Lieberman Launches Homeland Security Debate : Legislation Would Fill Intelligence, Security Gaps Exposed By September 11

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., launched the Senate debate Tuesday on creating a new Department of Homeland Security, seizing an historic opportunity to reform government to combat terrorism against Americans on home soil.

                Under discussion was legislation – introduced in different form by Lieberman last fall –  that would coordinate and consolidate more than two dozen disparate federal agencies, offices, and programs into a focused and accountable department.

                Federal homeland security efforts today are ?dispersed, disorganized, and dysfunctional when they need to become coherent, consolidated, and coordinated to rise to the complex challenge of defeating domestic terrorism,? Lieberman said.

                The legislation, endorsed by a bipartisan vote of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in July is the result of 18 hearings, and of more than 11 months of collaboration, refinement, and negotiation.

                The department would be led by a presidentially-appointed secretary and divided into six major divisions: border and transportation protection, intelligence analysis, critical infrastructure protection, emergency preparedness and response, immigration, and science and technology.  The legislation also establishes a White House Office for Combating Terrorism, which will work with the department secretary to develop and implement a government-wide strategy for combating terrorism.

                Following are excerpts from the chairman?s statement:

                Mr. President, a week from tomorrow we will be commemorating for the first time the one-year anniversary of the savage and cunning attacks of September 11, 2001 , on the American people. September 11 is now one of the darkest days in American history because of the almost 3,000 innocent lives that were taken and because of the way in which the American people were jarred from the dream that we would experience a time of extended peace after our victory in the cold war.

                The attacks made against us on September 11 were not just vicious in their inhumanity, in the lives that were taken, and in their tragic consequences, but also in the assault made by the terrorists on our very way of life and on our values. We are a nation whose founders stated right in the original American document, the Declaration of Independence, that every citizen has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that right is the endowment of our creator…

                What this bill is about, what this proposal is about, stated in the most direct way, is to diminish and hopefully eliminate the vulnerabilities that the terrorists took advantage of.

                I am not one who views another September 11 type attack as inevitable. We are united by our shared values. We are a patriotic and innovative people. And if we marshal these strengths of ours, we can make another September 11 type attack impossible, and that is the aim of the legislation that our Committee puts before the Senate today.

                The urgent purpose of all three versions of the homeland security legislation on the table today?whether we’re talking about what’s been proposed by the President, what’s been passed by the House, or what’s been endorsed by the Governmental Affairs Committee?is to meet America’s post-September 11 security challenge by consolidating disparate federal agencies and offices that deal with homeland security into a single cabinet department, under a strong, accountable Secretary.  The mission of this department will be spearheading the federal government’s effort to defend the American people against terrorism on our home soil, while working with states, counties, cities, towns, and Native-American tribes across the country?as well as the private sector?to improve their preparedness and response capabilities.  The department will also be committed in statute to carrying out the many other vital missions of the consolidated agencies and offices…

                Both Congress and the President have made real progress since September 11th: leading a successful military campaign in Afghanistan , creating the current Office of Homeland Security, passing the USA-Patriot Act, creating the Transportation Security Administration, and beginning to reform the FBI, among other things.  Federal workers are making a valiant effort in cooperation with the lead actors in this fight, our state and local workers, to keep us safe.

                But we have to be honest.  Our progress will hit a wall if we don’t reform the federal government’s homeland security capabilities.  The gains that we’ve made in keeping America safe since September 11th have been and will continue to be despite the system, not because of it.  It’s dispersed, disorganized, and more than a little dysfunctional.  It needs to become coherent, consolidated, and coordinated to rise to the complex challenge of defeating 21st Century terrorism in our homeland.

                The 18 hearings we in the Governmental Affairs Committee have held since September 11th on this issue, and countless other hearings by other committees, have made the scope and depth of the dysfunction clear to me.  To sum it up in the words of Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, who testified before us on October 21st, “We have built our defense and intelligence communities to fight an away game.”

Across our government, we are dividing our strengths when we desperately need to be multiplying them?and, as the President himself acknowledged on June 6, the Office for Homeland Security ably headed by Governor Ridge just doesn’t have the structural power to get the job done.  Indeed, the release on July 16 of the President’s National Strategy for Homeland Security underlined the importance of creating a department that can orchestrate the huge task ahead.

