On Homeland Security
November 02, 2002, 2:00am

While we are all rooting for President Bush to win the War on
Terrorism, it is important that we know the facts about the homeland
and national security debate. The assertion that Democrats are not
committed to homeland and national security is ludicrous and is a
perfect example of the ability of the Republican spin machine to distort
the issues. In fact, a little history is in order:

  • Before September 11th, Bush and his advisors did not pay
    enough attention to the possibility of a large-scale terrorist
    . Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza
    Rice has said she could have never predicted such an attack, despite
    warnings of the French, Israeli and American intelligence communities.
    On August 6th, 2001, the CIA sent Bush a memo warning of possible
    al Qaeda plane hijackings. So why was there no increase in airport
    security, including reinforced bullet-proofed cockpits? At the
    time of the presidential transition, Clinton’s National
    Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, made it very clear to Ms. Rice
    that her greatest concern should be Osama bin Laden and the al
    Qaeda terrorism network. If that terrorism threat had remained
    a high level of priority in all levels of government, could these
    attacks have been prevented? We may never be able to answer that
    question. The purpose is not to assign blame but simply to point
    out that Republican leaders have not proved themselves to be more
    effective protectors of Homeland Security, as they would have
    the American people believe.

  • Seven months before the terrorist attacks, the Bush administration
    ignored a detailed report co-authored by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren
    Rudman, co-chairing the United States Commission on National Security,
    that warned of possible terrorist attacks, including “a
    weapon of mass destruction in a high-rise building.” The
    report outlined a detailed blueprint for how to make America safer
    that included, among other suggestions, a plan for the creation
    of a National Homeland Security Agency. The Bush administration
    disregarded the report, despite momentum from Congress to implement
    the plan. On May 5, 2001, the White House announced it would instead
    form its own committee, headed by Dick Cheney, to look into security
    concerns and produce a report in October of that year.

  • On September 10th, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft
    rejected the FBI’s request for a $58 million increase for
    their counterterrorism budget
    to pay for 149 new counterterrorism
    field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators.
    He did that despite the fact, discovered later by a Congressional
    investigation, that the FBI had only one analyst monitoring al
    Qaeda! In that same budget, Ashcroft proposed cutting $65 million
    for state and local counterterrorism grants. In lists of priorities
    issued from the Justice Department between May 10th and August
    9th, 2001, and analyzed by The New York Times, counterterrorism
    was never once mentioned as a priority. Like the other intelligence
    agencies, the FBI had a severe shortage of Arabic translators
    before September 11th – a clear indication that the Justice
    Department did not take the terrorist threat seriously.

  • When President Bush first proposed the idea of a homeland
    security coordinator, the Democrats countered at that time with
    a proposal calling for a full Department of Homeland Security.
    In fact, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman proposed a bill back
    in October, 2001 to create a Department of Homeland Security that
    would have given homeland security advisor Tom Ridge cabinet-level
    status. At that time, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, in
    a statement summarized in The New York Times, explained what a
    “disruptive, politically impossible government reorganization
    would be required if Congress gave Mr. Ridge cabinet status and
    tried to create a new homeland security agency that would subsume
    current departments.” Now the Republicans have the gall
    to accuse the Democrats of delaying implementation of the very
    idea that the Democrats proposed over a year ago and the Republicans
    opposed at that time.

    Just a few months ago, Bush cancelled $5.1 billion approved
    by the Congress for emergency homeland security spending. This
    money would have gone to nuclear security improvements, port protection,
    airport security, the Secret Service to combat electronic crimes,
    law enforcement resources for state and local governments, FBI
    counterterrorism efforts and information technology enhancement,
    urban reserve and rescue teams, cybersecurity improvements to
    protect our economy, food and water security, border security,
    dam and reservoir security and the Customs Service to increase
    inspections, among other areas of homeland security spending.

    The Republicans initially tried to block an investigation into
    events leading up to September 11th and the preparation of government
    agencies for that large- scale attack. This major event in American
    history deserves clear and independent research so that we can
    understand what happened in order to prevent such a disaster from
    occurring again. This bill was passed only after enormous pressure
    from the victims’ families.

What this brief timeline shows us is how important it is right now, with
the Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate and the House
of Representatives, to have a strong, independent press to ask the
serious questions and do sophisticated analysis of the issues. We
know the Republicans will try to spin everything to their advantage
– but the American people deserve the truth.