The plush, luxurious and altogether well-appointed (yeah... right! [;-)]) offices of the East Coast branch of 'The Green Papers' happen to be located but a few miles outside the five Northeastern New Jersey counties my State's Governor, Jim McGreevey, placed in an "Orange Alert" zone yesterday in response to the Terrorism Warning announced earlier that same day by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Yet, despite being at what might be considered- at most- the fringes of this area of raised alert level, one cannot help but discern its effects on the entire Metropolitan New York/New Jersey "Tri-State" Region: for not only is this story predominant in the local daily newspapers and on the local TV news hereabouts, but many people who live in the immediate vicinity of my home town work in either the affected New Jersey counties or even the heart of New York City itself.
I want to say, at the outset, that I applaud the manner in which Secretary Ridge announced this latest Terrorist Alert: I commend its specificity, especially in the way the raising of the "color code" was done only for a particular area of society (in this case, the financial services sector of the economy) and only in particular regions of the country under apparent threat. This is a far cry from those "Stay in your Homes! Be off the Streets by Nightfall!!"-style warnings that have hitherto been given out by Ridge's Department, in which the color code is often raised (when it is raised!) for the entire country regardless of what the likely threat might actually be. It may very well be true that a terrorist attack in the heart of Manhattan's Wall Street might cause a financial panic and/or economic downturn that might also cause the price of- oh, let's say- haircuts in Salina, Kansas to go up significantly some weeks or months thereafter, but that alone is no reason to put Salina on the exact same alert status as New York City and/or Washington, D.C. once such a threat to American or international financial institutions is discerned!
I have, in the past, been harshly critical of these ways in which such warnings and changes in alert status have been announced prior to yesterday. I can certainly dole out criticism with the best of 'em (as a fair perusal of my past Commentaries will show)-- but such criticism is only fair if I am also willing to freely give praise when that which I have criticized has been largely mitigated.
Thus, I do so now.
I also want to state, for the record, that- in my opinion- no one in his or her right mind could possibly think that this Terrorist Alert was solely due to political motivations on the part of the White House. I cannot bring myself to be cynical enough to believe that any President, of any Party or Ideology, would issue an alert such as this merely to take the spotlight away from the opposing Major Party which has so recently adjourned its National Convention. But- alas!- Conspiracy Theories abound and one must always keep in mind that the problem with Conspiracy Theories is that they are--- well--- Conspiracy Theories, usually containing more than a few holes that one could drive a truck through. I would much more prefer that Homeland Security be effective enough to keep any trucks driven by those with nasty intention from getting through any holes!
Having said all this, I still have grave concerns- as a citizen- about the overall efficacy of the Homeland Security apparatus on the Federal level. I won't again go into detail about what I think the Department of Homeland Security most needs, for much of my detailed criticism which can be best seen within my 26 November 2002 Commentary entitled 'SEND IN THE CLOWNS!!!' is, as far as I am concerned, still largely valid. I would suggest a review of what I had written therein to all those out there reading this who are now chewing over President Bush's acceptance of the recommendation by the 9/11 Commission that he appoint a National Intelligence Director.
There is nothing inherently wrong with appointing such an officer per se. The 9/11 Commission came to the conclusion that it would be a vast improvement to have just such a single officer- someone who has been given all the intelligence from a wide variety of sources (the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI Counterterrorism Unit, etc.) and can then brief the President daily on the most important, not also to say imminent, threats. I have no good reason to disagree with the Commission's conclusion.
The problem I have is still that of which I wrote in that 26 November 2002 Commentary (and even earlier Commentaries on the subject of Homeland Security that year): an unnecessary separation of the Department of Homeland Security from the National Security Council (despite the President having been given the power to hold joint meetings of the NSC and the Homeland Security Council) and the DoHS still not having a significant counterterrorist information/intelligence gathering apparatus of its own. If we are now going to have a National Intelligence Director, I would hope that he/she be assisted by a (for lack of a better name for now) National Intelligence Analysis Committee- to be made up of the top intelligence analysts from each and every intelligence agency in the Federal government, with this new National Intelligence Director as this committee's ex officio "first among equal"s.
This committee could meet daily and prepare a comprehensive intelligence report under the imprimatur of the National Intelligence Director that then could be presented to daily meetings of both the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council (though I would still prefer just one Security Council, chaired by the President and consisting of the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the President's National Security Advisor and the new National Intelligence Director [the statutes which have created both the NSC and the HSC would have to be changed by Congress: these are those I would recommend as being considered statutory members of this enlarged Security Council]). Let's, if only for sake of the argument, assume that we are here dealing with my proposed single Security Council rather than, as is currently the case, the two separate Councils:
Each executive department head (that is, the five Cabinet secretaries) named could then take from this daily report that which he or she most needed in order to carry out the mission of his or her respective department. A piece of intelligence that had both serious domestic and foreign anti-terrorism ramifications might be dealt with (in different ways, of course, depending on the mission of the department involved) by all five departments, or by only a couple of these departments, as appropriate and necessary. The National Intelligence Director would be there to advise everyone regarding the best interpretation of the intelligence, the National Security Advisor would be there to advise everyone on the national security ramifications of any actions implemented in response to the intelligence, the President (or the Vice President, in the President's absence) would play "traffic cop" re: the Council's discussions and, of course, the President (who would have been given a summary version of the report in a briefing by the National Intelligence Director prior to the Council's meeting) could always use the powers of his office to make any critical decisions in relation to any or all of what is being discussed.
Point is: the left hand would always know what the right hand was doing, precisely because the left hand would always know that which the right hand knew-- and vice versa. There would then simply be no excuses whatsoever for lack of coordination between Federal anti-terrorist agencies!