State lawmakers were stunned this week when the head of the Iowa State Patrol told them troopers have stopped potential terrorists driving through Iowa. Colonel Robert Garrison, the head of the Iowa State Highway Patrol, testified before the House Transportation Committee. “One of the programs we’ve been on is called ‘Desert Snow’ where we interdict the drugs. We’ve also interdicted some potential terrorists and arrested those,” Garrison said. Garrison’s comments drew surprised looks from several lawmakers, and Garrison was asked to elaborate.The first case Garrison described involved a California man pulled over on Interstate-80 near Council Bluffs last July. “We’ve got him recorded on video tape talking about killing the officer,” Garrison said. The man claimed to know of a terrorist plot in San Diego, but investigators found nothing to back up his claims. The man was charged with several weapons violations. The second case inovlved a June traffic stop in Warren County. The driver had a map with locations in Iowa highlighted. The trooper initially suspected foul play but eventually determined the man was not a threat. Representative Kevin McCarthy, a democrat from Des Moines, says the fact that neither proved to be terrorists is a key detail Garrison left out of his remarks to lawmakers. McCarthy believes Garrison was trying to bolster the case that the patrol needs more money. McCarthy says he’s not critical of the patrol for lobbying for more money. “I wish we had more resources for every agency,” McCarthy says. While the Patrol has a role to play in public safety, McCarthy says the bulk of law enforcement protection comes at the local level. “For example, let’s say hypothetically a plane flew into the Principal building at 801 Grand in downtown Des Moines. It would not be the state patrol and it would not be the Department of Emergency Management that would be rushing into that building,” McCarthy says. “It would be Des Moines police officers and Des Moines fire fighters with assistance from Polk County Sheriff’s officers. Those would be the people (who) would run into the building.” McCarthy says lawmakers should remember that when doling out federal homeland security dollars. But Representative Lance Horbach, a republican from Tama who’s the chair of the House budget committee that oversees the patrol, says Iowa troopers are the state’s first line of defense. Horbach says due to the expertise of the highway patrol, they’re able to catch some major criminals during traffic stops.
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