House chairman favors temporary terrorist-threat center

The new Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) for compiling terrorism information from various agencies must be temporary if the Homeland Security Department is not to violate its statutory requirements, the chairman of a congressional oversight committee said on Friday.

"It's very plain if one reads the act [establishing the department] that the 'one-stop shop' is the Department of Homeland Security," California Republican Christopher Cox, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview. "I am satisfied that in the short run [that the TTIC] is a useful expedient. The department after all is still under construction. But we have to view TTIC as an interim step, not as a displacement of the statutory responsibilities."

Cox added that the law establishing the department "reflects the careful balancing of some very sensitive policy choices made my Congress," and said "one of those policy choices was [that] we do not wish the CIA to be increasingly involved in our domestic life. Homeland Security, by its very nature, involves our domestic life. Perforce, the CIA cannot be in charge of ultimate oversight of the domestic-intelligence fusion function."

Cox said the handling of domestic intelligence on terrorism is "in flux," which is "why Congress has a significant role to play."

Cox's committee also is temporary at this point, scheduled for termination in a year. Cox spoke in the committee's new offices in the Library of Congress' Adams Building, saying that if his committee was made permanent and he remained chairman he would cede his position in the Republican leadership.

"I have a leadership position in the House, which is of some significance and which I value highly," he said. "I'm also chairman of a select committee, which by its structure will cease to exist at the end of the 108th Congress. If the committee becomes permanent, it would be extremely unlikely that I would participate both as chairman of the committee and as a member of the leadership."

On other tech issues, Cox said cybersecurity remains a top priority for him. He said his approach on that and other issues has been to communicate directly with department officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who have assured him that progress is being made.

"This is a work in progress, so it's a Rorschach test," Cox said. "Is that glass filling up, or is it way the hell too empty? I prefer to view this as a work in progress because I have a very clear idea of where I think the department should be, and I talked to many people in the department, including the secretary, who share that vision."

Cox also said that despite the establishment of the department he is getting "more [vendors] than ever" seeking to offer the government high-technology products. He said he refers the vendors to the department, sometimes with a letter from him.

Cox, who is from a tech-heavy district, said he consults regularly with technology executives on homeland security and other issues.

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