WASHINGTON — Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-CT), whose committee is leading the congressional creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, today proposed to redefine the role of the military, and specifically the National Guard, in defending the American people against future terrorist attacks.
Lieberman called for going beyond the military’s existing plans to create a new Northern Command to protect North America, and outlined a range of ways that the Department of Defense could work collaboratively with the new Department of Homeland Security to bring the military’s significant resources to bear for domestic defense.
Lieberman argued that though the military is currently focused on this mission, it is applying existing assets to the challenge – not yet developing new, carefully calibrated resources to protect the American people.
“Our Department of Defense has more tools, training, technology, and talent to help combat the terrorist threat at home than any other federal agency,” Lieberman said. “Our military has proven capable of brilliance beyond our borders. Now, we must tap its expertise and its resources within our country—by better integrating the Defense Department into our homeland security plans.”
Lieberman outlined his thoughts during the keynote address of a Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) forum on the next steps in homeland security. Earlier Wednesday, Lieberman held the second in a series of four hearings examining the homeland security reorganization plan proposed by President Bush, this one focusing on the relationship of the intelligence community to the new department.
Lieberman first introduced legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security last fall – a plan closely tracked by President Bush’s recently-announced plan – and is currently holding a series of hearings on the creation of the new department. During those hearings, Lieberman has expressed concern about the appropriate degree of coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, a theme he elaborated on today.
Lieberman announced that to help integrate their efforts, the legislation being crafted in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will include a strong, official link between the Defense Department and the new department to be created.
The Defense Department has enormous assets to bring to this effort, Lieberman said. Its 2.2 million personnel dwarf the Department of Homeland Security’s expected 170,000 personnel, and the new department’s budget will be about one-tenth of the Pentagon’s $393 billion budget. The Defense Department also has trained personnel experienced in responding to crises and expertise in dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons.
“No part of our military is better suited to aid in providing for the common defense of our homeland than the National Guard,” Lieberman said, saying that the Guard’s half a million personnel are not being used to their fullest potential in homeland defense.
While the Guard played an important role after 9/11 in protecting airports and the streets of New York, Lieberman said those were stopgap measures, and that a strategic plan is now needed to “build new and different National Guard units, equip them with new and different equipment, and instill in those servicemen and women new and different ways of thinking about their mission.”
Lieberman today called on President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to “redirect the Guard to focus more mind and muscle on domestic defense,” and outlined some specific areas where the Guard can play a role:
· Prevention and Protection: Lieberman suggested the Air Guard might patrol the skies above our cities more actively; that the Army Guard work with local authorities to better protect our ports, bridges, railways and roads; and that the military should work with the Centers for Disease Control on national disease surveillance;
· Responding to Terrorist Attacks: Lieberman said that existing National Guard State Area Commands (STARCs) can help train local first responders in catastrophic response; that the Department of Defense should establish new Regional Chemical and Biological Incident Response Teams, which would help response forces manage the consequences of such attacks; that National Guard medical officers be deployed to provide care when local public health systems are overwhelmed after a bioterror attack; and that in the event of another attack Guard engineers assist with rebuilding infrastructure, just as they currently do abroad.
Lieberman cautioned that these suggestions should not conjure up images of armed soldiers on street corners, noting that law bars such a scenario and that instead our focus should be on changing our “methods and our mindset” in utilizing the Guard as a lead player – not merely a support force. In addition to strengthening the Guard’s role in homeland defense, Lieberman suggested the military can also apply its resources in others ways.
First, he said the intelligence gathered by the military must be coordinated with what’s collected from other sources and be assessed by the new Department of Homeland Security.
Second, the military should adapt its protocols for medical units in combat – such as chemical, biological, and radiological decontamination units – to help train domestic first responders for civilian use. Third, the military should leverage its technology expertise to help develop a new, domestic security-oriented version of DARPA, the military’s chief resource for meeting its high-tech needs.
In closing, Lieberman said that, “To guard our liberty at home today and tomorrow, we have to call upon all our strengths—including our great military strength. As we redirect our defenses to our homeland, we will reconnect hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers to the proud mission of protecting the land in which they and their families live. And we will reconnect more American civilians to the men and women of our military, whose service and sacrifice have, for more than two centuries now, kept us safe and free.”