WASHINGTON -- The nation's homeland security chief said yesterday that he is increasingly worried about "home-grown" terrorists and will give more help to local police trying to root out such plots.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced several changes in how the government chooses to dole out antiterrorism money to major US cities, moving away from what he said was too much "bean-counting" last year that subjected the agency to ridicule.
"This is going to be an amazing admission for a public official. . . . I actually listen to people," Chertoff said.
The agency will do several things differently from last year when New York and Washington officials complained that the urban area security initiative had slashed their funding by 40 percent.
The agency will now allow six cities to use some grants to pay for police officers devoted exclusively to antiterrorism work, such as increased security measures during a terrorist alert or investigations into local terrorism suspects.
One such suspect, Shahawar Matin Siraj, a Pakistani immigrant, is to be sentenced Monday in federal court in New York for plotting to detonate explosives at a busy subway station -- a case that was investigated by the New York Police Department.
Chertoff said that even as governments try to guard against sophisticated worldwide networks such as Al-Qaeda , there is a growing worry about local threats.
"We're very concerned about intelligence-gathering," said Chertoff. "We also know the matter of home-grown terrorism is becoming an increasing concern all around the globe."
Because of that, the six urban areas at the highest risk will be allowed to spend up to 25 percent of their grant money on day-to-day police work, provided that work is devoted to antiterrorism efforts.
Those eligible urban areas are New York and New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., Chicago, Houston, and Washington.
The urban-areas grants, giving $747 million to 45 cities, were announced as part of $1.7 billion in federal money for state and local antiterrorism efforts.
Meanwhile, House Democrats will propose sweeping legislation that, among other things, would require that federal homeland security funding be allocated to cities and towns based on an assessment of their risk of terrorism. Under the current formula, some less populated areas received more homeland security funds per capita than cities such as New York and Washington.
One of the urban grant program's biggest critics in Congress, Representative Peter King, Republican of New York ., said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the changes Chertoff described, but he said he will still wait to see what happens when the final dollar amounts are announced later this year.
"I'm going to watch it, but based on the explanation I've gotten, I think it's going to work," said the Republican. .
Chertoff also said the agency had scrapped most of a national asset count that was mocked last year for treating hot dog stands as potential targets for terrorists.
Four cities were made newly eligible for funds: El Paso, Providence, Tucson, and Norfolk, Va.