National

Homeland Security chief plans departmental overhaul

WASHINGTON—The nation's homeland security chief on Wednesday announced a major shakeup at his department, invoking last week's bombings in London as evidence that the United States needs to guard its own terrorist targets better.

"Last week's attacks in London were sobering and jarring reminders of the threats we now face," Michael Chertoff told a large hall packed with hundreds of Department of Homeland Security employees.

"Our department must drive improvement with a sense of urgency. Our enemy constantly changes and adapts, so we as a department must be nimble and decisive."

Chertoff said the department would focus in coming months on strengthening borders, improving security for the nation's vast transportation networks and bolstering intelligence operations.

He was short on specifics, saying he'd flesh out many of the details down the road.

He said the department would be working to ensure that money and resources were focused on those areas where the threat was the greatest and the results of an attack would be most catastrophic.

Among the specific changes he announced:

_Foreigners entering the United States from countries that require visas will have all 10 fingerprints taken the first time they arrive instead of just two, to make it easier to compare prints with FBI criminal databases.

_Requirements that passengers remain in their seats for 30 minutes after taking off from and before landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will be eliminated. Those rules had been in place since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks because of the airport's proximity to the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

Most of the changes Chertoff unveiled involved bureaucratic reshuffling and new high-level positions, including a chief medical officer to oversee bioterrorism preparedness.

But DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson said in a briefing after Chertoff's speech that the changes amounted to more than just moving boxes around on the department's organizational flow chart and would streamline the department in a way that would help make Americans safer.

Chertoff ordered the broad "Second Stage Review" of the 180,000-employee department soon after he took the helm five months ago. He left a post as a federal appeals court judge to take over the massive department, which critics said had been hobbled by turf wars and a lack of clear focus since it was hastily cobbled together from 22 separate agencies in March 2003.

Chertoff's speech came as senators have argued over homeland security funding, including how much is needed to secure subways, buses and commuter rail lines.

The nation's mass transit systems were placed on orange alert—the second highest level—after the attacks in London, which officials there now think may have been suicide bombings.

Jackson said Wednesday that the department was working to increase security for mass transit, including the use of biosensors and new technology to detect chemical and radiological attacks. But he said it was "folly to imagine you can leech all risk out of the transportation system."

The FBI has been warning for several years about the possibility of suicide bombings in the United States. Such attacks are difficult to protect against, and reliable explosives-detection equipment isn't in widespread use yet in the United States.

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