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The war on terrorism has changed Americans' lives and strained the capacities of their government. The federal government confronts a confounding array of choices about priorities and coordination. The new war calls on the panoply of instruments within the federal government--from military action to law enforcement, from intelligence to diplomacy. Each of the main government departments (Homeland Security, State, Justice, Defense, Treasury) has a major role, but none can succeed on its own, and the number of agencies involved in aspects of counterterrorism is large and growing. This Occasional Paper addresses the question of how the war on terrorism should be coordinated within the executive branch of the federal government, in particular within the White House. It begins by surveying the historical record and then lays out the critical choices. The authors recommend that the war on terrorism should be managed by the White House, although with considerable devolution of operating responsibilities to lead agencies; that all counterterrorism coordinating responsibility should lie with the National Security Council; and that the newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center be given greater analytical responsibility for coordinating foreign and domestic human intelligence collection.

This research in the public interest was supported by RAND, using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of RAND’s donors, the fees earned on client-funded research, and independent research and development (IR&D) funds provided by the Department of Defense.

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