Northeastern States Seek Terrorist-Intelligence Sharing
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
Homeland security officials in 10 northeastern states want to establish intelligence-sharing centers that would better disseminate terrorist-related information between federal law enforcement and local police officers.
Mark Cohen, director of the New York State Office of Public Security, said the ability to share intelligence with the federal government in real time is "the most critical component for homeland security in the states."
Cohen and homeland security officials in nine other states have asked Congress and the U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish intelligence-sharing centers in the Northeast that would give police access to federal databases containing information on individuals with terrorist links as well as other related intelligence.
The system would be based at the New York Intelligence Center in Albany, which currently connects all law enforcement agencies in New York. Under a pilot program proposed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the system would expand to connect law enforcement agencies in every northeastern state, from Maine to Delaware, with the federal government, Cohen said.
Philip Cabaud, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's homeland security adviser, said that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, police have needed a "one-stop shopping" ability to exchange intelligence and information in real time amongst federal, state and local law enforcement.
"We would like to see intelligence centers established so that information could be disseminated to law enforcement officers who really are most likely to be the first to see signs and symptoms of problems or plots that are developing in our communities," Cabaud said.
The officials, whose states make up the Northeast Regional Homeland Security Agreement, recently outlined their desires in a letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and in testimony to the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security.
"State and local law enforcement are not in the critical information loop they must be in order to serve as the country's first line of defense in the domestic war on terrorism," the letter to Ridge said.
The letter asks that centers be established in each state or on a regional basis, staffed by top secret-cleared personnel who would maintain a direct, secure line of communication between state police, local police departments and the federal government.
"We're not interested in having top-secret clearance for every police officer, but we would like for the analysts to be able to have access," Cabaud said.
Through the centers, access to federal databases would allow police officers making routine traffic stops to run an individual's name through a computer to see if they need to be detained or questioned for links to terrorism, Cabaud said.
Potential suspects could be checked against terrorist watch lists compiled by federal agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, the Transportation Safety Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation. To simplify inquiries, police would be given a "green", "yellow" or "red" signal meaning "all clear", await instructions or arrest immediately, Cabaud said.
"When there's no sign of this person being involved in terrorist related activity the officers get a green light. A yellow light means get as much information as possible from this person and try to ascertain where the Joint Terrorism Task Force can locate them if necessary. And a red light means this person is wanted for terrorist activity and should be detained," he said.
DHS spokesperson Rachel Sunbarger said that the agency is considering the proposal but it is still in "explanatory stages."
"Secretary Ridge definitely thinks these are some issues that need to be addressed," Sunbarger said.
Currently, police can access the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to search motor vehicle registrations or check for outstanding warrants. But the NCIC is not connected to federal terrorist watch-lists and will not alert police officers if an individual is under investigation.
The nation's 700,000 law enforcement officers are notified of heightened security alerts by the DHS through the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS), but it does not allow them to request information.
If police want to report activity they suspect may be connected to terrorism, they are supposed to notify the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
"Currently, the way information is generally shared is through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and it's a two-way flow, we have information coming in from different sources and then going back out to people that have a need to have that information," FBI spokesperson Ed Cogswell said.