- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Friday marked the historic transfer of 20 federal agencies over to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security more than a year after terrorists attacked Washington and New York City killing about 3,000 people.

"The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001," Bush said in a speech to the department's new employees at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington.

"We learned that a threat that gathers on the other side of the earth could strike our own cities and kill our own citizens. It's an important lesson, one we must never forget," the president said

The transfer of the agencies' 170,000 employees to the Homeland Security Department becomes effective on March 1 and comes as the nation is poised on the brink of a controversial war against Iraq that some analysts believe will spawn terrorist attacks in the United States.

"Every member of this new department accepts an essential mission to prevent another terrorist attack," Bush said. He told them the work ahead would not be easy, that they have accepted a difficult mission, but said he had confidence in them.

Bush said that the cabinet-level department was created in a time of war and every worker plays a valuable role in winning the first war of the 21st century. He said that as a vast and free nation, "there is no such thing as perfect security" or a "100 percent guarantee that we've protected against the hidden network of cold-blooded killers."

It is the largest reorganization of federal agencies since President Harry Truman placed the government's intelligence operations under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will head the new $36 billion agency as Bush's 15th cabinet secretary.

Ridge told the president that both he and the employees of the Department of Homeland Security were aware of the enormous challenge they would face as they carried out their duties.

"The sheer depth and breadth of this nation, the magnitude of what occurs here, from sea to shining sea, means that one slip, one gap, one vengeful person can threaten the lives of our citizens at any time, in any number of ways," Ridge said.

The formation of the agency was prompted after 19 Islamic extremists hijacked four commercial passenger airliners, plunging two of them into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and a third into the Pentagon building outside Washington. A fourth plane, thought to be intended for the White House or U.S. Capitol, crashed in western Pennsylvania.

The government and airline industry was soundly criticized for holes in immigration, border an airline security that allowed the hijackers to carry out their plan virtually unchallenged. The attacks spurred an aggressive move to tighten security at airports, seaports and other potential targets nationwide. The new Homeland Security agency would have total control of America's borders along some 7,000 miles of land borders with Mexico and Canada.

Democrats on Capitol Hill had resisted formation of the new agency, opposing what they believed would be a weakening of labor protections for the workers. Bush supported suspending collective bargaining agreements citing national security concerns.

Continuing his efforts to shore up homeland security, Bush this week sent to Congress his proposal for Project Bioshield, a $6 billion initiative to make available vaccines and treatments for anthrax, botulinum, Ebola and plague.

He has also proposed the creation of a Terrorist Threat Integration Center that will analyze all threat information collected domestically and abroad. Once fully operational, the center would house a database of known and suspected terrorists that would be accessible to officials across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security:

— Secures America's air traffic. The Transportation Security Administration has instituted strict security procedures in the nation's airports and has deployed more than 50,000 trained airport screeners and thousands of air marshals.

— Protects America's ports and waterways. The Coast Guard has made its largest commitment to port security since World War II, including over 35,000 port security patrols and 3,500 air patrols. The Coast Guard has boarded over

2,500 vessels of interest, interdicted over 6,200 illegal immigrants, and created and maintained over 100 Maritime Security Zones.

— Protects America from terrorist threats. The FBI has increased the number of counter-terrorism agents by nearly 40% and has expanded to 66 Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide. Through its new National Threats Warning System, the FBI has disseminated more than 50 warnings to over 60 Federal agencies and 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.

— Protects against the threat of bioterrorism. The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $1.1 billion in assistance to help state and local governments increase preparedness and improve communications and laboratory capacity to respond to the threat of bio-terrorism.

— Protects America's neighborhoods. Local Citizen Corps Councils have been formed in 51 states and territories, enlisting thousands of individual citizens to make their communities safer, stronger and better prepared. Community

Emergency Response Team training has been conducted in 244 localities in 42 states.

— Helps state and local responders and emergency managers prepare for attacks. The federal government has awarded more than $900 million and has also supported the training of more than 100,000 first responders.

— Protects America's borders and prevent the entry of dangerous materials. Inspectors will be posted at more than 20 major ports around the world, examining high-risk cargo before it reaches America's shores.


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