June 18, 2003

Harman calls terror strategy ‘next to useless’


WASHINGTON — In a wide-ranging critique of the Bush administration’s national security and counter-terrorism policies, Rep. Jane Harman on Tuesday gave a “qualified no” to the question of whether the nation is more secure 19 months after the 9-11 attacks.

Harman, who represents coastal South Bay and is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the nation badly needs an updated homeland security strategy.

“Without a strategy, all we have is a patchwork of isolated security improvements,” she said in a speech to the New Democrat Network, a group of moderate Democrats. “This is next to useless when you are dealing with a nimble, well-organized enemy who attacks us . . . where we least expect it.”

“We need a strategy to organize federal, state and local government resources, our international partners, the business community and our citizens,” she added.

Last year, as the one-year anniversary of the attacks neared, Harman said she thought the nation was safer.

“What’s changed is the absence of a strategy,” she said in an interview after her speech Tuesday. “We’re not getting there.”

A representative for the Department of Homeland Security did not return a phone call seeking comment on Harman’s remarks.

The El Segundo Democrat criticized what she said was inadequate funding for local emergency responders and a failure to fully inform the public about what to do in case of a terrorist attack. She also raised concerns about civil liberties in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

“There are, for example, very troubling questions about the indeterminate detentions at Guantanamo,” she said, referring to the U.S. military base in Cuba where hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects are being held. “I have visited there twice and I’m concerned that until we give every person detained there a legal status and the ability to challenge that status, we risk undermining the basic values on which our country was founded.”

She said “roundups” of legal immigrants from Muslim countries and North Korea last December “not only violated their rights, but remind us all of our shameful past when we interned Japanese-Americans during World War II.”

Harman also criticized a recently passed defense bill for being too backward-looking at a time when the military is trying to modernize.

“The bill that passed a couple of weeks ago contained every spending item we’ve supported in the past decade and a half,” she said, while acknowledging that she supported the legislation. “There have been no cuts to Cold War systems — the B-52 is going strong . . . missile defense gets $9 billion before answering basic questions like, ‘Will it work?’ ”