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Home Security System

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The timing of George W. Bush's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department
of Homeland Security--hastily unveiled when revelations about FBI lapses
were hitting the front pages--smacks of high-level damage control. And
it was followed by the announcement of the arrest in May of a
Brooklyn-born Al Qaeda plotter who allegedly intended to set off a
"dirty" bomb. This convenient coup was touted as an example of
cooperation between the FBI and the CIA and used to bolster support for
the Bush plan. Nevertheless, consolidating agencies that deal with the
issues of domestic security and reducing bureaucratic rivalry and lack
of direction make sense, if done right.

To be sure, reorganizing twenty-two agencies with 169,000 employees by
Bush's deadline of January 1, 2003, seems a staggering task.
Eighty-eight Congressional committees and subcommittees oversee the
components of the new department, and the turf wars will be fierce. And
Bush's legislative timetable nicely serves his political one: He'd love
to see the subject monopolize the Congressional agenda in the run-up to
the fall election, eclipsing the Democrats' potent issues.

Politics aside, many questions occur at the outset of the debate on the
new department. How, for example, will it solve the shortcomings of
intelligence gathering and dissemination and the endemic rivalry between
the FBI and the CIA? Will it be charged with coordinating intelligence
collection by other agencies or will it be merely a "consumer" of their
work?

And what of the non-national security functions of some of the agencies
slated to be aggrandized into the new DHS, like FEMA, first responder to
natural disasters? Will those worthy activities be relegated to
secondary importance? As Representative John Conyers Jr. asks, if
immigration is brought under the new department, what happens to the
right of political asylum when applicants are reviewed under the
criteria of national security?

These are a few of the hard questions related to mission and chain of
command that must be dealt with by Congress. Pace Bush campaign
rhetoric, government can work effectively for the public good,
but if this project is to succeed, Congress members should not let
themselves be rushed by a re-election-conscious Administration or
bullied into swallowing criticisms by charges that they're impeding the
war effort. Issues of privacy and civil rights should be vigorously
raised. The Ashcroft Justice Department's heavy-handed immigration
crackdown, for example, should be dropped in the trashcan. Such measures
are both an affront to civil liberties and will alienate the Arab
community--the best source of intelligence on Al Qaeda ops among us.

Homeland security does not mean building a better Fortress America. It
means building a better world. US pressure on Israel and Palestine to
achieve a just Middle East settlement would remove one of the main
irritants breeding hatred of America. Verifiable nuclear disarmament and
deterrence will more surely promote international stability than Bush's
pre-emptive war doctrine. Improving the lives of the world's poor--122
million people will die by 2015 of hunger-related causes--will weaken
terrorist support systems more effectively in the long run than sending
in US Special Forces. Homeland security is a global matter.

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