                Mr. President, the status quo is unacceptable, and if we are to rise to the occasion, we have to organize for the occasion.  So what we contemplate today isn’t simply a government reorganization.  It’s a movement from disorganization toward organization, from entropy toward order, and from blur toward focus.  When we pass this legislation, the American people for the first time will be able to look to a single federal agency to take the lead in the homeland fight against terrorism, and to hold that agency accountable for accomplishing what is government’s first and most important responsibility.

                The Department we will create, to be led by a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed Secretary, would be comprised of six directorates, that taken together communicate its missions and goals.  Let me describe them to you briefly:

?             First, Intelligence.  We can’t prevent attacks, nor can we adequately prepare to protect ourselves or respond, without first detecting danger.  Our legislation would establish a strong intelligence division to receive all terrorism-related intelligence from federal, state and local authorities, human and signal, and closed and open sources?including foreign intelligence analysis from the Director of Central Intelligence’s Counterterrorism Center?and then fuse it in a single place.  Indeed, the new Department won’t just receive and analyze intelligence collected from other agencies; it will collect lots of information in-house?from Customs, Immigration, the Coast Guard, TSA, and other constituent agencies.  All that will be fed into the same stream so the Department can detect patterns and work with law enforcement to prevent attacks against America .

                This precise capability exists nowhere else in government, and would be designed to complement the Director of Central Intelligence’s Counterterrorism Center and the capabilities of other intelligence and law enforcement agencies?which themselves are reforming and improving in the wake of September 11th.  It would mean that all information related to terrorist threats on American soil would for the first time in our history be seen by the same eyes and processed by the same analysts.  Call it “hear all evil, see all evil.”  I think this is precisely what we need to prevent the recurrence of the disastrous disconnects that left the puzzle pieces of the September 11th plot laying scattered in the box when they might have been assembled.

?             Second, Critical Infrastructure.  We can expect terrorists to try to hurt us by destroying or disrupting our infrastructure, which includes our water and agriculture delivery systems, energy grids, information technology networks, and more?85 percent of which is owned and operated by the private sector.  That’s the nervous system, respiratory system, and circulatory system of our society.  Infrastructure isn’t the only terrorist target; indeed, attacks by weapons of mass destruction are usually designed to destroy people, not to damage our infrastructure.  But infrastructure is a big, vulnerable, and complex target, and today, responsibility for working with the private sector to safeguard our infrastructure is spread thin throughout the federal bureaucracy.  This directorate would mesh critical infrastructure protection offices now residing in five different federal agencies including the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the General Services Administration.

?             Third, Border and Transportation Protection.  Every physical source of danger that’s not already inside our country must come in through our ports and airports, or over our borders.  And once danger gets inside, it’s much harder to root out. So to effectively interdict, interrupt, and intercept terrorists and the weapons or toxic materials they seek to smuggle in, this directorate would bring together our Customs Service, the border quarantine inspectors of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the recently created Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center .  The Coast Guard will also be transferred to the new department, reporting directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security?and will work very closely with all other authorities on our waterways, in our ports, and at our borders.

?             Fourth, Science and Technology.  Terrorists will try to turn chemistry, biology, and technology against us in untraditional ways, so we must marshal our talents to preempt them and protect ourselves.  This directorate would leverage America ‘s advantage on this front, creating a lean entity to manage and coordinate innovative homeland security research and development, and to spearhead rapid technology transition and deployment.  It would be armed with an array of mechanisms to catalyze and harness the enormous scientific and technological potential residing within our government, companies and universities.  One of the key features of this Directorate will be a homeland security version of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has sparked the development of revolutionary war fighting tools for our military?not to mention impressive commercial technologies like the Internet.

?             Fifth, Emergency Preparedness and Response.  After September 11th, we all have an obligation to think about?and prepare ourselves for?the unthinkable, including attacks with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.  This directorate, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at its core, will combine and integrate the strengths of a number of federal agencies and offices responsible for dispensing critical vaccines and medicines, training local and state officials in emergency readiness, as well as reacting to and recovering from attacks.

?             Sixth, Immigration.  America ‘s positive heritage of immigration, which is central to our character as a country of responsibility, opportunity, and community, must be honored.  But at the same time, post-September 11th we have to look with new scrutiny at illegal immigration, as well as at how to better screen those who come to this country legally.

