Domestic Prepardness Essay, Research Paper
The United States of America has entered a period in which serious choices need to be made in safeguarding citizens against those who wish to do harm to the nation. Both domestic and international terrorists seek to use biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, conventional weapons (including self-made bombs), and even the internet as means to attack the United States government. The threats posed by these groups necessitates the U.S. government to plan for the detection, neutralization, and clean-up of these attacks. However, a comprehensive system for dealing with terrorist attacks on the United States does not exist today. Instead, the federal and state governments have many uncoordinated programs to deal with the possibility of attack. Consequently, reforms are needed within all levels of government to properly plan for and respond to the terrorist threats.
The need for a comprehensive plan for dealing with terrorist attacks stems from the increase in threats made against the United States. Foreign terrorist organizations, rogue/independent terrorists (such as Usama bin Laden), domestic right-wing extremists, and anti-government groups all have expressed their dissatisfaction with the U.S. government for some stated reason. These groups have made no secret in, to varying degrees, lashing out at American citizens, property, and territory in order to register their anger at our government. Consequently, steps have been taken by the federal and state governments to deal with the possibility of attack.
Preparation for attack begins at the local level in the view of the federal government. Presently, the United States has spent over $10 billion since 1995 to train police, fire, and medical personnel in cities with populations of more than 144,000 people to cope with biological and chemical attacks. The federal government sees these local officials as the people who are the first responders to incidents of terrorism. They are trained so that they can quickly identify the symptoms of chemical or biological attack and work to neutralize it (through quarantine of the infected or disabling a device).
The United States government has also taken the step of stockpiling antidotes and vaccines to chemical and biological agents in the hopes of inoculating as many people as possible in the event of an attack on the U.S. There are many biological (and chemical) agents, such as pneumonic plague, that the U.S. government knows terrorist groups have acquired and hope to use. Therefore, the government is somewhat cognizant of which antidotes to stockpile.
When there is an attack, local and state government can become quickly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the attack. Therefore, at this stage, the lower level governments may call upon the federal government for assistance. The way this system is presently set-up appears efficient but problems persist. The lead federal agency in a domestic terrorist attack is usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If these organizations determine more help is needed from the federal government, the Department of Defense may be asked to assist. The Defense Department provides help by activating the National Guard and Reserves as its lead agency of assistance. The National Guard is of great help because they presently have response teams known as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Civil Support Teams. These teams determine the nature of the attack, provide medical and technical advice, and help to support further federal and state investigations. The WMD Civil Support Teams operate under federal mandate but are commanded by the governors of the states in which they are deployed. Essentially, they have the full support (financial and otherwise) and the vast resources of the federal government but are commanded by the state governments.
Although the aforementioned policy for dealing with domestic terrorist attacks sounds like an effective plan, there are problems that plague the system. Consequently, many reforms have been suggested as a way of forming a comprehensive policy in dealing with terrorism.
The first reform calls for more cooperation, both internally and internationally. In terms of the internal cooperation, there are some who say that with the world becoming smaller due to the rise of globalism, governments need to recognize that some policies now have to involve other considerations. For example, in dealing with international terrorism, there are economic and international law components to it. Today, the U.S. government can not expect to deal with foreign terrorists without examining how they are funded (economic consideration) and what internationally recognized laws the groups are violating. Consequently, it has been suggested that the president should create two new positions within the Executive Office of the President: assistant to the president for international economic affairs and assistant for counter terrorism, infrastructure protection, and international crime. By creating these positions, in cooperation with the president’s National Security Council, a broader range of issues pertinent to counter terrorism policy is represented.
Additionally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggests that the United States needs better coordination in intelligence gathering. Rumsfeld says that U.S. spy agencies and the Pentagon must find ways to collaborate more closely; especially in examining the psychology of terrorists. By understanding the psychology of one’s opponent, a person can also understand what it takes or what moves need to be made in order for the opponent to back down and not attack. Therefore, Rumsfeld believes that understanding the rationale behind terrorist attacks is just as important as gathering information on movements of terrorist groups. By understanding the psychology of terrorist organizations and increasing intelligence gathering and communication abilities, Rumsfeld hopes to wean support and sympathy from those who threaten the United States.
