George Will

WASHINGTON--Asked why al Qaeda might have been trying to kill him in 1999--he abandoned his house for a month and acquired Secret Service protection based on an alert from Yasser Arafat--Richard Clarke, who The Washington Post says ``coordinated U.S. efforts to hunt and kill al Qaeda's senior leaders'' years before 9/11, simply says: ``We were killing them. Fair enough.''

Asked for the good news about homeland security, Rep. Chris Cox, the California Republican who chairs the new Homeland Security Committee that oversees the new Homeland Security Department, says the government is learning how to have ``actionable'' threat assessments. When the terror alert stage gets raised to ``orange,'' that is because of specific information that Cox says should not cause extraordinary, expensive and identical measures in every community. It is wasteful--and dangerous--to have the Sioux Falls police and the Los Angeles Airport both responding with preset procedures to a single alert from Washington.

Cox has chosen as his committee's staff director John Gannon, who served as deputy director of the CIA and was chairman of the National Intelligence Council in September 1999 when it declared: ``Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft ... into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the White House.'' Gannon stresses that better intelligence enables us to ``bound the threat,'' to understand that ``there are not endless terrorists with endless threats.''

Clarke was the leading counterterrorism official from 1995 until his departure from government in February, and now is consulting, lecturing and writing about terrorism. He says the good news about counterterrorism is that people now care about it, and it is not ``resource-constrained.'' The bad news is that ``no one's in charge.''

Part of Cox's committee's job is to see that the absence of a single counterterrorism czar does not allow the homeland security issue to become politicized, and the homeland security program to become the mother of all barrels of pork. Oversight is especially crucial because the mere invocation of homeland security concerns tends to trump all other arguments. But cities and states--and businesses--that are in deepening financial distress will be glad to know that Cox believes that their national security measures should be financed out of the national security budget.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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