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Department's Mission Was Undermined From Start
"That was driving decisions," one senior Ridge aide said.
In February 2002, Michael A. Wermuth, a homeland security expert at the Rand Corp., handed Ridge a two-page list of government entities that could be folded into a new department. It was the fourth of four options he offered, and Wermuth warned Ridge it was a horrible idea. He spoke "of train wrecks coming, a clash of cultures." It would take at least five years, probably 10, for the department to function smoothly. And without the proper resources, Wermuth said, "you're going to strangle yourself in bureaucracy for years."
Ridge seemed undeterred. "Option 4 is really where I'd like to get to," he said.
"We didn't scare him enough," Wermuth thought.
Everything Was on the Table
In the White House bunker where Cheney had waited out the Sept. 11 attacks, a select group of policy aides had been secretly commissioned to plot the administration's about-face.
They were called together in April by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. -- five mid-level staffers known as the "Gang of Five," or as they liked to call themselves, the "G-5." Two worked for Ridge -- Lawlor and Richard A. Falkenrath, a security expert from Harvard -- and Card sent his deputy Joel D. Kaplan, associate counsel Brad Berenson and deputy budget director Mark W. Everson.
Several times a week, the G-5 met with a group of principals, including Card, Ridge, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. and Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. On poster boards, they listed all the agencies that might make sense in the department. "The overriding guidance," Lawlor recalled, "was that everything was on the table for consideration."
Why not include the Federal Aviation Administration? Or the Drug Enforcement Administration? Falkenrath and Lawlor wanted to move the FBI, which was responsible for investigating threats to the homeland. But it became clear that politics would also shape the department. Card and other principals swiftly vetoed the transfer of the FBI as a non-starter. Rice scoffed that it would make the department look like the German Interior Ministry.
But everyone agreed to move the border agencies that Ridge had tried to merge earlier. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was definitely in as well. Card raised the idea of taking the National Guard from the Pentagon, but as Falkenrath recalled, "we just couldn't figure out how to make it work."
Some of the decisions were almost random. Falkenrath thought it would be nice to give the new department a research lab that could bring cutting-edge research to homeland security problems. He called up a friend and asked which of the three Department of Energy labs would work. "He goes, 'Livermore.' And I'm like, 'All right. See you later.' Click," Falkenrath told historians from the Naval Postgraduate School. He did not realize that he had just decided to give the new department a thermonuclear weapon simulator, among other highly sensitive assets of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
In June, after just six weeks of meetings, the department was ready for unveiling. The secret had been kept so well that even secretaries with major turf on the line had no idea what was coming until Card put out calls to the Cabinet the day before the president's announcement.
"They were just totally bamboozled," Falkenrath said.