Info-sharing policy evolving

As part of its evolving strategy for handling tips about potential terrorist threats, the federal government is developing new policies for classifying information and sharing it with state and local governments, according to the staff director for the Office of Homeland Security.

As part of its new Homeland Security Advisory System, the government has created the designation "sensitive homeland security information" to label materials that should not be generally distributed, said Col. John Fenzel III, speaking last week at the SEARCH symposium. He said the designation was similar to one used by law enforcement officials to classify sensitive information.

Fenzel said the homeland security office was creating a "tear sheet" system for disseminating the information. A tear sheet is a publishing term for ripping pages from a publication for special distribution. As part of the new system, for example, the office would take a CIA or FBI report about a threat, "distill" the sources and methods from it, and send it to the appropriate state and local officials, he said.

The office is also creating a coordination center, which Fenzel described as a backup system of information sharing akin to the White House's Situation Room, with the ability to run secure videoconferences across federal agencies and among federal, state and local governments.

He said this center would help the Bush administration monitor the "vital signs" of the country, which "means we need to determine what is the normal pulse of our country on a day-to-day basis."

Fenzel said the system would be able to take disparate pieces of information — much like a puzzle — to see if there is increased risk in a certain location or sector. For example, if sales of Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol suddenly increased in New York City, the government would know there might be a health problem and would notify the appropriate officials.

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