Report: Pentagon to seek authority for new homeland security command

Sunday, January 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Top Pentagon officials have decided to seek permission to create a new command to coordinate the military defense of North America, The Washington Post reported on its Web site.

The Pentagon has regional commanders in chief, known as CINCs, who are responsible for Europe, the Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East and South Asia, but there is none for U.S. forces in the United States and Canada.

In a story prepared for Sunday's print editions, the Post said the proposed change would give a single four-star general or admiral authority over such domestic deployments as Air Force jets patrolling above U.S. cities, Navy ships running coastal checks and Army National Guard troops policing airports and border crossings.

Earlier thinking among military chiefs was to assign the homeland defense mission to one of two commands already based in the United States _ the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado, which is responsible for protecting U.S. skies, or the Joint Forces Command in Virginia, which has been charged with guarding the maritime approaches to North America and the land defense of the continental United States.

But the Post cited four officials in different branches of the Pentagon as saying Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has settled on creating a new command rather than putting additional duties on an existing one.

``All the (service) chiefs and CINCs (commanders in chief) have seen the plan and have signed on to it, although it has not yet been briefed to the president,'' the newspaper quoted an unidentified senior military officer as saying. ``Everyone is moving down the track toward realizing it.''

The Post said military leaders traditionally have resisted the idea of a homeland CINC, but that has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as the military air, sea and land patrols pressed into action by the Pentagon have answered to several four-star commanders.

The newspaper also said opposition from such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union also has lessened despite concerns that military forces deployed around the country could end up threatening individual rights.

It said details for implementing the new command structure have yet to be worked out, including where it would be located, what it would be called, who would lead it and exactly which functions it would take from existing CINCs.

It said the new command probably would have links to the Homeland Security Office headed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. However, it would formally fall in the traditional military chain of authority running from the president through the secretary of defense to troops involved in homeland protection.