Feds testify about improved antiterror systems

Feds testify about improved antiterror systems

State Department, FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials, among others, described improvements to government systems for border control and for tracking terrorists’ finances during a hearing today on the effectiveness of the USA Patriot Act.

The act, passed a year ago, comprised a wish list of information-sharing and -gathering provisions assembled by the law enforcement community. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) convened a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information to evaluate the effectiveness of the law and review the possibility of changes.

Much of the hearing focused on the FBI’s lack of a single written plan to confront terror threats, a charge leveled last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine.

Other testimony highlighted improvements some agencies have made. Stephen A. Edson, acting deputy assistant secretary of State for visa services, described the department’s progress in improving databases used to pinpoint terrorists among visa applicants.

Edson focused in part on the department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, which he said “uses sophisticated search algorithms to match lookout information to individual visa applicants.” Every single visa applicant is run through CLASS, Edson said.

“CLASS records have doubled since Sept. 11 [2001],” Edson said. Under a mandate in the Patriot Act, the department added 7 million names of people with FBI records as of August, augmenting 5.8 million names from State, INS, the Drug Enforcement Administration and intelligence sources.

He said 20,000 records of people identified by the Customs Service as serious violators also have been added. “CLASS now has over 78,000 name records of suspected terrorists, up 40 percent in the past year.”

Many of the additional names of potential terrorists have entered CLASS via the Tipoff program, which the State Department runs to add sanitized intelligence information about suspected terrorists gathered from the intelligence community.

According to Edson’s testimony, State now is working to improve CLASS by adding:

  • better data on lost and stolen passports

  • more deportation records from the INS

  • a backup facility in Kentucky

  • hardware and new search algorithms.

  • Dennis Lormel, chief of the FBI’s Terrorist Financing Operations Section in the Counterterrorism Division, added details about the government’s use of technology to track enemy funds.

    Lormel said the FBI is mining data from financial activities databases, including the Suspicious Activity Report, Currency Transaction Report and Monetary Instrument Report systems it uses in cooperation with the Customs Service and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

    According to Lormel’s testimony, FinCEN has developed a USA Patriot Act Communication System that allows financial institutions to file reports online and provide financial institutions with alerts and other information about suspicious transactions.

    Michael Cronin, INS’ assistant commissioner for inspections, testified that the service is evaluating biometric technology for use in the Entry Exit System to track persons crossing the border.

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