Merging watch lists tops homeland IT agenda

Consolidating the government's various watch lists of suspected terrorists is the Homeland Security Department's top IT goal, Tom Ridge said today.

"We have several departments and units that developed their own watch lists," the Homeland Security secretary said. "Our first IT priority is to consolidate those watch lists so people at the borders and airports and respective agencies can access that broader list of names?the aggregate of these names."

The effort is well under way, Ridge said. "We are moving rapidly to a point where we can tell you it's done. We are not quite there yet, but we will be there shortly," he said.

Ridge spoke at a press briefing where he and British Home secretary David Blunkett unveiled efforts for the two organizations to coordinate counterterrorism programs.

The government's terrorist watch lists sometimes are referred to as watchout lists to avoid confusion with the term the Navy uses for duty rosters.

One of the chief hurdles in the consolidation effort is setting governmentwide criteria for placing individuals' names on a single list, Ridge said.

The agencies that have lists now?including the Border Patrol, CIA, FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service?use different criteria from one another.

At the briefing, Blunkett and Ridge also described their antiterrorism partnership efforts, which will include joint training, R&D and cybersecurity programs.

"The United Kingdom has been a critically important ally in bringing our attackers to justice," Ridge said.

As Home secretary, Blunkett's post is comparable to the combined authority of Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Blunkett said a joint group would oversee collaborative efforts between U.S. and British agencies that handle in counterterrorism activities.

The two governments will pool information about ways to defend against weapons of mass destruction and "cyber and electronic attacks that would disrupt our commerce," Blunkett said. "We are shoulder to shoulder against the joint threat."

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