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Peter Brookes, Elaine Kamarck: Will new agency make U.S. safer?

Peter Brookes, left, and Elaine Kamarck
Peter Brookes, left, and Elaine Kamarck

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Will a new Homeland Security Department make the country safer? On Tuesday, CNN's Paula Zahn put the question to Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation in Washington and Elaine Kamarck from the Kennedy School Government of Harvard in Boston.

The following is an edited transcript of the debate:

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Elaine, if this bill passes, do you think Americans will be any safer than they are now?

ELAINE KAMARCK, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Only marginally. At the steps of this bill is a very good idea, an idea to create a border patrol agency, which frankly, has been around for 70 years. It was first proposed by Herbert Hoover in 1930. So that will, I think, help us at the borders.

But frankly, the bill doesn't address the really important elements of making us safer. It doesn't strengthen FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] so that we can respond quickly and effectively and so that local and state first responders can practice response to terrorist acts, and secondly, it doesn't do anything about the intelligence problems we have.

It does not include, by the way, the FBI or the CIA, and it doesn't do anything about straightening out our intelligence gathering capacity so that we can prevent acts of terror. So it's only a marginal improvement in making us safer.

ZAHN: Peter, let's let you attack that argument that Elaine just made. For starters, that it doesn't address the intelligence problems and the lack of cooperation between the CIA and FBI. Is Elaine right?

PETER BROOKES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: That's not true. This will, over time, immensely increase our security, our homeland security. It's going to be a common command structure for all these 22 disparate agencies, and 170,000 U.S. government employees who are involved in homeland security. There are tremendous efforts here to increase coordination and cooperation, to integrate and consolidate, provide a unity of vision, a synergistic effect for all these people working together.

ZAHN: Peter, Elaine was making a specific point that the bill does not talk about the CIA and the FBI directly, nor does it address the issue of intelligence gathering. Talk about just that specific point.

BROOKES: Well, this is just the first step. There is going to be a significant intelligence fusion center within the Department of Homeland Security that will address it, that will take information that's gathered not only by the CIA and the FBI, but by other organizations out there, that will increase our security. So this fusion, bringing all source intelligence analysis within the department of Homeland Security focused on the borders and homeland security will increase.

Now the CIA has a mission that includes homeland security, but also oversees intelligence gathering. The FBI is involved in law enforcement, as well as homeland security.

So within the Department of Homeland Security, there is going to be a fusion center that will bring all of these disparate types of information together to ensure that our infrastructure and borders are secure.

ZAHN: Elaine, what about Peter's point that ultimately the fusion center will address those issues. Do you buy that?

KAMARCK: Well, no, it won't address those issues, because the fusion center will not provide for the kind of horizontal communication that allows agents, as we saw last year, agents in Arizona, agents in Minnesota, to compare bits of data, and perhaps put together a more comprehensive picture of a threat than they were able to do before September 11.

You know, this department was put together in response to the allegations and the things that came out last spring, and it was kind of thrown together. Ironically, it doesn't answer the challenges that were placed by the revelations we had last spring.

ZAHN: Peter, what in the bill would make Americans any safer from a bioterror attack?

BROOKES: Well, there's going to be an institute. There's going to be special efforts regarding bioterrorism. The Department of Defense is going to have an institute that's going to address this specifically. It also -- there will be other authorities for the president to go ahead and produce vaccines. There will be encouragement for research and development in these sort of areas. There is a whole directorate for science and technology that will look at defending against bioterrorism, anthrax and other things out there, so there are several places where it's going to increase our -- over time.

Remember this is a tremendous undertaking. But over time, it will increase our security on bioterrorism.

ZAHN: Elaine, what about that?

KAMARCK: That's true of a lot of the things dealing with homeland security.

But look, the essential problem here is missed by this bill. We need one agency in the United States government that -- the natural agency is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We need one agency to have the authority to put together defensive plans among state and local responders for defending Americans against a bioterror attack. That is not included in this bill. FEMA is dumped in this bill, but there is no enhancement of the powers of FEMA. And without that happening, you are not going to have the systematic preparation for a bioterror attack that in fact a lot of people say are needed in this country.

You know, the emphasis on sort of spending money and security, et cetera, is coming at the expense of the fire departments, the first responders, the emergency personnel, and the hospitals that will be thoroughly and completely overwhelmed at this point in time in the case of a bioterror attack, and that's where I think we really need to enhance FEMA.

ZAHN: Peter, you get the last word.

BROOKES: I don't think that's correct at all.

I think Americans will be increasingly safer. Just look at the Transportation Security Agency. Now we have inspectors at all the major airports. We have to inspect 750 million people a year that travel on our airlines.

In fact, in Atlanta, over the last couple of weeks, they caught three people that tried to enter planes with loaded guns. So this is a monumental effort, a Herculean effort, and I think over time, it will definitely increase our security.



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