                Our proposal would bring the troubled Immigration and Naturalization Service into the Department of Homeland Security, and place those functions in their own division.  Then, to undo internal conflicts in the agency and give each set of functions the concerted attention it deserves, we’ll split that directorate into two distinct but closely linked bureaus, as called for in the consensus INS restructuring plan of Senators Kennedy and Brownback.  This is a long-overdue, major reorganization of a very troubled agency.

                On one hand,  a bureau of immigration services and adjudications?responsible for visa petitions, naturalization applications, asylum and refugee issues.  And on the other, a bureau of enforcement and border affairs?responsible for border patrol, detention, removal, investigations, and intelligence.  As Governor Ridge said to the Senate Judiciary Committee, “To make the system work, the right hand of enforcement must know what the left hand? is doing at all times.”  I agree?and our proposal will ensure that they work together, while giving them better tools to work with.

                We also require the Secretary to establish a border security working group?comprised of the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security and the Undersecretary for Immigration Affairs.  Our goal is to make passage more efficient and orderly for most people and goods crossing the border?while at the same time identifying and apprehending dangerous people and things.

                On this front, the Secretary of DHS would also have authority to issue regulations on applications procedures for visas processed by the State Department’s consular officers, and to assign employees of the Department to diplomatic and consular posts abroad to advise consular officers on specific security threats.

                Those are the six core directorates, which I see as six spokes of  a wheel.  Where they all meet, at the axis, is where our security comes together.

                There are a few other important pieces of the legislation I need to describe.  As we need to keep reiterating, this is not a federal fight.  It’s a national fight?with the front lines in our cities and towns all across America .  You need only look at the long list of fallen heroes of September 11th to understand that.  That’s why we in Washington must do a far better job of creating and sustaining potent partnerships with states and localities, which will be facilitated throughout the new Department through an Office for State and Local Government Coordination.  This office is designed to assess and advocate for the resources needed by state and local governments all across the country.  This office has been strengthened with the help of an amendment by Senators Carper and Collins providing a number of new mechanisms?including the creation of liaison positions in states?to ensure close and constant coordination between the federal government and the first responders whose sacrifices keep us safe.

                And to meet the pressing need for well-trained firefighters in our communities, our legislation includes an amendment by Senators Carnahan and Collins that would provide federal assistance to local communities nationwide to hire as many as 10,000 additional fire fighters per year.

                Finally, recognizing the need to ensure that fundamental American freedoms are not curbed as we build a more secure society, we’ve created positions of Civil Rights Officer and Privacy Officer, as well as a designated officer under the Inspector General within the new department.  Those positions will provide the Secretary valuable guidance to help craft effective policies and practices that don’t compromise individual rights, and ensure there is an effective avenue for receiving complaints and investigating them.

                Outside of this Department, within the White House, the amendment would create another critical entity?a National Office for Combating Terrorism (NOCT).  We must not fail to recognize that the fight against terrorism is by definition much larger even than a robust new Department of Homeland Security?involving our military and intelligence communities, diplomatic services, law enforcement agencies, and others.  It’s therefore still in need of a policy architect who can design and build the overarching anti-terrorism strategy for the President.  The Director of this Office will work with the Homeland Security Secretary to develop the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism and Homeland Security Response.  With budget certification authority, he or she will make sure that all the budgets that make up our anti-terrorism strategy fit together smoothly.  And because of the critical nature of the job, the Director would be confirmed by the Senate, making him or her accountable to the Congress and to the people.

That’s an overview of our legislation.  I’m proud that we in the Senate are near-unified in this attempt to form a more perfect Union.

                Mr. President, Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” There are still some pessimists who want to derail this legislation, but I believe we have crafted a fundamentally optimistic?and realistic?answer to the homeland security challenges we face. And I am confident that optimism will prevail, as it has over and over again throughout the history of America.

                As we go forward with amendments and discussion and votes on the remaining differences, I hope and believe that optimism will prevail, and constructive action will result – together, united, across party lines, as we it has over and over again throughout the history of our great country, which today faces a challenge that is unprecedented.  And the response that we are called on to give is equally unprecedented.