Terror war brings FBI into new age of operation

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Almost one year removed from the terrorist attacks that felled the World Trade Center towers and blew a hole in the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has new investigative powers, new agents and new priorities.
   The world's most recognized crime-fighting organization has undergone a facelift with amplified emphasis on terrorism and cyber-crime.
   "The No. 1 priority is counterterrorism, number two is counterintelligence, and three is cyber-crime," said R. Joe Clark, Special Agent in Charge (SPAC) of the FBI field office in Knoxville. "Once each SPAC has addressed those crimes, investigative resources are allocated based on the needs in their territory."
   The Bureau's National Infrastructure Protection Center issued a 9-11 anniversary alert on Sept. 5. The alert read that the FBI possesses no information indicating a specific threat to any of these commemorative events.
   However, a large volume of threats of undetermined reliability continues to be received and investigated and several of these threats make reference to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and to New York City and Washington, D.C., according to the NIPC release.
   The FBI categorizes terrorism in the United States as one of two types -- domestic terrorism or international terrorism.
   Clark defined terrorism as the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
   "The reason terrorists are in business is they hold a world view philosophy," he said. "When political or social action doesn't make a desired change, they revert to terrorism."
   He said seven nations employed terrorism as a state policy. International terrorists often sponsored by these nations are trained abroad and then import their terrorism into the United States.
   "If you look at the terrorists that struck on Sept. 11, all but one were in status. There was prior planning conducted overseas where we have no venue," Clark stated. "They operated in small groups and they used effective means of communication."
   No. 1 on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list is Osama bin Laden -- identified as the head of the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
   The Saudi Arabian-born bin Laden also tops the list of 22 alleged terrorists on the Bureau's Most Wanted Terrorists list. The majority were indicted by federal grand juries for their alleged involvement in the August 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
   The agency's role in the nation's "War on Terror" had some similarities with groups traditionally identified as organized crime. Groups such as La Cosa Nostra and terrorist cells were very guarded about their information, said Clark.
   "The big difference in organized crime and terrorism is the classification," said Clark. "We get intelligence from other U.S. intelligence folks as well as our counterparts overseas who are willing to share that information as long as we treat it appropriately."
   The best informant to assist law enforcement is a human informant, he added. To sustain a case and make a case, the FBI needs an informant to generate leads.
   The FBI does not have oversight to monitor East Tennessee facilities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin.
   However, Clark noted that Oak Ridge National Lab presented an interest of counterintelligence to the FBI because of the activity and the number of foreign nationals that were at the facility.
   "We work very closely with DOE (Department of Energy) with a counterintelligence group that we work with on a daily basis," he said. "We have conducted training exercises and tabletop exercises, so all the players know what to expect when the big one goes down. Those have enhanced our already strong community relationship in general."
   Security was not limited to guarding physical plants. The threat of cyber-crime to the nation's electronic infrastructure was real and a high priority to the FBI, Clark said.
   The Bureau's "Infraguard" chapter worked with other law enforcement agencies and corporations based in the United States to investigate criminal activity related to electronic communication such as the Internet and e-mail, he said.
   Infraguard chapters shared information about circulating computer viruses, and what other Infraguard chapters have done and what methods work.
   The FBI did not publicly identify companies victimized by cyber-crime activities to maintain confidentiality and avoid economic damage to the corporation, said Clark.
   The FBI announced plans in January to hire approximately 900 Special Agents (SAs) before Sept. 30. New agents to fill skill gaps such as foreign language expertise, pilots for fixed wing aircraft, and agents savvy in the computer and information technology field were in high demand, said Clark.
   Recruits with a background in counterintelligence and counterterrorism were also being actively sought, primarily from the U.S. military, he said.
   Clark said the Bureau enjoyed an excellent liaison with local and state laboratories investigations of bioterrorism threats. He also said the FBI was seeking scientists to join the agents' ranks.
   The FBI has approximately 11,400 Special Agents and more than 16,400 other employees who perform professional, administrative, technical, or other operations at 56 field offices and over 400 satellite offices, according to the agency's Web site.
   The USA Patriot Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in October gave the FBI new surveillance and investigative powers.
   The Act enhances the government's ability to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence, and places an array of new tools at the disposal of the prosecution, including new crimes, enhanced penalties and longer statutes of limitations.
   The law also grants the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) the authority to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism for lengthy periods of time.
   Clark declined to elaborate on specific technologies the agency used in surveillance, but noted that the FBI was seeking to upgrade existing computer software and hardware.
   "We don't have the data mining tools and networking tools to make it as effective as it could be," he said. "We are working very diligently to make that happen."
   Despite these extensive new powers, Clark emphasized that defending the Constitution and civil rights were an inseparable element of the FBI's law enforcement objective.
   He noted that every FBI agent sworn into duty carried credentials "to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
   "Since we investigate civil rights violations, it would behoove us to be the example and not violate civil rights," he said.
   The Bureau's investigations of terrorism extends to domestic groups including racial supremacy organizations and radical environmentalists who have engaged in violence.
   Domestic terrorism was defined as any group that sought to intimidate or coerce civilians, affect government policy by force or coercion including assassination, within the United States.
   "Domestic terrorists are home-grown," said Clark. "They are right-wing, left-wing, and single-issue, such as the environmental groups who commit acts based on a single issue. Then, there is the lone wolf like the Unabomber ... Ted Kazynski."
   The so-called "lone wolf" terrorist had loose affiliations with extremist groups, but ultimately operated as an individual in conducting terrorist activities, he remarked.
   The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Portland, Ore., made two arrests on Aug. 13, related to a domestic terrorism case. JTTF members arrested Jacob Bardwell Sherman and Jeremy David Rosenbloom on Aug. 14 in connection with the arson attack at the Ray Schoppert Logging Co. in June 2001.
   Intelligence agencies including the FBI were criticized in the mainstream press following the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bureau had not noticed significantly heightened activity among known terrorist networks prior to 9-11, Clark said.
   "The FBI has provided any information that we might have known that this exact attack happened," said Clark. "It has been determined there was not enough information to make that linkage."
   Despite increased awareness and security, the question of when, not if, the next terrorist attack occurs within the United States remains a difficult proposition for any law enforcement agency.
   The secretive world of the international terrorists' subculture presented an extremely challenging enemy to stop.
   "The question is," said Clark, "even with the vigilance, if they don't come up on law enforcement's scope, it is going to be very difficult to anticipate and defeat another attack."