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Bush Report Urges Bigger Anti-Terrorism Role for Security Body

January 25, 1986|RUDY ABRAMSON and GAYLORD SHAW | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Citing the need for improved coordination of the U.S. response to terrorism, a task force headed by Vice President George Bush has urged President Reagan to enhance the role of the National Security Council but has rejected proposals that he designate an anti-terrorism czar, Administration officials told The Times on Friday.

The secret report, now before Reagan, recommends that decision-making be streamlined and that the National Security Council be given higher visibility and larger staff responsibilities, the officials said. However, the panel would make no formal change in the present "lead agency" concept, with the State Department responsible for the international arena and the Justice Department responsible for domestic situations.

Although the task force urges the President to issue an executive order declaring terrorism a threat to national security and vowing to fight it "by all legal means available," the officials said, the highly sensitive report avoids the debate within the Administration over when military force should be used.

Policy Differences

Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger have differed sharply on the issue of military responses to terrorism.

Shultz, for instance, declared earlier this month that "it must be clearly and unequivocally the policy of the United States to fight back." Weinberger, in a speech a day later, criticized those who "would get instant gratification from some kind of bombing attack somewhere without being too worried about the details."

The elite task force, created by Reagan last June during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 to Beirut, sent its classified report to the President about 10 days ago, according to one official who said that an unclassified version is expected to be made public in mid-February.

This official said that the 15-member task force disagreed on only two or three major points, among them the proposal that Reagan name a single official to head the government's anti-terrorism efforts.

Another official said that the panel decided against such a move on grounds it would require a change in law and would be unnecessarily divisive.

"There will be not be any basic change in allocation of responsibility," he said, although task force members "recognized that the NSC role should be strengthened."

Past Coordination

The NSC staff, now headed by national security adviser John M. Poindexter, has played a key--but informal--role in coordinating the U.S. response to past terrorist incidents, such as the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro last year. The NSC staff, for instance, is credited with developing the plan that resulted in U.S. interception over the Mediterranean of the EgyptAir jet carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers out of Egypt.

According to one official, task force members believe the security council's coordinating role should be formalized by presidential order. He called it "a modest but important change."

"The essence of the problem is finding a way of putting together good intelligence and decision-making in a timely way," another terrorism expert said. "This can be done better by the NSC at the White House. It needs to have a little more autonomy and more visibility within the government."

This expert cited "turf fights" that he said had hampered U.S. planning and policy on terrorism.

Besides the need for better coordination of the U.S. response, the task force cites a dire need for more international cooperation, especially in sharing intelligence information, one official said. He said that there was discussion within the task force about an international anti-terrorism force but that such a multinational force is not mentioned in the report itself.

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