Obama Combines Security Councils, Adds Offices for Computer and Pandemic Threats

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

President Obama announced yesterday that he will merge the staffs of the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council to speed up and unify security policymaking inside the White House.

The combined national security staff, about 240 people, will report to national security adviser James L. Jones.

The White House also will add new offices for cybersecurity, for terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, and for "resilience" -- a national security directorate aimed at preparedness and response for a domestic WMD attack, pandemic or natural catastrophe, officials said.

"The challenges of the 21st century are increasingly unconventional and transnational, and therefore demand a response that effectively integrates all aspects of American power," Obama said in a statement.

Obama's changes to the national security structure, to be implemented over six weeks, address concerns that President George W. Bush created an overlapping White House bureaucracy by establishing the Homeland Security Council after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 9/11 Commission, among others, recommended merging it into the NSC.

Instead, Obama will preserve the Homeland Security Council's role as the main forum for government policymaking on issues such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, natural disasters and pandemic influenza. Doing so will improve state and local officials' access to the White House and does not require an act of Congress, aides said.

"The idea that somehow counterterrorism is a homeland security issue doesn't make sense when you recognize the fact that terror around the world doesn't recognize borders," Jones told reporters in a briefing. "There is no right-hand, left-hand anymore."

John O. Brennan, Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, will continue to report to Jones as a deputy and maintain direct access to the president.

"There's no diminishment at all of the effort on" counterterrorism, Brennan said.

Jones and Brennan, whom Obama tapped Feb. 23 to lead a 60-day organizational review, said the changes will strengthen the White House security staff, which includes aides detailed from other departments.

Among other things, Obama is establishing a new global engagement directorate to coordinate U.S. communications with other countries and to streamline U.S. diplomatic, aid, environment and energy policies in support of security objectives, officials said.

Jones said the biggest pitfall for the new structure will be if he and Brennan "don't achieve this degree of collegiality that we've achieved," adding: "If we don't do this well . . . that will contribute to instability."

Senior lawmakers in Congress and former Bush aides generally praised the moves.

Kenneth Wainstein, Brennan's immediate predecessor, praised the administration's "inclusive" approach and said it allayed fears that changes "might diminish the perceived importance of homeland security issues."

"It doesn't bury the homeland equities," said Frank J. Cilluffo, director of George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, who served as assistant to the president for homeland security in 2003.

However, Frances Fragos Townsend, who served in Brennan's role from 2005 to 2008, cautioned in an e-mail that he "will no longer have direct control of the resources required to the job."

"John Brennan and Gen. Jim Jones are experienced, competent professionals and they will bear the burden of ensuring the necessary resource allocations across the broad spectrum of threats against the United States," Townsend wrote.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, said she remained "concerned" that changes may dilute the focus of Brennan and homeland security staffers.

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