Lieberman Challenges Administration Refusal to Acknowledge Security Vulnerabilities

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday challenged the Administration’s blanket rejection of a bipartisan analysis of homeland security vulnerabilities, an analysis that Lieberman reached months earlier and which the Administration stubbornly refuses to recognize.

In a July 16, 2003, letter addressed to Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge, Lieberman called upon the department to justify its reckless indifference to a report written by a special task force of the Council on Foreign Relations and composed of distinguished former government officials, including a director of the CIA and the FBI, a senator, a White House terrorism adviser and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The report, Lieberman wrote, “is an extremely serious and responsible piece of work that merits our attention… It is yet another wake-up call for all of us charged with furthering this government’s fundamental mission – to protect citizens from harm. Only an unflinching assessment of our vulnerabilities and fierce commitment to remedying them will improve our ability to prevent, or respond to, another terrorist attack.”

Titled “Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared,” the report concludes that the nation is not yet on track to repair weaknesses in its homeland defenses. It advocated spending $98.4 billion over five years, beyond current spending, just for first responders. The Homeland Security Department’s response was to call the report’s budget recommendations “grossly inflated.”

Since February 14, 2003, when Lieberman addressed the George Washington University Anser Institute for Homeland Security and the Elliott School for International Affairs, he has been advocating for more resources to address homeland security weaknesses – ranging from the communications equipment of first responders, to container tracking systems, to bio-terror protection. He proposed spending an additional $16 billion to reinforce the President’s Fiscal Year 2004 homeland security budget, $7.5 billion of which was for first responders (for a total of $11 billion for first responders.) The Council task force has now documented the need for even greater sums for first responders.

“On what basis, then, does your Department dismiss the need for these additional funds?,” asked Lieberman, who led Congress last year toward the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. “Please indicate, specifically, what components of the budget recommendations are ‘grossly inflated’ and the basis for that assessment.”

Since Lieberman’s February address, the evidence has been mounting from a variety of sources – including conservative and bipartisan groups – that the Bush Administration is shortchanging homeland security needs. The Council on Foreign Relations report is the latest example, and perhaps the most authoritative. The task force that authored the report was led by former New Hampshire Republican Senator Warren Rudman, who co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security- 21st Century, which presciently predicted a terrorist attack of unprecedented scope within our borders, long before the events of September 11, 2001.

The Administration, however, remains dogmatically inflexible.

“We are at war against a ruthless enemy that has targeted us at home and could do so again if we don’t attend to the gaps in our homeland defenses,” Lieberman said. “Yet this Administration insists on spending the taxpayers’ money on ineffective and unfair tax cuts rather than our first responders and preventers and the thousands of other people who might stop a terrorist attack if given the chance.”