st Century, a bipartisan group headed by former senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart, warned: "A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter-century. The risk is not only death and destruction but also a demoralization that could undermine U.S. global leadership" [emphasis added]. The commission underlined this risk by noting, "In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures."

We cannot let warnings like these fall on deaf ears. For this reason, I soon will be introducing legislation to establish a new National Homeland Security Agency (NHSA) whose primary mission will be the defense of our nation against threats and attacks to us at home. Based on one of the main recommendations of the Hart-Rudman commission, the NHSA will be built upon the existing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which already is charged with preparing the Federal Response Plan that coordinates the country's response to natural disasters and emergencies.

In addition to FEMA, the NHSA also would include the U.S. Customs Service, Border Patrol and Coast Guard while maintaining them as distinct entities. Other federal entities involved in critical infrastructure protection also would be incorporated into this organization. The National Infrastructure Protection Center and the National Domestic Preparedness Office would move from the FBI and the Department of Justice to the NHSA. The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and the Institute of Information Infrastructure Protection would move from the Department of Commerce to provide better outreach to the business sector and the general public.

The intent of establishing a new Homeland Security Agency is not to add another layer of fat to our already bloated federal bureaucracy. Rather, the goal is to realign and consolidate a number of key federal agencies in a way that will help the federal government better prevent and respond to homeland threats.

The NHSA will serve three primary purposes: It will improve our ability to secure our national borders, reduce the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure and strengthen our capacity to respond to emergencies should our efforts to deter or prevent an act of terrorism fail. This bill also will provide focus to these efforts. As the Hart-Rudman commission noted, responsibility in this area currently is spread over 40 different organizations in various parts of the government. Consolidating many of these functions in one agency will begin to ensure that we have matched authority, responsibility and accountability into a single entity that has the charter and the means necessary to prevent and respond to any insidious attack against our homeland. It also will provide one primary point of contact for state and local authorities, upon whom much of the burden and responsibility rests.

While defending Americans against all enemies is an essential role of government, we also must make sure that Americans' civil liberties are protected. Accordingly, the NHSA will have an Office of Independent Oversight whose main responsibility will be to ensure that current federal privacy-protection laws are followed. The NHSA director will have to report annually to Congress on these activities and list any violations of the law or policy along with any corrective actions that may be needed.

In conclusion, I am convinced that building upon existing federal assets and frameworks materially will contribute to our national security and will assure that we maintain fundamental protections while protecting individual liberties. The NHSA will provide a consolidated focal point for federal planning, as well as for the allocation of resources in the form of grants, equipment and technical support to our state governors and local officials. It will build upon well-established relationships and offices that FEMA already has created around the country, as well as existing core competencies for coordination during crises. Moreover, a streamlined support agency will replace today's complex and unresponsive federal architecture.

Clearly, terrorism is not new. But it is an evolving menace and one that increasingly is dangerous to our country. Progress has been made to discourage state support to terrorists, to limit access to dangerous technologies and to corral loose nukes and unemployed scientists in the former Soviet Union. We must continue those programs to prevent hostile acts as far forward as possible. At the same time, increased attention and defensive actions are warranted. If an information attack is considered a serious wound to our national economic well-being, than a covert delivery of a weapon of mass destruction is the ultimate Achilles' heel of the modernized world.

It may be true that such attacks are inevitable, but it is not inevitable that they will succeed. We can do more to enhance our border-security activities and protect our great nation. We know we need to provide better support to state and local officials who inevitably will be first on the scene in the event of any disaster. We also must improve our cybersecurity and be able to limit the vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure. We need not surrender either to terrorists or to the tyranny of structures and programs we created ages ago to solve Cold War problems.

New times and novel challenges sometimes call for bold action. Creation of the NHSA is a good first step in realigning the federal government to better meet some of the national-security challenges that lie ahead.


Thornberry, a Texas Republican, represents the 13th Congressional District and serves on the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Procurement.

