Bush Gets a 'Can Do Better' From Terror Panel

  • Share
  • Read Later
President Bush's anti-terrorism policies are about to come under fire from a somewhat unlikely source: A federal advisory panel headed by a former Republican Party chairman is set to rap the President's knuckles this week when it issues a report criticizing the administration for failing to develop a comprehensive, pro-active anti-terror strategy more than two years after the 9/11 attacks.

Headed by former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction voices concern, in its draft report, that civil liberties are getting too little attention as new security measures are proposed. It also cites a “need for the White House to take more of an aggressive role as a more forward-looking body,” said a source familiar with the panel's work. “If they're doing it, they're doing it in such a superficial or under-the-radar fashion that that it did not become apparent to the panel,” despite testimony from the likes of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, the source added. “The Department of Homeland Security is focusing on today and the crisis of the moment. But who's looking at the broader issues of economic security and societal stability?”

Asked about the report, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that “the president is committed to ensuring that we do everything possible to protect America from the threat of terrorism and that we do so in a way that also adheres to all laws.”

The advisory panel will also recommend that the President name a bipartisan civil liberties oversight board — drawing members from across the political spectrum, academia and the private sector — to assess the impact on civil liberties of anti-terror measures such as the Patriot Act and proposals to strengthen it. The report suggests that greater oversight is required for any use of U.S. spy satellites on targets inside the United States, and that legislation may be required to set the rules. Since September 11, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's spy satellites have been increasingly pointed inside U.S. borders in support of the Pentagon's new Northern Command, charged with protecting the homeland. The agency's officials insist they don't target American citizens. The question, said the source familiar with the panel's work, is: “How do we use the technology of today to monitor the activities of citizens in a manner that protects civil freedoms?”

The panel will also recommend that the Terrorist Threat Integration Center be established as an independent agency, and urges that the ongoing spending of billions of dollars on anti-terror and homeland security measures at all levels of government and in the private sector needs to be guided by an overall strategy.

White House spokeswoman Buchan said the administration has “made great progress in making America safer and we're going to continue to continue working with Congress and working with state and local governments and working across all agencies of government to continue to make progress.”