Should the American voter agree and re-elect him, Bush will interpret this as further validation of his vision. A consensus of experts who spoke to HSToday—think-tank analysts, a former Department of Homeland Security policy consultant, an author of a homeland security book and a former White House/State Department advisor—say Bush will stay the course. But he’ll tinker with what he’s created.
Here’s what they say we can expect.
The overall strategy will remain the same. Bush has set up a policy of pre-emptive, offensive strikes—going after terrorism abroad in aggressive fashion with respect to both the people and the financial machines that support terrorism. Despite global misgivings voiced about the war in Iraq, Bush has united the world in the pursuit of perceived threats.
And those strategies have paid off: A dizzying series of arrests and revelations unfolded in August as the Code Orange terror alert kicked in, with a reported 100 suspects arrested by Pakistanis using cash and intelligence/computer resources from the CIA and the National Security Agency; 12 terrorism suspects rounded up in Britain; and a top suspect nabbed in Saudi Arabia.
“This administration has been very smart in setting up what it has had to do,” said Dr. James Carafana, senior fellow specializing in defense and homeland security for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The first thing they did was write the strategy before going off in all kinds of different directions. Bush has had to redefine government, and that’s hard to do. By creating the strategy, then creating the Departmentof Homeland Security and directing the intelligence community to pursue it this way, you avoid the problems faced in getting inertia going in one direction, then needing to shift policy in midstream.”
That said, the Department of Homeland Security will likely see some changes. Bush won’t be revealing any weakness in a second term if he announces changes in the structural set-up of DHS. After all, in 1947, the United States created the National Military Establishment, one that maintained a weak secretariat, but strong individual branches of the armed services. This, of course, only lasted as long as a relative cup of coffee in Washington, as Carafana reminds us. Two years later, the Department of Defense was established with a strong secretariat and a more united definition of the nation’s military branches.
“You can’t design a new department perfectly, right out of the box,” he said. “Some of our medical programs now are split between DHS and Health and Human Services. There’s no value in that. They’ll likely bounce it back to Heath and Human Services. DHS has no expertise there. Our visa program is split between DHS and the State Department and, for similar reasons, I see this as getting bounced back to State. DHS has a privacy office and a liberties office, and there should only be one of those.”
The US-VISIT Program will be tightened: During the first term, visits to the United States were clearly under scrutiny. But certain nations—largely NATO allies and other countries considered friendly to us—were subject to large loopholes that exempted their citizens.
“The Bush administration is now closing this loophole,” said Charles Pena, director of defense policy studies for the Cato Institute, a Washington-based public-policy research foundation. “Much of the US-VISIT database is tied to the FBI criminal database now. But it will likely be tied more to terrorism databases in the US and abroad.”
The administration will also continue to push forward a plan to implant electronic ID chips in US passports to allow computer matching of facial characteristics, even as the technology has been revealed to be full of bugs. The biometrics-driven technologies are being counted on to both verify authenticity with respect to identity and also prevent forged passports.
Expect international flight passengers to be regulated much like international cargo: The Bush administration has been quite successful in gaining international cooperation with other countries to screen for suspicious cargo. The whole idea is to intercept potentially dangerous cargo before it gets on a boat to the United States.
“We screen for risks 24 hours before the containers are placed on board, so that we can inspect a suspicious shipment before it becomes a threat to us,” said Brian Goebel, a former counselor and senior policy advisor to US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. Goebel recently left DHS to join the Washington office of the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.
“Conversely, on the air passenger side, we currently take passport data and run it through our watch-list databases and identify high-risk travelers before arrival in the United States,” he said. “Well within another four years, I expect that this administration will be using such information to screen and inspect high-risk travelers before they get on a plane to come here. The new frontier is applying the same techniques to people that we already have used successfullyfor containers.”
