Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 9, 2009

How to Improve Homeland Security: Create a Virtual Joint Terrorism Task Force

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on July 9, 2009

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.

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 9, 2009 @ 4:47 am

Interested in historical accuracy of the 1980 start date and reasons therefore for JTTF concept. This is important to pin down for several reasons before going virtually. But I like the concept as laid out in the post. My concept is that collection, analysis and dessimination of INTEL whether foreign or domestic has different legal requirements but the same purposes-Protection of citizenry of US and their property. What can be distorting of INTEL is the culture that somehow regards certain segments of society as targets when in fact I argue that terrorism comes in many guises. So we need to defend against and US versus Them philosophy meaning much more training and sophistication than what may be available to members of the JTTFs now. Also would be of interest to know as to their legal chartering docs. I would argue a building block sysem where probably need some JTTF activity in the 300-500 largest communities and virtual seems a sensible approach. Just to throw out a question(s)? Are GoogleEarth and the Decennial Census INTEL gathering systems?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 9, 2009 @ 10:44 am

Interesting idea, but one that I fear would run aground on the classification issue.

Access to the “secret squirrel” information seems to be the coin of the realm, and unless there is truly a deep systemic shift what is pushed down to the lowest levels would likely be equivalent to the FOUO bulletins pushed out by DHS today–often simple analysis of recent, public terrorism-related events.

Comment by JTTF ICE Supervisor

July 9, 2009 @ 10:51 am

The JTTF under the direction of the FBI as the lead terrorist enforcement agency is a joke. There are a half dozen domestic terrosist groups within the US that are a limited threat to national security. However the primary threat is from outside of the US from the 21 designated foreign threat countries. The primary agency with enforcing these national security threat laws is the Department of Homeland Security under the newly created agency “ICE” created from the legacy Immigration and Customs Investigative agencies. This enforcement entity utilizes US Title 8 the immigration laws to enforce and removal foreign individuals who pose threats before they have a chance to act on them. The FBI has title 8 authority to enforce these laws as well but have been told by the Attorney General not to enforce these laws as they have no training in this area of federal laws. This said the ICE agents assigned to the JTTF’s must work on ever case with a nexus of a foreign country and/or border. This puts an extreme amount of extra work on a lone assigned ICE agent who supports both federal,state and local law enforcement officers on the FBI DOJ JTTF. To be fair the JTTF should be co operated by the FBI under DOJ and ICE under DHS with equal assigned agents,responsibilities and supervisory roles as well as equal leadership to coordiante and benefit the goals and awards. There should be one Border Enforcement Agency created which is made up of the FBI, DEA, ATF, USCG, ICE, CBP & TSA. These are all agencies that share enforcement and security for the safety of the US borders but work primarly under seperate agencies. Until there is one department protecting the USA at the borders air,land and sea there will be internal problems and conflicts as to who is the top LE agency. We need to stop the BS and fix the real problems America faces aslo we will be saving money with the combined actions of these seperate agencies such as labs, intelligence units and enforcement branches. Wake up America before it is to late again with the who are suppose to protect us playing games and not sharing the information developed timely creating another World Trade Center diaster. It’s funny that the FBI and CIA had bits and pieces of the information and intelligence that could prevented this from happening and they were not disbanned with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security to protect America and still the FBI under DOJ is the lead Terrorist fighting agency.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 9, 2009 @ 11:16 am

Actually both the FBI and CIA were disbanded to a degree post 9/11. FBI was told to reorient to analysis of terrorism threat primarily domestically but coordinated through overseas FBI offices authorized by Congress and State Dept. Of course many countries refuse to actually cooperate with the FBI as for example, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Perhaps failure to speak Arabic is a continuing problem since waste of money to post someone to Arab world who does not have fluency in Arabic language and culture. The FBI consists of over 36,000 civil servants in various categories with approximately 12,000 gold badge agents authorized. These gun and badge types can retire after 20 years and many are just serving time until they can set up a security firm for post-employment. Which is odd since in reality the FBI does NOT do security. They do everything from technical lab work to investigations of alleged violations of Title 18 of the US Code, the so-called Criminal Code and liaison with STATE and LOCAL law enforcement and the US Attorney’s offices.
Okay the CIA now limited by statute to so-called HUMINT and not given full access to the 80% of INTEL derived from DOD agencies and assets, including NRO and NSA except by gaming the system. NO NEED TO KNOW for the CIA. Well since we know that most of the WASPISH CIA types from past generation are not yet gone and CIA hiring of language and cultural specialists and those who look like the groups intended to penetrate this is really just a sincure to allow graceful winding down and departure of a civil agency like the CIA from the scene. Leon Panetta is so skilled in may preserve CIA for another generation but in reality the big misses that CIA keeps adding to its history are remarkably consistent in one respect–The CIA misses most of the big ones!
The problem I see is that bureacracies do those things they can do and are easy. They really jump on employees who suggest alternative priorities or approaches. As a young lawyer at IRS was fascinated when a section of the Internal Revenue Code was repealed and a number of lawyers specializing in that subject retired if they could. Absolutely felt at sea and unable to learn about a new or different section of code. I assume the Russian speakers in CIA are really hoping that PUTIN will stay around a long time and resurrect the Russian threat to world peace and prospertiy. Since he is reputedly the richest man in the world he is bound to hang on long enought to secure his assets and no longer.
The FBI hates analysis and loves investigation so don’t know how that gets changed. And by the way the days when the Bureau made gold badge agents only of lawyers and CPA’s is long gone although with current economic downturn understand law school grads are not finding law jobs very plentiful. But the law schools are so cheap to operate and so profitable they keep grinding out the grads.
Perhaps DHS can weed out its non-terrorism related programs and concentrate on border and other related problems. But doubt it. The powers that be over two administrations have fought to keep FEMA in even though it is less than 2% of FTE just because they feared a FEMA unwind might just lead to a DHS unwind. This will happen but only after the next catastrophe.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

July 12, 2009 @ 9:24 am

More communication with the right people is usually a good thing. But I am not seeing any evidence that it is the lack of TECHNOLOGY or TRAVEL FUNDS that is getting in the way of a cooperative effort here. Should we make a list of all the times people threw technology at a bureaucracy problem?

Comment by JTTF ICE Supervisor

July 20, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

The problem is not only the technology but the politicts and who is going to run the investigations and who will have access to the information developed. I still believe it should be run as a joint venture between DOJ/FBI,and DHS/ICE as the equally sharing controlling entities.

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