Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 22, 2005

Washington Post on the birth of DHS

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on December 22, 2005

The Washington Post has a blockbuster story on Thursday that tells for the first time the inside story of the bureaucratic process that led to the creation of DHS. It’s difficult to blog a story where you want to excerpt every other paragraph, but below are some choice details:

For the first time, the story of how Ridge learned that he had be undercut by the CIA and FBI on DHS’ intelligence capabilities:

…Ridge learned from the president’s State of the Union address that a new intelligence center for tracking terrorists — which he had expected to be the hub of DHS’s dot-connecting efforts — would not be controlled by DHS.

Ridge and his aides thought the center was one of the key reasons the department had been created, to prevent the coordination failures that helped produce Sept. 11. Not only had the White House undercut Ridge, it also let him find out about his defeat on television.

“We watched it and thought: ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ ” recalled John Rollins, who became chief of staff for the new DHS intelligence section. “The White House did not support us,” said one of Ridge’s top advisers. “That occurred repeatedly. It was if the White House created us and then set out to marginalize us.”

Uh, wow. The fight to control intelligence is a well-known story, but these details are new.

And for the first time, the reason why DHS didn’t have a policy office until several months ago: because it would cost too much.

White House cybersecurity czar Richard A. Clarke, the counterterrorism chief sidelined by Bush after urging more decisive action against al Qaeda before Sept. 11, blasted Ridge’s office with a memo about the new department’s design flaws, warning that the failure to include a policy office would leave the secretary helpless to control its independent fiefdoms.

“Creating a significant policy shop is like Bureaucracy 101,” said Clarke deputy Roger Cressey. “We never heard anything back.”

In fact, the G-5 had considered a policy shop. But the idea had been shot down, Ridge said, in an effort to streamline the department’s upper management ranks. The White House knew Hill Republicans were skittish about a big-government scheme, and Daniels, the administration’s budget hawk, told conservatives he did not want the department to spend more than its 22 agencies were already spending.

I can’t understand this rationale at all, especially since a policy shop would likely have cost at most $5-$10m a year… 0.01-0.02% of the total DHS budget. A clear strategic mistake, and one that has wisely now been remedied.

And for the first time, the story of the political maneuvering on chemical plant security inside the White House, with Sec. Ridge and Christie Todd Whitman at the EPA in favor of security mandates, and Karl Rove blocking these plans:

One stark example was the White House’s blockade of a Ridge-supported plan to secure large chemical plants. After Sept. 11, Whitman had worked with Ridge on a modest effort to require high-risk plants — especially the 123 factories where a toxic release could endanger at least 1 million people — to enhance security. But industry groups warned Bush political adviser Karl Rove that giving new regulatory power to the Environmental Protection Agency would be a disaster.

“We have a similar set of concerns,” Rove wrote to the president of BP Amoco Chemical Co.

In an interagency meeting shortly before DHS’s birth, White House budget official Philip J. Perry, who also happens to be Cheney’s son-in-law, declared the Ridge-Whitman plan dead.

“Tom and I would just throw our hands up in frustration over that issue,” Whitman recalled.

As I wrote here last weekend, this is probably the most negligent thing that the Administration has done on homeland security since 9/11, and hopefully will be addressed soon.

Finally, the identities of the small group who worked on the DHS plan in the White House are confirmed in the public record for the first time:

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.

I can’t stress enough: read the whole thing.

The Post has a “part two” on Friday, focusing on FEMA and DHS.

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Comment by Brian

December 22, 2005 @ 1:57 pm

I read the entire article and the one published in Rolling Stone, and I have to ask, where are the cockroaches in Congress through all of this? I am not here to defend the administration, but with the entire BS concerning the NSA eavesdropping, the GWOT, 9/11, the 9/11 commission, secret prison camp and now the formation of DHS, where the hell at the peoples representatives.

We elected the President to run the government; we elected Congress to oversee it. Please tell me where are the cockroaches? Easy, waiting under the refrigerator until the lights are turned out, and then they will come scampering out.

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