GAO: Collaboration overseas key to fighting terrorism

Wednesday - 7/13/2011, 7:25pm EDT

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

Enhanced screening of travel documents overseas could assist the government in tracking down terrorists, a new Government Accountability Office report has found.

According to the report, restricting the mobility of terrorists is one of the most effective methods of fighting terrorism. Stronger relationships with international partners will allow for easier capture of known terrorists, the report said.

"Implementation of the program at overseas consular offices that requires all visa applicants to be investigated is seriously lagging," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a Wednesday hearing from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. "The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have identified 57 high-risk posts abroad, but of the 20 highest risk posts only nine have criminal investigators to provide an added layer of security to the visa issuing process.

According to the report, restricting the mobility of terrorists is one of the most effective methods of fighting terrorism. Building stronger relationships with our international partners, GAO wrote, will allow for easier capture of known terrorists.

"Implementation of the program at overseas consular offices that requires all visa applicants to be investigated is seriously lagging, said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a Wednesday hearing from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. "The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have identified 57 high-risk posts abroad, but of the 20 highest risk posts only nine have criminal investigators to provide an added layer of security to the visa issuing process."

The State Department currently works with allied nations through its State's Terrorist Interdiction Program which provides international security officials with computer technology to screening information about known and suspected terrorists. In fiscal year 2010, nearly 150 ports of entry overseas used the program. However, the GAO's report found that a duplication of efforts from several agencies has overcrowded the training of foreign government officials.

In Pakistan, for instance, GAO found that State and the Department of Homeland Security were both scheduled to hold fraudulent travel document training for the same Pakistani agency during the same month without any knowledge of the other department's plans. The report recommends departments coordinate and consolidate their efforts for maximum effect.

GAO also wrote in its report that State needs to develop a metric that will track how effectively agencies are training foreign passport offices in detecting suspicious or forged travel documents. State's Bureau of Consular Affairs already summons delegations from foreign passport offices for briefings in the United States.

Lastly, the report recommends that the U.S. fight corruption overseas, and help promote anti-corruption legislation abroad. Working towards this end will make all foreign agencies, including immigration, more effective, according to GAO.

Domestically, GAO found gaps in information sharing that between agencies. While the report noted that State and the Department of Justice set up some information sharing practices, it noted that they fail to provide critical information on the government's progress with its overseas partners.

State concurred with GAO's recommendations. NSC dhas not commented on the report.

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Jory Heckman is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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