"No single government agency, or government, can win the war on terrorism," Ashcroft said. FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Department Undersecretary Frank Libutti attended the announcement.
Details of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan were developed at a 2002 law-enforcement summit convened by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to examine the requirements necessary for a national network that would gather, analyze and share information and intelligence on criminal and terrorist activities.
On Friday, Ashcroft said the greatest structural failure in thwarting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks involved the "impediments to communication and information sharing among the men and women charged with keeping America safe."
"Government erected a wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents," he said. "Government buttressed this wall, and before, government was blinded by this wall."
Ashcroft added that coupled with new powers granted law enforcement under the 2001 anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act, the intelligence initiative will have a great impact. He said the PATRIOT Act has of led to the arrests terrorist suspects nationwide and to the freezing of funds designated for terrorist activities.
"Congress must keep these tools in place for law enforcement," Ashcroft said.
Technology has made tracking criminals and terrorists increasingly difficult, Mueller said, but the intelligence-sharing plan will help keep law enforcement ahead of the tech curve.
"As we look at the challenges of the future, we are struck by a complicated criminal landscape," Mueller said. "Cellular phones and jet travel are technological improvements that make it increasingly difficult to address these threats. We need to develop the capability to gather, analyze and distribute information throughout the enterprise."
The plan establishes a Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council to set national policies for information sharing and to monitor progress on the state and local levels.
It builds on ongoing Justice Department initiatives such as the Law Enforcement Information Strategy Initiative, the FBI's department-wide intelligence-sharing initiative, and the Drug Enforcement Administration's National Virtual Pointer System, which provides common information access for agencies that are investigating the same suspects.
Justice has created a common XML-based tech standard for sharing information, and all new systems will be based on that Justice XML Data Dictionary, the department announced. The department also is pursuing research into new XML standards, analytical tools and security technology to foster future information sharing.
Meanwhile, Ashcroft announced at an afternoon event that a probe into pornography distribution over Internet file-sharing networks produced 1,000 investigations and more than 65 arrests.
"Individuals are trolling the back alleys and dark corners of the Internet," he said, adding that a joint effort by the Justice Department, the FBI, U.S. Immigrations and Customs, and local task forces have identified 3,371 computers distributing child pornography through peer-to-peer networks over the Internet.