Report: significant changes in anti-terrorism plans necessary

Significant changes need to be made within federal, state and local governments to counter terrorism and to protect the nation's critical infrastructure, according to a study publicly released on Tuesday and sent to the White House a day earlier.

The report of the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force offers 25 recommendations on how to take a more proactive approach to protecting the nation's computer networks and improving intelligence-gathering, information systems and surveillance systems. Comprised of experts from all levels of government, including several governors, and industry, the task force also stressed that civil liberties can be upheld while increasing anti-terrorism efforts.

"We believe it's possible to achieve a balance between security and liberty," Heritage Vice President Kim Holmes said during a news conference Tuesday.

Congress should remove roadblocks impeding closer communication with industry, the report said. It also urged lawmakers to support measures such as S. 1456, which would exempt companies from certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Act if they freely share with the government information about their system vulnerabilities.

"Everyone needs to be involved in protecting the homeland," said Paul Bremer, former counterterrorism ambassador during the Reagan administration. "The private sector's role cannot be stressed enough."

The President also should appoint liaisons to develop security standards for various industry sectors, the report said, and agencies should create risk-assessment programs for the private sector. The report also suggests that Congress remove tax penalties that make it difficult for industry to invest in security.

Heritage also recommends a new presidential directive to require annual assessments of agency efforts on homeland security, and it cited deficiencies in the Clinton administration's Presidential Directive 63, which sought to fortify the nation's networks against cyber attacks.

The report calls President Bush's appointment of Richard Clarke as the nation's cyber-security chief and the creation of several critical infrastructure boards as a "good first step" but seeks further action.

The report also recommends designating the Global Positioning System as critical infrastructure because it enables telecommunications and other systems to operate. The federal government also should consider alternatives to the proposed GovNet intranet system, the groups said, noting that many experts, including former National Security Adviser Samuel (Sandy) Berger, argue that GovNet would improve security only marginally.

"The President should direct [the General Services Administration] to consult with industry about achieving the same or greater level of security through the use of intranets that rely on the Internet," the report said.

On intelligence and law enforcement, the task force recommends that the White House Office of Homeland Security be required to direct the assessment of threats to critical assets nationwide and that it establish a national group to coordinate intelligence-gathering.

The report also recommends: the creation of a federal-level database accessible to border-security officials to track visa holders; the establishment of a nationwide surveillance network encompassing local, state and federal officials to help respond to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks; and anti-terrorism exercises by states considered most at risk of attack.

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