Chertoff: Terror threat has not abated
(AP) WASHINGTON – The terrorist threat to the United States has not abated despite government steps in the past year to tighten rules for people and goods that enter the country, the nation’s chief of homeland security said Wednesday.
“The fact that we have not had a terrorist attack on this country in the last six years is not a cause for complacency or a time to celebrate,” Michael Chertoff said Wednesday during a year-end speech. “The threat is not going away. The enemy has not lost interest. And if you have doubt about it, look at yesterday’s reports about bombings in Algeria.”
Chertoff spoke a day after twin truck bombings by an affiliate of al-Qaida targeted U.N. offices and a government building in Algiers, killing at least 31 people.
In 2008, the final year of the Bush administration, Chertoff said his department plans to complete a fence along 670 miles of the nation’s southwest border, push states to issue more secure driver’s licenses, launch a plan to protect cyberspace and stabilize the department – which has seen constant change in its five years of existence.
Homeland Security was created from 22 separate agencies in response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and has gone through nine reorganizations.
Chertoff blamed Congress for some of what he calls the department’s “organizational churn” because Congress has refused to consolidate its oversight, despite the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to do so.
Eighty-six congressional committees and subcommittees have some oversight of the department. Chertoff called this “a recipe for conflicting direction and constant fighting over who controls jurisdiction over what part of my agency.”
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the department needs better management overall.
“The department has come a long way in five years, and the American people have benefited from the work it has done,” Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said in a statement. “Am I satisfied? No.”
Chertoff’s speech sought to highlight the department’s accomplishments in 2007, such as issuing regulations to secure dangerous chemicals in facilities across the country and an agreement with the European Union to provide passenger name information for international flights.
Missing from Chertoff’s top four priorities for 2008 was emergency management, but that does not mean the department is not focused on it. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, improving the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been at the top of the department’s agenda. “There’s no greater advocate for FEMA and its role in the department than the secretary,” Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said improvements to FEMA have been evident in the agency’s good response to the California wildfires in October and other natural disasters this past year. Collins is the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee.
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