Homeland Defense Effort Taking Off, Officials Say
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2003 - In its short existence, the Office
of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense has
established good working relationships with all homeland security
players, said one of the office's top officials.
Peter Verga, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for
homeland defense, said the relationship among law enforcement agencies,
the new Department of Homeland Security, the newly operational
U.S. Northern Command and his office are helping to make the United
States more secure.
The setup could have been a disaster, with competing lines of
authority and conflicting missions. Instead, it has been a collegial
exercise in which all players are working together to formulate
plans and processes to protect the United States and its citizens,
Verga explained the differences between DoD's homeland defense
mission and that of the Homeland Security Department.
"We have a national strategy for homeland security, which is
the protection of the (United States) from terrorist attacks, the
reduction of vulnerability from terrorist attacks, and the mitigation
and recovery from terrorist attacks, should they occur," he said. "That
mission belongs to the Department of Homeland Security.
"In DoD," he continued, "we undertake homeland defense, which
is the traditional military defense of United States people, U.S.
territory (and) critical infrastructure against external threats
Both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are
part of the homeland defense mission, Verga said. In two short
years, the U.S. military has routed the Taliban and freed Afghanistan
from an oppressive, autocratic regime.
The U.S. military also has deposed Saddam Hussein, liberating
23 million Iraqis. Both of these operations take the war to the
terrorists, Verga said.
"Our principal role in the defense of our nation is to attack
the enemies of the United States where they live, as opposed to
letting them attack us where we live," he said. "That overseas,
worldwide war on terrorism is the department's principal contribution
to making the homeland more secure."
Still, he said, the U.S. military has a role in homeland defense,
and the department had made changes that made the country more
secure even before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since
Sept. 11, that pace accelerated, he added. The military made changes
in the worldwide command structure, most notably establishing the
U.S. Northern Command, which went to full operations capability
on Sept. 11, 2003.
This command unified the three areas of defense of the United
States: maritime, air and land.
"For the first time, they are under a single unified commander," Verga
said. "The combatant commander is responsible for all three domains." In
the past, the North American Aerospace Defense Command -- a combined
U.S.-Canadian command -- managed air defense, and U.S. Joint Forces
Command handled land and sea defense.
The other major reorganization was establishing Verga's office.
That office formally stood up in March.
"We are charged with the overall supervision of the homeland
defense activities of the department, and provide the guidance
and policy direction necessary to provide that homeland defense," he
said. Former Congressman Paul McHale is the assistant secretary
of defense for homeland defense.
Verga said communication is superb among all the homeland security
players, on both an individual level and at the highest levels
of government. All are working to formulate the homeland defense
vision and are drafting their plans to implement a unified layered
defense of the territory of the United States, he said.
The new office is the advocate within the department's budgetary
process for the resources necessary to carry out the homeland defense
function. Verga said his office works more closely with U.S. Northern
Command than other DoD offices do. He said the relationship is
similar to the way the assistant secretary of defense for special
operations and low-intensity conflict works with U.S. Special Operations
Verga said senior leaders from U.S. Northern Command visit Washington
frequently, and members of his office work in Colorado Springs,
Colo., with members of the command.
On the homeland security side, there is a close working relationship
between DoD and DHS. Verga said 65 DoD employees work with the
Department of Homeland Security "to ensure close and seamless cooperation
between the departments."
Still, even with a good beginning there is more to do, he said.
Verga said what keeps him up at night is what he isn't worrying
"I'm worried we're not worrying about something we haven't even
thought of," he said. "That is the greatest challenge. DoD plans
better than anyone in the world, but you have to know what we're
up against. We're working on that."