Sharing information with constituents about the risks of terrorism and what prudent precautions ordinary citizens can take to feel secure are the chief roles of local government leaders, according to FBI Special Agent Stanley Borgia.
Borgia, an 18-year veteran of the FBI and the assistant special agent in charge of the bureau's Buffalo office, spoke Thursday evening to a packed room of about 130 mayors, supervisors, police, fire and other municipal officials gathered in Hamburg for a meeting of the Association of Erie County Governments.
"Our local officials can be visible and available to their constituents, and the sense of alarm can be diminished. Information is a very valuable thing," Borgia said.
Borgia said the FBI is opening lines of communication with other federal, state and local agencies as never before, sharing information with a common purpose -- to root out terrorism and protect American citizens.
"The FBI has now created a seamless (arrangement) with other federal agencies to share information," Borgia said. "We have opened our information to local and state agencies where we can.
"If we recognize a threat to a community, it is our responsibility to contact the representatives of that community in leadership positions and protect the citizens. I don't care how small that community is; we will take every effort we can."
Grand Island Supervisor Peter A. McMahon, who doubled Thursday as president of the association, said the event was designed to enlighten local government officials and provide a forum for them to ask questions and advice from the FBI.
"The smaller suburban communities were wondering what the risks were, what was being done and what steps they should take," McMahon said. "There is always more fear with what we don't understand than what we do understand."
Tapping Borgia's experience seemed a natural way to get the facts to local leaders, McMahon said.
Borgia has served in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism capacities in Washington, D.C., and New York City during his tenure with the FBI. He explained that the challenge of this war on terrorism is balancing the threats of additional attacks with the easing of unnecessary public anxiety.
"We no longer are protected by the oceans. We understand we can be one more morning away from another disaster," Borgia said. "These are tough times for the FBI and the nation, but they're also times to show what we're made of.
"America is counting on us all, not just the FBI and the federal government, but local governments -- your communities. It's all of our responsibilities to keep this in check. We don't want to sacrifice our freedoms and civil rights at a time when we're most fearful."
Borgia urged local leaders and the public to use "a little bit of common sense" in their daily activities, such as opening mail:
"If it doesn't look right, you're going to have to make a judgment . . . but I don't think we have to set off the alarm bells in our communities. Tell people to be responsible, but remind them (that tainted) letters have not been sent to individuals in their homes."