Feds to start sharing terrorism data
New York and Vermont cops will get access to watch lists
From Phil Hirschkorn and Deborah Feyerick
CNN New York Bureau
(CNN) -- State and local police in New York and Vermont will soon have instant access to federal counterterrorism data under an FBI-run pilot program that could become a new weapon in the war on terrorism, officials announced Tuesday.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and New York Gov. George Pataki said the initiative will enable beat cops to check watch lists of suspected terrorists and other information stored in databases maintained by the FBI, CIA, State Department, Customs and other agencies.
James Kallstrom, a former FBI assistant director in charge of the New York office and now a senior adviser to Pataki on counterterrorism, said the system will be a model for other states.
"If we have our cops deaf, dumb and blind as to what the federal government knows in databases in Washington, how are we going to protect our society?" Kallstrom told CNN.
"The chances of a terrorist hitting a trip wire in state and local police is much higher. I think this is the single most important thing we can do to protect our people from then next attack."
He cited the missed opportunity to detain hijacker Ziad Jarrah 36 hours before the before the attacks of September 11, 2001, when a Maryland state trooper stopped him driving 90 mph on Interstate 95.
"The whole discussion for two and half years was that federal agencies couldn't connect the dots," Kallstrom said. "None of these databases talked to each other."
If the project is successful, it could be quickly expanded by the FBI throughout the Northeast, Kallstrom told The Associated Press.
More than 70,000 officers in New York and Vermont will have direct access to FBI counterterrorism information through a new intelligence center in a secret location near Albany, the state capital.
The center also will relay locally gathered information and observations back to federal authorities.
Vermont will participate in the initiative because it is covered by the Albany FBI office.
"This pilot program will help police on the beat make better judgments with more readily available comprehensive information and guidance provided by the FBI," Pataki told an Albany news conference.
Pataki has been among those local and state officials who have criticized the FBI and other federal agencies for being unwilling to share counterterrorism information, particularly following the September 11 attacks, the AP reported.
Federal funds will pay for some secure computers and communications equipment at the Upstate New York Regional Intelligence Center, which became operational late last year and is staffed 24 hours a day.
The type of available information is already shared among the state's three joint federal-state-local terrorism task forces in Albany, Buffalo and New York City.
But only a small number of state and local police officers see that data. For example, the NYPD has more than 100 officers assigned full time to the city's task force, while the entire force has 37,000 officers.
Most state and local officers have previously had access only to the National Crime Information Center, which reveals outstanding warrants and criminal records.
"The FBI will provide the [New York regional counterterrorism unit] with investigative assistance, intelligence products and real-time access to databases," Mueller told the news conference.