Task force coalesces East Tennessee law enforcement community

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The events of Sept. 11 have required law enforcement agencies from the FBI to the local sheriff's department to be prepared against future terrorist threats.
   The East Tennessee Task Force on Terrorism was created in October to streamline communications and provide a cohesion for local, state and federal law enforcement authorities in the region.
   "In the wake of Sept. 11, the way we think about terrorists and terrorism has changed," said Sandy Mattice, U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee. "Congress has given us the tools that we need to address those challenges right now.
   "Since the formation of the task force, we have been involved in a variety of training of terrorism issues in international and domestic cases with particular emphasis on how it affects East Tennessee."
   Accordingly, the Eastern District formed the anti-terrorism task force almost immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, he added.
   Mattice is one member of the Task Force executive committee made up of approximately 15 members culled from East Tennessee's law enforcement community.
   The task force itself is a consortium of all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in East Tennessee. The region's Task Force covers 41 counties including sheriff and police departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, District Attorneys' offices and other law enforcement agencies.
   Sites in East Tennessee of watchful interest to authorities range from the Tennessee Valley Authority's dams and nuclear facilities, to public gathering places such as Bristol Motor Speedway and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, he said.
   "Recently, a great deal of attention has been given to our communications infrastructure among intelligence sharing protocols," said Mattice, who was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in October.
   Each of the 93 U.S. Attorney's offices nationwide have employed counterterrorism units provided under the USA Patriot Act signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26.
   "Based on the appropriations that Congress appropriated in the wake of 9-11, every U.S. Attorney's office in the country has a new attorney, an intelligence analyst and support unit," said Mattice.
   New attorneys and personnel filling the ranks of the U.S. Attorney's office came from a variety of backgrounds but many were being drawn from the federal government's investigative agencies, he said.
   "We have some more experienced prosecutors in this office, with experience in issues related to immigration issues," said Mattice, "but mainly what we looked for are those who are experienced in investigative agencies in the government.
   "As part of the USA Patriot Act there was a whole host of new legislation basically governing intelligence gathering but also defining activities."
   Mattice said the war on terrorism existed as both a military action and a domestic battle akin to fighting an organized crime syndicate.
   "That is the unique nature of this challenge," said Mattice. "The vision between a military war and a law enforcement effort necessarily blur.
   "I believe Congress has given the U.S. Attorney's office the tools it needs to address these challenges."
   The Patriot Act gave sweeping new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies and reduced the checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that these powers were not abused.
   Most of these checks and balances were put into place after previous misuse of surveillance powers by these agencies, including the revelation in 1974 that the FBI and foreign intelligence agencies had spied on over 10,000 U.S. citizens, including Martin Luther King Jr.
   Civil libertarians have assailed the Patriot Act's new authority to law enforcement citing concerns of domestic spying, detaining immigrants and a lack of oversight from the legislative and judicial branches of government.
   "This law is based on the faulty assumption that safety must come at the expense of civil liberties," claimed Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington National Office in a statement released shortly after the law was passed. "The USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement agencies nationwide extraordinary new powers unchecked by meaningful judicial review."
   Mattice said the new government's newfound powers did raise issues about civil liberties and investigative discretion.
   He also felt that despite the Act's accorded powers, the standards system of federal rules pertaining to criminal procedures would not change in how the Department of Justice prosecuted terrorist cases.
   The same civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to protect the rights of all citizens had not been arbitrarily changed or erased from pre-Sept. 11, he stated.
   The framers of the U.S. Constitution made no effort to tell future generations what to do about the crises of humans affairs, he said. However, the Founding Fathers did give the nation a lot to think about in terms of how to protect the democratic process of government.
   "Our Constitution will prove equal to this challenge as it has throughout our 200-year history," he said. "(The Act) raises all sorts of legal issues, but that is the world we live in now."