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More reviews: Merging the Homeland Security and National Security Councils

As part of a 60-day review underway on whether the Homeland Security Council should be merged into the National Security Council, the Obama White House has invited outside national security experts for periodic consultations on the matter. Randy Beardsworth, a former DHS official, chaired a meeting on the subject at the Eisenhower office building Thursday, ...

As part of a 60-day review underway on whether the Homeland Security Council should be merged into the National Security Council, the Obama White House has invited outside national security experts for periodic consultations on the matter.

Randy Beardsworth, a former DHS official, chaired a meeting on the subject at the Eisenhower office building Thursday, sources told The Cable. Attendees included the Heritage Foundation's James Jay Carafano and the Project on National Security Reform's executive director James R. Locher III. About two dozen people attended the meeting Thursday, most of them at the deputy assistant secretary level.

Beardsworth could not immediately be reached, but a message on his phone said he was taking a few weeks off from a job with a private-sector homeland security firm, presumably to work on the review for the White House. (The White House did not immediately respond to a query about what his exact role is).

As part of a 60-day review underway on whether the Homeland Security Council should be merged into the National Security Council, the Obama White House has invited outside national security experts for periodic consultations on the matter.

Randy Beardsworth, a former DHS official, chaired a meeting on the subject at the Eisenhower office building Thursday, sources told The Cable. Attendees included the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano and the Project on National Security Reform’s executive director James R. Locher III. About two dozen people attended the meeting Thursday, most of them at the deputy assistant secretary level.

Beardsworth could not immediately be reached, but a message on his phone said he was taking a few weeks off from a job with a private-sector homeland security firm, presumably to work on the review for the White House. (The White House did not immediately respond to a query about what his exact role is).

"I made the standard case about why they should integrate," Carafano said. "I didn’t get a sense that it’s horribly controversial."

Obama has appointed CIA veteran John Brennan to serve as assistant to the president for homeland security and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, giving him a role both in the NSC and the White House, as his predecessors Frances Frago Townsend and Kenneth Wainstein also had. Under the proposed merger, which seems likely to be recommended by the forthcoming review, the White House Homeland Security Council staff of approximately 30 people would work under Brennan as part of the NSC.

Locher couldn’t be reached for comment about the presentation he gave Thursday. But in testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last month, he advocated for the increased integration. "Merging the NSC and the HSC is a critical step towards building a more coherent and unified approach to national security — in the broadest sense of the term," Locher testified.  "Though I believe that a merger is a necessity, it must be undertaken with safeguards that will ensure homeland security issues remain at the forefront of national security affairs. Merging the NSC and the HSC must be done in a way that ensures that homeland security issues receive the focus and resources they deserve."

At the same hearing, Tom Ridge, the former DHS secretary, said he opposed the proposed merger. "The Department of Homeland Security is still a young, maturing cabinet agency, established just six years ago," Ridge said. "It needs an independent ally and advocate in the White House — a good working relationship with the national security advisor, yes — but its own voice, and a voice that will be heard by its chief report, the president."

"I have thought the HSC should be folded into the NSC since 2002," said Philip Zelikow, former executive director of the independent 9/11 commission.  "The main reason for delay was waiting for DHS leadership to gain enough skill so that such a large White House policy development crutch would not be needed any longer."

The homeland security "problem is one that is transnational by definition, and therefore there is an argument for integrating" the two councils, said I.M. Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland and coauthor of a new book on the National Security Council, In the Shadow of the Oval Office. "Why I would worry about it is I believe the national security council staff is already too big. This makes it bigger by 30 people or so."

The other argument against the merger, said Destler, who told The Cable he goes back and forth on the issue, is that the NSC has been chiefly focused on foreign threats, and the DHS on domestic ones. "There is some concern about the national security council getting into matters of domestic surveillance," Destler said. "This is of course the reason why we had these firewalls that people complained about after 9/11. … There is a potential problem about making it more likely NSC people could get involved in surveillance on Americans."

Heritage’s Carafano believes the problem can be avoided. "Look, we have been doing this for six years now," he said. "People understand the different legal frameworks that operate inside the U.S. and abroad, the law is very clear, and people should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time."

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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