D.C. should heed Nevada's effort to fight terror

by J.L. Smith

Federal officials raised the terror alert to orange Sunday, focusing concerns on New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J.

Of course the warning went out nationwide and found its way to the top of every news broadcast and front page from the Statue of Liberty to the Strip.

It's alarming stuff. New information links al-Qaida to a years-old plot to blow up key buildings in those heavily populated and politically and economically sensitive areas by using car or truck bombs.

And it's the worst-kept secret in the intelligence community that terrorists have been overheard discussing the interruption of a political convention or even the November election.

I can read the color chart. I know the orange alert is a serious matter.

Just don't ask me what this means for Las Vegas, other than an increase in the levels of worry and official babble about staying aware and being careful out there.

The new warning comes in the wake of the release of the 567-page report of the 9/11 Commission, which spent months collecting and analyzing evidence about the events that led up to the worst terror attack on American soil in the nation's history. Among the report's many devastating findings is the revelation that a lack of communication between federal intelligence agencies helped open the door for the Sept. 11 attack.

The FBI, CIA, and other agencies have vowed to work together more closely, but what about law enforcement operations inside Nevada?

Truth told, the intelligence monoliths in Washington could learn a lot from the cooperative effort going on right here.

First, there's the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which combines the intelligence-gathering expertise of the FBI, Metro and the Department of Public Safety with other law enforcement. And there's the Nevada Regional Intelligence Center (NRIC), a clearinghouse of resources and information available to a broad variety of agencies. NRIC's mission transcends terrorism issues and includes information-sharing on street gangs and violent criminals.

The FBI and Metro also meet regularly with resort security officials in an important public-private relationship. Given the fact most experts agree a Las Vegas terror attack would be focused on the resort corridor, making this relationship work is imperative to a comprehensive approach to the issue.

The nonstarter in Nevada's anti-terrorism fight is the politicized state Homeland Security Commission. The terrorism-related commission appears ripe for reorganization or elimination. It was created to set priorities and fairly distribute the millions of federal dollars Nevada was to receive for terrorism preparedness.

To say it's faltered is an understatement. Whenever radio company lobbyists walk around arm-in-arm with anti-terrorism officials, it's time to break out the deodorizer. And as late as last week, law enforcement officials complained of not receiving intelligence updates in a timely manner.

Public Safety Director George Togliatti has brought stability to his agency, but he's also been asked to temporarily oversee the state's homeland defense operation, such as it is.

Given the available resources, it's an impossible task.

Clark County Sheriff Bill Young said he's bothered by the state's lack of coordination.

"I have some serious concerns and am going to meet with the governor in the near future," Young said.

Overall, however, Nevada officials have risen to the task.

"I think the state is doing a good job," FBI Special Agent in Charge Ellen Knowlton said.

"People are working together well. We're in better shape than many other states.

"There's still work that needs to be done. Information-sharing and the interoperability of the radio systems statewide are issues that are at the forefront, in my opinion."

This latest orange alert may be focused far away, but it's real - and it's not going away soon. This time, we'd better be ready.

Contact John L. Smith at Smith@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0295.


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