White to head DoD homeland security

by Joe Burlas

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2001) -- The Department of Defense has selected Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White as its interim executive agent for Homeland Security.

White will serve in the new DoD position while still carrying out his responsibilities as secretary of the Army.

The DoD appointment, signed Oct. 2, is temporary until a more permanent selection is made and confirmed by the Senate, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

Established this month in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York World Trade Center, the Office of Homeland Security is charged with detecting, preparing for, preventing, protecting from, coordinating responses to and recovering from all forms of terrorist attack.

While the new executive office is still forming, it will eventually have office space in the Pentagon, officials said. President George W. Bush selected Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the office as assistant to the president for Homeland Security. Ridge will have an office in the west wing of the White House.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and White met briefly with Ridge Oct. 11 for a working lunch to discuss command relationships and responsibilities. White said it was the first of what he was sure would be many more meetings with the new Homeland Security chief.

With the exception of combat air patrols, White said, the military will primarily be supporting other agencies involved in the homeland security mission.

"We're not the lead agency for the homeland security task," he said. "And so, we follow and support principally (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), but Health and Human Services and others as well, depending what the nature of the problem is. And, there are 11 million first responders in this country that have the primary duty to deal with emergencies, and we are backup to them."

Asked by reporters how the military might respond to another terrorist attack within the United States and what units would be involved, White refused to go into operational details. However, he did state the military had units prepared to respond to any chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive attacks due to similar concerns when the United States faced the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

A retired Army brigadier general, White became the 18th secretary of the Army last May. Following his uniformed Army career and before returning as the Army secretary, White served as chairman and chief executive officer of Enron, a Texas-based Fortune 500 energy company.