REPORT FROM CONGRESS
By Congressman Roger F. Wicker
June 28, 2004
WICKER NOTES PROGRESS ON INTELLIGENCE, HOMELAND SECURITY
The occasion of our nation's 228th birthday this weekend provides another opportunity to celebrate the greatest system of government ever devised. Along with the parades, picnics, and patriotic songs, Americans should also take time to reflect on the challenge our republic faces in the worldwide war against terrorism.
Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," but he might never have imagined the efforts required to remain vigilant against the forces that threaten America on Independence Day 2004. Ensuring that the U.S. is prepared to meet those challenges at home and abroad is among our highest priorities on Capitol Hill. In addition to boosting defense spending, the House of Representatives has acted to strengthen two other national security
components-homeland defense and intelligence operations.
HOMELAND SECURITY INCREASE
The events of 9-11-01 signaled that the U. S. was vulnerable to terrorist attacks here at home. Our country has made remarkable progress in responding to this new threat in the months since that terrible day. Creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has helped focus on protecting our borders, transportation systems and infrastructure, and providing funds for first responders.
In the year since DHS was created, 33,000 facilities have been surveyed and made more secure. The structures include chemical plants, nuclear power plants, national monuments, subways, and rail systems. Screening of cargo at ports in the U.S. and overseas has been stepped up, and better communications have been established among local, state, and federal emergency response agencies. Nearly $27 billion has been allocated for grants and training for police, firefighters, and health care personnel who will be first on the scene of any crisis.
The homeland security package for 2005 includes a nine percent boost in spending for on-going programs and new initiatives designed to meet the goals of prevention, preparedness, and response.
MORE EMPHASIS ON INTELLIGENCE
While the specific monetary figures are classified, the Intelligence Authorization Act would provide more funding for intelligence programs than ever before. These resources as well as initiatives to improve management of the agencies are designed to strengthen our country's efforts to fight terrorism. The bill would also increase the ability to collect information about non-terrorist activities that might threaten American security interests. Funds would be used to add analysts at DHS, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency. Money is also earmarked for increased training for analysts throughout the intelligence community.
The legislation has funds to develop more human intelligence sources. High-tech listening devices, sensors, and spy satellites continue to be important, but having reliable human assets on the ground close to the action is a must. Another priority is to improve foreign language skills for current intelligence officers and development of a reserve of individuals with these critical skills.
The intelligence community has been criticized in recent months for failures in providing accurate information leading up to the war in Iraq. The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence noted there were "gaps in capabilities and flaws in the management of resources and personnel." The bill contains provisions to address the problems and help these agencies refocus on the critical role they play in our national security structure.