Wednesday, April 05, 2006

After Four and a Half Years, US readying new counterterror plan

US readying new counterterror plan
By David Morgan

[Editor's note: File under "It's about time!!"]

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four and a half years after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration is nearing completion of a government-wide strategic plan for the war on terror that would assign counterterrorism tasks to specific federal agencies and departments, officials said on Tuesday.

The plan is part of the administration's effort to bring greater integration and coordination to the counterterrorism activities of different agencies and departments including the CIA, FBI, Treasury Department, Pentagon and State Department.

Planning began late last summer under the direction of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, an entity created by the congressionally mandated intelligence reforms.

"This process is not a unilateral drafting exercise by NCTC. Instead, it is an interagency effort, involving hundreds of departmental planners working under our leadership," NCTC Director John Redd told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

A counterterrorism official who asked not to be identified said the plan was expected to be completed by June 30.

Redd told the House hearing the plan would involve setting "discrete tasks" for agencies and departments, which would then take on lead or support roles for different counterterrorism operations. Currently, the war on terror is being fought by different government agencies according to their own varied mandates for safeguarding the nation's security.

The planning comes as the post-September 11 priorities of the FBI and Pentagon have led those agencies to expand into overseas intelligence roles once filled solely by the CIA.

The Pentagon said last month it was placing special operations troops in U.S. embassies in about two dozen countries to gather information on potential terror threats.

A new strategic operational plan for the war on terror could mean a change of traditional U.S. government practices in noncombat zones overseas, where resident ambassadors have been viewed as wielding primary authority over all U.S. activities.

In combat zones such as Iraq, primary authority over counterterrorism operations rests with the Pentagon.

"There are gray areas," said Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "It would be quite a different issue if you were operating, let's say, in a Jordan -- how you might deal with that particular government -- as opposed to the problems that might be posed in a Somalia where there is no viable government," he told the House panel.

But a senior State Department official said diplomats should continue to pull together counterterrorism operations in countries where U.S. troops are not deployed in combat.

"When you look at all instruments of statecraft and how that's pulled together, I think the ambassadors are uniquely poised," Henry Crumpton, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, told the committee.

He later told Reuters the planning discussion was "more about integration and coordination in the field than it is about basic authorities."