Tech to help deter terrorists

Combating Terrorism Through Immigration Policies

The White House this week established a multi-agency task force charged with using information technology as a tool to fight terrorism by keeping tighter control over the use of student visas and by sharing immigration and customs information with other countries.

Issued at the first meeting of the Homeland Security Council on Monday, the Presidential Directive creates the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force that is to be put in place by Attorney General John Ashcroft this week.

The task force will be made up of experts from the State Department, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, and the intelligence community. It will coordinate governmentwide programs to keep suspected terrorists out of the United States and to find any already within the country.

As part of this effort, the directive orders John Marburger, the recently confirmed director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to work with the task force to make recommendations on "advanced technology that could be used to aid immigration enforcement."

Specifically, OSTP is directed to help put in place tighter controls on student visas and to help develop a shared immigration and customs control database with the United State's two border countries, Canada and Mexico.

"One of the tasks assigned to the task force and the respective Cabinet agencies was to move quickly to upgrade the technology so that information can be shared within departments of government," Ridge said. "So that is moving forward very aggressively at the direction of the president."

The directive asks Marburger to conduct a review of existing government databases -- at the federal, state and local levels -- to determine how they can best be used to "maximize the ability of the government to detect, identify, locate and apprehend potential terrorists in the United States." The directive specifically identifies data-mining software as one technology that should be addressed.

The OSTP review and the resulting recommendations, proposed timelines and projected funding requirements are due to the president through the Homeland Security Council within the next 60 days.

Mitchell Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, is also required to submit an interim report to the council within 30 days on how the administration can support such a multi-year program through the budget process and what legislative changes may need to be made. A final report is due within 60 days.

Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the White House to give the INS $32.5 million of the emergency supplemental funds approved by Congress for Sept. 11 recovery efforts. Under Feinstein's proposal, that money would be used to implement a system to track foreigners entering the country on student visas. The system has been required since 1996, but has never been put into place.

Feinstein is also considering legislation to require INS to upgrade its foreign student tracking system to include biometric information; fully integrate that data with systems used by State and the FBI at U.S. points of entry; and integrate the system with existing "lookout" databases such as INS' Identification System (IDENT) and the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

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