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Council on Foreign Relations Luncheon
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre , Washington, DC , Thursday, September 23, 1999

Thank you very much, Will [Taft, Jr.; former Deputy Secretary of Defense]. When I started the Deputy Secretary's job, I pulled open the desk drawer and saw that your initials were carved there. So I knew I was following big shoes, indeed. [Laughter.] They asked me once what it was like to go from being Comptroller to being the Deputy Secretary, and I said, "The heart transplant was painful." [Laughter.] You don't have one when you're a comptroller, but I had to have one in this job.

I have a prepared speech, but I'm not sure I ought to use it in light of the conversation that I just had at my table. I think it might be easier if I would summarize some of the discussion that we had, and use it as the basis to jump off to a larger discussion about the subject.

Secretary Taft really started our conversation off when he said, "Why did you change the name of your initiative from 'Homeland Defense' to 'Civil Support?'" In many ways, that sums up a great deal of the dilemma the Department has been working through during the last six months.

For those of us in the Defense Department, the term 'Homeland Defense' is a very noble endeavor. Those of us in the business of working in defense and those who put on the uniform every day, are very proud to defend the country. We are doing that around the world. But in the homeland, as opposed to overseas, it's even more important. So we consider it to be a term of honor.

What has been surprising to us is that for many Americans, the term 'Homeland Defense' has ominous overtones. [The term] gave the impression that there was something dangerous about asking the Department of Defense to react if there was an incident inside the United States involving chemical or biological or nuclear weapons.

You may recall that when the President talked about this in January in the roll-out of his budget, he talked about this mission of protecting the United States against an outside attacker using chemical or biological weapons. The very next day there was a blistering critique in one of the most important newspapers in America, saying that it's a very bad thing for the Department of Defense to get involved in this; that it's a threat to our civil liberties.

That shocked us in the Defense Department. It's not that we don't get criticism. [Laughter.] Indeed, we receive lots of criticism every day. Yet what really shocked us was the realization that some Americans are worried about us. You probably don't follow the survivalist Web sites, but they're absolutely filled with allegations that the Department of Defense, with its black helicopters, is linking up with ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] and the with FBI and other forces to create a capability to come in and deprive Americans of their civil liberties.

A poll after [the] Oklahoma City [bombing] said that 10 percent of Americans don't trust their government. Well, that's 25 million people who think that we are the biggest threat they face. I must say, we were startled when this criticism came out, because it wasn't at all what any of us were thinking.

Our view, and I should be very, very clear about this, is that we hope this day never comes. But there have been a number of wake-up calls. The Aum Shinrikyo bombing of the Tokyo subway was a wake-up call. These people were also trying to get their hands on nuclear material.

There are reports every week of groups around the world trying to get their hands on loose chemical or biological agents. In this country last year, there were three instances in the United States of alleged anthrax bombs. This year, there have been over 100. Now, fortunately, none of [these threats] have been real, but it is now becoming the intimidation weapon of choice. Either you don't want to take your final exams -- which was somewhat the case in California -- or an extreme element wants to shut down abortion clinics; call in an "anthrax strike," or claim that there's anthrax.

Like it or not, this is becoming, I fear, a more likely event. Fred Ikle [Center for Strategic & International Studies] and I were talking during lunch, and he said, "It's one thing to talk about this as a terrorist incident, but there is a whole other dimension, that countries who know they can never take on the United States on the battlefield in conventional ways could do it this way. Are you ready?"

The answer to that is no, we're not. We changed the name from Homeland Defense to Civil Support to take the fizzle out of it to those Americans who are fearful of what we're trying to do. Our goal is not to declare martial law and take control. Our goal is to avoid that at all costs. Our goal is to try to set up, in advance, the working relationships, the exercise experiences, the liaisons and the tools so that law enforcement can do its job and we can help them in ways that are reassuring to the American public. That's what we're trying to do.

Now, we're not ready yet. There are certain things that we are capable of doing. I want to first reassure you of that. We have the ability in this country to respond when a terrorist incident is underway. We can bring a very finely specialized capability to try to neutralize that event.

What we don't have in place is the mechanism for the Department of Defense to respond and to support local authorities if something terrible does happen. We had to create that. We have an organization in the Army called the Director of Military Support [DOMS] in the operations arm of the Army Secretariat. This is the place where the Department of Defense helped FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] get ready for Hurricane Floyd.

And so when Hurricane Floyd was marching our way, we moved about 1,000 airplanes out of its way. We moved 85 ships to sea, to get them out of the way. We delivered to all of the States in the region around 7,000 people. About half of them were [National] Guardsmen, half of them were active duty. We were ready to respond.

DOMS is a great organization for that, and it has good working relationships with local first responders and with FEMA. But DOMS is largely an Army and National Guard organization, and it doesn't have the breadth we're going to need if we ever have a chemical or biological or nuclear event in this country. It's going to be far bigger than that.

As we talked about at our table, such an event is not going to be a FEMA problem. It's more likely going to be an FBI and law enforcement problem. Like it or not, [the Defense Department] is going to be pulled in as well. Where else do you go? Who else in the Federal Government is designed to be qualitatively different tomorrow than it is today? We're the only part of the government that's designed to be like that.

