U.S. still lacks terrorist `watch list'

Homeland Security inspector general faults lack of cooperation

October 02, 2004|By Richard Rainey | Richard Rainey,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Three years after the failure of federal security agencies to coordinate their efforts contributed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has failed in its effort to create a single, comprehensive "watch list" of suspected terrorists, according to a government report released yesterday.

"DHS is not fulfilling its responsibility under the Homeland Security Act," said Clark Kent Ervin, inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, whose office conducted the study.

The report identified lack of leadership by the Department of Homeland Security and a continuing failure of the government's intelligence agencies to coordinate information as the primary causes of the department's failure to produce a comprehensive terrorist watch list.

The failure of the intelligence and security agencies to cooperate has been widely cited as a major contributing factor in the Sept. 11 attacks. Without a central database containing the latest information about possible terrorists, border guards and other security personnel are hard-pressed to do their jobs, experts agree.

Additionally, the administration's handling of the war on terrorism has become a central issue in the presidential campaign. In the first presidential debate Thursday night, Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry repeatedly accused President Bush of mismanaging the fight against terrorism, both at home and abroad.

Bush insisted that he has made difficult but correct decisions, both in launching the Iraq war and in his efforts to bolster domestic security.

And Congress is in the midst of an effort to define the authority of a new national director of intelligence as part of a broad reform of the country's defenses against terrorism.

Advocates of a strong national director quickly used yesterday's report to support their position. It "underscores the need for a strong intelligence director," said Leslie Phillips, spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat. Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins, a Main Republican, are co-authors of an intelligence reform bill that provides for creation of a Cabinet-level director with authority over all intelligence agencies.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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