Vermont, New York test terrorism information system

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(Host) Vermont has been chosen to be part of a pilot program that will give local and state law enforcement officers direct access to federal counter-terrorism information. Governor Jim Douglas says the program is critical because local officials are a key component in the war against terrorism.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The new initiative was unveiled by Governor Douglas and New York Governor George Pataki at a joint news conference in Albany, New York.

Under the program, local police officers will have instant access to federal counter terrorism information. The governor says that’s something that doesn’t happen at this time:

(Douglas) “This empowers the cop on the beat to have information at his or her disposal, to know about potential terrorist activities when a situation arises. Now, if someone a state trooper or sheriff or a local officer makes a stop – a routine traffic stop, for example – he or she will be able to access the data base in terms of criminal and motor vehicle violations on the individual. But there’s not any immediate information available regarding potential terrorist activity.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says this new approach is needed because local law enforcement officials are the first line of defense in the war on terrorism:

(Douglas) “It’s essential in this era when we’re fighting the war on terror to make sure that we have that information at the fingertips of our law enforcement officer. The next encounter with a terrorist is not likely to be some federal agency. It’s probably going to be someone at the local or state level. So that’s why this pilot project is a very important step forward.”

(Kinzel) Several months ago, Douglas launched an information sharing program with Canadian law enforcement officials. The governor is hoping that the new pilot project can be expanded to give Canadian officials greater access to the FBI’s unclassified data base:

(Douglas) “We expressed some very candid concern this past year that federal agencies were not sharing information in as extensive or helpful way as we had hoped. That’s why we felt it was important to begin this effort at the state and provincial level. So, there’s still work to be done on an international basis.”

(Kinzel) FBI officials say the information sharing program will be expanded to include all New England states if the Vermont-New York project is successful.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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