Every police department and fire department in the country, all law enforcement around the country, are sized and organized for steady day-to-day operations. We have [only] so many police on the beat. They are not organized to quadruple their size in 24 hours. They are not organized to qualitatively change what they do in a moment.

The Defense Department is the only organization in the world that can, in 24 hours, put 10,000 tents out and put cots in them so we can house people. We're the only organization in the world that can do barrier nursing for 25,000 people on a week's notice. We can transport water purification and provide clean water for a million people any place in the world within a week. No one else has that capability. Like it or not, we are going to be asked to be at the center of it. But we can't do that now, because we have never organized ourselves for that.

Again, I think it was Scooter Libby [luncheon participant] who asked, "Well, why have we never done that?" Well, in the Department of Defense, most of our military planning is done by unified commands. You have the Pacific Command, the Atlantic Command, the Southern Command. The whole world is organized and under the responsibility of these regional commanders. They are the ones that think about the threats we face and what we have to do to prepare.

There are only four countries in the world that are not under a unified command and for very unique reasons: the United States, Canada, Mexico and Russia. The United States has never been under a unified command. We have never, as Americans, felt comfortable about having a CINCUSA [military Commander-in-Chief, United States of America] because, I think, of this underlying concern that civil liberties could be threatened by a strong military presence in the United States. This is deeply ingrained in the American culture.

The United States does not have a national police force. The FBI is not a national police force. Its surrogate authorities are highly circumscribed. We have had deep, deep, deep reservations in America about doing that. But you know that we're going to have to have a national response if it were ever to happen, and so we now need to organize ourselves.

To do that, we are creating a joint task force. We call it the Joint Task Force for Civil Support rather than the Joint Task Force for Homeland Defense. Earlier, there was even talk about CINC-America, but that got very scary for many people. [Laughter.]

We have to very quickly say, "There is only one CINC in America, and that's the President, and we will undertake whatever missions we're given." But we do need to know how to plan for it, think about it, organize ourselves, exercise, find out what the gaps are, and where the holes are. That's what this new organization is going to do.

The proposal to stand up [this effort] is with the President. Our goal is to stand it up as soon as possible. We were nominally trying to do it on the 1st of October. I suspect we'll be able to do that.

Here again is this concern and apprehension that Americans have. What is the civilian oversight of a Joint Task Force for Civil Support? Ultimately, of course, it's the Secretary of Defense, but he's too far away from it. So we are going to create a new position, an assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Civil Support. That is going to be Pam Berkowsky. We're preempting here. We haven't quite publicly announced that. But she is going to have that job, and she is going to be the focal point for working with other agencies of the government. It is absolutely imperative that everyone else in Washington understands what we're trying to do.

We're not trying to take on the defense of the United States by ourselves. We're trying to find those ways that we, as a department, are going to support the [local] "first responders" and the "second responders" in a manner that's lawful and predictable.

The day we have a WMD [weapon of mass destruction] event in this country will be potentially the greatest threat to civil liberties that we've faced since World War II. We had the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Within 120 days we had over 100,000 Americans incarcerated because they were Japanese Americans.

I don't know what would happen if we had a [WMD] event in this country. But you have to presume that if we are not ready to respond, people are going to set aside a lot of the normal protections that we all want in our daily lives. That means we in the Department have to be ready to respond [to the consequences of an incident].

Now, why did I ask to come and talk to you? I asked, through Alton Frye's [Presidential Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations] good offices, to come to be with you. We need to have a debate in this country about this. We've not had a debate in this country about this.

I think it was Fred Ikle who said, "What kind of response has there been around the country?" And I have to say, virtually nothing. The dialogue that has existed in this country has been among the people on the fringes, who are fearful, not the people, the day-to-day moms and pops and the civil leaders that know we're going to have to deal with this when it happens. We have not had that discussion with them. It has occurred in very narrow segments. And we need to broaden this debate. I don't know how else to do that other than to use opportunities like this.

Here in Washington, everything gets filtered through the 15-second sound bite for the evening news. This is not a subject that you can carry on through the two-minute segments on one of the national news broadcasts. So we have to find a way to carry on this debate. That's why I'm here. I'm here to ask you. You and your respective circles will touch far more lives in a sensitive, deep, measured way than we could ever do simply trying to get a news release carried by one of the papers or one of the television networks.

So I need your help. I don't fear the debate. I have no doubt that we're going to change some of our plans and some of our directions in light of the debate. But we need to have it so that Americans aren't worried about it, and it needs to start with people at the top, the influence shapers who, through their respective circles, are going to make people aware that this is something that we need to tackle in this country.

I think ultimately that you will come to a [similar] conclusion as we have -- we know [the Defense Department is] going to have to be involved. We don't want to do more than we have to do. We want to find sensible ways that are non-threatening to the American public, and that won't happen unless we talk with you. So, let me end with that. I hope that this serves as a basis for some conversation because there's a great deal that we need to discuss. [Applause.]