America's widening security net
From a national lab to intelligence-gathering on US soil, Bush plan unveils major national security changes.
WASHINGTON — President Bush's newly released national strategy for homeland security is an ambitious outline for vast change in many aspects of American life.
The plan, which Mr. Bush unveiled Tuesday, follows on the heels of a White House proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security.
But its development began months ago long before the administration decided to try to add a security Cabinet seat and it is essentially a broad antiterror vision that could profoundly alter everything from the nation's commercial by-ways to its military, intelligence, and scientific communities.
"This is what we've been looking for," says Juliette Kayyem, who runs the domestic preparedness program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Although the specifics aren't new, she says, "What is new is a sense of prioritizing and crystallizing issues."
It's unlikely to be implemented as is. The debate in Congress over these issues is in many ways just beginning.
But "it becomes the starting point" for debate about how to deal with terrorism as well as for election campaigns and politics, for federal budgeting, and many other issues, says Dave McIntyre of the Anser Institute of Homeland Security.
Among the strategy's proposed changes: Bush hopes to harness the research-and-development power of private industry and government to develop as-yet undreamed of technologies to help in such critical tasks as remote detection of smuggled biological and chemical weapons. For instance, he would create a homeland-security national laboratory akin to the Los Alamos lab, which pioneered America's first nuclear bomb.
Bush wants to have more flexibility to move government personnel from agency to agency as security needs dictate a change which, in essence, could lessen the oversight power of Congress.
The plan calls for a long-term review of the laws that prevent the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement.
In aiming to get various sections of government to talk to each other, he aims to demolish many bureaucratic barriers at the federal, state, and local levels. He would start simple by getting all first responders on the same communications network.
In international cooperation not often seen as a Bush strength the plan lays out a rationale for engagement with other nations. A major element of US foreign policy will now be helping other countries fight terrorism, getting them to combat passport fraud, and more.
In a broader sense, the document becomes a standard for Bush himself to live up to and be judged against. It will likely impact election campaigns, as opponents measure Bush's ability to meet the plan's goals. "He expects to be judged by whether or not he is able to carry out his own strategy," says Mr. McIntyre.
It's a tall and often controversial order. In the high-tech world, one hint of things to come is the sensor one government lab has already developed. It's put atop cell phone towers to sniff the air for anthrax or other toxins. It also measures wind speed and other weather variables to enable scientists to track the spread of a biological or chemical agent.
The plan also calls for high-risk, high-reward government contracts that encourage private firms to push the technological envelope in developing antiterror tools.
But it's not just government and industry that are needed. The plan calls for beefing up the Citizen Corps, a group of security-conscious volunteers. It's one of the several times in the strategy that the president mentions either local or civilian support.
One dramatic citizen-action plan that's reportedly been discussed is the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, a Department of Justice project. TIPS volunteers are reportedly being recruited from among people who have access to homes, businesses, and delivery systems like postmen, utility services personnel, and truck drivers. They would alert authorities to any suspicious activities.
In the political realm, the plan calls for more executive-branch flexibility to quickly adjust and reorder government resources as needed. The US must be agile in responding to the terrorist threat, the White House argument goes. But members of Congress who hold dear their constitutional oversight duties may see this as a power grab.
Another long-time barrier the administration plans to reevaluate is the so-called Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which establishes that the armed forces are to be used to defend the nation from external threats and that civilian law enforcement should be used to maintain peace and security inside America's borders.
Civil libertarians warn that unless the US continues to draw sharp lines between civilian and military functions within US borders, America will increasingly resemble a banana republic. Other analysts say that civilian authorities alone are not prepared to handle the threat of terror attacks. If a smallpox outbreak occurs, for instance, the military might have to enforce a quarantine.
Perhaps one of the toughest elements of the plan will be getting different parts of government to work with each other.
"You could turn the bureaucracy on its head and old patterns will still reemerge," says Joseph Foxell, director of information security for New York City. "People will return to what has worked for them, what was comfortable in the past."
But if anything, the overall plan hints that this traditional intransigence and lots of other things may need to change.
Staff writer Warren Richey contributed to this report.