Better Cooperation Needed to Combat Domestic Terrorism
Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Cooperation between US law enforcement agencies (LEAs) of all jurisdictions after the Boston Marathon Bombing was excellent. There was an “unprecedented level of coordination,” cites Police Commissioner Edward Davis.
This smooth coordination follows years after September 11 and federal, state and local counterterrorism funding, training and preparation. However, a big problem still lies with the lack of an equal partnership and sharing of counterterrorism information with state and local governments nationwide. The treatment of domestic counterterrorism information as intelligence can also be a faulty start-line. Stove-piping results and inefficiencies follow. Smug attitudes of federal LEAs are also apt to fall upon their state and local counterparts or even among other federal departments as turf wars.
While classification of much of domestic counterterrorism is needed, especially as it often comes from foreign sources, much of it is channeled and volunteered through state security institutions and foreign LEAs. It is then often presented to a narrow portion of state and local authorities who have been cleared and work in joint counterterrorism taskforces. Such information might be labeled confidential and sensitive but is often secret and top secret in classification unnecessarily. Lastly, critical information is not always forthright let alone protected.
This was the case with the FBI and the Boston PD “before” the Boston Marathon Bombing. The FBI did not inform Boston PD of Russia’s warning that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a terrorist. Reportedly, a US Customs and Border Protection Officer assigned to the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force had received an alert that Tamerlan returned from a seven month trip from Russia but that this was not shared either.
Boston PD did not have access or were not presented with the above information. The lack of sharing this particular warning and interrogation of Tsarnaev by FBI officials endangered the local populace under the jurisdiction of the Boston PD who might have better tracked Tsarnaev with a special unit as a person of interest. It would have at least been their decision, once shared, if they wanted to pursue him. The point is that they technically have the need and the right to know if terrorists are living or traveling through their jurisdictions.
The partnership works both ways. Local LEAs can act as a grass-roots information gathering service that could share vital counterterrorism intelligence to the federal LEAs and intelligence agencies. They have less funding, resources and technology but are integrated with the population and infrastructure. They, likewise, must share more counterterrorism information with their federal counterparts at the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF).
FBI Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC), at the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., runs the NJTTFs coordination terrorist intelligence, fusion and sharing. One critical mission is to identify terrorist sleeper cells. General mission is to “disrupt, dismantle, and eliminate” terrorist threats to America.
National Joint Terrorism Task Forces (NJTTFs) are a coordinating mechanism between various departments, agencies and law enforcement jurisdiction responsible for information sharing. There are currently 104.
Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are small counterterrorist cells of highly trained investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT and other specialists. Boston only had four officers in their JTTF! It is here that the critical failures took place.
The idea of joint federal-local counterterrorism task forces might be expanded and local access to information might be upgraded. Counterterrorism information should be shared not only with the police but also more openly with the public as well, through the local LEAs.
“The NJTTF and the JTTFs work tirelessly to protect Americans from terrorism, but they can’t do it alone,” says Agent Massa, “Every law enforcement officer, first responder, military member, intelligence analyst, and private citizen has a role to play in the global war on terror.”
As of July 10, the FBI was however even failing to cooperate with a Congressional Investigation, according to the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
“The FBI has refused to appear and continues to refuse this committee’s appropriate requests for information and documents crucial to our investigation into what happened in Boston,” said Chairman McCaul. “The problem at the heart of preventing the Boston bombings — the failure to share information — is being witnessed now in this very room. The information requested by this committee belongs to the American people. It does not belong solely to the FBI.”