Sunday, November 25, 2001

The FBI must issue security clearances to thousands of the nation’s top police officers so they can have access to classified material about terrorist threats, says a Michigan police chief, who has accused the agency of keeping local police nationwide out of the loop.
“There’s no reason why the best 10,000 police officers in this country, the most talented people in each individual agency, shouldn’t have security clearances and be briefed on the fight against terrorism and the hunt for infiltrators in this country. It’s something completely within the FBI’s control,” Daniel J. Oates, chief of police in Ann Arbor and a former head of intelligence for the New York Police Department, said yesterday on CNN.
Chief Oates, who appeared in an interview on “Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields,” has emerged as a national spokesman for local police seeking better communication and cooperation with federal law-enforcement officials since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
His forums have included an interview on CBS’ “The Early Show,” an op-ed piece in the New York Times, wire service reports and articles in newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Daily Herald.
On CNN yesterday, Chief Oates said he sees signs FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is listening to police concerns and trying to improve that agency’s relationship with local law-enforcement organizations.
“The best sign that I can think of is that he has formed an advisory group of police chiefs from the International Association of Chiefs of Police,” said Chief Oates, a lawyer and a law-enforcement official. “He met with them last week. He’s going to meet with them monthly, I understand.”
Even so, he said, “Fundamentally, I think there are some really important additional steps that need to be taken. I firmly believe the FBI culture has to change, and they have to be more willing to embrace us and use the full potential of local law enforcement.”
As for his proposal that about 10,000 police officers obtain security clearances so they can be more directly involved in the terrorist investigation, Chief Oates says, “The real issue I hear quoted, the number one reason why the FBI is so reluctant to share information is the issue of security clearance. So much of the information that they deal in, when it comes to the terrorist threat, is classified.”
But he says that situation can be resolved either by “declassifying a lot of information” or, if that is not possible, by providing security clearances to top-rated police officers.
For background checks on police deemed worthy of a possible security clearance, Chief Oates said turning to personnel files of police officers would be a “good start for any investigator.”
“If the FBI doesn’t have enough people to do the background checks, they should hire former FBI agents, former Secret Service agents, former Treasury agents people who know how to do background investigations,” he said. “With the kind of money that is being talked about being spent in this fight [against terrorism] in Congress, a few dollars to expeditiously do background checks would be a very wise expenditure.”
A woman who answered the phone in the FBI press office yesterday said no one would be available this weekend to respond to Chief Oates’ proposal to issue security clearances to police officers.
The chief, who spent 21 years in the NYPD, including four as a deputy chief, also says Congress must pass federal legislation to enable the FBI to share classified information with top state and local government officials and police. At this time, he said, FBI agents frequently contend they are “bound by statute” not to release certain information.
“We need a clear, unambiguous statement by the federal government that this information is going to be shared,” Chief Oates said yesterday. Such legislation “needs the support of the Justice Department and the attorney general,” he said.

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