"Policymakers themselves need to have some overarching structure," Gilmore, who served as chairman of an anti-terrorism commission named after him, said here at the annual Government Convention on Emerging Technologies. The nation must make sure they are "not just throwing money willy-nilly at the issue. We have to have some strategic direction."
Part of the problem is that the philosophy of the Homeland Security Department has been to protect against vulnerabilities instead of threats, he said. Gilmore, a Republican, praised new Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for vowing to change that structure. "I think it's a very positive development."
Cultural issues at the federal level also have prevented local security officials from getting critical information in a timely manner, Gilmore said. "Congressmen and women have automatic [security] clearances when they're elected," he said. "Governors don't get clearance, and yet they are the ones who command the resources to respond [to], and perhaps prevent," an attack.
"I can't think of any reason why a major police chief can't be cleared and get access to [classified information]," Gilmore added. "If you believe that he is somehow inferior to a staff person at the FBI, you're wrong."
Gilmore acknowledged that changing that reality will be difficult. But if agencies address such cultural issues and explain to lawmakers that change is necessary, "the law will follow," he said.
"I think the threat assessments are everything -- defining the intentions and capabilities of the enemy," he said. Gilmore pointed to rumors that terrorists were learning to be scuba divers. Without more detailed information about what these terrorists plan to do with their scuba-diving knowledge, he said, that information is useless. All officials "have a right to know the validity" of such information. "This is a big challenge."
Officials also need to have meaningful communication with the American people, Gilmore said. "If there is an explosion in this country, you can't let it undo the republic," he said. Citizens are going to have to learn to "roll with it."
Should such an explosion occur, the country is now able to "manage these problems technologically, [which] carries with it an entirely different and potentially transformational quality," Gilmore said.
He called on the private sector and Americans to "decide what kind of society we're building." He said officials and the private sector will need to review planning at the national level; homeland security in connection with state and local officials; specific programs like water control and port security; intelligence reform; and information management in Congress.
In a later session, Kevin Schied, a senior adviser on the federal commission designated to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said the panel's recommendations were mostly addressed in the intelligence law enacted last year. "Perhaps not as elegantly as we might have wished," he added, "but that's part of the legislative process."