Agencies adopt plan to fight domestic terrorism

Six federal agencies have teamed up to develop a plan for responding to terrorist threats and incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. The FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will take the lead in handling domestic threats and acts, according to a plan released last week and signed by several Clinton administration agency heads shortly before President Bush took office in January. The other agencies involved in the effort are the Departments of Defense, Energy and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The plan, based on a 1995 presidential directive (PDD-39), outlines how the federal government intends to respond to terrorism, particularly acts that involve chemical or biological warfare. It also provides guidance for federal, state and local agencies on preparing for and dealing with potential threats and incidents. Marc Wolfson, a spokesman on domestic terrorism for FEMA, said that although the interagency guidance on domestic terrorism was a Clinton initiative, the Bush administration has indicated it will continue the plan. Under the plan, the FBI is responsible for coordinating law enforcement activities that would prevent and "resolve" acts of terrorism, such as apprehending and prosecuting terrorists. FEMA is the lead agency for providing disaster relief to the victims of terrorism, protecting property and restoring government services. In the event of a terrorist threat or incident involving weapons of mass destruction, Defense will provide military assistance, while Energy and EPA will supply scientific personnel and equipment. Health and Human Services is charged with planning and preparing a national response to medical emergencies stemming from terrorist attacks. The strategic plan identifies four terrorist threat levels--ranging from a minimal terrorist threat (Level 4) to an incident involving weapons of mass destruction (Level 1)--and lists the agencies' responsibilities at each stage. For example, a Level 2 threat would call for law enforcement activities aimed at preventing and halting a terrorist act, while a Level 1 incident would aim at protecting public health and safety. Agencies must fund antiterrorist activities themselves, and must be able to provide assistance to state and local governments on short notice. Although the plan focuses on the role of federal agencies in combating domestic terrorism, it emphasized the importance of cooperation and communication among federal, state and local governments. "The resolution to an act of terrorism demands an extraordinary level of coordination of crisis and consequence management functions and technical expertise across all levels of government," said the report. "It is critical that all participating federal, state and local agencies interact in a seamless manner."