April 4, 2006

US readying new counterterror plan

By David Morgan

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."