Bush creates anti-terrorism office to prevent and combat future attack on United States

Thursday, September 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It will be the daunting task of President Bush's new Office of Homeland Security to ensure terrorists can't take advantage of the nation's ease of movement to carry out attacks.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the head of the new agency, will be ``sitting at the right hand of the president,'' a senior Bush administration official said Thursday.

The office will create a plan to tighten security across the nation.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said Friday that Congress will likely have to pass legislation to give the office budget authority and the powers to enforce its decisions.

``If you want to get a job done, there's no substitute for having an agency with a budget,'' said Lieberman, D-Conn.

The Cabinet-level office is but part of a whole new bureaucracy Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have ordered in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Bush said in his address to Congress on Thursday that Ridge ``will lead, oversee and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism.''

In addition, the National Security Council will get a national director for combatting terrorism and an Office of Cyber-Security, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official quoted Bush as saying Ridge is ``the individual I want to pick up the phone _ when the balloon goes up _ and call and know that we've got it all tied together and we know what the states are going to do and the cities are going to and what needs to be geared up from the standpoint of our health agencies.''

Federal investigators have found evidence that terrorists lived in the country for years before the attack, taking flight lessons, learning to fight at a gym and learning how to breach airport security.

Some members of Congress have already begun to criticize the CIA for not picking up hints of the attack and acting to stop it.

The new office is aimed at knitting together the counterterrorism functions now scattered across several entities, including the FBI, CIA, the National Guard and local police and firefighting forces.

It will not only focus on preventing terrorist attacks, but also on fortifying potential targets by developing plans to protect the nation's transportation, power and food systems, the official said.

``These measures are essential,'' Bush said. ``The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows.''

Before the president's speech, Lieberman called for the creation of a special federal agency to combat terrorism at home. As chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he planned hearings on the issue Friday.

``A funny and great thing happened on the way to my hearing tomorrow morning on the homeland security agency,'' Lieberman said Thursday night. ``The president not only endorsed the idea, he apparently created it.''

Lieberman said he would still hold the hearing, and would discuss ways to turn that office into a permanent agency.