New priorities for homeland security |

New priorities for homeland security

Congressman Jim Gibbons

Terrorism lurks in the shadows of an open society. The same freedoms that make our society great can also give shelter to its enemies.

We enjoy the freedom to travel anywhere in this land without first having to ask permission, the freedom to do largely as we please in our homes and workplaces, and the freedom to communicate by telephone and otherwise without government eavesdropping.

Now we are engaged in a war of a kind we have never fought before, against an enemy who hides in plain sight in the melting pot of

nationalities that is our nation’s very strength, an enemy who travels as he pleases, and who plots in the security of private homes and on telephone lines.

To combat these sinister threats, we have united as a nation in efforts aimed at early detection for the sake of our own safety. We have as never before in my lifetime united and cooperated with police agencies by alerting them to people and circumstances arousing our suspicions. A byproduct of this effort is a greater sense of community than we have seen

in many years, an attentiveness to our neighbors and our neighborhoods and an awareness of unusual activities around us.

But this is not enough. We must give those we hold responsible for our security the proper tools to do their jobs.

That is why, last Oct. 4, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, I sponsored legislation intended to elevate homeland security

to Cabinet-level status, making it an agency with its own clearly defined responsibilities, its own budget, and a mandate of interaction with other federal agencies.

As it is, we have several agencies that each collect information that can be important in the nation’s war on terrorism. The trouble is that these agencies are not accustomed to sharing tidbits of information which, if assembled, might be important.

It’s as if we had a large puzzle, all broken up and put in a big box, and each agency reaches in and grabs a handful of those parts of that puzzle and goes off into their separate offices, whether it’s the CIA, the FBI, the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs, you name it. They’re in different rooms, in different offices, trying to put together part of a puzzle, but they don’t have the big picture.

We need to break down those walls and allow for them to see what each other’s information and intelligence is providing, to give us a uniform picture of the information that we need to be able to stop future terrorist attacks.

We don’t need to combine the CIA and the FBI, but we do need them to better serve the American people by sharing information among themselves and with others.

When appropriate, we need for them to share that information with the front-line troops in the war against domestic terrorism — the police, firefighters, hospitals and ambulance attendants who serve in communities from Laughlin to Jackpot in Nevada and in urban and rural areas throughout the United States.

There are as many plans to do this as there are agencies involved. After all, each bureaucratic organization by its nature wants to protect itself and its information.

But those concerns must take a back seat to one of the most essential purposes of the existence of government. It was said best in the Preamble to the Constitution in which the founding fathers wrote that “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense …”

Nothing is more fundamental in our government than defending our nation and its people, whether in wars fought abroad or on our own soil.

That is why establishing a strong, coordinated homeland defense mechanism that coordinates that defense from the highest councils of Washington to the most obscure town council in the country is so important. It must include everyone from those who live in the White House to those who live in the most humble hovels.

The “common defense” is in large measure what our government is all about, and we must perform that job well.

Our citizens and their safety deserve nothing less.