Homeland Security Department

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There were gaps in the U.S. system for detecting and deterring terrorist acts in the homeland. That became clear September 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security is the george w. bush administration's plug for those gaps.

The department's main goal is to protect U.S. citizens against terrorists. It brings together people from 22 agencies to protect the nation's borders, help state and local safety officials better respond to catastrophes, research treatments against biological threats, and coordinate intelligence on terrorists. The administration's rationale: better communication is the key to achieving those goals; the Department of Homeland Security is the key to better communication.

Republicans drew up legislation January 23, 2002, to create the department. In November of that year, the U.S. House and Senate passed the Homeland Security Act, and President Bush signed it. The cabinet department melded 22 agencies as varied as the Coast Guard, Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Transportation Security Administration. It was the biggest change in U.S. government since the defense department was created in 1947. Former Pennsylvania governor and Vietnam veteran Tom Ridge became the first secretary of the department.

The department is divided into five teams, called directorates: Border and Transportation Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Science and Technology; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; and Management.

The primary goal of the largest directorate, Border and Transportation Security, is to keep terrorists out of the United States. It has a dual focus: enforcing immigration laws and keeping the country's transportation systems safe. This division incorporates sectors of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, U.S. Customs Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Transportation Security Administration. One newly created agency within this directorate is to attend to visas, work permits, applications for citizenship, and new-citizen services. Another agency will handle border security against illegal immigration, drugs, and terrorists. Another agency is in charge of securing the nation's airports.

The Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response is charged with ensuring that the nation is prepared for and able to recover from terrorist attacks and natural disasters. This division is to work with the federal emergency management agency to coordinate the first response to catastrophes, often by local and state police and fire units. The division is also to develop a curriculum for training people at the local, state, and federal levels to respond to a terrorist act.

In case of a biological attack, the Directorate of Science and Technology is responsible for sponsoring the development of vaccines, anti-dotes, and treatments. This division will work with national laboratories and universities, channeling the nation's best resources to protect its people.

The Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection directorate will fuse information from the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies, including the National Security Agency, the CIA, and FBI. This directorate's job is twofold: to gather and share information that can help the government prevent terrorism and catch terrorists; and to protect the nation's infrastructure, such as food supplies, information networks, and banking systems.

The first job is to use information efficiently. One of the often-heard criticisms of U.S. intelligence-gathering agencies is that they do not share information. The Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection directorate is designed to solve that problem, and, ideally, this agency will ensure that information flows efficiently among state and local police, as well. The Homeland Security Advisory System is a key component of this information-sharing plan.

The advisory system uses designated colors to alert public safety officials and citizens to a possible terrorist threat. The system includes five degrees of danger: The first is green, or low risk of terrorist attacks. Second is blue, or general risk of attacks. The third degree is yellow, or significant risk of terrorist attacks. Fourth is orange, or high risk. The fifth degree, red, means there is a severe threat of a terrorist attack. The system serves two purposes: to warn the public and to standardize safety efforts of the nation's police, fire, health, and other safety agencies. The higher the degree of danger, the more protective measures safety officials are to take. The warning system spells out those measures. Some of the precautions to be taken during a red alert, for example, are closing public and government buildings and restricting transportation systems. During a green alert, however, safety agencies are advised to train employees on the Homeland Security Advisory System and determine where their communities are vulnerable to attack.

The Directorate of Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection has another task, built

into its name: defending the nation's infrastructure. Infrastructure includes food and water; agriculture; emergency services; energy sources such as dams; transportation; information networks; and financial and postal systems. It is focusing largely on cyber communications because an attack on the internet might have a far-reaching effect on other aspects of the infrastructure, such as the economy.

The final directorate, Management, is responsible for day-to-day budget and personnel issues for the 170,000 employees of the Homeland Security Department. Experts state it could take years for the department to work as planned.

further readings

Cmar, Thomas. 2002. "Office of Homeland Security." Harvard Journal on Legislation 39 (summer): 455–74.

"Facts about the Homeland Security Department." Nov. 26, 2002. Detroit Free Press. Available online at <www.freep.com/news/nw/hlist26_20021126.htm> (accessed July 27, 2003).

Jarrett, Peggy Roebuck, comp. 2003. The Department of Homeland Security: A Compilation of Government Documents Relating to Executive Reorganization. Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein.

May, Randolph J. 2002. "Will We Be Safe at Home?" Legal Times 25 (Sept 2): 38.

"New Agency to Fight Terror." Nov. 26, 2002. Detroit Free Press. Available online at <www.freep.com/news/nw/home26_20021126.htm> (accessed July 27, 2003).


Ridge, Thomas Joseph; Terrorism.