Wednesday, May 03, 2006

US unveils strategy to combat terrorist travel

US unveils strategy to combat terrorist travel
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration does not have enough intelligence analysts to track the movements of terrorists and lacks the ability to distribute classified data about suspicious travelers to U.S. customs and immigration officials, a government report released on Tuesday shows.

The 45-page unclassified report, entitled National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel, provides an overview of U.S. efforts to control terrorist movements around the world and prescribes steps to further improve travel security both at home and abroad.

The National Counterterrorism Center, which wrote the strategy, submitted a classified version to Congress in February as a part of congressionally mandated intelligence reforms enacted in 2004.

More than four years after the September 11 attacks, the strategy document said the Bush administration still needs to ensure that "an appropriate number of intelligence analysts" are dedicated to the problem of global terrorist mobility.

It said greater analytical capability was needed to provide the Department of Homeland Security and FBI with more "actionable leads" from government immigration systems designed to identify suspect travelers before they reach the United States.

The Bush administration is facing a general shortage of intelligence analysts. The problem has been most acute among analysts with counterterrorism experience because of increasing demand from several agencies including the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center, which is the U.S. clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence.

The document called specifically for more resources for the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, an obscure agency that conducts analysis of clandestine terrorism travel and helps to coordinate U.S. government efforts to counter terrorist movements.

The strategy report also urged the administration to grant "appropriate security clearances" to customs, immigration, border patrol and consular officials so they can receive classified information on travelers with potential ties to terrorism. The government needed to "establish the required technical infrastructure" to support the data flow, it said.

"We've really got to increase the intelligence gathering and information sharing about terrorist traveling and terrorist mobility ... both in the United States and overseas," said Army Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, who is the National Counterterrorism Center's operational planning director.

He declined to speak in detail.

The report also underscored Washington's need to persuade foreign countries to tighten immigration laws and join international efforts to crack down on passport forgery and illicit travel networks used by terrorists.