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19 July 2005

Chertoff Says London Bombings Are Forceful Reminder of Threat

Terrorists constantly changing and adapting, homeland security chief says

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that the London terrorist bombings are forceful reminders of the threats and vulnerabilities the United States must confront.

"Our goal is to maximize our security, but not security 'at any price,'" Chertoff said.  "Our security strategy must promote Americans' freedom, prosperity, mobility and individual privacy."

And because the terrorist threat constantly changes and adapts, the Department of Homeland Security "must be nimble and decisive" in its anti-terrorist strategy, he said.

Chertoff testified July 19 before the Commerce Committee about his recently announced reorganization plan for the agency, which includes steps that would likely require some congressional approval.


The plan includes creation of a departmental policy office for centralized and strategic planning, elimination of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, breaking out and increasing the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, creation of a chief intelligence officer to coordinate the work of 11 Homeland Security intelligence agencies and offices, and creation of an office of central operations and a Preparedness Directorate.

The reorganization plan was announced July 13 and is Chertoff's first major initiative since becoming secretary.  It came within days of the terrorist attacks that killed at least 56 people and injured approximately 700 in four suicide bombing attacks during morning rush hour across central London July 7.

At the core of the reorganization plan is Chertoff's philosophy that the agency should have a structure matching its mission, and that its anti-terrorism efforts must be based on risk assessments.

When Congress created Homeland Security in 2003, it specifically gave the secretary the authority to reorganize and restructure the agency to meet security needs, but with appropriate congressional oversight.

Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (Republican of Alaska) said that after reviewing the plan, "I believe your proposals do make sense."

Chertoff based the reorganization on a six-point agenda:

● Increase overall preparedness, particularly for catastrophic events;

● Create improved transportation security systems to move people and cargo  securely and efficiently;

● Strengthen border security and interior enforcement and reform immigration   processes;

● Enhance information sharing with partners;

● Improve agency financial management, personnel development, procurement   and information technology; and

● Realign the agency's organization.


Chertoff also told the senators that the United States would begin requiring a 10-fingerprint scan for foreign visitors to strengthen its US-VISIT program upon initial enrollment, he said.  And the United States will continue to use a two-print verification during subsequent entries, he said.

Both measures are designed to ensure the highest levels of accuracy in identifying people entering and exiting the United States, he said.  And he said that where some security measures are no longer needed, they have been modified or eliminated.

The new entry measure is part of a number of new border security approaches that includes more personnel, new technologies, investments in infrastructure, and interior enforcement, he said.

Homeland Security was created by President Bush to enhance U.S. security against potential terrorist attacks.  Homeland Security was created by combining 22 different federal agencies into a single, cabinet-level department with approximately 180,000 employees.

The Senate approved a $31.9 billion fiscal 2006 homeland security budget on July 14, and the House of Representatives passed a similar spending bill on May 17.  Both budgets will have to be resolved before final House and Senate approval and the president's signature.

The text of Chertoff's testimony is available on the Senate Commerce Committee Web site (PDF, 16 pages).