I was somewhat nervous about being here because I had not seen until this morning the letter announcing that I was going to address the legal issues raised by homeland defense. I'm not a lawyer. I feel a little more like Daniel in the lion's den, [laughter] but you have all had breakfast, so hopefully, that will make people a little more tolerant this morning.
One of the hardest things for me to decide in coming here today was whether or not I should use the words "homeland defense" in this speech. Both the introduction of Jack [Marsh, former Secretary of the Army] and the letter requires it. I was trying to avoid it, as I have found that it stirs so many mixed emotions.
We in the Defense Department consider [homeland defense] to be an important and honorable mission. But so many Americans appear to be frightened by the idea. In January, President Clinton unveiled the administration's initiative for preparing America for a catastrophic terrorist event that might involve chemical or biological weapons. The next day, a sharp editorial was written in one of the most important newspapers in the country strongly criticizing the role of the Department of Defense in this initiative.
Roughly the same time, the Internet was full of stories that DoD was creating the Year 2000 controversy in order to take over America. So we find that both the Right and the Left [share a] a fear of a role for the Defense Department in preparing America to defend itself if we ever have a terrorist incident involving chemical or biological weapons.
I was apprehensive about whether or not I should entitle this speech "homeland defense," but I think it's unavoidable. I think because of that, we really need to talk about the central anxiety that people feel about this. We are not unwitting of the concerns that Americans have about the role of the military in American society. Frankly, we would love not to have this problem right now. We have enough problems right now for the Defense Department to work through. We don't need yet another or a complex problem where Americans are questioning our role. But we also feel that we don't have the option to set this aside.
I think the events of this last weekend were illustrative. Obviously, we don't have 42 heads of state come to Washington routinely [for the NATO Summit]. Nonetheless, it was typical of the relationship of the federal government and local law enforcement when you deal with a certain situation where there are genuine and significant security implications. While local law enforcement did a wonderful job, everybody [involved] was working overtime because we don't scale in size our normal law enforcement and civil response entities for crises. We work overtime when they occur. We don't have excess police officers just sitting around waiting to be mobilized. We don't have groups of firefighters waiting on call for a rare event once every three or four years. We size our civil response capabilities for routine, day-to-day operations. And so, when you have an event like a NATO summit once every 50 years, it really requires that we bring in some exceptional resources that are not routinely in the hands of local law enforcement or local emergency respondents.
Although I can't really go into the details, the Department of Defense has the ability and resources to deal with [situations like] terrorist incidents involving a nuclear device. We have portable field laboratories to do on-site diagnostics if there were a chemical or biological agent. We had chemical and biological protection suits for every single member of the official delegations that were here and ways to get them away under fire to safety if we had to. We could do those things because we thought about them in advance. We worked through the details. We had soldiers inoculated for anthrax so that they would not be at risk operating in that environment. We had prepared for things that we don't normally expect and routinely place upon law enforcement and first responders in America. [Local law enforcement doesn’t] have the resources.
I think we managed this support activity in an exceptional way. Everyone, including the Defense Department, did a terrific job. The Secret Service did a masterful job of coordinating this. Local law enforcement was wonderful. It went seamlessly. But we had the opportunity to plan this for months. Unfortunately, I think we can at least envision a future where an event might occur in the United States that would be much more tasking than anything we faced this weekend. It would occur with no warning and with no ability to prepare. That, I think, is the challenge facing the entire country and certainly facing the Department of Defense.
As I said, we don't need this problem right now. [Our forces] are stretched. It would be very easy for us to set it aside and say we don't have time for this. But during the last year, there have been over one hundred alleged or implied terrorist incidents involving chemical or biological weapons in the United States. Most of them have been fraudulent; calls in to local radio stations implying that there is a biological agent being dispersed. I think they're happening virtually once a week now in California. It is a sad reality that we had the first threat of anthrax attack in this country a year and a half ago and that we have had over 100 in the last twelve months. At some point, one of them will be real.
Now, as I mentioned at the outset, both the Right and the Left are very fearful of the United States military being involved in this. I think they watched the movie "Siege" and now have visions of the United States military taking over the operation of the United States. We do not want to have anything to do with that. But I would also say that I personally believe that the most serious threat to civil liberties in this country will come if we do nothing to get ready for this event. And the only option available to the President is martial law. That is a far more serious threat to civil liberties than for us to prepare in advance for what we will do should something like this occur.
So let me tell you what we are trying to do. I'm going to go through the basic outlines of Secretary [Cohen’s] direction to the department, how the Department of Defense will prepare itself to support domestic law enforcement and emergency response entities.
