Norris testifies in probe of Sept. 11

He says U.S. authorities don't share enough data

October 02, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber and Laura Sullivan | Del Quentin Wilber and Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris testified before Congress yesterday that federal authorities are not sharing enough information with his department about potential terrorists -- a lack of cooperation that could hinder his ability to prevent and respond to an attack.

In testimony before a joint House and Senate committee investigating intelligence lapses that led to the Sept. 11 attacks, Norris said FBI officials have not briefed him about potential terrorist activities in Baltimore and once misled his department about the target of an investigation.

"We are still encountering difficulties defending our cities despite the improvements that have been made," he said.

Saying he was deeply frustrated by the lack of progress, Norris echoed testimony he and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley gave Congress a year ago, when they criticized FBI agents and other federal investigators for not working closely enough with local law enforcement.

"We need to be day-to-day partners in this," Norris testified. "I'd like to know exactly what is being worked on in my city."

Norris' comments came as lawmakers heard testimony from six other witnesses who said that longstanding jurisdictional feuds and bureaucratic obstacles have stymied the sharing of information among federal agencies and local law enforcement.

`A cultural problem'

Norris blamed a "a cultural problem, and it's a culture of secrecy" as one reason why federal agencies, particularly the FBI, sometimes fail to share needed information with his detectives.

Though Norris has obtained a security clearance from the federal government, he said he has not been briefed by local FBI officials about the agency's operations in Baltimore.

Norris said the lack of cooperation spreads to Baltimore-based investigations.

Norris testified about an instance in which Baltimore detectives were investigating a person Norris described as "a radical in our city." Local police asked FBI agents if they were looking into the same person, and the federal agents said they were not, Norris testified.

As Baltimore detectives continued their investigation, Norris said, police received a call from the FBI asking for a meeting. Norris testified that the agents told police, "The person we said we're not investigating, well actually, we are investigating. And we need to come talk to you about it, but we couldn't really tell you at the time."

He also testified that his detectives interviewed two men who were seen celebrating the results of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and then were released by FBI agents. In June, federal officials asked his detectives to "very quickly" apprehend one of the men, Norris said.

"The point of that story is the fact that we had no idea that there was an impending investigation on these folks, who live in our city," Norris said.

Norris said that federal authorities need to take better advantage of local police in the fight against terrorism because local officers and detectives far outnumber federal agents and gather reams of intelligence every day patrolling the nation's streets.

Sept. 10 arrests

Norris highlighted the case of several men of Middle Eastern descent who were arrested in a Northwest Baltimore apartment Sept. 10 by police who were serving an unrelated warrant. Six of the men in the apartment were in the country illegally.

Police discovered a sparsely furnished apartment that contained computers with links to flight schools and regional airports; literature that referred to jihad or holy war; and photos of Union Station in Washington and Times Square in New York.

Immigration officials quickly released two of the men on bond, and then rearrested them. The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is leading the investigation.

"I don't know what these men have or have not done, other than what I've told you," Norris testified. "But several [of the men] were released by the federal government that day. And until then ... we were told that there's nothing more than expired visa violations on these folks, and there's nothing to indicate an existence of a terrorist cell. Well, that may be true on its face. I mean, if they're waiting for a notarized plan with a list of terrorists, it's going to be a long wait," he said.

One of the men who has been detained -- Choudry Jamil Khan of Pakistan -- was cleared of posing a threat to national security, Immigration and Naturalization Service District Director Louis D. Crocetti Jr., announced yesterday.

Khan was in INS custody on the Eastern Shore yesterday, but could be freed on a $5000 bond as early as today, officials said.

Crocetti said Khan had overstayed his visit to the United States, so immigration charges against him will move forward, which could result in his removal from the United States.

Three of the men remain in federal custody pending immigration hearings.

Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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