TCS Daily

Of Devils and Details

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - June 14, 2002 12:00 AM

The reports that the FBI and CIA thwarted a planned detonation of a radiological weapon by capturing a suspected al-Qaeda member at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, speaks well to the government's efforts to preserve homeland security. If the capture of Padilla does indeed stem from information given to American authorities by Abu Zubaydeh, the captured al-Qaeda lieutenant from the fighting in Afghanistan, it may help confirm other leads given to American authorities, and other entities fighting terrorism.

Nevertheless, recent successes do not constitute cause for complacency. The United States must seriously think about its plans for homeland security, and must reorient its security structure to ensure a greater degree of domestic safety. For this reason, a reorganization of the security structure is a necessity. Now that President Bush has chosen to reorganize the security structure through the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, it is time to put flesh to the idea, and fashion a scheme that will best protect the United States from terrorist attack.

The key to a successful Homeland Security Department is the effective consolidation of anti-terrorist measures. The President properly demands the reorganization of various departments that can be used in the fight against terrorism, and notes that the structure by which their accountability is currently measured is dated. As such, the United States Customs Service, the FBI's counter-terrorism unit, the Secret Service, and various intelligence divisions, would do better to report to the Department for Homeland Security, and their accountability should be altered to reflect that fact.

Note that consolidation does not equate bureaucratization. It is essential to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security fundamentally reorders the accountability structure in the war against terrorism. This does not entail adding one new layer of superiors over another. If all a new Homeland Security Department accomplishes is to add a new set of bureaucrats and bosses to further confuse the chain of command and accountability, it will only serve to further distract from the war on terrorism itself. The number of bosses should not be multiplied. On the contrary, many of them should be replaced. The line of communication up and down the chain of command should be streamlined to the greatest degree possible, and this necessitates the establishment of a clear and distinct organizational structure to demand responsibility.

A key test of whether the establishment of a Homeland Security Department will be to see whether the creation of such a department will be relatively revenue neutral. The creation of a new Cabinet department will never be completely revenue neutral -- some costs will have to be factored into the measure, as consolidation and reorganization can be an expensive enterprise in the short run. However, in the long run, the new Homeland Security Department should be able to save money relative to its new assignments. After all, consolidation and efficiency are supposed to bring about cost savings, as well as making the United States better equipped to fight terrorism. Otherwise, we have a key indication that consolidation and efficiency have given away to excess bureaucratization, and that the Homeland Security Department has lost its way as a result.

In discussing the new guidelines at the FBI, I mentioned the need for proactive measures to fight the war against terrorism, and I noted that the new FBI guidelines went a long way towards institutionalizing a proactive mindset in the effort to disrupt and destroy terror groups. The Homeland Security Department should be no less willing to embrace proactive measures. The protection of the American domestic scene will not be successful unless the anti-terror units brought under the aegis of the Homeland Security Department affirmatively take the fight to the enemy. This means that the Homeland Security Department will have to be involved in undercover operations to infiltrate terror groups and undermine them from the inside-either as planners of such operations, or in the execution of the operations through the deployment of special agents from the Homeland Security Department. It also means that the department will have to be involved in countering money laundering measures taken by terrorists to finance their operations, as well as penetrating the identity and structure of dummy corporations and charities through which terrorist groups raise much needed cash. All of this entails having the Homeland Security Department act both within American borders, and overseas as well.

Critics of the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security raise a valid point when they argue that the creation of such a department could serve as a substitute for a truly proactive attitude in the war against terrorism. To avoid this, reorganization must go beyond merely altering the bureaucratic structure. It must include handing a sense of mission to a new Homeland Security Department to ensure that it is prepared to hit the ground running with a clear and definable plan to fight terrorism.

In creating a new Department of Homeland Security, the Bush Administration and Congress will also have to clear up a massive tangle of turf wars that will inevitably break out. For example, which congressional committees will have jurisdiction over the new Department? Will there continue to be a White House office where staff appointees coordinate with the new Department, just as a National Security Advisor coordinates with the Secretaries of State and Defense? What exactly defines the "homeland"? Obviously, the United States and its territories would be included, but suppose that an attack occurred against an American military base. Does the Homeland Security Department have jurisdiction in that matter, or does the Defense Department? Suppose the attack was launched against an American embassy. Does the Homeland Security Department have jurisdiction there, or does such jurisdiction belong to the security services of the State Department and the Foreign Service? What if a terrorist attack were instituted against FBI and/or CIA personnel overseas-who would have jurisdiction then? And how much jurisdiction would each department have? All of these questions, and many others, must be resolved to the greatest degree possible, and as many questions as possible must be cleared up before the Homeland Security Department can be considered ready to perform its mission.

Reorganization of the bureaucracy could go a long way towards better preparing the United States in the war against terrorism. To the extent that serious substantive and procedural questions about the new Department of Homeland Security are thoroughly answered, and to the degree that such a Department encourages the consolidation and efficiency of the country's war against terrorism, its creation could be of assistance in making the world safer for Americans, and less safe for those who wish us ill. To the extent, however, that the Homeland Security measure further bureaucratizes the security structure, fails to address jurisdiction problems, and fails to take a proactive stance against terrorism, this new reorganization will not be worth the reams of paper that will record and legislate it. What direction the new measure takes is now up to the Administration and Congress. It is to be hoped that the desire to enhance American security-as well as the desire to be in the voters' good graces this November-will help bring about a needed improvement in America's anti-terror structure.



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