Reform in coordination also calls for more international cooperation. For example, there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all nations to take a stand against terrorism in all forms. If a terrorist attempts to seek asylum, the nation in which the terrorist is seeking asylum should not hesitate in handing over the accused terrorist to the appropriate authorities. In addition, there should be an international effort to share intelligence information on terrorist groups. By coordinating intelligence, important information missed by one nation may be picked up by another. Furthermore, the international community should make it clear to all terrorist groups that the rule of law shall prevail in all forms in dealing with terrorist attacks, whether that is handing over suspected terrorists or punishing a terrorist for using internationally banned substances in their attacks.
Another point for reform, within the United States government, is the establishment of a national agency to deal with terrorism policy. Policy analysts have offered many suggestions as to what form this new agency would take. A blue-ribbon commission charged with examining national security concerns suggests the formation of a cabinet level group called the National Homeland Security Agency to handle, prevent, respond to and recover from terrorist incidents. The commission proposed that this new agency would take over Border Patrol from the Department of Justice, take over Customs from the Department of the Treasury, take over the Coast Guard from the Transportation Department, take control of the FBI counter terrorism center and FEMA, assume responsibility for cyber security from the Commerce Department and the FBI, among other reforms. This new agency would report to the president directly and would be overseen by a joint congressional committee, much like other cabinet level agencies. Once this agency is established, it will have to contend with such issues as establishing a budget, the legalities involved in the treatment of victims of attacks (in hospitals), resources to support the treatment of mass casualties and/or panic flight from cities.
Although the establishment of a new agency sounds like a good idea in managing the problem of terrorism, there are criticisms of this idea. The first criticism may be seen as an historic one. Essentially, critics contend that cold war era civil defense could not do much to prevent a nuclear bomb from landing in the US, so what could a modern era agency, such as the one proposed, do to prevent terrorist attack? Also, this agency is mainly a planning and clean-up agency, it does not go far in detecting potential terrorist threats. Another criticism maintains that a new agency will dull the effectiveness of established government agencies that do not do such a bad job at counter terrorism as it is. Of course, any new government agency needs money and manpower. Inevitably these resources must come from somewhere, most likely from the established agencies. Critics believe that perhaps we do not need a new agency. Maybe what is needed is more coordination in detecting and preventing terrorist attacks by the established government agencies such as the Department of Defense, FBI, FEMA, and Department of Justice.
Also it has been suggested that the president appoint the vice president to take on the role of “homeland defense czar”. The vice president would be advised and assisted by an emergency planning staff directed by the National Coordinator for Security, Critical Infrastructure and Counter-terrorism (as was previously mentioned). The vice president would chair a National Emergency Planning Council, with representatives from all departments, agencies, states and territories.
Regardless of what form a new agency would take in dealing with counter terrorism policy, the fact remains that any new agency needs money. Congress must have faith in a new agency to infuse it with enough money to operate effectively. Although at this point it is hard to determine what an exact figure should be to fully fund this new agency. However, Congress has already shown that it sees counter terrorism as an important policy initiative by appropriating upwards of $10 billion over the last 5 years to be spent by at least 20 federal agencies on domestic preparedness.
Another area in need of reform is the healthcare system. The threats posed by chemical and biological weapons are formidable. However, presently, U.S. hospitals are not adequately prepared to deal with mass injuries and casualties. In addition, physicians need to be trained to identify and treat many diseases that they are not familiar with like anthrax, tularemia, pneumonic plague, and smallpox. Doctors are often the first responders in disease outbreaks. If they are quick enough in detecting the possible deployment of an agent, they may be able to stem the spread of disease early.
In terms of healthcare, more reform is needed. Although the U.S. government has begun to stockpile vaccines and antidotes, more needs to be done. Presently, the federal government does not have adequate supplies to make sure every American is protected from the threats of chemical or biological agents. This has occurred because it is time consuming and expensive to produce adequate supplies of medicine. Consequently, it may never be possible to have a ready supply for the populace when there are so many different agents that may be deployed. In addition, today, there is no concrete plan as to how the limited supply of medicine would be distributed to the public (at least as much as the government has stockpiled). The answer to the medicine problem in combating terrorism may be to invest more in biomedical research and development. By investing, scientists may find faster, cheaper ways to produce safe medicines to protect the public.
