Ashcroft orders more info sharing

Declaring that "information is the friend of prevention," Attorney General John Ashcroft has instructed six federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to do a better job of sharing information as they fight the war against terrorism.

Information from databases, such as names of terrorism suspects, fingerprints, photographs and biographical data, should be regularly available to a wider range of law enforcement agencies, Ashcroft said.

However, the directive, issued April 11, deals primarily with developing policies, guidelines and standards for sharing information. It does not make money available to buy new data systems or order specific agencies to begin sharing information with other agencies.

The order does not specify deadlines, milestones or reporting requirements.

"It's a necessary step toward better sharing," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "One of the lessons of Sept. 11 was there was inadequate information sharing among federal and state and local law enforcement agencies."

Ashcroft's instructions are aimed at the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Justice Department's Criminal Section and the newly created Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force.

A Justice announcement notes that the instructions follow an Ashcroft order last fall for most of those agencies to "review their policies and procedures to ensure information sharing, information analysis and coordination of activities" with other federal, state and local agencies "to prevent acts threatening public safety and national security."

This time, the attorney general directed:

* Agencies to establish procedures to share terrorist information that resides in federal law enforcement databases.

* The FBI to establish procedures to regularly obtain fingerprints and other information on suspected terrorists from other agencies, including the military.

* The Justice Department to devise ways for state and local law enforcement agencies to access "secure but unclassified" data in a Web-based system.

* The Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force to identify the information and datasets it needs to fulfill its mission.

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