Domestic transportation overall—not just on airplanes—will be under more scrutiny. With the recent, election-timed bombing of a train in Madrid, concerns have been raised about the state of rail safety here. And what about subways? And sightseeing helicopters? And ferries in New York and cigarette boats in Miami? The current administration realizesthat the next move by terrorists may be to tap upon transportation that’s currently below the radar and, thus, less regulated. Addressing vulnerabilities within those means of transportation will likely emerge as a greater priority should Bush earn a second term.
“You have to ask repeatedly, ‘What would a terrorist do?’” said former White House/State Department policy consultant I. M. Destler, a professor in the school of public affairs at the University of Maryland and co-author of Protecting the American Homeland. “If he wants to disrupt a system, blowing up a train in an urban location would be one way to do it. Hijacking a sightseeing helicopter and smashing it into a building would be another.”
The PATRIOT Act and its mandates will hold firm. Attorney General John Ashcroft has continued to staunchly defend the PATRIOT Act despite much criticism over civil liberties. The PATRIOT Act has allowed the FBI and CIA to share evidence, and gives terrorism investigators access to evidence-gathering tools that agents in criminal inquiries have used for years. It has made it easier for terrorism authorities to search and seize evidence. President Bush will lobby Congress to renew the act’s 16 provisions, which are set to expire in 2005, our experts said.
Bush will implement the 9/11 Commission report’s findings—on his terms. The commission wants an intelligence czar seated right there on the cabinet conference table. Bush agrees—to a certain extent.
“He wants to have a czar, but not at a cabinet level,” Pena said. “He wants someone to serve at his pleasure, much like the national security advisor, but not someone who would be accountable to Congress. The president will find ways to implement this and other commission findings, while still making it look like it was his idea to begin with. Remember, he was not in favor of the Department of Homeland Security when it was first suggested by members of Congress. Then, he came up with his own version of the department and made it look like it was his idea.”
Spending levels will remain constant, and new technologies will emerge as ‘hot’. The next big technological push could be in what are called “topic maps,” which record intelligence data in ways that make it easier for agencies to share. Topic maps would allow agencies to make better connections between, for example, a suspicious package and a known terrorist cell operating in Europe. Still, as a caution, even the Bush administration’s full-fledged support of such technology will be offset by cultural drags within certain agencies.
“There are still huge gaps between the technology ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’” said George Kondrach, executive vice president of Hackensack, NJ-based Innodata Isogen, a content supply chain services firm that serves clients such as the Department of Defense and Office of Naval Intelligence. “Even gaps among individuals exist within the same agencies. There are radically disparate learning rates on new technology from agency to agency, and priorities.”
Small towns will be kept happy. Political realities are just that—reality. Bush would be re-elected thanks to Main Street, USA, and he wouldn’t turn his back on the small communities by shifting homeland security funds away from them, in order to reward larger cities where he doesn’t fare as well. And, in the end, that may not be an entirely misguided thing.
“The heartland, southern and western states shortof California, will put Bush in office,” said Michael J. Hillyard, author of last year’s book, Homeland Security and the Need for Change. “And they will continue to get a disproportionate share of funding, based upon the likely threat assessment. They may not be as vulnerable, or have as many people at risk. But it can be argued that their capabilities are dramatically less than those in major metropolitan areas. They have so much farther to go, because they’re starting from such a low baseline.”
What once seemed temporary will become life as we know it. We’re used to heightened alerts and the resulting higher-awareness steps. But these may become the norm rather than the exception.
“We’ve had Pennsylvania Avenue closed down now for some time,” Pena said. “Now, the government is considering closing more streets around the White House. I expect Bush to do more of this if re-elected, and not just in Washington. The whole notion of increasing checkpoints, restricting access and adding more steps to the screening process—all of this will become a permanent part of our lives.”
Sec. Tom Ridge: Achieving Balance
On Sept. 7 DHS Secretary Tom Ridge addressed the National Press Club in Washington, DC and enumerated past achievements in bolstering homeland security. Following his prepared remarks (available in full at the DHS website www.dhs.gov/ dhspublic/display?content=3987) he took questions that shed some light on the future of homeland security.
