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For years, American law enforcement and security experts have been looking to Israel for the latest in homeland security practices. Now Congress is hoping to work with Israel and other at-risk countries to develop science and technology applications to fight terrorism.
Israel advocates are behind new legislation that would create an office within the Department of Homeland Security for counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and its allies. Israel is one of a handful of countries named in the legislation that US officials believe could provide technological assistance.
The effort comes as numerous states and municipalities, as well as law enforcement agencies, are sending representatives to Israel to pick the brains of counterterrorism leaders.
While there is much to be learned from watching Israel fight terrorism, even more can be garnered by partnering with them in developing new tools, lawmakers said.
"We have gone and looked at what was there, not with a notion of partnering with cooperation, but taking back what we saw and trying to duplicate it," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a co-sponsor of the legislation and the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee. "With this legislation, we are fostering that cooperation so that we can jointly produce the best technology available."
The bill creates a new office and grant program in the Homeland Security Department that would foster cooperation between research and development communities in the US and countries like Israel. Also mentioned are the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
The bill was introduced by Thompson and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, as well as the chairman and ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on emergency preparedness, science and technology, Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ). It was unanimously approved by the subcommittee last month.
The legislation has been supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which in recent years has worked to promote US-Israeli partnerships in homeland security to highlight the value of the bilateral relationship.
"We believe its passage will contribute to a safer United States, a safer Israel and better safety for all other American allies in the war against terrorism who participate in international cooperative programs through the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate," AIPAC's executive director, Howard Kohr, and deputy director for policy and government affairs, David Cohen, wrote to King last month.
The bill also is being backed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Sheriffs' Association.
Visits to Israel have been frequent since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, but there has been little partnership between the two countries, even as many states and municipalities have set up similar programs, analysts said.
"With DHS, it's a little more complicated because it's a new organization," said Gen. Simon Perry, the Israeli police attache to North America. "We are trying to establish cooperation, and there is a beginning." While high-level officials toured Israel, Homeland Security staffers responsible for many programs did not.
The department already has an international affairs office, but people with knowledge of the department said it had little input on policy matters or operational decisions. One analyst described the office as a "mini-State Department within Homeland Security." By contrast, designers of the new office hope people will bring suggestions about international cooperation for a wide range of policy matters and technology development.
Barry Bogage, director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, said US officials mainly have been taking from Israel a new way of thinking about handling crises.
"The word I keep hearing about is a different doctrine," he said. "The US has experience with crime and with car accidents, but not with bombs going off in the streets and mass-casualty incidents."
For example, Israelis have taught US officials to treat the injured from terrorist attacks on the scene, rather than bringing them immediately to a hospital. Now, advocates said, the two countries can work together on technology and products that can be used in those scenarios.
"The United States is very strong in research and development, as well as Israel," Perry said. "We need the same tools, so it doesn't make sense that each country should develop its own tools."
Thompson said the US would be able to provide seed money for many projects. The bill states that not less than 2.5 percent of the research, development, testing and evaluation budget for the Directorate of Science and Technology at Homeland Security each year should go to international programs.
"There is a need for us to look beyond our borders for many of those new technologies," he said. "My goal with this act is to look at Israel and other countries that have demonstrated proficiency in many of these technologies."