The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) program started in 1980.
The Department of Justice says the JTTFs “are small cells of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is a multi-agency effort led by the Justice Department and FBI designed to combine the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”
Other people who pay attention to these things say the Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources and threatens First Amendment rights by wrongfully equating nonviolent protest with domestic terrorism.” More specifically, they have been known to try “to redefine legitimate social/political activity as ‘terrorism’. This sort of semantic co-opting of constitutionally protected rights reminds one more of the Communist Chinese Party’s tactics than it does America.”
You probably already know where you stand on this issue: JTTFs are America’s frontline of terrorism prevention, or they are the critical nodes in a miasmically swelling domestic intelligence network.
Whatever your stance, the facts are that JTTFs are in “… 100 cities nationwide, including at least one in each of [the FBI's] 56 field offices. ”
My [very limited] experience with JTTFs is similar to what has been said about intelligence fusion centers, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one.”
My [less limited] experience with state, local and federal people who work in JTTFs is they take seriously their responsibility to balance the legitimate security responsibilities of government with an obligation not to interfere with people who exercise their freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly.
This week’s How to Improve Homeland Security idea – offered by a colleague as a personal and not an institutional perspective – takes the position that JTTFs are a national asset that can be improved.
What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?
Expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) beyond it current physical limits to a “virtual” JTTF
Describe your idea in more depth:
The JTTF is a Task Force made up of state, local, tribal and federal agencies led by the FBI addressing the terrorism threat in the United States. Individual agencies sign a Memorandum of Agreement and are obligated to follow the FBI policies and rules. Agencies can contribute full-time, part-time or liaison members to the JTTF. The JTTF Task Force Officers (TFO) must have a Top Secret clearance to get access to the FBI computer systems and unescorted access to FBI space. The current JTTF works out of multiple brick and mortar physical locations.
The “virtual” JTTF would create an environment through computer systems to allow agencies to participate as active members of the JTTF without physically reporting to FBI space. These “virtual” TFOs must agree to follow the rules of the JTTF and would jointly work investigations of concern to their agency under the supervision of a JTTF supervisor. They would be granted full access to information, only limited by their level of security clearance and available methods of secure communication. The FBI would need to maximize the amount of data stored at systems in the lowest possible classification level to allow maximum sharing and collaboration. The FBI could use systems like eGuardian and Law Enforcement Online (LEO) to ensure that “virtual” TFOs could participate with the JTTF from every corner of the U.S. The use of modern social networking communication technologies with necessary security could also assist in facilitating expanded collaboration, despite the lack of physical collocation of the JTTF entities and personnel.
What problem or issue does your idea address?
The “virtual” JTTF would allow agencies without sufficient resources to dedicate personnel to the actual JTTF on a full-time or part-time basis to still participate in the “virtual” JTTF to address threats of concern to them. This would also save the time and money associated with getting a Top Secret clearance for all personnel. The “virtual” JTTF has the additional benefit of expanded information sharing, since the joint investigations on a task force allow the FBI to share all the relevant personally identifiable information (PII) with the “virtual” TFO without violating the Privacy Act. The current Attorney General Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations (AGG-DOM) and FBI Policy should allow for the utilization of the maximum allowable techniques to resolve threats. The primary limitation would be on retaining the PII in non-FBI systems, but this could be addressed through joint investigations with a particular agency and the “virtual” JTTF.
If your idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?
All federal, state, local and tribal agencies interested in investigating terrorism threats would be able to actively participate in these investigations without the traditional resource burdens. The FBI would be a significant beneficiary, since this should lead to enhanced collaboration with a greater number of homeland security related investigative agencies. The sharing of “raw information” should also assist in a greater understanding of the resource, limitations, information and capacity of the FBI and the JTTF.
What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?
The FBI would need to modify the current Memorandum of Agreement for the JTTF to permit a “virtual” JTTF and to make participation in the JTTF scalable based on the level of clearance and resources of the member agency. The FBI would also need to create or modify current systems to allow for their effective utilization by the “virtual” JTTF. The easiest systems to initially utilize or modify would be eGuardian and Law Enforcement Online ( LEO); however, it would likely ultimately require a new Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) system connected to the FBI classified network (like eGuardian’s current interconnectivity to FBINET) .
Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?
The optimal outcome would be an expanded JTTF using the concept and technologies of a “virtual” environment. This would greatly expand active participation and maximize coordination of terrorism investigations conducted by the JTTF and any member agencies. This could also be used as a way to expand joint investigations between the JTTF and other homeland security agencies that do not wish to be limited by FBI rules and/or prefer to maintain copies of all the permissible information from the investigation in their own computer systems without obtaining the information through information sharing requests and procedures.