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Here's a better way to be secure

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America is not prepared, either offensively or defensively, for the conflicts of the 21st century. We are the strongest military power in the world, but for the wrong century. Conflict is now carried out by civilians against civilians. Perpetrators belong to no state, wear no uniforms and obey no rules of war. No targets are off limits, and no citizens are exempt from slaughter. Other attacks will follow, possibly soon. Twenty-first century war has a new face.

Among the many tests America now confronts, none is greater than proving that we can prevent the next attack even while seeking retribution for the last one. For the first time in two centuries, protecting America has become our highest priority.

President Bush has proposed an Office of Homeland Security, led by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, with powers matching those of the National Security Council. That is a step in the right direction. But a greater step is required, and it must be taken quickly.

In 1998 President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich created the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which I co-chaired with Warren Rudman, to propose a new national security framework. We concluded that America would become increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that Americans would likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers. Last January we urged the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency, one created by statute, with budgetary authority, whose director would be confirmed by the Senate and stand accountable to the President and Congress. This new agency, to be effective, must be even more powerful than the one President Bush proposes: it must include within its control the Coast Guard, Customs Service, border patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency and elements of at least three dozen other federal offices. Let me explain why these powers are so important.

To prevent weapons of mass destruction from crossing our borders, the new Homeland Security Agency must knit together America's border-control services, increasing the number of vehicles and cargo containers inspected at our entry points. Inspectors must be focused on the most likely targets and trained to carry out their missions with the least possible disruption to international commerce. Though the agency should not have intelligence-collection responsibilities, it should be able to command special priority in focusing intelligence on threats to the homeland, so that crucial information gets where it needs to go, and gets there on time. A suspected terrorist's name on a watch list is no good unless the list arrives at the border before the suspect does.

The new agency must have final authority and accountability. With more than 40 federal agencies now sharing responsibility for domestic security, accountability is spread too thin and bureaucratic gaps are too common. A coordinator who organizes interagency task forces and working groups has neither authority nor accountability. He or she cannot order that anything be done. Beltway skeptics talk about the inevitable bureaucratic resistance to our proposal for a new agency. I, for one, would like to hear one Cabinet officer argue that it is more important to protect his or her bureaucratic prerogative than it is to protect the people of the U.S. With congressional support, a strong President can make this happen and should do so swiftly.

Hart, a U.S. Senator from 1975 to 1987, is of counsel to the law firm of Coudert Brothers.


Cover Date: October 8, 2001


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