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State Security Leaders Express Frustration About Lack o

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State Security Leaders Express Frustration About Lack of Direction


CHICAGO, May 24 — Despite this week's ominous warnings from the Bush administration about the threat of additional terrorist attacks, the nation's new coterie of state homeland security czars said they took no action because the alerts were too vague and their overburdened agencies already stand at heightened readiness.

In interviews this week with top officials in 44 states, most said they had similarly stood still in the face of recent intelligence reports about possible attacks on high-rise apartment buildings, the vulnerability of nuclear power plants and shopping malls as potential Independence Day targets.

"It would be difficult for us to be able to respond to each and every piece of information that comes our way," said Ellen Gordon, Iowa's emergency management administrator-turned-domestic security coordinator. "We have not looked at them as new threats. It's just additional information on the types of threats that we already knew existed."

As Matthew Bettenhausen, deputy governor in Illinois, put it: "There's not much more you can do."

In the survey of newly named domestic security chiefs, from New Hampshire to Nebraska to Nevada, many expressed frustration that the warnings from Washington, whether conveyed via CNN or through newly established e-mail and telephone networks, lack the details about location or industry that would make them useful. Most said they were already doing all they could to protect against unspecified threats. A few suggested that this week's highly publicized threats seemed largely an attempt to deflect questions from missed signals before Sept. 11.

"It seems to directly relate to the fact that the White House is under pressure to account for the fact that they are looking at these things," said Allan Turner, Colorado's interim homeland security chief.

The interviews showed that while a new state-based domestic security bureaucracy has been built since last fall's terrorist attacks, it rests largely on the backs of established agencies, with police, military and emergency management officials simply adding titles and responsibilities to already full portfolios.

Facing budget deficits, few states have allocated funds to domestic security, so new positions remain unfilled, awaiting an infusion of federal money, much of which will come from the antiterrorism packages making their way through Congress.

As the months pass, many of the heightened security measures added after Sept. 11 have been scaled back; along with the withdrawal of the National Guard from airports this month, barriers around some government buildings have been removed, and police patrols at nuclear plants and other infrastructure facilities have dropped from around-the-clock to routine beat checks.

"We have throttled back a little bit," said Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, director of Alaska's office of homeland security. "You can only work around the clock so long with your existing resources before people start running out of gas."

Since Sept. 11, the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that more than 1,200 bills were filed regarding what it refers to as "the protection of democracy," including everything from increased criminal penalties for terrorist activity to the creation of "United We Stand" license plates. According to the National Governors' Association, states spent $5 billion to $7 billion on domestic security this year, helping push the states into a collective $50 billion hole.

Every state has, since the attacks, designated a homeland security coordinator, including new cabinet-level positions in Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, South Carolina and Tennessee.

A dozen gave state police commissioners a second title, while 10 tapped the commanders of the National Guard, and eight placed the new responsibilities on their emergency-management directors. Two lieutenant governors took the job. Subordinates, too, are mainly borrowed from other departments. "Formed it out of hide," General Oates of Alaska said of his nascent operation.

These state czars now have two sets of biweekly conference calls, one through the governor's association and one with Tom Ridge, the national homeland security czar. But even that is a recent development.

"It took four months for the federal office of homeland security to even get a telephone number," said Mr. Turner of Colorado. "It takes time to get the systems in place, and we're playing catch-up now."

Though political support has been strong across the country, financial backing has lagged. In Missouri, the domestic security budget request of $2.5 million went unfilled in the face of a $500 million deficit. In Kansas, the Legislature approved six new full-time positions, but no money to pay their salaries. Oklahoma's department of public safety, which has so far paid for the domestic security director's travel to Washington, had its budget cut 7 percent.

"They are committed but they are broke," said Steve Siegfried, a retired Army general who is South Carolina's new director of domestic security. "All of us homeland security advisers talk to each other and all of us are strapped."

The state officials said they were confident that October will bring $3.5 billion in federal funds to train and equip so-called first responders, along with grants to prevent bioterrorism and agricultural terrorism, which have increasingly become the focus of many state offices.

"Everyone is anticipating a glut of federal money in the next fiscal year," said Brig. Gen. Bill Libby, deputy director of Maine's department of defense, veterans and emergency management. "But that means from September until today, until the money arrives, the states, and it works on down to counties and communities, were forced to rely on whatever resources they have."

Some remain confused about the very definition of domestic security.

"We have had to figure out a lot of things for ourselves," said Kate O'Connor, chairwoman of the terrorism task force in Vermont. "We could use a lot more money, training and people."Many state officials said they were awaiting detailed protocols about the nation's color-coded alert system, which has been stuck on yellow — "significant" risk of terrorist attack — since it was introduced in March.

In Minnesota, Jerry Rosendahl, the director of emergency management, said it was unclear what additional measures he would take if the alert were moved up to orange ("high" risk) — or if he would relax if it fell to blue ("general" risk).

"At some point you have to feel comfortable with the level of preparedness where you're at," he said. "Have we done absolutely everything that we could physically, possibly ever do? Probably not. How much is enough?"

The latest round of threats comes at a time when state and local governments have scaled back security around government buildings, public gathering spots and critical infrastructure like water treatment plants — in part because of money, but also in an effort to find an equilibrium between security and freedom. The highest-profile change is the withdrawal of National Guardsmen from airports; they have also largely left posts outside nuclear plants and seaports.

At the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, visitors in November had to show their driver's licenses and get a special identification badge, but by April, guards had returned simply to searching briefcases and purses. South Dakota has stopped inspecting every truck carrying hazardous materials. The checkpoint at the Alaska pipeline closed in March. Landmarks like the John F. Kennedy building in Boston are once again in the hands of private security companies.

In Maine, there are still guards outside government offices, but they are no longer armed. Arizona's domestic preparedness center, once staffed 24 hours a day, is empty, though officials say it can be reactivated in an hour.

"At first, everybody felt like we were going off to war," said Scott Behuin, director of the Utah division of emergency services and homeland security. "Now there isn't anything specific to Utah and people are sitting back and saying, `What's a realistic level of response?' "

Backing down also leaves room to scale up again if threats become more serious.

"You can never stay at your highest security level for a very long period of time because people become complacent," said Gregory Gardner, adjutant general of Kansas. "You can't keep peaked all the time."

Still, much has yet to return to normal, and states and cities continue to plug newly discovered vulnerabilities.

Nebraska removed locations of its bridges from public Web sites and the governors' association recently wrote to Mr. Ridge requesting a change in the Freedom of Information Act to exclude similar material. In Los Angeles, the airport commission voted this week to close off several abandoned streets that offer a view of runways. In Detroit, boaters are filling out new immigration forms now required for the popular summertime jaunts across Lake St. Clair to Canada.

"I think 9/11 has caused us to do things we should have done anyway," said Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, referring to his state Capitol's new employee ID cards and sign-in system for visitors.

So every morning, as the domestic security chiefs receive information from Washington or local law enforcement sources about the persistent if vague threats, most do exactly the same thing: nothing.

"Our ear is to the ground, but it's been to the ground for six, seven months now," said Ed Gleason, the emergency management director in Wisconsin. "There really has been no change."

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