Tags: FEMA | Charge | Terrorism | Response

FEMA in Charge of Terrorism Response

Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM

The president tapped Vice President Dick Cheney to head a task force to review U.S. policy and response to domestic terrorism. FEMA's newly created Office of National Preparedness will implement the recommendations from Cheney's panel.

"Today, numerous federal departments and agencies have programs to deal with the consequences of a potential use of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon in the United States," Bush said.

"Many of these federal programs offer training, planning and assistance to state and local governments. But to maximize their effectiveness, these efforts need to be seamlessly integrated, harmonious and comprehensive."

FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh told senators on Tuesday that the purpose of the new office would be to bring "clarity" to the 46 agencies that comprise the national response strategy to a domestic terrorist attack.

He said he expected the vice president's review to be completed by Oct. 1, with FEMA assisting.

Allbaugh was the national campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000 and is a close friend of the president. He is considered part of Bush's inner circle of advisers - dubbed the Iron Triangle - along with White House communications director Karen Hughes and senior adviser Karl Rove.

At the time of his nomination, Bush said of Allbaugh: "The person who runs FEMA is someone who must have the trust of the president. Because the person who runs FEMA is the first voice … someone whose life has been turned upside down, hears from."

"The Office of National Preparedness will work closely with state and local governments to ensure their planning, training and equipment needs are addressed. FEMA will also work closely with the Department of Justice, in its lead role for crisis management, to ensure that all facets of our response to the threat from weapons of mass destruction are coordinated and cohesive," Bush said in his statement Tuesday.

Allbaugh appeared before a three-day hearing on domestic terrorism coordinated with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., and led by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman of the panel that funds the Commerce, Justice and State departments.

Emergency response for domestic terrorism falls under Presidential Decision Directive 39, which authorizes the Justice Department to serve as the "national homeland security agency" in the event of a domestic terrorist attack and to coordinate the response. While the president has created a new office to coordinate the response to the potential terrorist catastrophes through FEMA, the federal plan on how to operate once an attack occurs remains in place for now. But Allbaugh said the decision directive would be reviewed by the panel led by Cheney.

That strategy has come under intense criticism in the last two years because it is unclear which entity is in charge in the critical first hours after a strike. Last year, Denver, Washington and Portsmouth, N.H., volunteered for mock terrorist exercises to test the preparedness and coordination of the 46 agencies in charge of responding to domestic terrorism. Gregg said the results were less than adequate.

At a hearing Tuesday, he complained that the exercise - dubbed TOPOFF because it involved several senior U.S. officials - revealed confusion in the first hours of the crisis because the FBI, National Guard and state and local police could not agreed on what entity should secure the area in the period after the attack.

"When the event occurs, obviously the local police, fire and health people arrive quickly followed by whoever the governor's put in charge. But equally followed by - one suspects - a federal agency, and one suspects that federal agency is probably FBI from the state office pending the decision of the federal government to declare a crisis when FEMA comes on the site," Gregg said.

Allbaugh said he understood the lead agency in charge of handling a crisis as it was happening would be the FBI, though even he was confused. Under the decision directive, state and local authorities are directed to call an obscure office inside the Justice Department in the event of a terrorist attack.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the hearing that he was not sure that the federal government could wait until Oct. 1 to clear up the confusion.

In an interview Tuesday on CNN, Cheney said: "What we consider here is that one of our biggest threats as a nation is no longer conventional military attack against the United States, but rather, it might come from other quarters. It could be domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the United States - a hand-carried nuclear weapon or biological or chemical agents."

The call to organize a national response to domestic terrorism has also been gaining momentum in the House. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., the chairman of the House Republican Conference, introduced a resolution in February calling for greater coordination of federal agencies against the threat of weapons of mass destruction used in a domestic strike.

In a Feb. 1 letter to other House lawmakers, Watts wrote: "The challenges associated with domestic terrorism are so diffuse that over 40 federal agencies and departments have some stake in the issue. What is even more problematic is the fact that there is no effective national plan" for dealing with the aftermath of a WMD used in a terrorist attack."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, said in testimony Tuesday morning that he had no problems to date with State Department coordination with either the FBI or CIA.

"In my first three and a half months as secretary, I have been very impressed with the level of interagency coordination," Powell said in response to a question from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The president tapped Vice President Dick Cheney to head a task force to review U.S. policy and response to domestic terrorism. FEMA's newly created Office of National Preparedness will implement the recommendations from Cheney's panel. Today, numerous federal departments...
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Tuesday, 08 May 2001 12:00 AM
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