San Diego Union Tribune

July 2, 2006

Domestic security is forgotten, bipartisan task force reports

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – A task force of national security experts has issued a report arguing little has been done since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to make the United States safer.

Nearly five years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars, Hurricane Katrina revealed that “we cannot count on the national government to perform one of its most basic missions: preventing, mitigating and responding to disaster,” the Century Foundation report said.

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Because the administration of President Bush has concentrated most of its efforts and spending since Sept. 11, 2001, on Iraq and Afghanistan, “in some ways, America has become the forgotten homeland,” the task force said in the report released Thursday.

The report was co-written by Rand Beers and Richard Clarke, both of whom have decades of experience in national security and counterterrorism in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Clarke said that after the 2001 attacks, the Bush White House compiled a long list of the nation's vulnerabilities.

“The sad thing is, almost five years later, the list is still much the same,” Clarke said. “We are today no more secure than we were five years ago.”

Beers said the report was titled “Forgotten Homeland” because domestic security “very quickly went to the back burner” after Sept. 11, 2001.

The Department of Homeland Security press office did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Secretary Michael Chertoff recently defended his agency's efforts despite budgetary constraints.

“We have a layered defense system and part of that layer is to, in an intelligent and cost-effective manner, raise the level of protection of the targets in this country,” Chertoff said. “We need to do that in a way that doesn't break the system we're trying to protect.”

The report presented an array of recommendations to improve domestic security against terrorism, including restoring the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an independent Cabinet-level agency.

The report said the focus of domestic security should be on major cities, turning the metropolitan government, police and emergency service personnel into “first preventers” instead of first responders. It called for greater cooperation by the private sector to enhance security of chemical facilities, nuclear power plants and digital business records.

It said the federal government should “provide funds, set standards, establish goals, provide intelligence information and augment local response capabilities when necessary.”

The report criticized proposed cuts in emergency preparedness funding for cities. Homeland Security recently dropped San Diego from a list of at-risk cities eligible for supplemental counterterrorism funding, a decision protested by local lawmakers.

The Century Foundation is a privately funded, nonpartisan organization created to study economic, foreign and domestic policy issues.

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