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Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
by David Bresnahan
February 4, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Paul McHale, the Defense Department's first assistant secretary for homeland security, admitted he is surprised there has not been a major attack by terrorists on U.S. soil since 9-11, but he also announced that U.S. troops are ready for whenever it does happen.

The public acknowledgement came at the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference held at the Pentagon. McHale spoke candidly to the attendees and said U.S. troops are ready to respond to any threat on U.S. soil.

He said that he is surprised there has not been an attack similar to the one on Sep. 11, 2001 already, but quickly added that the credit goes to defense operations. He credited reinforced defenses within the U.S. and antiterrorism operations in foreign lands. Those efforts have prevented terrorists from launching additional attacks.

McHale told the group of business and civic leaders that much has changed in the way the military is prepared to function in the event of an attack on U.S. soil. He was speaking to a group of civilians who participated in a past Joint Civilian Orientation Conference and were gathered for an alumni event. The group maintains a web site at

"Now, active-duty soldiers and sometimes active-duty Marines are prepared to deploy on our own soil to defend against a foreign threat," explained McHale. "We have active-duty units on a short alert, ready to respond if civilian law enforcement and the National Guard cannot defeat an emergency terrorist threat on our own soil."

When questioned by participants about the plans, McHale said that U.S. troops were used for domestic defense when the British attacked Washington, D.C. in 1814. Marines from Blandensburg, Md. came to the defense of the U.S. Capital.

"So it's not an unprecedented event, but one that hasn't occurred for more than a century," he said.

Defense plans are to have ground forces in place on domestic soil to defend against an attacker. The U.S. Navy has ships of the U.S. Northern Command that are prepared to destroy any terrorist threat that may approach the United States. McHale said these ships are able to detect weapons of mass destruction and render them safe. The U.S. Northern Command places all forces of the DoD involved in homeland defense and places them under a single command, according to their web site at

Combat air patrols already fly through domestic air space in a bilateral partnership with Canada as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). McHale explained that these flights are fully prepared to shoot down a civilian aircraft that has been commandeered by terrorists. He said pilots had never trained for that possibility before 9-11, but they are trained now. NORAD provides information on a web site at

"It's a sobering mission," he said. "But we are prepared to use military aircraft to shoot down a civilian aircraft under the control of terrorists in order to save an even greater number of lives," he said.

McHale also pointed out that there are ground-based air defenses in plain view around the Washington, D.C. area that are ready to shoot down a terrorist-operated aircraft, if ordered to do so.

"The purpose is to indicate to terrorists that an aircraft under control of terrorists will be engaged (and) shot down before that aircraft can reach an intended terrorist target," he said.

He said the plans are also in place to act as a deterrent in an effort to prevent terrorists from attempting an attack. He credits the preparations he described for preventing attacks since 9-11.

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"Our power projection overseas to attack and degrade the capabilities of al Qaeda, combined with domestic security measures we have put in place ... have created an environment making it very difficult for al Qaeda to launch follow-on attacks exploiting their initial success on 9/11," McHale explained.

The conference took place at the Pentagon and other military locations on Jan. 26 and 27. The statements by McHale were made to the group and confirmed and made public by the DoD in a press release on Feb. 3.

For information about McHale click here.

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David M. Bresnahan has over 30 years of experience as an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, radio station owner, talk show host, and business owner. David has been a prominent writer for many Internet newspapers.

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Combat air patrols already fly through domestic air space in a bilateral partnership with Canada as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).