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Counterterrorism briefing is closed

A Senate committee, meeting in secret, will hear from FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 6, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- A Senate committee will have a rare closed-door session today in a secure room far from the state Capitol to discuss counterterrorism.

Gov. Jeb Bush said he doesn't think closing out the public is necessary, but Senate President Jim King said it was done at the request of Tim Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Moore will brief the committee on a counterterrorism system and wants to keep the discussion confidential. King is invoking for the first time a controversial rule adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that allows senators to keep out the public when discussing security.

The Committee on Home Defense, Public Security and Ports will meet several miles from the Capitol in a secure room at FDLE headquarters.

Future meetings and discussions will be in the open, said King, R-Jacksonville. "This is going to be an exception much more than any rule," King said.

With King unwilling to describe exactly what Moore's counterterrorism system was, his brief news conference with reporters Wednesday was punctuated with numerous cryptic references.

"I have seen "it' and I concur "it' needs to be protected," King said.

Bush said he thought Moore's program was a computer database called Threat Net, capable of tracking information. It is unknown whether that database would be restricted to tracking known terrorist suspects or if Moore is collecting information such as credit card purchases and e-mails from Floridians to identify additional terrorist suspects.

Moore got $1.5-million for counterterrorism activities last year and wants another $1.6-million this year.

"Obviously we can't show our playbook to the public," said FDLE spokeswoman Jennie Khoen. The database will track potential terrorists, Khoen said.

"When we have reasonable suspicion that individuals are going to commit a crime or have committed a crime, they go into the system," Khoen said. "And if it doesn't pan out, they are purged from the system."

King said it was his idea to have committee members learn more about the system before voting on funding. King said he wanted to have at least one reporter sit in on the meeting, but Moore opposed that.

Barbara Petersen, an open government advocate and director of the First Amendment Foundation, doubts the Senate rule allowing closed sessions is constitutional or in the public interest.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said he had no plans for closed sessions and House rules do not allow it.

-- Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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