Panel: A "catastrophic attack" is likely to hit U.S.

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Steps to Improve National Security Recommended by Panel Wednesday, January 31, 2001 By Pauline Jelinek

WASHINGTON A "catastrophic attack" is likely to hit U.S. soil in the next 25 years, and the National Guard should be retrained as America's main protector against such an assault, an advisory commission on national security said Wednesday.

The United States also needs to reorganize the State Department, overhaul the Defense Department and invest more in scientific research and education systems that are "in serious crisis," the report said.

"America faces ... new dangers, particularly to the homeland and to our scientific and educational base," said the report's introduction by former Sens. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and Gary Hart, D-Colo., co-chairmen of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century.

The 14-member commission established by Congress in 1998 urged President Bush, his administration, the new Congress and citizens to debate the dangers.

The biggest threat in the next couple of decades, the panel said, is the likelihood of an attack on the United States.

"Weapons proliferation (and) the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack," the report said. "A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century."

The second-biggest threat is inadequate scientific research and education, something the panel said poses "a greater threat to U.S. national security ... than any potential conventional war that we might imagine." The panel recommended doubling spending on scientific research and development over the next seven to eight years.

"We put science, and science and math education, second ... because we believe it's second only to the threat of a weapon of mass destruction (hitting) one of our cities," said commission member Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House. "The national security establishment has to look seriously at how much" is spent on such programs, he said.

The report is the last of a three-phase study by the commission established in 1998. The first part suggested how the world might look in the coming quarter century. The second laid out a national strategy, and the third suggests changes needed to carry out the strategy.

Basic U.S. institutions are neglected and in some cases decaying, the group concluded.

It recommended creating an independent "National Homeland Security Agency" to plan, coordinate and integrate domestic security activities. Its mission would be to protect American lives and infrastructure, such as the highway system and information technology. It would be built around the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The risk is not only death and destruction but also a demoralization that could undermine global leadership" by the United States, the report said. "In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures."

The National Guard should be given domestic security as a primary mission and "be reorganized, trained and equipped to undertake that mission," the panel said.

Giving the Guard an elevated role is not a new idea. The Clinton administration, for instance, had planned for the Guard to operate a national missile defense system, should one be deployed.

The State Department, meanwhile, is a "crippled institution that is starved for resources by Congress because of its inadequacies," weakening it further, and many of its core functions, such as foreign assistance, have been parceled out to other agencies in recent decades, the report said.

Creation of special bureaus such as those for human rights and political-military affairs led to complexity that has made it difficult to coordinate and lead foreign policy, the report said.

As for the Pentagon, it said, growth in staff and activities has "created mounting confusion and delay," excessive laws have hobbled weapons acquisition and the failure to privatize some support activities "wastes huge sums of money." The staffs of the defense secretary, Joint Chiefs and regional commands should be cut by up to 15 percent, the report said.

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-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 31, 2001


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