First, there must be an unequivocal chain of responsibility, authority and accountability for our actions. We will never tolerate a circumstance where it's ambiguous as to who has authority to do what, when and with whom. It will have to be laid out very clearly. [The American people] have to have confidence that [the Government] will follow the basic constructs of lawful action when an emergency comes. There has to be an unequivocal, clear line of accountability and authority to work through.
Second, we in DoD will always be -- and never seek any other role than to be -- a supporting role to local law enforcement and to local first responders. That is exactly the way we worked it out this weekend. We had troops ready to undertake the mission, but they were under the tactical control of the Attorney General. The Secretary of Defense only has the role of vetoing a bad idea, but never positively authorizing an independent idea. It is absolutely under the unequivocal control of local law enforcement.
We believe it has to be that way. We don't ever want to be in a situation where Americans feel [their Defense Department is] a risk to American civil liberties. We know how to work this out when it comes to intelligence matters. We know how to protect and balance civil liberties on the one hand and civil responsibility for security on the other. We know how to do this. We do it every day. We know our role is a support role, never a lead role.
Third, we only intend to buy [materials] and [provide support] that is largely related to our larger war-fighting mission overseas. We do not think it is our business to be buying [materials] just for this mission in the United States. Much of what we need for our overseas mission and our war-fighting mission is applicable here. We are the only organization in America able to set up barrier nursing for 10,000 people in the middle of a field within two days. We know how to do thoracic surgery in a chemical environment and set that up and be operational within two days. We are the only people who know how to do that.
Now, people are afraid of having the Department of Defense involved in domestic response. Okay. But who else is going to set up field hospitals, MASH units? We are prepared to do it if you ask us. We are the only organization that has field transportable diagnostic units that can within minutes tell you what kind of a chemical agent you might be confronting. Many HAZMAT units have improved over the last several years, but they are looking for commercial chemicals. They do not necessarily have in their files the chemicals that a terrorist might use that have been developed for warfare. [HAZMAT units] don't have anything on biologics.
[This mission] is something that we can do. We can bring it to the field. If there was an anthrax incident two blocks from the White House, the federal government is one of the few organizations in the world that could in five minutes provide the likely pattern of where the wind will take it block-by-block in the Washington area. This is important, obviously. If you have a chemical incident, you have to get people away. If you have a biological incident, you have to keep them in. You need to know this, and we have that capability. But as I said, in all of these instances, we buy it for our war-fighting mission and we don't intend to buy things that are not needed for our war-fighting mission. But we do need to know how to use them for domestic support if we are asked to do that.
Fourth, we [believe that the] capability the Department needs to develop has to largely be grounded in the National Guard and our Reserve forces. Under our normal way of doing business, active units are overseas on the front line. Our active duty forces are forward deployed and our Reserves go and reinforce.
In homeland defense, it is exactly the other way around. I'm stealing the line from Arnold Punaro [Commanding General, 4th Marine Division]. Our forward deployed forces are our guardsmen. Now, they don't have the ability to integrate and requisition biological protection systems and field hospitals from active units. Some of them may have that ability in one state Guard unit, but that may not be the right place. We need to have an integrating and planning mechanism to deal with that. That is what we will design when we get down to the business of setting up our joint task force for civil support.
Fifth, we do not need and do not want to change posse comitatus. Period. We think that's an enormously important protection for the Department of Defense as well as for Americans. So we seek no change and want no change to posse comitatus.
These are the large [elements of our plan]. Where are we in our planning? For years we have had an organization in the Department that deals with the way we respond to civil emergencies. It's called the Director of Military Support and it's subordinate to the Army. When Jack Marsh was the longest serving Secretary of the Army in history he had subordinate to him an organization that managed all civil support activities for the Department of Defense. That is a foundation that we will build on, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. [The Director of Military Support] is largely an organization designed to react to and to support domestic agencies when needed, but it is not designed to do the detailed, disciplined, long-term contingency planning that needs to be done for contingencies of this magnitude.
So we will be establishing a joint task force for civil support. We are still in the design phase of this organization; where it will be located, to whom it will be subordinate, how many people it will have, how it will report to Washington, what the liaison mechanisms in Washington will be. This is a very complex issue in the Department [because responsibility] belongs to many different people; our health affairs organization, our reserve affairs organization, our research and development activities, our active duty forces. Everyone potentially has an important role, but you just can't pull their contribution out of what they're doing on a day-to-day basis. We need to have an overall coordinator to bring the Department together, and that is Pam Berkowsky [Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Consequence Management]. She is pulling the entire department together. That's what we'll be doing during the next three to four months.
We are due to report back to the President by mid-summer. I believe that we will give him options, not just point solutions. I'm confident that we will have a mechanism in place where the Department of Defense will protect and defend the United States in a safe and reliable and fully legal manner if we ever have to undertake homeland defense involving one of these terrible incidents.