Bush signs bioterror law, pushes homeland security
WASHINGTON (CNN) – After signing a new $4.3 billion bioterrorism bill into law Wednesday, President Bush called for speedy passage of legislation creating his proposed Department of Homeland Security.
Saying the government has identified and corrected "weaknesses" in intelligence gathering, President Bush warned of killers "lurking around" and said a Department of Homeland Security would further help in the war on terrorism.
Speaking to his 21-member Homeland Security Advisory Council, Bush said about 2,400 "terrorist, killers" have been detained by coalition forces.
At an earlier White House ceremony attended by members of Congress, the president signed into law the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2001, designed to improve the nation's ability to prevent and respond to bioterrorist attacks.
"Protecting our citizens against bioterrorism is an urgent duty of American governments. We must develop the learning and technology and the health care delivery systems that will allow us to respond to the attacks with state of the art medical care throughout our entire country," Bush said.
Terming biological weapons, "potentially the most dangerous weapons in the world," Bush praised the bipartisan effort in Congress to pass the legislation and took the opportunity to call for a similar effort on his proposal for a new federal department.
Bush's Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge will head to Capitol Hill this afternoon to continue the administration's lobbying for the president's proposed Cabinet-level department.
Ridge will brief the entire House membership in a closed session on the proposal and hold a similar meeting with senators on Thursday.
Ridge is expected to attempt to quell a growing number of questions about issues such as sharing of intelligence and the projected costs of transition, The Associated Press reported.
The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act was passed by the House and Senate in the wake of the anthrax attacks late last year.
The measure provides increased resources and powers to local and regional authorities to prepare for, and deal with the aftermath of a bioterrorism attack.
Bush stumped Tuesday afternoon in Kansas City, Missouri, for his proposed Homeland Security Department, telling an audience of high school students and their families he wants government agencies to be accountable.
"I don't like the idea of calling 100 different agencies. I like to call one and say, 'Here is the strategy, and what are you doing about it?'" Bush said at Oak Park High School. "And if you're not doing something about it, I expect you to, and if you don't, I'm going to find somebody else that will."
While Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge looked on, Bush gave four reasons to make the most sweeping reorganization of the federal government since the Truman administration: protection of U.S. borders; the ability to support emergency personnel -- the so-called "first responders"; the ability to detect and respond to weapons of mass destruction; and the capacity to analyze all sources of intelligence.
Bush offered a defense for what some have called intelligence lapses by the FBI related to the September 11 hijackings.
"I wasn't surprised that the FBI wasn't fully prepared for the war against terror. Because after all, the FBI's major job up until September the 11th was to make cases against people who committed crimes already in America. White collar crimes, spies. They really weren't focused on preventing attacks," he said.
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