Anti-Terrorism Agency Faces Turf Wars, Critics Say

By Gribbin, August | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Anti-Terrorism Agency Faces Turf Wars, Critics Say


Gribbin, August, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: August Gribbin

The Bush administration is trying to preserve a counterterrorism system that many observers say won't withstand repeated terrorist attacks.

Policy analysts and certain lawmakers fault the president's decision to avoid a giant government expansion by retaining a decentralized domestic security network that consists of 40 separate federal agencies and a myriad of state and local bureaucracies. All are linked by voluntary agreements and promises of cooperation.

The president's creation of the White House Office of Homeland Security, and his appointment of a close friend to run it, is a move to ensure that the disparate organizations function in harmony despite their different missions, priorities and cultures.

However, critics say the system assures turf battles and confusion. They note that the U.S. counterterrorism and civil defense arrangement differs radically from tested systems in countries that have been rocked repeatedly by bombings, assassinations, street battles and sabotage.

Indeed, the possibility of friction between agencies under stress became apparent earlier this month, when New York's firefighters refused orders to trim their force at the World Trade Center Twin Towers disaster site. The firefighters fought with New York police to gain access to the debris.

As some see it, the president must at least vest budget authority and more direct power in the 2-month-old homeland security office headed by Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor. Mr. Ridge's effectiveness currently depends mainly on his personal relationship with the president.

But a debate over that arrangement is brewing in Congress. Like the question of federalizing airport baggage inspectors, the issue pits those comfortable with increased government control against advocates of limited federal government.

Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, propose creating a big Department of Homeland Security. The new department would house the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Customs Service, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and certain other agencies responsible for critical infrastructure protection. It would plan and coordinate government activities relating to homeland defense.

"Governor Ridge can handle the job if he has sufficient authority," says Mr. Specter, but "as a practical matter, it is impossible for Governor Ridge to go to the president every time there is a turf battle. There is a need for governmental structure in regards to homeland defense."

Canada, France, Germany, Israel and the United Kingdom "had to stumble about before they arrived at a solution that provided a direct line of authority with assured cooperation between states and federal government and . . . a common information database, " says Martha Crenshaw, a well-known specialist on international terrorism at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

All those countries have a single ministry or the equivalent responsible for countering terrorism and handling terrorist events. Each ministry - roughly like a U.S. department - has a rigid command and control structure that dictates who is in charge during any phase of a terrorist attack and recovery.

Each country has special terrorism-related laws that allow for special investigations and increased penalties for terrorism. …

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