With all of these reforms in how we deal with terrorism, there are some legal and civil liberties questions about reforms that must be taken into account. For example, many civil libertarians are concerned with the Department of Defense (i.e. the military) becoming involved in domestic issues. This fear is backed up by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibited the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities. If the military gets involved in domestic affairs by helping manage the after effects of a terrorist attack (through the activation of the National Guard), it would be in violation of law and long standing tradition. Some of the actions the military could take in a post-terrorist attack crisis situation could be to seize community and private assets, take control of public transportation, warrantless detention of individuals for a short period of time, among other actions. Clearly some of these actions are a violation of the constitution, however, the debate remains: how far can the military (and government) go in suspending the rights of individuals to protect the populace? In fact, some in the military would contend that it would be a neglect of their duty (and of the civil liberties of individuals) if they did not carry out their responsibilities should they be called to do so in such a crisis situation.
The question of the protection of civil liberties in a time of national crisis (due to a terrorist attack) also comes into play when thinking of how hospitals must react to the situation. Presently, there is no clear plan as to how hospitals should react in a triage setting for mass injuries due to terrorist attack. If hospitals do not have the capacity to help those in need, they could potentially open themselves to future lawsuits. In recent years, more than 1,000 hospitals have closed across the country, thus decreasing the ability of healthcare professionals to carry out their duty to help the sick. In addition, a civil liberty question with regard to hospitals is the care an infectious person would receive. A person who has contracted a disease from a terrorist attack could be isolated and simply wait for death if there is no treatment for their ailment. The hospitals (under the direction of the government) may see the existence of someone with, for example, smallpox, as such a danger that the patient’s death is the only way to counter that threat. Thus, the doctors would give up on helping that person recover. Consequently, in a time of crisis, it may be very easy for the civil liberties of one to be overlooked in order to protect the entire population.
Another reform that may help to better manage the terrorist threat is the U.S. government’s effort to deter terrorist attacks. Although the concern over the use of biological weapons by terrorists mainly involves non-state sponsored/private terrorist groups, pressure can be placed on nations that are sponsors of terror to adhere to the Biological Weapons Convention. In addition, the international community could agree to work harder to ensure the safety and security in biomedical research labs working with agents which may present potential threats.
Russia is the nation that comes to mind when suggesting nations work harder on biomedical research security. Money has become a big concern for Russian scientists. The government presently does not pay scientists a fair salary for their work. In order to make money, many of these scientists have expressed interest in covertly selling chemical and biological agents to groups or nations that can pay them. In addition, security at chemical, biomedical, and nuclear facilities has greatly deteriorated. The result has been easier access for those who wish to steal these weapons from the Russians. Consequently, continuing to give assistance to nations (through loans and technical assistance), such as Russia, may be the best approach in maintaining the security of these weapons.
A final reform that can be undertaken to help update the present system of terrorist response may be legislative reform. Congress and state legislatures have not created new laws or adequately updated old laws to properly deal with the problems brought about by new terrorist threats. The old laws do not answer the questions posed by civil libertarians in a crisis situation nor direct the federal government to properly prepare for an attack. Today, many of the terrorism laws on the books go back one or two centuries. Politicians are often too afraid to update these laws for fear of appearing weak on terrorism. However, there has been some recent reform. The 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act updated some old anticommunist laws to apply them to terrorism. In addition, Congress enacted a Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Act of 2000 to help deal with issues presented by modern terrorist threats. Furthermore, legislative modifications were made to the Stafford Act which provides guidance for federal government assistance to states in times of emergency and to the Posse Comitatus Act which sets limits on military participation in domestic affairs. Although these reforms are steps in the right direction, reform can not come piecemeal, there needs to be a comprehensive federal/state plan to deal with terrorist threats.
Recommendation On Domestic Preparedness
After reviewing present US policy on counter terrorism, several reforms seem to be reasonable and adequate for implementation. Most important among these reforms is the creation of a cabinet-level agency whose responsibility is the detection, prevention, cleanup, and policy-making in regard to counter terrorism. Unlike the present system, this new agency will make long term counter terrorism policy and strategy rather than simply reacting to terrorist incidents as they occur. For argument’s sake, this agency shall be called the National Homeland Security Agency, although it really does not matter what name is attached to it for the purposes of this paper. This new agency should work closely with other federal agency in coordinating counter terrorist policy. For example, as previously stated, the agency should take on some or all responsibilities from other cabinet departments for the Border Patrol, Customs, Coast Guard, FBI counter terrorism center, FEMA, and cybersecurity.