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Bush Sets Security Strategy

July 17, 2002|EDWIN CHEN and NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Tuesday unveiled the government's first blueprint to protect the American homeland against terrorists--"a comprehensive national strategy" that would employ high-tech wizardry and revamp the federal bureaucracy to help the country better defend itself against "the true threats of the 21st century."

Under the plan, state-of-the-art sensors would be deployed to detect nuclear and biological threats, and "red teams" of covert agents would analyze America's defenses from a terrorist's perspective to pinpoint weaknesses.

All states also would follow a minimum standard for issuing driver's licenses to prevent terrorists from exploiting differing regulations. (In Virginia, for example, until shortly after Sept. 11 an applicant could get a license merely by having another person vouch for his or her home address; Florida had no residency requirement at all.)

The anti-terrorist capabilities of agencies from the FBI to the Coast Guard also would be beefed up.

The "National Strategy for Homeland Security" also calls for a detailed review of critical infrastructure--such as the nation's energy, water, agriculture, finance and telecommunications sectors--and a meticulous plan to safeguard such facilities.

The plan was drawn up by the White House Office of Homeland Security, headed by Tom Ridge. Some of the changes can be accomplished administratively, while others will require congressional approval.

In a sobering warning to the private sector--already reeling from an economic downturn, a declining stock market and a spate of corporate scandals--Bush's blueprint cautioned that security spending by businesses could double from the pre-September tab of $55 billion a year. The federal government's expense for homeland security is also rising, to $38 billion under Bush's proposed fiscal 2003 budget from $29 billion now.

Under the blueprint, Washington stands to gain significant new powers, from establishing a network of national laboratories to study anti-terrorist techniques to giving the president broad authority to reorganize the government without explicit congressional approval.

But Bush made no mention of that as he formally presented his plan during brief remarks in the Rose Garden, with key lawmakers of both parties behind him.

"Protecting Americans from attack is our most urgent national priority, and we must act on the priority," the president declared.

He also warned that this was "an exceedingly complex mission."

The 76-page plan represents an unprecedented effort to ensure greater security from terrorist attacks, a broad step beyond such post-Sept. 11 actions as stockpiling medicines and improving aviation security.

In issuing the report, Bush reminded the public that America remains "a nation at risk to a new and changing threat."

The blueprint is organized around Bush's June 6 proposal to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, drawing under one roof nearly 170,000 employees from 22 agencies scattered throughout the government.

An example would be changing the rules that now limit the use of U.S. troops for homeland security.

The Bush plan mentioned three circumstances under which troops could be used: in combat air patrols and maritime defense; in response to attacks; and in "limited scope" missions led by other agencies, such as the recent Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Federal statutes now prohibit military personnel from enforcing the law within the United States, except as expressly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. (For example, Navy ships have been used in the effort to interdict drug smugglers, with Coast Guard personnel on board to perform the law enforcement functions.) However, the Bush report states, "[t]he threat of catastrophic terrorism requires a thorough review of the laws permitting the military to act within the United States in order to determine whether domestic preparedness and response efforts would benefit from greater involvement of military personnel and, if so, how."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would not object to reviewing the "Posse Comitatus" law, which dates to 1878. But he cautioned: "We've done very well by separating the military from law enforcement. There would be a heavy burden for those who want to change" that.

However, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said a change in the law restricting domestic military operations is "definitely worth considering. I've been an advocate of the military having a more active role in homeland defense."

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