Joint Terrorism Task Force
In the United States, the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) are locally-based multi-agency law enforcement operations between various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies tasked with "disrupting" terrorism suspects and suspected terrorism-related threats. Traditional investigations leading to criminal charges are generally not performed. According to an FBI statement, "A disruption is the result of direct actions and may include but is not limited to the arrest; seizure of assets; or impairing the operational capabilities of key threat actors.” The JTTF is led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice, while undercover agents and private citizens may work jointly with local and state law enforcement agencies Although JTTF operations were established and occuring before the September 11, 2001 attacks, their numbers dramatically increased after the attacks. The JTTF operations are not subject to oversight or accountability.
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 many 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 a few high profile investigations, including 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, and an alleged 2019 plot by Mark Steven Domingo in Southern California.
Before U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik 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. After four years in 2019, Portland once 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.
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 "disruption" actions 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.
As white supremacist violence and terrorism was escalating after 2008, the FBI reported a decline in white supremacist terrorism. After 9/11, the FBI officially deemphasized white supremacist terrorism investigations and "disruptions" by JTTF, even though Countering Violent Extremism Task Force research evidences more people are killed annually by white supremacist terror groups than by any other U.S. terrorist groups.
A report issued by the Justice Department Inspector General in 2010, reviewing FBI investigations of certain domestic advocacy groups from 2001 to 2006, criticized the FBI for opened investigations into some U.S. activist groups, including PETA, the Thomas Merton Center, and the Catholic Worker, and for providing the inspector general's office "with speculative, after-the-fact rationalizations for their prior decisions to open investigations that we 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."
David Gomez, former FBI agent and profiler, and a former Los Angeles Police Department officer criticized the JTTF's absence of investigations, "I’m sensing a significant change in counterterrorism policy in the U.S., where we’ve gone from 'watch and report,' to 'let’s just disrupt them any way we can' ", and "This has cut short the way the FBI does long-term investigations. … They’re not doing that anymore."
Former FBI agent and fellow of Brennan Center for Justice, Michael German, said "disruptions" are troubling, and asked, "Has the FBI secretly prevented people from getting jobs, hazmat licenses, gun permits, security clearances, or barred their travel where no charges were brought, providing no opportunity for them to challenge the accusations against them or prove their innocence? And then chalked that up as a successful 'disruption' so they would get a pat on the back and more resources from Congress, regardless of whether the person was actually guilty?"
- Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (Canada)
- National Counter Terrorism Policing Network (United Kingdom)
- Jenna McLaughlin, The Intercept, "The FBI Won't Explain its Bizarre New Way of Measuring its Success Fighting Terror",19 February 2016, https://theintercept.com/2016/02/18/fbi-wont-explain-its-bizarre-new-way-of-measuring-its-success-fighting-terror/
- 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.
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- 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).
- 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/
- "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.
- Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, "How the FBI Increased it's Power After 9/11, and Helped Put Trump in Office", 14 September 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/09/14/fbi-mike-german-book/
- 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.