On plans to expand the registered traveler program to non-frequent flyers: “We have five pilot programs around the country where individuals have volunteered to submit personal information to us so we can verify that they are not terrorists. Once these five pilot programs are completed and there’s a 90-day shelf life, we will come back and see whether or not the registered traveler program is appropriate for frequent travelers.
“At some point in time, once that first decision is made as to whether we expand it, and it’s expanded, I would think it would be very appropriate to expand it to include those men, women, families who don’t travel as frequently; but the goal is to design a system that the traveling public has comfort with, that we can balance the security concerns we have and the privacy concerns that a lot of people have. We think the registered traveler program with frequent flyers is a good place to start, but that could also be a prequel. That could be the first step of enlarging it to not only other frequent travelers beyond the pilots, but potentially down the road, the citizens that even travel casually.”
On the likelihood of an Al Qaeda attack prior to the US election: “We remain very concerned about the possibility of attack during the election process, during this particular time. There was a consistent, credible reporting stream that talked about disruption of our democratic process, so we must remain as vigilant and aware and concerned about that consistent, credible, and general reporting.
“When we had specific reporting, we went up to orange in three regions and within the financial service sector, so we remain concerned about that possibility. And every day that we don’t have an attack gives us one more day to put in new systems and new protocols to make us a little safer.
“Right now, we’re working off of watch lists that the law enforcement community has and anti-terrorism watch lists that other agencies have. In the next couple weeks, we’ll be able to expand that because the FBI will have a presence in the national targeting center, and conceivably if a name comes up that we have some concern about, but the individual is not on the watch list but may be subject of an investigation, we’ll be able to match that name with the name of the individual we’re concerned about.
“So every single day when we buy more time, we have a better way to deploy people and technology in the integration of a national effort to make us more secure.”
On the general threat level outside large cities like Washington, DC: “We assess the level of terrorist threat outside of Washington and New York, which will always be at the top of the list I mean, that’s just a fact of life. I’m not telling you anything. It’s not news.
[We concentrate on] New York City for obvious reasons: the impact on the economy and Al Qaeda has always talked about the disruption or the undermining of our national economy. It’s not just the iconic nature of New York City. [It’s also] a lot of the stock exchanges, the financial services community [that] drives not only our national economy, but the international economy and Washington, DC, the nation’s capital—will always be targets.
But wherever we have a densely populated region that has a critical infrastructure that can be turned into weapons of mass destruction, we have concerns about their security measures, the preventive action that they’ve taken, and precautionary measures that they have built into their system of protection.
That’s why Congress, I think very appropriately, gave us additional monies to distribute, under the theory that if you have a densely populated area that’s subject to a threat, that has critical infrastructure, we ought to give more money to those communities, and we’ve done that, sensitive to an enemy that’s looking to inflict catastrophic losses; and the easiest and most likely place that that would occur would be in a densely populated community.
And I would just say that I know some local officials have complained of the overreaction, the security alerts issued last month. I think the Capitol Police have taken it upon themselves, given the work that’s done up there with the Supreme Court and the Congress of the United States, to enhance the security measures in the national capital region. We’re just all working together as closely as we can to make sure that we ramp up security, but not in a way that impedes not only the flow of commerce internally, but there’s a way of life here that people enjoy and we want to keep attracting visitors. That’s a huge part of this region’s economy.
And I would say to you that the Congress created a national capital region coordinator. Tom Lockwood is doing a great job. These and other concerns are something that we put in the mix and communicate with Virginia, Maryland, and the officials in DC on a day-to-day basis.
We’re always looking to ramp up security, but at the same time, trying to regularize it and make people in a particular community more comfortable.
We don’t want to ramp up security to the point where we can’t enjoy our communities, and obviously, it’s a balance, and people are unhappy with the balance, but we’ll continue to do the best we can.”