A new report urges the Bush administration to make sweeping changes in homeland security or risk a repeat of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The new report on homeland security was put together by more than 30 former high-ranking government and military officials working under the sponsorship of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research organization here in Washington.
Paul Bremer is co-chair of the task force that produced the report. He served as U.S. Ambassador at Large for Counter-Terrorism during the Reagan Administration and also chaired a national commission on terrorism in 1998 that warned of the likelihood of massive terrorist strikes like those of September 11.
"America's geopolitical position in the world today, a position of unparalleled dominance, guarantees that we will face asymmetric attacks like this in the next 20 years. This is the national security threat to American security. It is not a peripheral issue. It is no longer just a question of terrorism. This is the threat to the American homeland as long as we are as dominant as we are because it allows the weak to attack the strong," Mr. Bremer explained.
Many of the recommendations in the Heritage Foundation report deal with protecting the nation's economic infrastructure and have been proposed before. But Co-chairman Paul Bremer says the Bush Administration needs to take tougher steps to deal with the threat of terrorism in the wake of last September's attacks.
"It is not enough that under the current system the manifests for people flying on a plane are provided to security officials after the plane has taken off. We have to have that beforehand. It is not enough, as is now the case, that ships coming into American ports have to give 96 hours of notice of their intention to visit. We have to know who and what are on the ship before they arrive in our ports," he said.
The new report also recommends the establishment of a nationwide surveillance network for the early detection of chemical or biological attacks that emphasizes greater cooperation between local, state and federal public health agencies.
In addition, the Heritage report urges the Bush Administration to move quickly to secure the Global Positioning System satellite network, a critical part of the nation's telecommunications system vital both to the U.S. military and to the commercial sector.
The new report also appeals for greater coordination between local, state and federal law enforcement officials who monitor suspected terrorists inside the United States.
Ed Meese served as U.S. Attorney General in the Reagan Administration. He also served as a co-chair of the Heritage Foundation task force.
"There has to be means in which the federal government, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the other agencies of the federal government, can confidently share information with officials at the local level," he says.
The Heritage report is one of the first of several reports on homeland security expected over the next several months. Congress is likely to add its voice soon as well.
Senator John McCain is among those sponsoring a proposal to establish a national commission of distinguished citizens to examine why the nation's security and intelligence agencies failed to detect the September 11 terrorist plot.
"When the director of the FBI says that he did not have any inkling that terrorists were receiving pilot training in the United States of America. When other experts call what happened on September 11, 'a colossal intelligence failure,' clearly, if we are going to adequately protect America for the future, we have to know the causes of what happened in the past. And that has been a tradition in America throughout our history," Senator McCain said.
President Bush's Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, has vowed to make the country much safer from terrorist attacks than it was before September 11.
But critics, including some who contributed to the Heritage Foundation report, say that Mr. Ridge is having difficulty asserting his authority over several resistant federal agencies that have responsibilities in the homeland security area. These critics say that, in the final analysis, it will be up to President Bush to assert the leadership necessary to craft a comprehensive and efficient homeland security policy.