- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The Justice Department, criticized by some state and local police for failing to share information on suspected terrorists, has ordered federal law enforcement agencies to immediately take additional steps to coordinate and share information.

The sweeping directive, issued yesterday by Attorney General John Ashcroft, went to the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department's criminal section and the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as the department's terrorism task force.

"Information is the best friend of prevention," Mr. Ashcroft said. "The September 11 attacks demonstrate that the war on terrorism must be fought and won at all levels of government.

"To meet this continuing threat, law enforcement officials at all levels federal, state and local must work together, coordinating information and leveraging resources in the joint effort to prevent and disrupt terrorist activity," he said.

Justice Department officials said the order is designed to make the best use of the information on terrorists available at all levels of government. The department has made the prevention of new terrorist attacks its top priority.

Some state and local authorities, including Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner, had been critical of what they called the FBI's failure to share information on terrorists.

The critics also had complained that federal authorities did a poor job of tapping into local law enforcement agencies for help in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris told the House Government Reform Committee this year the FBI had not shared enough intelligence on terrorists with Baltimore's police department. They said the FBI also did not contact Baltimore officials for help in tracking down 260,000 tips it had received since the attacks.

"The FBI has yet to ask our police department to follow up on a single lead or tip," Mr. O'Malley testified. "Law enforcement cooperation is not nearly what it should be, given what is at stake."

Mr. Norris said that while all levels of law enforcement needed to do a better job of collecting and sharing intelligence, the FBI did not provide his department with any pictures, descriptions or addresses of the terror suspects in the week after the attacks.

"Neither we, nor any other local law enforcement agency we know of, has been asked to contribute manpower in any broadly coordinated way," Mr. Norris said.

About 12,000 FBI agents are assigned nationwide, with nearly 650,000 state and local law enforcement officers across the country.

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani also complained publicly in the months after the September 11 attacks that the FBI had withheld information, and he called on Congress to pass a law requiring the bureau to share more information with local police.

Last fall, in response to the criticism, Mr. Ashcroft directed federal law enforcement agencies to review their policies and procedures to ensure information sharing, information analysis and coordination of activities with other federal agencies and with state and local police.

Following recommendations earlier this year for improved cooperation, Mr. Ashcroft yesterday ordered several more steps, including the expansion of terrorist information in law enforcement databases.

He also directed the FBI to obtain the fingerprints, other information and available biographical data of all known or suspected foreign terrorists identified and processed by foreign law enforcement agencies and called for the establishment of a secure, unclassified Web-based system to let information be shared more freely with state and local law enforcement agencies.

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