Domestic security czar to tame 'bowl of spaghetti'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The new Cabinet level position announced by President Bush to ensure domestic security has daunting tasks ahead, shoring up internal defenses against terrorist attacks and unifying the contributions of dozens of disparate government organizations.
The Director of Homeland Security will coordinate the counter-terrorism efforts of more than 40 federal agencies, including the CIA, FBI, the National Guard, according to Bush Administration sources.
The post, which Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge expects to fill in early October, will be comparable to a domestic variation of the National Security Advisor, said a senior administration official.
Bush named Ridge, a moderate Republican and Vietnam War veteran, as the first director during a joint speech to Congress on Thursday, 10 days after a sophisticated terrorist aerial assault left more than 6,000 dead in New York and Washington.
The new director will craft a plan for better information sharing and study what role the Department of Defense should play in so-called "homeland defense."
The office will concern itself with airport and airline security, immigration policies and strategies to protect transportation, power and food systems from the threat of terrorist attack, according to the administration official.
The Homeland Defense head likely will form a working group with the departments of Justice, Transportation and Energy, and the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In addition, a new position of deputy national security adviser will be created to elevate anti-terrorism efforts within the National Security Council. Moreover, an Office of Cyber Security will be created within the NSC.
Budget, authority needed for success
There has been inadequate communication and coordination among federal agencies, and between federal agencies and state and local governments and agencies, as well as international governments and security agencies, the official acknowledged.
The official, when asked the administration's assessment of the current threat of terrorist attack, said there are "others out there who have planned or who are trying to organize attacks on the United States."
But whether the new office can thwart domestic terrorism in the future remains to be seen, counter-terrorism experts said.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said Friday that Congress will probably have to adopt laws that give the office enough money and power to act effectively.
Lieberman had pushed for legislation to create an Office of Homeland Defense before the Bush announcement. Other politicians as well have called for similar measures.
In May, Vice-President Dick Cheney initiated a review of the U.S. government's capability to prevent terrorism conducted with a weapon of mass destruction. His assessment: bring the relevant federal agencies together with a command post close to the President.
And in January, a national security commission led by former senators Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire and Gary Hart, a Democrat from Colorado, recommended the establishment of a similar independent agency.
Will it succeed? Similar initiatives that establish top-level liasons have produced only limited results, for example, federal drug czars tapped to fight the war on drugs by the former Bush and Clinton administrations.
"This is the same thing we did in the drug area. It improved things somewhat, but there's a real caution there. We haven't solved the drug problem," said Loch Johnson, a political science professor and CIA expert at the University of Georgia.
To succeed, a domestic counter-terrorism czar must have considerable power over office appointments and budget, said Johnson, a former staffer on intelligence oversight committees in the House, Senate and Carter Administration.
"I think the drug czar has been in a weakened state. He doesn't have the budget or appointment powers to get his job done."
Johnson advises the new director to work closely with the CIA's office on counter-terrorism, which already coordinates agents in different agencies, and to streamline the work of dozens of disparate, and in some cases "superfluous," federal intelligence offices.
"I think this office is really necessary. If you look at a diagram of all the entities in Washington addressing terrorism, it looks like a bowl of spaghetti."
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and CNN.com Senior Writer Richard Stenger contributed to this report.
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