FBIÕs New Tool

Aug. 8, 2000


Division formed to deal with the modern terrorist threat

By Donna Rogers, Law Enforcement Technology Magazine

August 2000

The U.S. aviation industry is well aware of the terrorist threat, domestically and globally. Yet, we don't often hear non-industry observers on the topic. Here is an article from Law Enforcement Technology magazine (May, 2000) that looks at what the FBI is doing to counter terrorism.

Usama Bin Laden is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. Usama Bin Laden represents a new breed of terrorist, capable of anything from biological warfare to spreading a computer virus. The FBI is countering this new breed of terrorist with a newly restructured organization. The restructuring responds to changing threats from espionage and terrorism and the need to enhance analytical capacities.

Today's terrorist
"Terrorism has changed since the late '80s to early '90s," says Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI's new Counterterrorism Division. "[Terrorists then were] pretty well-defined. It was clear who the leader was - you could pick them out. But since the mid- to late-1990s, the structure has gone away."

Today's terrorist often is not affiliated with a particular group per se - whether he is from Pakistan or Africa he carries out acts of terrorism on his own. For example, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, considered to be the mastermind behind the World Trade Center bombing, was not identified with a specific organization. Likewise, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols espoused to the beliefs of a right wing militia, but did not act on the behalf of any one group.

Today's terrorist isn't confined to operating in one country. "Three or four people can come together across cultural lines and nations [to carry out these acts]," Watson observes.

Today's terrorism
Watson describes two types of terrorism: domestic terrorism and international terrorism. Domestic terrorism is home-grown, with no foreign interest whatsoever. International terrorism typically occurs on foreign soil but can take place in the United States, if its instigator(s) have overseas connections.

FBI statistics on terrorism in the U.S. show that terrorist incidents, suspected terrorist events, and prevented terrorist scenarios actually have decreased since the 1980s. The numbers fell from 333 reported situations in 1980-1989 to 104 cases in 1990-98. International terrorist incidents also have decreased, from 5,429 incidents in the 1980s to 3,431 in the 1990s.

Such statistics can be misleading. While the number of incidents has decreased, the casualties of those injured and killed domestically has risen substantially - from 128 casualties in the 1980s to 2,098 casualties in the 1990s. Internationally casualties also rose dramatically - from 16,083 to 21,474 casualties. And while attacks on Americans outside the United States fell from 1,634 to 1,200, casualties grew from 1,174 to 1,746. Most of these casualties are the result of bombings.

The East African Embassy and Khobar Towers attacks in the 1990s spurred Congress to legislate that the FBI would have jurisdiction over any incident where an American was kidnapped or harmed overseas.

Despite the warming of the Cold War, the United States has present-day problems with smaller countries that feel powerless to retaliate against policies they don't agree with. "Some are adamantly opposed to our troops being in their countries. They can't attack us, so they conduct terrorist acts," Watson says.

The means of carrying out terrorist incidents has changed. "They are much larger cases," Watson says. "And they are able to inflict mass casualties."

In addition Watson points out that the threat of American "cyberterrorism" is at an all-time high. He calls cyberterrorism and encryption the waves of the future. For example, the constant attempts by hackers to break into major websites leave government, utilities and private companies vulnerable. And the inability to conduct e-commerce for even a day could cause millions of dollars in damages. These attacks also could wreak havoc on information systems controlling water supplies, gas and electric production and storage, and health care services, resulting in severe consequences.

The FBI's counter
The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings were watershed events for the FBI. Since then, the growth in counterterrorism has been phenomenal. In the early 1990s, fewer than 50 employees (international and domestic staff) made up the FBI counterterrorism program.

Today Watson estimates counterterrorism staffing is six times bigger at headquarters and four times larger in the field than it was in the early 1990s. "A tremendous amount of resources are available today in regard to money and personnel," he states.

Furthering the increased focus on counterterrorism efforts, the FBI adopted a strategic plan that identified counterterrorism and national security as top priorities in 1998. And in 1999, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced a major restructuring of FBI headquarters, which established two new divisions and reconfigured two others.

According to Freeh, protecting America from terrorism and ensuring the country's national security are the FBI's highest priorities. Freeh points out that the FBI's responsibilities in both of these areas have "grown significantly in the last six years."

Before the reorganization, the National Security Division oversaw all counterterrorism programs, together with the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), the national domestic preparedness initiative, and the bureau's counterintelligence and counterespionage operation. But the buildup of resources for counterterrorism was straining the capacity of the National Security Division to adequately support and oversee both the counterterrorism and counterintelligence/espionage programs. The reorganization assigned NIPC and the recently approved National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO) to the new Counterterrorism Division.

"The thinking was that we could singularly focus on [both] the terrorism issue and the national security issue. The result was that we made both better," notes Watson.

"In the second part of the equation, on the intelligence side, the FBI's thinking was that to disseminate and analyze across-the-board intelligence as a standalone entity would improve national security," Watson points out. Thus, the Investigative Services Division will house a new Information, Analysis and Assessment Branch, drawing on existing components previously part of the National Security Division and the Criminal Investigative Division. The new branch will provide enhanced analytical capabilities that extend across program lines. The National Security Division will continue to focus on counter intelligence.

In the restructure, the personnel working in counterterrorism largely remained status quo, according to Watson. Some agents shifted to the Investigative Services Division, but basically, the restructure only streamlined the bureau and gave division heads more authority by stripping away layers of bureaucracy. "It made [the agency] more effective and efficient," he explains.

Terrorism is not the FBI's biggest priority, Watson maintains. "Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorism. It's by far our biggest challenge."