San Diego Union-Tribune

October 28, 2001

Officials scramble in taking new posts


WASHINGTON -- With homeland security and the war on terrorism now the top defense priorities, the scramble is on within the military for shares of the authority and resources expected to go to these urgent missions.

And while administration officials say it's essential that the effort to protect America from terrorism be tightly coordinated, the authority seems to be increasingly splintered.

Although President Bush has designated former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as the coordinator for the government's homeland security efforts, Bush also named a retired Army general as the counter-terrorism director on the National Security Council. And several centers of power are growing within the military.

"There certainly is chaos. Tom Ridge is assumed to be in charge, but no one is in charge now," said John Isaacs, director of the Council for a Livable World and a veteran Washington analyst.

Within the military, the big winner so far in the contest for increased authority is Army Secretary Tom White. White, a retired Army brigadier general and former defense industry executive, now is wearing three hats, all dealing with homeland defense.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appointed White as the Pentagon's executive agent for homeland defense and as acting assistant defense secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, the principal counter-terrorism post.

Also among those with increased prominence are Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, whose North American Air Defense Command has gone since Sept. 11 from a little-noticed Cold War relic to a major player in national security. The air command's greatly
reduced mission of defending U.S. borders from external air threats has shifted to a major effort to guard the nation against the use of hijacked airliners as terrorist weapons.

Army Gen. William Kernan, commander of the Joint Forces Command, has gained stature with the elevation of his previously low-key responsibilities for protecting the nation's coastline and territory.

Kernan could gain even more power, depending on the outcome of a Pentagon study on whether there needs to be a new commander-in-chief for homeland defense and counter-terrorism. That decision could come this week. 

Inside the Pentagon, White said he is working to "consolidate responsibility for homeland security and the myriad of issues and functions and responsibilities . . . into a single organization."

He said that would involve a realignment of existing personnel rather than any significant increase in staff.

Work also is under way to review the operational planning process for homeland security. But a major challenge, White said, is coordinating the military's efforts with all the civil agencies by working with Ridge.

White said he sees homeland security as having two key elements. One is the actual defense of the nation's coastline, its borders and airspace, a mission suited to the Pentagon's capabilities.

The other part is the military support for the civil agencies handling the responses to domestic crises. Active military or National Guard personnel, for example, have helped clean up possible anthrax contamination and have assisted the Federal
Emergency Management Administration and local authorities in dealing with the Sept. 11 disasters.

That is where he must coordinate efforts with Ridge, which White said he does by frequent consultation.

White denied there is an inefficient division of authority in the homeland security mission.

"This all to me indicates a heightened awareness and concern for homeland security that I think are appropriate to the environment that we face," White said.