- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday announced the creation of a nationwide intelligence program aimed at ensuring that state and local law-enforcement authorities get access to intelligence data on terrorism and crime gathered by the federal government.

Known as the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, the new program calls for the Justice Department and the FBI to more routinely share with state and local agencies the intelligence data it receives from more than 1.2 million law-enforcement officials from all levels of government.

“The single greatest structural cause for the terrorist attacks of September 11 were impediments to communication and information sharing among men and women charged with keeping Americans safe,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “Government erected a wall that segregated criminal investigators from intelligence agents, government buttressed that wall, and before September 11, 2001, government was blinded by that wall.

“This plan represents law enforcement’s commitment to take it upon itself to ensure that we do everything possible to connect the dots, whether it be a set of criminal dots or a set of terrorist dots,” he said.

The announcement comes at a time when some on Capitol Hill are calling for the creation of a new homeland intelligence agency to focus on fighting terrorism, suggesting that the intelligence gathering and sharing abilities of the Justice Department and the FBI were to blame for the September 11 attacks.

A report last month by the September 11 commission concluded that the FBI was not properly structured to detect and detain terrorists operating in the United States, and that the bureau’s traditional law-enforcement approach was designed to build criminal cases, not catch terrorists — accusations that the Justice Department and the FBI have vigorously denied.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the bureau recognizes that “no one agency can be successful on its own,” adding that in order to address the continuing threats of terrorism and crime, “we must change.”

“In the wake of September 11, I think almost all of us understand that in order to be effective in preventing another terrorist attack, we together have to focus on intelligence-led policing, because it will be the intelligence that will help the officer on the street or the chief of police or even the president of the United States to make those critical decisions that are necessary to try to prevent another attack,” Mr. Mueller said.

“We see the National Intelligence Sharing Plan as the blueprint as we continue to implement our overall strategy for sharing information and intelligence … a blueprint that all of us can use to move forward,” he said.

In an effort to overcome continuing turf battles and jurisdictional disputes that have long been a barrier to adequate information sharing, the FBI has initiated new policies to ensure that more of its information can be broadly disseminated to law-enforcement officials by reducing the amount that is classified as top secret or secret.

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