Advisory panel offers homeland defense guidelines

A congressional advisory panel on Tuesday urged the federal government to adopt 59 recommendations the panel made to boost homeland defenses in areas such as defining the role of the Defense Department in domestic emergencies and improving the public health system's response to potential biological attacks.

Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, chairman of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (commonly known as the Gilmore Commission), reiterated the need for a new, stand-alone center responsible for combining and analyzing data on domestic and foreign terrorism.

As he previewed last month during congressional hearings, Gilmore said the center would aggregate and analyze terrorist threats by mining intelligence from government bodies including Defense, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, as well as state and local governments.

"The threats to our country are not diminishing," Gilmore said in a press briefing, and the creation of a National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) would avoid the "organizational culture" that prevents the FBI from effectively gathering and analyzing domestic intelligence.

"The counter-terrorism function must be done, and there is a sense that the FBI is primarily a law enforcement organization," he said. "Its agents are recruited to be law enforcement agents. They are there to make cases ... looking backwards and building cases for the court room." He added that a new center would be liable to all of the current restrictions on intelligence gathering to preserve American civil liberties.

Additionally, the 19-member Gilmore Commission urged further study of how to protect critical infrastructures like telecommunications networks and suggested that the issue should be addressed in its entirety rather than focusing efforts on the cyber component.

"One of our points is that cyber terrorism is a threat to critical infrastructure," Gilmore said. "The information technology we now live with is vulnerable and must be analyzed together with other physical parts of critical infrastructure" to guard it.

The commission also called for key enhancements in the public health sector and the protection of the agricultural system from potential biological or chemical attacks. And the panel urged the government to spend $1 billion per year over the next five years to enhance the health system and create one place for states and localities to apply for federal grants.

"If you are going to spend money anyway because of bioterrorism threats, this is a really an opportunity to enhance the public health system of the United States," Gilmore said.

He said he could not speculate on whether Congress would act on the report. The recommendations are the culmination of four years' worth of "thinking and deliberation," he said. "Our job is to consider all of this, think about making a recommendation and list why we are making our recommendation so that policymakers are advised."