Democrats Critical of Ridge s Remarks, Claims
By Hans Nichols
Wednesday 21 May 2003
Democrats charged that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited an executive order that doesn t exist as he justified the controversial Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) Tuesday in his first appearance before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.
President Bush announced the creation of TTIC, which became operational May 1, in his State of the Union Address. Although lawmakers had mandated in last fall s legislation creating the new DHS that an intelligence fusion center deemed necessary after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 would be housed in DHS, the president s announcement created a separate, and some would say identical, center TTIC that answers to the director of the CIA.
Answering questions about the role of TTIC on a day when the administration raised the national terrorism threat level to orange, Ridge told the committee, First of all, under the president s executive order, the threat integration center, which is the basic data collection point for all the intelligence agencies, will include analysts from the Department of Homeland Security, from the information analysis unit.
He continued: We have access though our representatives in the TTIC to all the raw data and all the source material that we need. That is the intention of the president.
But that explanation didn t sit right with Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Democratic staff, unsure that Bush had issued such an executive order.
We have been unable, Mr. Secretary, to find the executive order that creates this. We re not sure that there has been one, Dicks told Ridge.
We didn t find that executive order. I am not aware of the executive order that Ridge cited, Dicks told The Hill after the hearing. That was an announcement, but not an official executive order.
Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers have raised concerns about TTIC s role and whether it will meld or conflict with DHS s own analysis branch, the directorate of information analysis and infrastructure protection.
At a bare minimum, there should be an executive order for TTIC, short of congressional authority, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said at Tuesday s hearing.
Congress should expect the Department to follow the statute and create its own intelligence analysis center. We will use that analysis to share with the country, not just state and local law enforcement, but also the president, the Congress, and others, Turner said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not return phone calls seeking to clarify Ridge s comment citing the executive order.
But Committee Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.) offered a looser interpretation of what constitutes an executive order.
There s an executive order, whether or not it s written or not, Cox told The Hill after the hearing. As someone who worked in the [White House counsel s office in the Reagan administration] I can tell you that an executive order is anything that the president commands it to be. If the president asks his secretary to go get him lunch, that s an executive order.
Cox added: I am not aware of a written executive order on TTIC, but I am not aware that there isn t one either.
However, Cox said that the role of TTIC and any possible overlap with DHS s own directorate was still a matter of concern one that his committee would continue to monitor.
I have not reached a conclusion on the adequacy of the Department s effort [in creating its own analysis function] but I have reached a firm conclusion on the importance of the Department having an analysis capability. Cox said.
Almost all executive orders are reviewed for form and legality in the office I used to head the office of legal counsel in the Department of Justice. The form of the order is fairly formalized, with lots of whereas clauses, said Douglas Kmiec, now dean at Catholic University Law school.
He added: Most people when they use that term, they mean it in the formal sense, not the constitutional sense. The interpretation would be closer to Cox s.
On some national security matters, they remain classified, but we usually call these directives. Kmiec said.
Democrats argued that executive order is a term of art referring to a specific, codified guideline that is printed in the Federal Register and given a specific number.
They said they were worried that the uncertainty over the existence of an executive order could be evidence of executive branch turf battles that will prevent what they consider robust and transparent congressional oversight.
After the hearing, Dicks said, I don t know, maybe the secretary misspoke, but it s something we need to clear up.