New homeland security plan revealed


WASHINGTON | With little more than a year left in office, the Bush administration issued a new homeland security strategy Tuesday, calling on citizens and governments to develop “a culture of preparedness” to deal with natural disasters and terrorism.

“Just as our vision of homeland security has evolved as we have made progress in the War on Terror, we also have learned from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina,” President George W. Bush said in a letter accompanying the first update to the National Strategy for Homeland Security in five years.

Besides emphasizing an all-hazards approach to disasters, however, the 53-page document lays out few new ideas. “This reads more like a legacy document, than a strategy that looks ahead,” said Frank Cilluffo, a former White House homeland security adviser who directs the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Outlining priorities, the new strategy rehashes earlier intelligence and focuses on al-Qaida’s desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction as “one of the gravest threats we face.”

It cites “particular concern” about the spread of improvised explosive devices from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to this country, “given the ready availability of IED components and the relative technological ease with which they can be fashioned.”

Al-Qaida’s intensified efforts to place operatives in the United States and he emergence of homegrown extremism are also cited as growing concerns. “The arrest and prosecution inside the United States of a small number of violent Islamic extremists demonstrates that we are not immune to the emergence of homegrown violent Islamic extremism,” the document says.

Questioned about al-Qaida efforts to send operatives here, White House Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend said, “There’s no question that they’re not only under way, they’re ongoing and have been.”

The original strategy for homeland security dates to July 2002 and was written in response to the 9-11 attacks.

But five years later — against the backdrop of eroding support for the Iraq war, stalled progress on immigration reform and border security, and challenges to surveillance policies — some questioned the document’s timing.

“I think this is their last bite at the apple to try to motivate cities, states and citizens to get things done,” said David Heyman, homeland security director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And there’s a lot left to be done.”

A few Democrats were openly skeptical of the administration’s agenda.

“The real question is, nearly five years after the Department of Homeland Security was created, what’s new in this national strategy?” asked Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In a conference call with reporters, Townsend called on Congress to streamline its oversight of homeland security and distribute anti-terror grants based on risk. She also urged lawmakers to grant the government permanent authority to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists.

“I do worry about complacency,” Townsend said. “I do worry about the American people thinking that we’re past this now. We’re not past it. We see the intelligence every day. We know we have a very determined enemy.”

Several homeland security officials shared that assessment and hoped the document would focus attention on preparedness. “I would characterize the strategy as a ... codification of lessons learned and best practices,” said New York State Deputy Public Safety Secretary Michael Balboni.