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Local's role in intelligence sharing pondered.

THE SHARING OF intelligence between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement is a two way street--but one that isn't always straight or easily traveled.

Local police agencies have received conflicting and confusing information from different federal agencies regarding potential terrorist attacks in their communities.

Meanwhile, they're seen as invaluable source for uncovering terrorist plots.

"One of the greatest challenges will be bridging the gap between the intelligence community and the non-intelligence community," said John Cohen, senior adviser to the information sharing environment program manager in the office of the director of national intelligence.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act created the organization as a stand-alone entity responsible for pulling information from all sources, including the private sector and state and local entities, not just from the federal intelligence community. It is administratively part of ODNI, but works independently.

Louis Quijas, FBI assistant director of the office of state and local coordination, said the bureau, once notorious for its secrecy, is getting better at sharing information, but he has to constantly remind officials in meetings to pass information down to their counterparts.

State, local and tribal law enforcement agencies are "not junior partners in the war on terrorism, but full partners," Quijas said.

Local agencies transmitting "suspicious activity" reports to the feds are seen as crucial participants in law enforcement efforts.

John Rollins, a terrorism specialist at the Congressional Research Service, said locals are sending such reports to the feds, but getting little in return.

They don't know the criteria or thresholds for what information the federal government needs. And when they do send reports, they are not put in context, Rollins said.

Cohen said the 800,000 state and local officers have a critical role to play. In the course of their regular duties, they may come across a terrorist cell that is engaged in an illegal activity. "People who want to carry out theses attacks do not simply sit in a hotel room hatching their scheme ... they're involved in a whole host of activities" including drug trafficking, document fraud and cigarette smuggling.

Forty-two states have or are setting up intelligence fusion centers. There are also about 100 joint terrorism task forces in place that combine federal and local members to sort through information, Cohen said.

Still, Rollins predicted the goal of attaining information access and sharing across federal agencies and down to local entities will take a decade, or maybe more.
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Title Annotation:SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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