State, Federal Officials Hold Anti-Terrorism Summit

 

Taking the first concrete steps toward a uniform state-federal counter-terrorism policy, Attorney General Janet Reno, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and officials from 48 states gathered in Williamsburg, Virginia Tuesday and Wednesday for a national summit.

Justice Department officials used the meeting, the first large-scale meeting since the National Domestic Preparedness Office was established in October 1998, to announce the first ever direct federal funding to the states for counter terrorism equipment and training.

"This year, happily, we have from Congress $69.5 million for direct grants," said Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs. "For the first time, this money will go directly to the governors and our goal here is to get those funds to the states by August."

The Justice Department plans to proportionally award the first $23.5 million to the states, starting with a baseline $250,000 grant for each state and distributing the balance according to population. The remaining $46 million will be awarded to the nation's 157 largest cities and counties.

The direct grants represent the first federal efforts to directly fund counter-terrorism programs in the states. States can currently use funds from local law enforcement block grants and the Byrne State Formula Grant Program, established in 1968 to help state and local government carry out programs to improve the criminal justice system.

>Georgia, for example, ceded $400,000 in block grant money last year to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to support counter-terrorism programs, according to GEMA director Gary W. McConnell. The new federal funds will allow the state to use the block grant money for other law enforcement initiatives.

The summit brought together more than 180 emergency management officials, law enforcement personnel and terrorism experts to discuss coordinated action between the states and Washington to effectively prevent and react to future acts of terrorism.

It was co-sponsored by the National Governor's Association and the National Emergency Management Association.Gov. Gilmore, acting as host, stressed that while increased state-federal interaction could only improve effectiveness, much of the infrastructure is already in place.

"The partnership between governors and mayors and county supervisors is well defined and well tested, and it has worked successfully many times," Gilmore said. "Even though the threat of terrorism is greater, we do not need to create a new mechanism to deal with the threat. We are not sitting ducks, and we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We simply need to build on what we have."

Gov. Hunt agreed that the states are responsible for managing any man-made crisis, just as the states are responsible in natural disasters.

"We must work together to plan for these possible attacks, just like we prepare for other emergencies from earthquakes to tornadoes to hurricanes," he said.

North Carolina's Division of Emergency Management formed a Counter-Terrorism Task Force one year ago to deal with the possible consequences of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack.

Attorney General Reno applauded such efforts, but warned against ignoring what could quickly become the most prescient domestic terrorism threat: cyber-terrorism.

"We talk about all forms of terrorism and the most obvious examples that comes to mind are chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction. But the great unseen threat may be a lone man in a kitchen in St. Petersburg, Russia, or a seventeen-year-old hacking into the Pentagon system. Defense, banking, transportation, our food distribution system...all are intertwined by cyber connections. We must consider all forces and we must be prepared to fight back," she said.

Summit participants said it will be necessary for the states and federal agencies to address the handling and distribution of sensitive intelligence information.

"In order for us to respond effectively, we are going to have to establish some kind of understanding about intelligence sharing," said D.C. Jensen, Chief Planner for the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Reno pointed out that information sharing is a two-way street. It was the Oklahoma state police, she said, that had arrested a suspect and discovered the vehicle identification number of the van used in the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995.

As the worst incidence of terrorism on American soil, the Oklahoma City bombing was frequently cited as an example of both the necessity of preventive action and the terrible physical and emotional costs of terrorist attacks.

Discussions were scheduled to continue at the NGA Winter Meeting in Washington February 20-23.

 
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