INDEPTH: SEPTEMBER 11
U.S. Homeland Security Act
CBC News Online | Updated February 3, 2004
George W. Bush
With a stroke of the pen in the East Room of the White House, United States President George W. Bush today signed into law the Homeland Security Act. The legislation is huge, creating a new cabinet department that will incorporate 22 existing agencies with combined budgets of nearly $40 billion and a national workforce of 170,000.
The powerful new department is a direct result of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. It is the biggest governmental reorganization in the United States since 1947, when the Department of Defense was created.
Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, a Harvard-educated Vietnam vet and former governor of Pennsylvania, will head the new department. His deputy will be U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England. It is expected that it will take at least a year before the Department of Homeland Security is operational.
Under the Homeland Security Act will be a Pentagon program called the Information Awareness Office, with a startup budget of $200 million US. Some critics fear it will have unprecedented, Orwellian powers over every citizen of the country by 2004 snooping on telephone conversations, computer communications, bank transactions, credit-card purchases and travel patterns.
The man picked in February 2002 to head the Information Awareness Office is retired navy admiral John Poindexter. This, too, has alarmed civil libertarians in the U.S. and other countries. Poindexter, a security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, is best known as the man convicted of five felony counts for lying to Congress in the late-1980s.
Poindexter, Oliver North and others sold weapons to the Iranians illegally (behind Reagan’s back), then funnelled the money to the Contra army they helped build in Central America. A court sentenced Poindexter to six months in jail, but the convictions were overturned in 1990 when a higher court ruled that Congress had given him immunity in return for his testimony in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Poindexter is regarded as the Homeland Security Act’s chief architect. Miro Cernetig, writing in The Globe and Mail on Nov. 25, 2002, quoted Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, as saying of Poindexter:
“In some ways, Poindexter is the perfect Orwellian figure for the perfect Orwellian project. As a man convicted of falsifying and destroying information, he will now be put in charge of gathering information on every citizen. What is most astonishing is the utter lack of public debate over the project.”
Points to ponder:
- The U.S. Senate approved the Homeland Security bill on Nov. 9, 2002, by a vote of 90-9, after the House of Representatives approved it the week before.
- Congress has allotted $37.45 billion to the new department for fiscal year 2003.
- The new Department of Homeland Security will be divided into four divisions:
- Border and transportation security
- Emergency preparedness and response
- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures
- Information analysis and infrastructure protection
- Existing agencies moved to the new department are Immigration and Naturalization, Coast Guard, Customs, Border Patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, and the border inspection authority of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
- Homeland Security will analyse intelligence from sources such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Energy, Customs Service and Department of Transportation.
The Homeland Security Act was mired in partisan politics on Capitol Hill as Democrats refused to grant the president the broad powers he now has under the act passed on Nov. 25, 2002. After the midterm election results, which gave the Republicans control of Congress, the Democrats reversed their opposition to the bill.
When he signed the bill, Bush said:
"With a vast nation to defend, we can neither predict nor prevent every conceivable attack in a free and open society. No department of government can completely guarantee our safety against ruthless killers who move and plot in shadows, yet our government will take every possible measure to safeguard… our people."