If Baltimore police officer John Brandt stopped a speeding offender and the person or persons were wanted by the FBI, Brandt would not know because the FBI does not share this information with local police.
In fact, there's nothing from the FBI's terrorism files in local police computers. Not one name. The same is true for the State Department, U.S. Customs, DEA and INS terrorist watch lists, which are also off limits to local cops. And not only that, complains Baltimore Police Commissioner Ed Norris, but the FBI won't even tell him when it's conducting a terrorist investigation in his own city.
"I don't think we should be requesting a seat at the table and begging the federal government to talk to us," says Norris. "We should demand and insist they tell us today and tomorrow what's going on in all our cities.
"This is outrageous. They've got it backwards in this country. We are the police."
All that should sound familiar to the FBI, because local cops have complained for years that information is a one-way street with the feds. They take, but they never give. The atmosphere has improved some since Sept. 11. But a lot of chiefs still want to see those terrorist suspect lists.
The government response is that many of the people on the lists have never been convicted of a crime ... and to share their names with local cops would cause a legal mess. Louis Quijas, who is the FBI's liaison to local police, also argues that some information is just too sensitive.
"The things that we can't give out of this building are methods and sources," Quijas says.
When told that local police just want the names, Quijas says, "Well, sometimes we can't give those names because those are names that are given to us in confidential circumstances."
And to get any classified information, you need a security clearance from the FBI. But more than a year after Sept. 11, the bureau has cleared only three Baltimore officers, including the commissioner. It's a Catch-22 that Norris and other chiefs argue leaves cops on the beat deaf, dumb and blind.
"We're told by the federal government there's a 100 percent chance we're going to be attacked," says Norris. "That leaves little room for doubt.
"When you look at what happened on Sept. 11, who did you see? You saw the New York Police, the New York City Fire, all local people. That's who you're going see in any other city where it may occur. We're the people who need to know and it's not happening, and it should stop tomorrow."
The FBI agrees, and says it is speeding up its top-secret clearances for police chiefs. Instead of a nine-month background check, it now takes only eight.