- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

A “new normalcy” throughout all levels of government acknowledging future terrorist attacks as a fact of life, while preserving civil liberties, will improve homeland security strategies, a federal commission said yesterday.

The final report to President Bush and Congress from the federally chartered Gilmore Commission, led by James S. Gilmore III, a former Virginia governor and Republican National Committee chairman, said that can be achieved by providing long-term guidance to federal, state and local government officials.

“There will never be a 100 percent guarantee of security for our people, the economy and our society,” Mr. Gilmore said in the report cover letter. “We must resist the urge to seek total security — it is not achievable and drains our attention from those things that can be accomplished.”

The report of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction contains mostly bureaucratic changes to better prepare the nation against terrorist attacks.

The commission says the color-coded advisory system should be revised to pinpoint threats to specific locations and include training for responding to the different threat levels.

A specific recommendation is to give a White House entity direction of the overall national strategy for homeland security that would then be carried out by the Homeland Security Department.

The commission also recommends the existing Homeland Security Council for the job, which it says “must have some clear authority over the homeland security budgets and programs throughout the federal government.”

Intelligence must be better utilized, disaster response sharpened, and direct resources sent to those communities determined to be at greatest risk of terrorist attack.

The commission emphasizes that government officials must look beyond the September 11 attacks and develop more innovative ways to advance the nation’s security.

“The momentum appears to have waned as people, businesses, and governments react to the uncertainties in combating terrorism and to the challenge of creating a unified enterprise,” the report said.

An ongoing debate of liberty and security as “competing values” is misplaced and the two “must be mutually reinforcing.” The report recommended that the president establish an independent, bipartisan civil liberties oversight board to advise on security issues that restrict civil liberties.

Efforts to broaden law enforcement powers also has “the potential chilling effect of allowing the monitoring of First Amendment activities, such as freedom to peaceably assemble, the free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech, to the point where it discourages the exercise of or directly impinges upon such fundamental rights.”

An increasing reliance on more sophisticated technology also has “the vast potential for invading our privacy,” the report said.

The Gilmore Commission was chartered in 1998 after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and included federal, state and local officials. This was the group’s fifth and final report. It will disband next year.

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