Advisers urge DHS chief to seek intel community’s support

In the face of increasing threats against the United States, the Homeland Security Department should push for greater integration with the intelligence community, members of an advisory panel said Thursday.

During a session open to the public, members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council told DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff he should create an "Office of Net Assessment" to better evaluate what experts called a growing sophistication by terrorist organizations. The office would conduct periodic reviews of homeland security threats and collaborate with the intelligence community to generate a National Intelligence Estimate.

The council is made up of leaders from state and local government, first responder communities, the private sector and academia.

Frank Cilluffo, associate vice president for homeland security at The George Washington University, said at the meeting that national security agencies and DHS are "inextricably intertwined" and that Chertoff should push to "remove the artificial bifurcation" among them.

During another part of the meeting, Herb Kelleher, executive chairman of Southwest Airlines Co., delivered a report offering suggestions on how DHS' operations and culture could be improved. He recommended that DHS seek "the equivalent" of a chief operating officer. He also advocated an emphasis on leadership roles and collaboration with "outside-the-Beltway" partners including state and local government officials and private sector officials.

Former Massachusetts governor and potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also attended the meeting, expressing views of Boston's transit security that were much less optimistic than Chertoff's. The exchange came just two days after DHS announced it has cut funding available to Massachusetts in that area.

"We haven't made, I'm embarrassed to say, enormous progress … the way we have [in airports]," Romney told Chertoff during a question-and-answer session. The former governor went on to suggest that DHS compare security at train stations to the precautions taken in Europe -- which has seen multiple terrorist bombings in recent years -- to create a "benchmark" for security in the United States.

"We may lag behind," Romney said.

"You're giving your state too little credit," Chertoff responded.

The DHS chief said the "architecture" of transit systems differs from that of airports, "so the solution has to be different."

"I doubt anyone would get on the [Boston transit system] and remove their articles of clothing" the way airline passengers willingly do at security checkpoints, Chertoff added.

Following the meeting, Romney declined to comment further.

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