- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Ensuring security in the American homeland is a huge task. President Bush's executive order creating the new Office of Homeland Security makes it responsible to develop and implement a strategy to protect us from terrorist attacks and recover from the ones we can't prevent. But the way the job is set up gives the Homeland Security czar enormous responsibilities without any real authority to carry them out. The new director of homeland security, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, proved he was tough in Vietnam, where he won a Bronze Star for valor. As a politician, he has proved to be skillful. But his pal George W. has handed him a demanding assignment.

America is almost 3,000 miles across, full of thousands of tempting targets such as cities, bridges, dams and reservoirs. For the would-be terrorist who wants to kill the greatest number of American civilians, we obligingly gather together by the thousands in places of business, sports stadia, and at national monuments. Osama bin Laden said in his 1998 "fatwa" that the Statue of Liberty should fall. One of the hijacked airliners could have destroyed Lady Liberty easily on Sept. 11. The terrorists chose to crash into the World Trade Center instead, preferring a bigger slaughter to the statue's symbolism.

Our open borders enable almost anyone to bring in too many kinds of concealable weapons, even weapons of mass destruction. Each day, hundreds of airliners enter the country, and ships enter our harbors to unload thousands of tons of containerized cargo. The containerized cargo in boxes designed to be lifted off the ship and put directly on 18-wheeler truck chassis pass quickly through customs and are driven everywhere in the country. There is simply too much of it to search it all. Someone who wants to bring in a gallon of anthrax or a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon is probably going to succeed unless our customs people or intelligence agencies get very lucky.

Mr. Ridge will have to sort through two sets of issues: prevention and response. On the prevention side, intelligence is the name of the game. Mr. Bush's order to Mr. Ridge tells him to coordinate efforts for the collection and analysis of intelligence both within and outside the United States regarding threats of terrorism. In this arena, Mr. Ridge will do best to help the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) to coordinate and share information. Coordination of intelligence operations will have to be done diplomatically, because Mr. Ridge has no real clout, and this area is dominated by strong personalities and well-staked-out bureaucratic turf. If Mr. Ridge can smooth the flow of information between these agencies, it will be a job well done.

On the response side, Mr. Ridge can have a more open and forceful role. In 1991 Iraq and today in Afghanistan, the first thing our forces try to destroy is the enemy's command, control and communications ("C-cubed") infrastructure. We aim to destroy in the enemy exactly what we lack ourselves. Police chiefs across the country are asking for the creation of an American civilian C-cubed infrastructure.

One good friend of mine is the director of emergency services for a large county in a Northeastern state. His office controls all the firemen, police and ambulance services for the county. Their responsibility includes everything from heart attacks and terrorist acts to treed cats. His organization responds to dozens of calls every day. But his people, like state and local police and fire departments all across the country, have no organized way of contacting federal authorities FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or whomever or having them contact his team. If there's any place for Mr. Ridge to start, it's to create a reliable and secure method of communication to all the state and local emergency authorities. This may require some federal money to help localities get the tools they need, and Mr. Ridge can go to Congress to get it.

To craft his strategy and implement it, Mr. Ridge is supposed to coordinate the activities of more than 40 federal agencies including the FBI, the CIA and FEMA. But the executive order creating his job gives him no real authority to give orders to any of these agencies. It's a classic federal Catch-22. The agenda of our new Homeland Security czar will be set through compromise and negotiation. These agencies will be his constituency, and he will be their advocate. Mr. Ridge's office can serve many functions, but it can only succeed by guiding not trying to boss these agencies, and make it easier for them to do what they need to do. He can't give orders, but he can lead.

For some time to come, Mr. Ridge's office will have considerable political influence. He has the president's ear, and he will have a big voice on congressional budgets. One of the best things he can do is to wade through the bureaucracy to get to the real issues facing those who will have to be on the front lines in protecting us at home. To do this, Mr. Ridge needs to establish a small committee of trusted experts to help him sort through and organize what needs to be done, and in what order. This will require a lot of leadership, and some of it will be of the head-knocking variety. But that way, Mr. Ridge's new office can be a clearinghouse for organizing the lobbying needed to get Congress to act in the right way, and to not throw money after the usual collection of half-fast ideas. A tall job, for a tough guy. Good luck, Gov. You're going to need it.

Jed Babbin is former deputy undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.

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