Counter-Terrorism: Who's In Charge? No One Is Sure

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November19, 2006: There's some confusion in the United States over which government agency would take the lead in responding to a major terrorist attack. There is a lot of support for the Department of Defense taking the lead. At the moment, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) is supposed to take the lead. For lots of complex legal issues here, not to mention "cultural" ones many believe the task should be assigned to the National Guard, since in most states it's well integrated with the civilian emergency response system. If you bring in federal military personnel, you run into posse comitatus (the law forbidding active military from engaging in police functions), clashes between military and first responder culture, and problems that may arise due to the military commander's lack of local knowledge. For example, during the initial phases of the 9/11 recovery operation, military commanders totally ignored the subways as a way of moving troops and relief workers (so too did some upstate Guardsmen). Nevertheless, creating a process by which the Department of Defense can act in domestic situations would be immensely useful. But for the moment, the matter is stuck in a morass of Washington politics, and may not be sorted out before the feared disaster (a major terror attack) occurs.

 


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