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Terrorists In Our Midst

A Washington Post report on Sunday, July 6, 2008, confirmed what most everyone in law enforcement and intelligence circles already knew – terrorists are and have always been here. And they’re returning.

As the government cracks down on what allowed 19 terrorists into the country previously (student visas) and gave them identities (false drivers licenses), another door has opened with fake university diplomas. The New York Times had a recent article that provided details on how this shadowy industry operates, and I was interviewed by Fox News Channel on internet diploma mills and the potential link to terrorism.

Prior to 9/11, six of the nineteen hijackers had contact with law enforcement. Mohammed Atta was interviewed 1/10/2001 by then INS inspectors who didn’t realize he had overstayed his previous visa by 32 days on a prior trip. John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad had 13 contacts in 30 days during the sniper investigation, including leaving fingerprints at the scene of a homicide in Montgomery, AL the month before.

And now from the WaPo article: “And the man stopped at a checkpoint in Tikrit who claimed to be a dirt farmer but had 11 felony charges in the United States, including assault with a deadly weapon.” As the initiative grew, and the number of fingerprints collected increased, an amazing 1 out of every 100 detainees was already known to US law enforcement. What made this possible was the recognition and realization that bad guys on the battlefield could become the bad guys on the home front.

While it sounds like this program from the FBI is ‘new’ news, and it is definitely a worthy program already producing amazing results, let’s not forget what happens to many good program when the anti-anything-the-government-does types get involved.

One major casualty was TIA – Total Information Awareness – run by Dr. John Poindexter from DARPA, also know as Admiral Poindexter, former National Security Advisor to President Reagan. There were challenges with privacy policy that eventually led to the demise of TIA. The real loss was the throwing out of the baby with the bath water. This just didn’t affect the intelligence community – it was a major setback for law enforcement.

During this same time, I was working on the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program – LEISP. Working with all the major DOJ components, along with State and Local stakeholders, we were developing the strategy for DOJ to share information between all federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Because of the high profile nature of TIA, privacy policy became the foremost obstacle to overcome. As a result, none of the programs and technologies were brought over. What a loss for law enforcement.

And before TIA was Able Danger. Many people think Able Danger was a program, or in intel circles, a special-access program. The official DoD response is “Able Danger program was a 15-month planning activity started in October 1999 to develop an information operations plan against transnational terrorism.” What was an effort in open-source collection ended abruptly. What was lost were advanced capabilities in collecting, fusing, analyzing and producing actionable intelligence.

Now with the signing into law of FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – the handwringing continues. There is no doubt that civil liberties need to be protected. But the American people need to be protected as well. The continual publicizing of our intelligence gaps, weaknesses and classified programs only serves to embolden our enemies, both here and abroad.

And while our military goes after our enemies abroad, let’s not handcuff law enforcement here. The tools, technologies and capabilities that can make a difference need to be adopted for domestic use. The FBI Next Generation Identification system is needed here and abroad. Because I want to know the next time a ‘dirt farmer’ stopped in Tikrit, who has been arrested in my backyard, won’t be returning anytime soon.

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Profile Photo Barry Everett

While I know that nothing can replace the necessity for mind numbing background police work, expensive information systems, and ongoing training, I am reminded of another resource that we also have. Watching the events of the last few days, I was struck by the attention that the crowds at the train stations, on the streets, and in the mall, were giving all the activity. They were looking to the focus point of course, but they were also watching everything around them. This ’12th man’ concept for ordinary observers engaging those around them and not being ‘cowboys’ but simply paying attention, is a valuable anti-terrorist tool. It is not something that can be necessarily focused upon. But those of us old timers who cringe every time a leader steps out of a car or walks across an open area, in remembering images that shattered our childhood, are always looking to watch for the ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ part of every public venue.

Profile Photo Morgan Wright

Excellent points Barry. I used to teach behavioral analysis and interview/interrogation. Looking at behaviors, the ability to use analytics to identify patters of suspicious behavior and flag them for a review in an urban/crowded environment would be significant. The better we deliberately apply technology, the more speed and precision we can build into the decision making loop.