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Last Updated

04 Feb 2003

Source: Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2003


'Counter-Terrorism' Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Homeland security dominates the White House's spending proposal, but some say unrelated programs are being lumped in.

By Vicki Kemper and Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- No enterprise appeared to rank higher in priority this year in the Bush administration's budget than the war against terrorism.

It wasn't just the $36.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, which came into existence only last week. Federal anti-terrorism dollars could also be found almost everywhere, from the Food and Drug Administration to the departments of Energy, Justice, State and Commerce.

Even budget documents for the Department of Health and Human Services -- the agency that oversees Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform and medical research to find cures for cancer and AIDS -- declared that "no HHS activity is now more important than national bioterrorism preparedness."

The government-wide total, said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, was $41.3 billion "to support domestic efforts against terrorism."

Some of the proposed spending could be ciphered easily enough: $480 million for the development of an entry/exit system to better control and monitor noncitizens in the United States; $62 million to search cargo containers bound for U.S. ports; $3.6 billion for bioterrorism research, state and local public health systems, and food safety; $1 billion to "harden" U.S. embassies in risky countries.

But not all may be what it seemed. Even Ridge conceded that one-third of his proposed budget, which was advertised as a healthy 7.4% increase, is for duties unrelated to homeland security, such as rescuing stranded boaters and supporting victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

There was also the Justice Department's $23 million for upgrading prison accommodations for alleged terrorists; the $3.5 billion in funds for "first responders," which includes money for the existing program to put more police officers on the street; and the $33 million to better screen White House mail.

Officials throughout the government conceded Monday that many items labeled in their budget proposals as anti-terrorism spending are, at least, "dual use" programs.

"Quite frankly, I can't figure it out," said Raphael Perl, an international terrorism specialist for the Congressional Research Service. "There is hardly anything in there that does not have a counter-terrorism component in it, whether it be transportation, medical research, buildings and maintenance. If this is the [Chinese] Year of the Goat, in the U.S. budget it is the year of terrorism."

To be sure, the administration's proposed budget does devote considerable resources to efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to acts of terrorism. Among the potential scenarios the budget would defend against are the intentional release of the smallpox virus, chemical weapons attacks and a massive cyber-attack against the nation's banking system.

And in a speech Monday at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., President Bush described his Project Bioshield proposal, which would create a permanent indefinite funding authority of $6 billion.

The fund is intended "to quickly make available safer, and more effective, vaccines and treatments against agents like smallpox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola and plague," he said. The sensors being installed around the U.S. to warn of airborne biological agents reflected "responsible and essential measures to protect our homeland and our people," he said.

Elsewhere, however, some agencies were accused of using the terrorism label to cover a multitude of spending programs.

The State Department's budget, for example, included almost $297 million in proposed spending on "public diplomacy," or efforts to "inform and influence foreign publics," explaining that such information would be used to "further U.S. policies, particularly opposition to terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction."

One U.S. official questioned the designation of those funds as being for counter-terrorism.

"They've construed it that way because they know that Congress is very willing to approve more money for terrorism," said the congressional official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They know the way to increase your budget is to classify it as counter-terrorism. Everybody is stretching the definition. It's nothing new. In the past it was done with nuclear nonproliferation and other issues."

On the other side of the "dual use" dilemma are state and local public health officials. They worry that bioterrorism preparedness, particularly the smallpox vaccination program, is robbing them of money and personnel needed to conduct such traditional activities as vaccinating children, educating teens about sexually transmitted diseases and screening the homeless for tuberculosis.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson rejected such complaints Monday, saying his department's proposal of $940 million for state and local health departments -- the same amount as proposed for fiscal 2003 -- was "more than anybody ever thought -- ever dreamed -- would be spent" on public health.

The Justice Department proposed spending about $1.6 billion on strictly terrorism-related programs, up 19% from 2003.

That budget would allow the FBI to hire a cadre of intelligence specialists, support a round-the-clock Internet-based terrorist tip line and beef up terrorism task forces the bureau runs with state and local governments.

Other highlights of the proposed Homeland Security budget include:

* $16.6 billion to protect the borders, ports and transportation systems against terrorism;

* $1.8 billion, an 8.6% increase, to speed up the processing of immigration documents and political asylum applications; and

* $829 million to coordinate and analyze intelligence.