Joint Terrorism Task Force
In the United States, the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) are locally-based multi-agency partnerships between various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating terrorism and terrorism-related crimes, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice. Although JTTFs were established before the September 11, 2001 attacks, their numbers dramatically increased after the attacks.
History and organization
The first JTTF was established in 1980 in New York City, with ten FBI special agents and ten New York City Police Department (NYPD) detectives. In 1999, prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States had 26 JTTFs; shortly after the attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller instructed all FBI field offices to establish formal terrorism task forces. As of the end of December 2011, there were more than 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide, the vast majority established after the 9/11 attack. There were 113 JTTFs as of 2013.
JTTFs are led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice. The various investigators, analysts, and specialists who participate in JTTFs (including linguists and SWAT personnel) are drawn from more than 600 state and local agencies and 50 federal agencies (including both federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies). The FBI's 2011 Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, cited in a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, stated that more than 4,400 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and agents work in JTTFs.
The regional JTTFs coordinate their efforts through the interagency National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF), headquartered in Washington, D.C., and, as of 2003, composed of representatives from 35 federal agencies. The FBI's involvement with the JTTF falls under the Operational Support Branch of the FBI Counterterrorism Division.
A 2013 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law noted that "JTTFs tend to focus on investigative work while fusion centers are geared towards information collection and analysis, but their missions are intimately related and often overlapping"; JTTFs and fusion centers are sometimes "co-located" in the same physical working space.
Joint Terrorism Task Forces have participated in high-profile investigations, including investigations into the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot, the 2009 plot by Najibullah Zazi targeting the New York City subway, the Tarek Mehanna case, the 2012 Jose Pimentel case, the 2015 Usaama Rahim plot, Ahmad Khan Rahami's 2016 New York and New Jersey bombings, an alleged 2019 plot by Mark Steven Domingo in Southern California, and the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Before U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan murdered 14 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood, the JTTF in San Diego had acquired two message from Hasen to radical Islamic ideologue Anwar al-Aulaqi. Concerned by the content of the messages, the San Diego JTTF contacted FBI Headquarters and the JTTF based in the FBI's Washington Field Office. The Washington Field Office did a limited assessment and concluded that Hasan was not "involved in terrorist activities." In the meantime, agents in San Diego acquired 14 additional emails and messages (12 from Hasan to al-Aulaqi and two from al-Aulaqi to Hasen), but San Diego did not forward these communications to the D.C. JTTF, and neither JTTF took any action. Hasan committed the terrorist attack at Fort Hood several months later. A commission led by William H. Webster investigated the FBI's counterterrorism intelligence in the lead-up to the Fort Hood shooting, and released its final report in 2012. The Webster Commission found that the assessment of Hasan conducted by the FBI and JTTFs was "belated, incomplete, and rushed, primarily because of their workload" and an "exponential growth in the amount of electronically stored information." The report did, however, conclude that all the FBI and task force personnel "acted with good intent" and that their mistakes did not result "from intentional misconduct."
Local participation and withdrawals
In 2005, Portland, Oregon became the first city in the nation to withdraw from a JTTF after the City Council voted 4–1 to leave. The city rejoined the task force in 2015, with the City Council voting 3–2 to approve the assignment of two of its city's police officers to join the JTTF staff. In 2019, Portland again voted to leave the JTTF by a 3–2 vote.
After joining in 2002, San Francisco, California withdrew its police officers from the JTTF in 2017. It was later revealed in 2019 from an FBI white paper that San Francisco police officers and the FBI were not truthful about the JTTF's violations of local law and policy, and that the police involved with JTTF thought civil rights and free speech in San Francisco were a problem.
After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI began to establish or intensive working relationships with campus police departments; by January 2003, JTTFs included campus police officers from at least a dozen universities. This prompted some criticism from faculty and student organizations.
Documents obtained by various American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates in 2004, 2005, and 2006 in response to Freedom of Information Act requests showed that JTTF investigations have focused on "peaceful advocacy organizations such as the School of the Americas Watch, Greenpeace, Catholic Workers Group, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center in Colorado, and the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice in Pennsylvania, among others." The ACLU has criticized these investigations, calling them "inappropriate" targeting of "peaceful political activity having nothing to do with terrorism."
After a detective with the Fresno County, California Sheriff's Department who was a member of the JTTF attended public meetings of Peace Fresno in 2003, the Sheriff's Department issued a statement saying that "For the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department may visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public, on the same terms and conditions as members of the public generally."
