Info sharing bill gains support

Homeland Security Information Sharing Act

A bill mandating that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies share homeland security information with their state and local counterparts has the support of top officials within the Bush administration, House members said at a hearing June 4.

Following the hearing, the House Judiciary Committee's Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee passed the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee.

The Homeland Security Information Sharing Act requires the administration to develop a plan within six months that will outline how sensitive but unclassified federal information can be shared with the appropriate officials within state and local law enforcement. The plan must also outline a process for redacting — that is, removing — sensitive information from classified information so that it may be shared with the state and local officials.

This will enable first responders to get more detailed, timely information on potential threats than they currently can access, said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the bill and ranking member on the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"The people who are most likely to stop the next terrorist attack are the police officers on the street or other alert local officials who come in contact with something or someone suspicious," she said. "We need to get these people — spread across levels of state, county and local government, and increasingly in the private sector — the information they need."

Harman and Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), chairman of the intelligence subcommittee and co-sponsor of the bill, worked closely with the White House and the Justice Department to develop the bill. In fact, the administration's ideas led to several changes to get the bill to where it is today, they said.

Because of this cooperation, once the bill gets to the president, Harman said she expects it to be signed immediately into law.

The bill calls for the administration to outline information systems that can be used to share information in a timely manner, and it fosters the use of existing systems, such as the National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System and the Regional Information Sharing Systems.

It also directs the administration to consider models for redacting classified information, such as the method used in sharing information with NATO or Interpol, in which the source of and method for receiving the classified information are removed, Harman pointed out.

"We can apply an existing technology and existing communications system to a new problem," she said.

This additional information will be of great use at the state and local level, particularly for preparation and better prioritization of resources, said John Cary Bittick, president of the National Sheriffs' Association. The redaction of classified information should not hurt that assistance, he said.

"We are unconcerned whether the information comes from satellite intelligence, interviews with a foreign national or through electronic intercepts," he said. "However, sheriffs are extremely concerned with the timing and location of a potential attack, the method of the attack, and other details that would enable us to prevent and prepare for an attack."

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