DHS expands information sharing

The Homeland Security Department today unveiled a program that will increase its terrorist information sharing with state and local authorities, as part of a series of steps to reorganize security functions.

During a speech this afternoon in Washington, department secretary Tom Ridge described the Strategic Communications Resources, or Secure, initiative.

The project eventually will let state and local authorities funnel terrorist information to federal agencies, Ridge said.

Under the initiative, DHS is establishing secure videoconferencing links with emergency operations centers in all 50 states, as well as two territories and the District of Columbia.

All state governors now have secure phones and can receive secure communications, DHS said, without elaborating on the means used for the communications.

The department is coordinating security clearances for five other officials in each of the states and two territories, DHS said.

'At some point in time, we expect them to be sending information back to the federal level that we can use' in the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, Ridge said.

In his presentation, Ridge emphasized that the Homeland Security Threat Advisory System'the color-coded ranking of terrorism risk that has come under fire for vagueness'has additional capabilities that have not been used yet.

He said the system was designed for regional warnings, 'but frankly, we've never received specific, credible information that would enable us to use the system in that way.

'Nevertheless, as the system works now, it continues to offer a vitally important means of communicating information with our state and local partners,' Ridge said.

He added that the current state of Code Yellow alert represents a much more secure level of protection against terrorist threats than it did a year ago because of various antiterrorism steps taken since last year.

In addition to those activities, Ridge today announced several other organizational changes, which in turn will shift the department's IT posture:

  • The Federal Air Marshals Unit and Explosives Unit of the Transportation Security Administration will transfer to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also within the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

  • The One Face at the Border initiative will consolidate the functions of immigration, customs and agricultural inspections via a cross-training program so border inspectors will carry out all three functions at once.

  • The department soon will send a plan to Congress to consolidate its grant programs via a single, online, paperless process for accessing information needed by states and local governments applying for grants, and for receiving first responders' guidance.

  • The One Face at the Border initiative will begin this fall as an initial class of Customs and Border Protection Officer trainees begins preparing to enforce customs, agricultural, immigration and antiterrorism laws and regulations at the border. In addition, the department will use Counter-Terrorism Response inspectors, who will act in roving teams to conduct follow up examinations of suspicious passengers, DHS said.

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