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Officials Back New US Security Department - 2002-06-09

The Bush administration is making a big public push for the creation of a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Top administration officials made their case on all five of the Sunday morning news interview programs that air nationally on American television.

The president's homeland security advisor says al-Qaida has been dismantled in Afghanistan, but thousands of trained terrorists remain in dozens of countries. "They are shadow soldiers, and they are all over the world, and I suspect some of them remain in the United States of America as we speak," said Tom Ridge on NBC's Meet the Press, saying the United States must do all it can to prevent further terrorist attacks. He said that is why the nation needs a centralized Department of Homeland Security. "This is an enduring vulnerability," he said. "This is a permanent condition. So even if you get Osama Bin Laden, and we will, there will be a successor. And even if you dismantle al-Qaida, given the fact you had so many other zealots and so many other anti-American camps around the world, we have to prepare for and plan on this being a permanent condition."

The Department of Homeland Security, if approved by Congress, will include key elements of eight cabinet and cabinet-level agencies. It will absorb the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard and the Customs Service, to name just a few.

The new department will also analyze and synthesize information collected by the intelligence community on possible terrorist activities. At one time, some thought was given to including the FBI in the new agency. But White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told ABC's This Week the idea was rejected in part because it would send out the wrong message.

"We did not want to create a homeland security department that would look like the old Soviet era, you know, ministry of the interior. This is a homeland security department that will secure the homeland. It is not designed to be a law enforcement agency," he said.

Mr. Card also rejected the notion that President Bush announced the government restructuring plan last Thursday in part to detract attention from congressional hearings into intelligence failures prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The top republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said those hearings will most likely turn up more revelations of missed clues and signals. Alabama's Richard Shelby told the CBS program Face the Nation that the president's reorganization proposal does not address a communications gap between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"I believe as this investigation unfolds you are going to see more and more problems in the intelligence community - the FBI, CIA, NSA [National Security Agency] and so forth. And I believe we are going to have to at the end of the day, and we are going to need the help of this administration, to change a lot of things structurally and otherwise with these huge bureaucracies," said Sen. Shelby.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said on Face the Nation that the administration must be flexible in its dealings with Congress on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

"We need now to have a full discussion of this plan," he said. "Let people on both sides who have other ideas present [to] them, and let those ideas battle themselves in the forum of public opinion, and we will come out with a better plan and one that has a consensus of support for its implementation."

President George W. Bush is urging Congress to pass the necessary legislation quickly. He wants to see congressional action by the end of the year, with the new cabinet department in place in 2003.