No: Constitutional liberties are in danger of being sacrificed for national security.

The first 25 years of the new millennium harbor serious challenges to U.S. national security, according to the findings of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (the Hart-Rudman commission). Of the 14 conclusions drawn by the commission, perhaps the most troublesome is the anticipated increase in vulnerability of the U.S. homeland to terrorist attacks. Most frightening is the assertion that the vaunted might and strength of the U.S. military may be irrelevant as a protective shield and that technological attacks -- whether chemical, biological or radiological (CBR) -- and cyberterrorism -- now constitute major threats to the nation. These findings generally parallel the findings of other bodies, notably the Gilmore and Bremer commissions and the National Commission on Terrorism.

The solution recommended by Hart-Rudman is the creation of a new Cabinet-level National Homeland Security Agency (NHSA), vested with the ultimate authority for homeland defense. The NHSA would be authorized to employ active, proactive and covert means to accomplish its mission. But is this the way to go? Is creating yet another layer of bureaucracy and giving it formal control over the 40-odd homeland security agencies within the federal government a real solution -- or is it simply an attractive gimmick that provides an illusory "quick fix"?

All sides in this debate agree that the essential problem of homeland security is the lack of coordination among a myriad of existing "homeland-defense" agencies, all competing for mission authority and budget, and all disagreeing on the likelihood of terrorism, on what intelligence reports about it actually prove and how to combat it.

All would agree, however, that the root of the problem is the lack of unity of command. Multiple agencies have been assigned the same, or almost the same, authority to handle emergencies. The FBI has been tasked, by statute, as the lead agency for crisis management -- the period of time during which the terrorist or criminal act is under way. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), on the other hand, with its long-standing expertise in natural and technological disaster response, has been designated the lead agency for any "consequences of a crisis," the period after an emergency has occurred, and takes its orders directly from the president. Local communities also have a legal claim to emergency leadership because of their closeness to any problem, while state governors must make any request before a Presidential Disaster Declaration can be issued or any federal assistance dispensed.

And so the question: When disaster strikes, who is in charge? The answer now is, "Everybody -- and nobody."

Into this fragmented picture, the Hart-Rudman commission now proposes a single agency, the NHSA, to fix overall counterterrorism responsibility. It would transfer U.S. Customs, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI's National Domestic Preparedness Office, together with all of FEMA and parts of dozens of other existing agencies into the new supra-agency, run by a counterterrorism "czar" who is capable -- presumably -- of mounting an instant and seamless response to terrorism in all its aspects.

Yet the plan as outlined is a long way from seamless. The proposed agency will require interdepartmental and inter-agency coordination and cooperation. Old entities, reconfigured into the new, will need to learn new protocols, procedures and chains of command as they join into a unified whole. And the question must be raised: Will the overall result be any improvement on the present situation? There is some reason to doubt that it will, as an examination of the present problems of defense agencies indicates the following:

The Border Patrol, facing a porous 2,000-mile border with inadequate staffing, never has been able to bring adequate forces to bear on border protection, as witnessed most recently by armed incursions of Mexican national police and troops into Texas, which it was unable to interdict. Does the Border Patrol really need a new top-level layer of bureaucracy, or does it need enough troops to do its job?

According to the Hart-Rudman commission, the Department of Defense's (DoD's) biggest shortcoming in homeland defense is its lack of attention to the problem. DoD has focused its attention on its traditional mission, international war, a focus that inadvertently may have exacerbated the likelihood of terrorist attacks at home, since these attacks often are related to U.S. military action overseas. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, smaller engagements in foreign "hot spots" become more likely. Yet each of these "hot spots" has nationalist groups, any of which might not appreciate the application of U.S. force. Hence, war abroad raises the risks of bringing war home to American soil.

