Panel seeks data sharing

Combating Terrorism Through Immigration Policies

The White House last week created a multiagency task force charged with using information technology to fight terrorism by keeping tighter control of 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 Oct. 29, the presidential directive created the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, which Attorney General John Ash.croft has since established.

The task force will be made up of experts from across government (see box). It will coordinate government.wide programs to keep suspected terrorists out of the United States and to find any that are already in the country.

Ashcroft named FBI agent Steven McCraw as director of the task force, but has not announced other appointments. McCraw is currently serving as deputy assistant director of the intelligence branch of the Investigative Services Division at FBI headquarters.

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 will help put in place tighter controls on student visas and help develop a shared immigration and customs control database with 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," said Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security. "So that is moving forward very aggressively at the direction of the president."

Marburger will 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 used.

Indeed, the technology to share information is already there, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. The difficulty is in convening the agencies involved and deciding how and what to share, he said.

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.

Task force highlights

Who's involved in the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force:

Officials from the State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the intelligence community, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other agencies.

What they are considering:

* Enhanced investigative and analysis capabilities for the INS and Customs agents tracking suspected terrorists.

* Additional control policies on and systems to track the use of student visas.

* New, compatible policies and systems to share immigration and customs information with Canada and Mexico.

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