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Bush, Congress Discuss New Homeland Security Agency - 2002-06-07

President Bush met with congressional leaders Friday to discuss plans for a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The new agency would be responsible for securing the nation's borders and analyzing intelligence reports on terrorist threats.

President Bush brought congressional leaders from both parties to the White House Friday as he followed up his nationwide address announcing plans for the new agency.

He will need congressional approval to make Homeland Security a cabinet-level department, which the president has said should happen before the end of the year. "I think most members of Congress understand the need to act. I know members of Congress know that we are in a new type of war," Mr. Bush said.

The president and congressional leaders all expect there will be some bureaucratic infighting over parts of existing agencies that are being split off to join the new department.

Homeland Security will also take over the work of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs, the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and the Secret Service in the biggest government reorganization in more than 50 years.

Following their meeting with the president, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said Congressional leaders are ready to take on expected bureaucratic opposition to the move because he said the consolidation of authority over Homeland Security is the best way to prevent another attack.

"We are not kidding ourselves. There is going to be some opposition, and it probably will be bureaucratic turf protection. There will be a lot of arguments about why we ought not to do this, but I think we have got to try to preserve the feelings of anger and purpose that we had in the days immediately after September 11th," Senator Lieberman said.

While the new department would have control over border security and emergency response to chemical, biological, or nuclear attack, there has been some criticism that plan leaves both the CIA and the FBI virtually untouched.

Some in Congress believe miscommunication between those agencies failed to synthesize a variety of intelligence reports before September 11 which now appear to indicate that a terrorist attack was in the works.

President Bush said reforms are already under way at the FBI and CIA because he said suspicions and insights of some intelligence agents did not get enough attention. "The FBI and the CIA are changing. They understand that there have been gaps in intelligence sharing," Mr. Bush said.

The president said there is no evidence that mishandled intelligence reports could have prevented the attacks.

By asking Congress to create a cabinet-level post to coordinate Homeland Security, President Bush said he will unite essential agencies that he says "must work more closely together" to protect against another terrorist attack.