House Subcommittee Approves Information Sharing Bill

The bill will make it simpler for the federal government to share information with state and local governments.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- State and local governments would get faster and more accurate terrorism information from the federal government under a bill moving through the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The bill, H.R. 4598, is known as the Homeland Security Information Sharing Act and was moved by a House Judiciary subcommittee. The full committee could take up the bill as early as this week.

"Information sharing is the key to cooperation and coordination in homeland security," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the House subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security. "With the recent press reports about what information the government had prior to Sept. 11, it has become abundantly more clear that better information sharing among government agencies and with state and local officials needs to be a higher priority."

The legislation directs the use of existing technology -- already used to share information with NATO allies and Interpol -- that converts intelligence into a format that can easily shared, said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. The information then can be shared through existing networks such as the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System or Regional Information Sharing Systems.

The bill also authorizes an increase in the number of security-clearance investigations for state and local personnel. It would also add specific information to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's color-coded threat warning system, telling local personnel what they should be looking for and how they should adjust their activities, Harman said.

State and local police are usually the first people to cross potential terrorists' paths, she said.

"The professionals in the CIA, NSA and -- more than ever -- the FBI do an excellent job in gathering information from across the globe," Harman said. "But this multimillion-dollar capability is worth precisely nothing if that information doesn't get to the eyes and ears of those on the front lines fighting terrorism."

Ridge's office is behind the legislation, Chambliss said. Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe refused to talk about the legislation.

"The Office of Homeland Security is working to coordinate all of the federal agencies that provide information to the state and local governments regarding potential terrorism," Johndroe said. "We are working to improve and streamline that process."

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