A 21st century response to terrorism

Posted: Jun 11, 2002 12:00 AM
In the direct, no-nonsense style of Harry S. Truman, President George W. Bush proposes a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to protect America against terrorist attacks. The president's proposals entail the most sweeping national security reorganization since Truman combined the War Department and the Department of the Navy into the Department of Defense at the beginning of the Cold War. In his memoirs, Truman reflected on the reorganization of U.S. intelligence: "The war taught us this lesson -- that we had to collect intelligence in a manner that would make the information available where it was needed and when it was needed, in an intelligent and understandable form. If it is not intelligent and understandable, it is useless." He added, "On becoming president, I found that the needed intelligence information was not coordinated at any one place. Reports came across my desk on the same subject at different times from the various departments, and these reports often conflicted." Bush faced similar problems in the events leading up to Sept. 11. The intelligence he received, if he received it at all, was not coordinated and was not in an intelligent and understandable form. That is why he has recommended such sweeping changes in the homeland defense apparatus, as the president said, "to correct any problems and prevent them from happening again." Curiously, however, the president's proposal neglects one essential change that would remedy the problem of uncoordinated intelligence and go a long way toward rendering it "intelligent and understandable"; it leaves the FBI out of the new Department of Homeland Security. That flaw should be fixed by bringing the FBI into the new department. Since Sept. 11, all of the agencies of government have been in a fire fighting mode. Or to mix metaphors, when you're up to your waist in alligators, there's not much time to think about draining the swamp. That's why the president's initiative is so timely. The Justice Department, for example, proposes emergency measures to screen out high-risk individuals from entering the country by fingerprinting and registering foreigners who come from a list of high-risk countries. As you might imagine, what's common about those countries is the fact that they tend to be Arabic and Islamic. Thus the administration has created the impression it is using ethnic and religious profiling, even while it argues it is doing nothing more than employing country-of-origin profiling measures. Meanwhile, the very same Justice Department is most vigorously pursuing the prosecution of John Walker Lindh, a white, middle-class Anglo-Saxon American from California, for conspiring with al-Qaeda to kill Americans in Afghanistan. During the 1990s, between 1,000 and 2,000 U.S. citizens volunteered to become "jihadists" and to fight with foreign armies in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Ethnic and religious profiling not only is politically distasteful and un-American, it also is fighting the last war, as opposed to preparing for the next terrorist attack. Debating the president's plan will give us an opportunity to consider these inconsistencies, not as a matter of political nit-picking but as indicative of weakness in the overall structure of homeland security. By removing the INS from the Department of Justice and placing it in the new Department of Homeland Security, it will be possible, I hope, to cease emergency profiling measures and begin to enforce the 1952 immigration law as it was intended -- to fingerprint all foreigners entering the country and requiring all foreigners to register. Indeed, I would go a step further and require that all foreigners carry a digitized ID card that would permit them to identify themselves with certainty through the use of biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints and palm- print scans, voice recognition and retina scans, which are quickly becoming viable. Providing the defense of our people and our homeland is the federal government's first order of business, and the president's plan is an attempt to ensure that the government effectively carries out this mission. For all of its boldness, however, congressional critics were quick to jump on it in typical partisan fashion. Illustrative was Sen. Ted Kennedy's ad hominem quip when he said the president was merely "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." Rather, the president's plan is a 21st century response to the threat to democracy both here at home and abroad.