In June 2008, according to City Pages, the Minneapolis-based JTTF approached a source to infiltrate vegan potlucks and eventually report back to authorities on organized protesting activities in preparation for the 2008 Republican National Convention in nearby Saint Paul.
In 2010, the Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that criticized the FBI for investigating various domestic activist groups from 2001 to 2006, including PETA, the Thomas Merton Center, and the Catholic Worker. The OIG faulted the FBI for providing the OIG "with speculative, after-the-fact rationalizations for their prior decisions to open investigations that [OIG] did not find persuasive."
A 2013 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law argued that, "The most significant oversight problem with assigning police officers to JTTFs is that there is no mechanism geared towards ensuring compliance with state and local laws. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that rules relating to how police officers should act in the event of a conflict between their federal and state/local obligations are sometimes unknown and almost always unclear."
- Terrorist Screening Database
- Terrorist Screening Center
- Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (Canada)
- National Counter Terrorism Policing Network (United Kingdom)
- Jerome P. Bjelopera, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Terrorism Investigations, Congressional Research Service (April 24, 2013).
- "Protecting America Against Terrorist Attack – A Closer Look at the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces". FBI. December 1, 2004. Archived from the original on December 25, 2016.
- Michael Price, National Security and Local Police, Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law (2013).
- "FBI Congressional Testimony". FBI. September 4, 2003. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016.
- "Counterterrorism Division Organizational Chart". Office of the Inspector General. December 2003.
- Official: Radicals wanted to create carnage at Fort Dix, CNN (May 9, 2007).
- William K. Rashbaum, Interagency Rift Cited in New York Terror Case, New York Times (December 13, 2009).
- "Massachusetts Man Convicted on Terrorism-Related Charges". Federal Bureau of Investigation. December 20, 2011.
- Mark Clayton, How FBI traced Tarek Mehanna in his quest to become a jihadi, Christian Science Monitor (October 22, 2009).
- Joseph Goldstein, Documents Show Extent of F.B.I.'s Role in Terror Case, New York Times (November 13, 2012).
- Adam Goldman, Boston terrorism suspect had planned to attack police officers, FBI says, Washington Post (June 3, 2015).
- Adam Goldman, Why Didn't the F.B.I. Stop the New York Bombing?, New York Times (September 21, 2016).
- Jennifer Medina, Terror Attack Thwarted in Los Angeles, Authorities Say, New York Times (April 29, 2019).
- Ohio man charged with making threats, witness tampering regarding his participation in Capitol riots, WKYC (January 15, 2021).
- Lessons from San Diego: Improving Our Ability to Connect the Dots, United States House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management Serial No. 112-118, September 14, 2012.
- The William H. Webster Commission on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Intelligence, and the Events at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009, Homeland Security Digital Library, Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
- Unleaded and Unaccountable: The FBIs Unchecked Abuse of Authority, American Civil Liberties Union (September 2013), pp. 24-25.
- "FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force". ACLU Oregon. April 28, 2005. Archived from the original on October 25, 2010.
- Brad Schmidt (January 9, 2019). "After 10-year hiatus, Portland OKs cops for FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force". The Oregonian/OregonLive.
- Amelia Templeton (February 13, 2015). "Portland Withdraws From Federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, Again". Oregon Public Broadcasting.
- Shepard, Katie (February 13, 2019). "Portland Leaves the Joint Terrorism Task Force Again, Becoming Second U.S. City to Cut Ties". Willamette Week.
- Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, "FBI and San Francisco Police Have Been Lying about Scope of Counterterrorism Investigations, Document Suggests", 01 November 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/11/01/fbi-joint-terrorism-san-francisco-civil-rights/
- Dan Eggen, FBI Taps Campus Police in Anti-Terror Operations, Washington Post (January 25, 2003]
- "New documents confirm that FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources and threatens First Amendment rights by targeting peaceful protest activity as "domestic terrorism"". American Civil Liberties Union. n.d.
- "Press Release" (Press release). ACLU of Colorado. December 8, 2005. Archived from the original on February 6, 2006.
- G.W. Schulz (September 3, 2009). "Are things any different in Denver?". Center for Public Integrity.
- "Peace Group Infiltrated by Government Agent". Democracy Now!. October 9, 2003. Archived from the original on February 14, 2007.
- Matt Snyder (June 3, 2008). "Whack a Mole". City Pages. Archived from the original on June 11, 2008.
- Marian Wang, Watchdog Faults FBI for 'Factually Weak' Basis for Investigating Activists, ProPublica (September 20, 2010).
- A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups, Oversight and Review Division, Office of the Inspector General, September 2010.