Filling a key vacancy among top US anti-terrorism posts, President George W. Bush said Tuesday he had chosen appeals court judge Michael Chertoff as his new secretary of homeland security.
The former prosecutor's nomination came one month after Bush's first choice for the job, former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik, withdrew his name on grounds that he may have employed an undocumented immigrant as a nanny.
In hastily announced remarks at the White House, Bush noted that Chertoff, 51, led the US Justice Department's criminal division at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and helped craft the early US response.
"In the days after September the 11th, Mike helped trace the terrorist attacks to the al-Qaeda network. He understood immediately that the strategy in the war on terror is to prevent attacks before they occur," the president said.
"His energy and intellect put him at the center of many vital homeland security improvements, especially increased information sharing within the FBI and with state and local officials," Bush said.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Chertoff would replace Tom Ridge at the helm of the mammoth agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"He leaves some very big shoes to fill," Chertoff said, adding, "If confirmed as secretary, I will be proud to stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror."
The department groups together 22 agencies comprising some 180,000 employees charged with domestic security, including immigration, customs, transportation security and the Coast Guard.
It has also seen a wave of resignations from senior officials amid persistent reports that the agency is hard to manage, and its color-coded terrorist threat level has been the butt of jokes from prominent comics.
Bush noted that Chertoff "has been confirmed by the Senate three times" in the course of his career -- an apparent signal that he expects little trouble with confirmation proceedings for this nominee.
But the American Civil Liberties Union -- while stating that it took no position on the nomination -- queried it, noting Chertoff was an architect of the USA Patriot Act "which has come under increasing fire from conservatives and progressives alike since its passage in 2001."
"We urge the Senate to exercise fully its advice and consent powers and explore the Chertoff record, and how it will impact civil liberties," the group said.
Since winning a second four-year term in the Nov. 2 elections, Bush has overhauled his cabinet, nominating national security ad-viser Condoleezza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell, who resigned.