By Spencer S. Hsu and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The White House yesterday updated the nation's homeland security strategy for the first time since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, acknowledging the need to prepare for catastrophic natural disasters as well as the "persistent and evolving" threat of terrorism.
The 53-page National Strategy for Homeland Security comes as the Bush administration, with little more than 15 months left in office, seeks to take account of lessons it painfully learned when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.
"Homeland security both as a policy matter and as a concept didn't exist prior to 9/11 and prior to . . . President Bush assuming office," said Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser. "We believe that we had an obligation, regardless of who the next president is, Republican or Democrat, to leave them the benefit of our thinking."
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said however that the document "provides little guidance for the deficiencies already taxing our homeland security capacity, while at the same time, it attempts to define successes . . . which have not yet been realized."
Several security analysts praised the document for attempting to put such policies on more solid footing. But they also questioned its timing and long passages defending the pet initiatives of a dwindling administration, instead of reconciling security directives and plans issued over the past six years.
"It reads more like a legacy document than a forward-leaning strategy," said Frank J. Cilluffo, a former Bush adviser now head of George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute. "To some extent, it was a missed opportunity," he said.
David W. Heyman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies homeland security program, noted that the 208,000-worker Department of Homeland Security remains short of key managers and its Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson recently announced his resignation.
"It's a surprising time . . . to come up with a new strategy," Heyman said. "My concern is that, even if this is a better or best strategy, without the effective leadership, human resources, processes and operations to support it, they are not going to set down roots."
The document supplants a 90-page strategy hastily drafted largely in private by a handful of White House advisers and released in July 2002. Criticized for overemphasizing terrorism at the expense of recurring natural events, the strategy hampered the federal government's response when Hurricane Katrina struck three years later, analysts said.
The new report acknowledges: "Threats come not only from terrorism, but also from nature. . . . Effective preparation for catastrophic natural disasters and man-made disasters, while not homeland security per se, can nevertheless increase the security of the homeland." The report said ongoing threats range from infectious disease outbreaks to "catastrophic domestic accidents" such as chemical spills and power failures.
The document sets four goals: to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks; protect the public, critical assets and resources; respond to and recover from incidents; and strengthen the nation's homeland security foundation. The 2002 strategy listed only the first three goals and named prevention but not disruption of attacks.
The report also restates that al-Qaeda is the "most serious and dangerous" threat, as noted in a July national intelligence estimate. "We remain particularly concerned about the employment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)" in the United States, the report says, echoing a February presidential homeland security directive.