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U.S. Links Anti-Terrorism Databases

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered federal agencies Thursday to link the databases of local and federal law enforcers with foreign intelligence sources to lower bureaucratic barriers and rivalries that could stand in the way of fighting terrorism.
Story Filed: Friday, April 12, 2002 10:19 AM EDT

``Information is the best friend of prevention,'' Ashcroft said in a statement accompanying the directive. ``To meet this continuing threat, law enforcement officials at all levels -- federal, state and local -- must work together.''

Justice Department officials said the order was designed to form something of a link between domestic and international law enforcement agencies. Ideally, a local police officer making a traffic stop would key in the driver's name and receive database information about whether the driver is a known or suspected terrorist, possible aliases and instructions on how to handle the situation, officials said. Other law enforcement officials, such as border guards, also would be able to access the information. The database would be created from State Department, FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service files on the identities and aliases of thousands of known or suspected terrorists, both foreign and domestic, officials said. Much of the information is from intelligence gathered on individuals connected to the 31 foreign terrorist organizations listed by the State Department.

An agency head, however, can choose to withhold a name from the database to protect national security, Justice Department officials said. The information-sharing could be completed within weeks, because some of it already has been shifted between agencies. Civil libertarians have objected to some of the Justice Department's counterterror measures, saying they go too far toward suppressing personal freedom.

In response to the agencies' own analyses, the Justice Department directed them to take several steps to better share intelligence and other information.

The steps include:

--Adding terrorist information in law enforcement databases. The government maintains several databases that provide real-time information to diplomats and law enforcement personnel. The order directs that more information be shared among them, including the names, photographs, and other information about known terrorists to prevent them from entering the country. The information will be shared among databases maintained by the State Department, the FBI and U.S. Customs Service, according to the Justice Department.

--Sharing more foreign terrorist information among nations. Ashcroft directed the FBI, through legal attaches, to establish procedures to obtain on a regular basis identifying information on terrorists known to other countries. In addition, the FBI and the Defense Department must gather on a regular basis to share information on terrorists known to the military establishment.

--Establishing a secure system for sharing information with state and local agencies. Ashcroft directed Justice Department officials to develop a secure but unclassified web-based system to enable local, state and federal users to post and retrieve information on counterterrorism that is now only accessible to federal officials with appropriate clearance.

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