By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2006 – The United States is undoubtedly safer than five years ago, but "we are not yet safe," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said here today. DoD has defensive capabilities in place today that did not exist five years ago, McHale said during an interview. "We have fighter aircraft ready to defend our domestic aircraft in a way that would have been difficult if not impossible half a decade ago," he said.
DoD has Army units on alert, ready to deploy in order to defeat a foreign terrorist threat on U.S. soil. Navy ships are identified for deployment to defeat a terrorist threat on the high seas before threats are able to enter a U.S. port, he said.
"We have tens of thousands of soldiers -- most notably, members of the National Guard -- who would be available to respond, if required, to two near-simultaneous threats involving weapons of mass destruction within the United States," McHale said.
"When you look at what we're doing today to defeat a domestic air threat, to ensure that a ground-based attack will not be successful, to enable U.S. Navy ships to interdict and defeat a maritime threat on the high seas - and then to respond to such an attack if one were to occur undeniably, unquestionably we are better prepared today but we still have deficiencies that need to be addressed," he said.
For example, DoD is working to improve interagency communication. "Five years ago, the interagency process as it pertains to homeland security was broken," McHale said. "We have repaired that system in the past five years."
More than 60 men and women from McHale's office work full-time at the Department of Homeland Security. McHale himself is "in frequent, often daily" communication with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his subordinate senior officials.
"The partnership between DHS and DoD could not be closer," he said, "particularly with regard to planning, the sharing of information and preparation for the joint deployment of capabilities to protect our country."