By Waller, J. Michael
Insight on the News , Vol. 18, No. 26
June was busy month for defending Americans against terrorism. CIA Director George Tenet jetted to the Middle East yet again to help Yasser Arafat rebuild his security forces. FBI Director Robert Mueller, describing a reorganization plan to make the bureau a prime instrument against terrorism, "groveled" before liberal senators who wanted him to promise not to profile Arabs and Muslims. The Justice Department and parts of the intelligence community paused, as they began doing under the Clinton administration, to celebrate June as gay and lesbian month.
Meanwhile the White House political office muddled President George W. Bush's no-nonsense proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by continuing to pressure senior administration officials to provide political legitimacy and cover to Muslim groups, no matter how radical their agenda. Again Mueller caved, this time while speaking at the national conference of a militant Muslim organization that felt slighted by the FBI's counter-terrorism work--even though the group's leadership openly supports the Hamas suicide-bombing gang and of late repeatedly has refused to denounce Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. As an embarrassing topper, an FBI spokesman insisted that the group, the American Muslim Council, "is mainstream."
Somewhere in all this, Bush unveiled a plan for a new DHS, terming it the most massive government reorganization since 1947. Was the secretly and hastily prepared plan just one more prop in the administration's counter-terrorism repertoire, another grand gesture cooked up by the White House political office to show momentum in the sometimes forgotten war on terror? Some Bush backers, calling themselves increasingly frustrated with the administration's lack of message, wondered. Others said the big initiative was sincere, but not well-planned. Still others worried that its unintended consequences would usher in a new internal-security regime that could become a national secret police.
Close reading of what the president said in his June 18 announcement, study of the official papers and legal documents, and interviews with senior administration officials involved in the DHS conception reveal that the proposed homeland-security reorganization is based on years of think-tank research, legal opinions and policy reviews. But DHS came like a bolt from the blue, catching even senior officials by surprise. Insiders tell INSIGHT the secrecy of the planning and the suddenness of the announcement without meaningful outside debate were choreographed to prevent bureaucratic sabotage. "A brilliant stroke" proclaims a jubilant homeland-security official. "The bureaucracy would have smothered this in its infancy if the White House had let it out."
The president's proposed DHS has four main parts: border and transportation security; emergency preparedness and response; protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons; and information analysis and infrastructure protection. It does not envision a centralization of federal police powers or new domestic spying functions. Where government investigative and enforcement agencies are combined it is out of concern for the passage of people and goods entering or leaving U.S. territory.
"We are at a time when we face a great danger as a country and as individuals. The government of the United States is asking the people to be brave as we go forth and prosecute this war," says a federal legal expert and Reagan National Security Council veteran who is occupying a new homeland-security post. "There is a time of high danger here at home." But will this exhortation for bravery lead Americans into an Orwellian world? "The trick, of course, will be to do it in a way that respects and does not invade our civil liberties and our way of life," says the experienced homeland-security insider.
That's a big trick, indeed. …