Hart, Rudman call for urgency on national security

"America ? Still Unprepared, Still in Danger"

Two former U.S. senators, co-chairmen of a commission on a new post-Cold War national security framework, believe the country remains unprepared for terrorist attacks.

"To use the colorful phrase of [former White House counterterrorism adviser] Richard Clarke, some people's hair is on fire and some people's hair is not on fire," said Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator from Colorado. "Myself, my hair is on fire. I don't think we are prepared nearly enough."

Hart and Republican Warren Rudman, a former senator from New Hampshire, spoke about the state of homeland security during a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the McGraw-Hill Companies. The senators were co-chairmen of a bipartisan task force formed by President Clinton in the late 1990s that produced three reports whose recommendations included forming a homeland security department.

They also served as co-chairmen of an independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, which issued a 2002 report that said the nation is "dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil."

At today's conference, Rudman, who echoed Hart's comments about America's unpreparedness, said his greatest concern is the lack of equipment, gear and training for first responders. The formula for distributing homeland security funds to local communities and states is totally wrong because it's not based on threat assessment and lacks enough specifications and standards, Rudman said.

"The city of New York has far different issues facing [it] than Manchester, N.H., in my view," he said. "That's not to say that everyone does not to have some equipment, but the amount of money spent has to be prioritized based on a threat assessment, which I understand is now in the process of being developed. But, frankly, three years after [Sept. 11, 2001], I don't know why it's taking so long."

House lawmakers on the Select Committee on Homeland Security have sponsored bipartisan legislation to speed up and better allocate funding to first responders through such an assessment formula.

However, Rudman said the federal government is moving in the right direction by integrating intelligence. He cited the creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, formed a year ago, which combines domestic and overseas intelligence data from the FBI, CIA and other agencies. He said technology can play an even bigger role.

"The problem is on any given day the U.S. intelligence community is deluged not with not enough intelligence [but] in my view too much intelligence, particularly signals intelligence," he said. "And the net result of that is to try to get...an automated system to pull out what's important and what isn't."

Hart said it may take another four years until a common communications system and database are ready for use by the FBI and other agencies, a delay that he called unacceptable given the urgency of the threats the country faces.

He said other problems that contribute to a lack of preparation include the high number of first responders who are being deployed to Iraq with the military reserves. Port security has only improved slightly through better defenses and protection, he added, while "very, very little is being done" to protect critical infrastructures -- such as the chemical, financial, transportation, and energy production and distribution sectors -- which are overwhelmingly owned by private industry.

Both Hart and Rudman stressed that the private sector has to contribute more to critical infrastructure protection.

"The president of the United States and the leadership of this country must insist that the private sector play its role in protecting America," Hart said. "We are either at war or we are not. And if we are at war, then we have to act as if we are at war. And we are not doing that in this country."

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