San Diego Union-Tribune


01-Feb-2001 Thursday

Panel recommends agency oversee U.S. homeland defense
   Implementation would boost national security 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

WASHINGTON -- A "catastrophic attack" is likely to hit U.S. soil in the next 25 years, and the National Guard should be retrained as America's main protector against such an assault, an advisory commission on national security said yesterday.

To counter this terrorist threat, the panel urged the Bush administration to create a new Cabinet-level security agency to oversee Border Patrol, Customs Service and Coast Guard attempts to secure the nation's borders.

The proposed new National Homeland Security Agency, which would be headed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also would direct efforts by the National Guard to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks.

"The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack," the commission said.

Completing a three-year study, the congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on National Security, 21st Century, also called for "significant changes" in the White House national security offices, the Pentagon and State Department.

Taking a broader view of national security, the commission also said the nation's declining capabilities and investments in scientific research and education pose a greater threat in the next decade than conventional war. It urged a major increase in federal spending and advocacy to reverse that decline in scientific brain power.

Focusing on the terrorist threat, the report said an attack against U.S. citizens on American soil is likely and the risk "is not only death and destruction, but also a demoralization that could undermine U.S. global leadership. In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated government structure."

Those conclusions and recommendations are similar to the findings of several other official panels that have studied the threat to the nation from nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and cyber-attacks on the computer-based systems.

But the 21st Century Commission's study could bear greater weight because of the intensity and scope or its review, the combined star power of its members and the timing of its report.

The commission originated from a 1997 discussion between former President Clinton and then Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Its 14 members include Gingrich, former Sens. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and Gary Hart, D-Colo.; former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.; two retired four-star officers; former secretaries of defense and the Air Force; three former diplomats and a prominent former aerospace executive.

Its report is the first of three major reviews of national security and defense strategy and organizations that will go to Congress and to President Bush this year.

Besides its recommendations on homeland defense, the panel urged the Pentagon to drop its planning to fight two major conflicts at the same time and shift some of the forces committed to those wars to the peacekeeping
and humanitarian missions that currently occupy large numbers of troops.  The military has opposed training troops for anything but combat duties.

The panel also recommended that the National Guard be given domestic security as a primary mission and "be reorganized, trained and equipped to undertake that mission."

Although it did not address any individual weapon system, the commission called for major changes in procurement policies to speed up development of new weapons, to emphasize experimentation and to use more commercial systems.

And it called for a 20 percent to 25 percent cut in military facilities over 10 years using a mechanism similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

It also demanded a major overhaul of the State Department, along with increased funding for foreign affairs; urged greater focus on space assets, including creation of an under-secretary of defense for space, and called for a concerted effort to recruit a new generation of Americans into government service.