Larger national security role for Lt. Govs.


December 3rd, 2010

Listen Now

Omaha, NE – What follows isn’t real, but it could be…

“For those of you just joining us, authorities in the Pacific Northwest are responding to a series of huge explosions…,” a simulated newscast aired over loudspeakers to an audience of current and incoming lt. governors., “that initial reports suggest could be some type of dirty bomb in Portland, Ore., Boise, Idaho,  Seattle, Wash., Valdez, Alaska and Vancouver, British Colombia in the past several hours…”

The two dozen officials attending the National Lieutenant Governors Association meeting in Omaha could someday find themselves responding to a situation like that.  Some, like Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, are their state’s homeland security director.  Others have responsibility if their state’s governor is away. But security considerations can prevent elected officials from getting some information.  Minnesota Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau said she found that out after an alleged terrorist cell was discovered in that state’s Somali community.

“We had to call an emergency meeting, and I was headed to the briefing room and they go ‘Excuse me, you don’t have clearance.’”

Stan McKinney of the Naval Postgraduate School told the lieutenant governors that could result from procedures at state-level “Fusion Centers,” where intelligence from local, state and federal sources is analyzed to combat terrorism.

“They’re operating in a classified environment in many instances,” he said. “The challenge of you all getting their information may be there, but they should be in a position to be able to package the information in a way that could be shared with you appropriately in an unclassified way to help you make decisions.”

Molnau said after being turned away, she immediately sought a high-level security clearance.  She got one after a nine-month investigation that she said included everything from a check of her finances to an interview with her then-93-year-old former grade school teacher. But, she said, such precautions are necessary.

“This is a new element that started with 9/11,” she said, “and because of that, we need to make sure that the people who get the information are trustworthy, or have at least had background checks that we know won’t use that information against the United States.  I don’t think it’s overblown.   I think it’s the caution the military has always taken.  It’s a military style, but I think it’s needed.”

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