The role of the National Guard will, under the Hart-Rudman NHSA plan, be dramatically enlarged. It would continue to provide border protection as well as virtuously continuous on-alert duty during any emergency. But how will this "emergency-police" role jibe with that of, say, the FBI, which also is tasked in this area?

The commission report does advance the idea that the National Guard can "train and help organize' local first-responders," a point this author made in a recent Cato Institute publication.

We also might inquire how well the Army would work within any integrated response agency. The Army has developed its own strategies for crisis-response to chemical and biological emergencies quite independently of other agencies' plans. Will DoD simply submit, in a real emergency, to following a plan laid down by a higher authority other than the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

CBR terrorism is very different from bullet-and-bomb terrorism. The telltales of its existence and the effects wreaked by it exceed casual expectations. The public must be educated to recognize those telltales for their own protection in advance of the appearance of any on-the-scene counterterrorist responders. Yet the public has not received any such education [see "Civilian Preparation," p.24]. Studies on the subject generally ignore this question entirely, and it is doubtful that creating a counterterrorism czar will create any more incentive on the part of knowledgeable federal officials to undertake the task. The exact opposite could be the result.

Civil libertarians will raise constitutional concerns about the new agency, and with good cause, because any strike on the U.S. homeland could involve thousands of casualties and also could involve the suspension of constitutional liberties, a matter of concern for all. President Lincoln suspended the constitutional right of habeas corpus (the right to a speedy trial) during the Civil War. How any such problem might be resolved in the future is no easy question, since we are unlikely to have another Lincoln. The NHSA proposal suggests that safeguards should be provided but fails to describe these safeguards.

Adding to the problem is the fact that security agencies cannot always show a tender regard for working with the framework of law and still be effective. In the netherworld of crime, espionage, informants and traitors, the moral mandates of U.S. counterintelligence laws often have gotten in the way of intelligence gathering. But now comes a proposed NHSA, with access to millions of policy files from every branch of government. Would its creation be in the best interests of civil liberties, or might this agency become a Big Brother beyond the control of all civilian authority?

We might also ponder the question: Would a new supra-agency require a new superintelligence-gathering arm, or would it rely on the intelligence-gathering arms of the existing CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and other agencies? This is no small question. A new arm capable not only of sifting existing agencies' data, but of controlling all the spies now in the field while hiring more of its own, might raise a credible threat to civil liberties.

Or consider a further question: Could any new agency given responsibility for domestic crises improve on the expertise of existing agencies such as FEMA and the FBI, whose qualifications come from years of experience? Wouldn't it, in fact, simply be leaning on the experience of the people already on the desk?

Or this: Would so much concentrated power in the hands of one source be within the spirit of our Constitution? The whole spirit of that document, as described by the founders in the famous Federalist Papers written at the time of its passage, is to create multiple centers of power capable of checking one another. Supra-agencies may be in the spirit of the 20th century, but they are not in the spirit of limited government so prized by Americans through the generations.

Not all problems of interagency squabbling require a new layer of imposed bureaucracy. Two alternatives exist. The first is to create an executive council among concerned agencies, much like the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. OSS coordinated the spy and intelligence functions of the several branches of the military during the war -- and, over time and after a history of close collaboration, eventually became a single agency: the CIA.

The other solution is simply to coordinate the agencies through a small, tasked office in the White House -- in effect creating an antiterrorism czar but carefully locating that office directly under the president. The president is the person with the greatest single responsibility for U.S. security, and there is no doubt that his office is both constitutional and accountable to the public. A small office in the Executive Office of the White House, it has been argued, would minimize the danger of creating a supra-agency that might be out of control and quite certainly beyond recall. The White House seems already to be moving in this direction.

The alternative to this more-limited approach is to go ahead with a new supra-agency on a grand scale and with constitutional liberties sacrificed on the altar of national security.


Taylor, a professor of chemistry, is the author of Lethal Mists: An Introduction to the Natural and Military Sciences of Chemical, Biological Warfare and Terrorism.

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