- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

President Bush tapped Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to be our terrorism czar, charged with leading, overseeing and coordinating "a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come."

Let's hope the drug czar's office is not the model for this new Cabinet-level function. The 13-year-old Office of National Drug Control Policy was, conceptually, a great idea. Unfortunately, designed by a fractious committee and given responsibilities that far exceed its authority, the office of the drug czar has become a toothless tiger.

The drug czar is expected to coordinate actions of many federal departments, bureaus and agencies but has no veto authority. He is charged with coordinating both domestic and international actions, but has no say over the spending of the $20 billion appropriated for anti-drug programs. He is expected to negotiate with foreign governments but is limited to merely recommending alternative approaches. Essentially, he is little more than a mouthpiece for anti-drug programs. The limited successes of former drug czars William Bennett and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey can be attributed to their forceful personalities, not to the effectiveness of the organization.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Ridge must avoid these shortcomings The staff must be organized, the operations sufficiently funded, and appropriate authority must be delegated. Mr. Ridge, a two-term governor, a no-nonsense leader with Vietnam and anticrime fighting experience, will be a definite asset.

The security czar must be domestically focused. Ridge should be a member of the president's national security team but resist becoming embroiled in foreign operations. He must have statutory authority and swift access to the president. Congress should immediately pass a law creating this Cabinet-level office, appropriate substantial funds for its operations, and grant emergency veto authority over other Cabinet officials.

In 2001, the three-year U.S. Commission on National Security recommended that agencies like the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, the Customs Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency come under one authority. A more recent study by the General Accounting Office recommended that a centralized antiterrorism office should be created to coordinate the response mechanisms of various federal intelligence, law enforcement, and relief agencies, as well as the National Guard. The Immigration and Naturalization Service should be added to this list. Stopping terrorists at our borders must be part of our homeland security program.

Coordinating and sufficiently funding this broad spectrum of federal and state government response mechanisms will be a massive challenge under emergency situations. Only centralized control of their actions will provide the level of insurance promised by the president against future terrorist attacks.

Probably the most daunting task facing Mr. Ridge will be identifying threats and stopping them before attacks are executed. As demonstrated by the horrible events of Sept. 11, we must develop the ability now lacking to access quickly information from many sources, evaluate it, and then provide law enforcement with the information and the authority to stop terrorists before they execute their plans.

Mr. Ridge needs to end ineffective programs as well. A study by the Stimson Center, a nonprofit Washington research organization, found that most of $9.7 billion designated for antiterrorism programs ended up in the pockets of consultants, "Beltway Bandits," rather than in equipment and training for first responders.

Americans need to be educated about counterterrorism as well. All citizens should learn to recognize and report suspicious people and incidents. Citizens must learn what to do in case of a terrorist attack. They need to practice evacuation of buildings and know where to take shelter, just as they did during the Cold War.

Those who will be called upon to respond to a terrorist attack also must be prepared. Vaccination programs should be developed for police, firemen and National Guardsmen assigned to chemical and biological teams. These teams also need the best detection and clean-up equipment available. We must also train medical doctors to recognize and treat victims struck by biological and chemical agents. Key hospitals need to stock sufficient antibiotics to treat victims of future attacks. Although the U.S. government operates training facilities at Fort McClellan, Ala., the Justice Department's National Domestic Preparedness Consortium at Fort McClellan is underemployed and too few of our first responders have been trained there. This, too, must change.

President Bush's call for a war on terrorism is appropriate. Past promises to battle terrorism have quickly faded as Americans lost interest. This time must be different. Creating a homeland security office against terrorism is a good first step, but Americans must prepare for a long war that will be expensive and unlikely to eradicate terrorism completely. We should expect a level of assurance that everything possible is being done to identify and eliminate each threat. Should such efforts fail, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Robert Maginnis, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is the Family Research Council's vice president for policy.

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