The Department of Justice's Terrorism Task Forces

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2005-007
June 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Appendix X

The Criminal Division's Response

  U.S. Department of Justice
Criminal Division

Office of the Assistant Attorney General
Washington, D.C. 20530

May 18, 2005


TO: Paul A. Price
Assistant Inspector General
    for Evaluation and Inspections
FROM: John C. Richter
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Criminal Division
SUBJECT: Response to Draft Evaluation Report on the
Department of Justice's Terrorism Task Forces

I. General Comments

We have reviewed the final draft report of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) entitled "The Department of Justice's Terrorism Task Forces" (the "Report") and submit comments herein as requested. We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments. The OIG staff who prepared the Report have been thoughtful, conscientious and professional throughout the review. They have listened respectfully to our positions and carefully assessed the factual information that we have provided to them. The unrestrained access we have provided the OIG staff to Criminal Division/Counterterrorism technology, training conferences, staff and policy documents has given them the ability to explore the program in depth.

We applaud the Report's recognition that progress has been made on a variety of fundamental and critically important counterterrorism issues, and we appreciate the inclusion of a section in the Report on accomplishments of the ATAC program. The Report acknowledges that the events of September 11, 2001 have brought about significant change in the Justice Department. The challenges confronting the Justice Department involving policy, strategy and tactics have prompted the Department to "redefine its mission, objectives and priorities." (Report at i) These historic changes have been the efforts of real people: dedicated public servants seeking to protect our national security interests consistent with constitutional values. So, underlying particular findings of the Report are long hours spent by government officials struggling to effectively, efficiently and thoughtfully contribute to the defining mission of our generation.

As set forth below, we concur with the overall recommendations in the Report that pertain to the ATAC program. We are currently making substantial progress toward successfully implementing those recommendations and we are fully committed to taking further steps to succeed in that objective. We discuss below specific comments on each of the Report's recommendations concerning the ATAC program and suggestions for updating some of the factual information.

II. Specific Issues

A. Role of CTS

The Report identifies five recommendations applicable to CTS. We address these recommendations in detail below. However, as a threshold matter, it is important to emphasize that CTS has worked closely with the USAOs and EOUSA to establish a successful ATAC program and will continue to do so to ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations.

As we articulated to the OIG Staff, and as documented in the OIG Report, CTS "provides assistance to ATAC Coordinators in the development, coordination, and prosecution of terrorism cases." (Report at i) This is our critical role, the arena in which we provide "value-added." The Criminal Division's authority, as delineated in the DAG's Interim Guidance Concerning Terrorism Matters, is focused upon matters and cases. CTS has consistently devoted its resources, strategic planning and execution - whether in terms of training, guidance, information sharing and investigative and prosecutorial strategies - on cases and matters. See, e.g., Report at p. 72 (With respect to training "the focus has primarily been on the legal and investigative aspects of terrorism-related cases to ensure a consistent and unified prosecutorial approach to these cases.") The management, administration, and guidance on how to properly organize an ATAC is the responsibility of each individual USAO, as administered by EOUSA. As the Report recognizes, "According to the Attorney General's memorandum, each U.S. Attorney has the autonomy to operate the ATAC to fit the district's needs." (Report at 8)

As set forth below, CTS is ready and willing to work closely with the USAOs and EOUSA in the various areas covered by the recommendations, including instituting ATAC performance measures, ensuring ATAC compliance, or monitoring whether ATACs are regularly meeting, among other things, as suggested by Recommendations ## 7, 9 and 12. Similarly, with respect to Recommendation #10, EOUSA and the USAO have responsibility for oversight, monitoring ATAC operations, evaluating success of the ATAC program, and enforcing compliance. We are working with EOUSA and the USAOs to assist them in developing best practices concerning these aspects of the program. This coordinated effort is critical to the full implementation of the recommendations and we are committed to continuing our close working relationship with EOUSA and the USAOs1.

B. Recommendations

The Report's Recommendations 3, 7, 9, 11, and 12 were specifically addressed to the Counterterrorism Section (CTS), and we respond to each of those recommendations.

Recommendation 3: That EOUSA's Office of Legal Education, along with CTS, should develop a national training plan for ATAC's that includes:

  • Initial needs assessment of ATAC Coordinators;
  • How to manage and structure an ATAC (membership, frequency of meetings, methods and sources of communication, how to conduct an ATAC members' needs assessment, identify trainers, and develop a local training plan;
  • Frequency of future needs assessments for ATAC Coordinators and ATACs; Development of minimum mandatory training standards and time frames for completion of training for ATAC Coordinators;
  • Required minimum annual training hours for ATAC Coordinators; and
  • Responsibility for training notification to the ATAC Coordinators.

We concur with the need to develop a national training plan for ATACs and agree that EOUSA's Office of Legal Education (OLE) should have primary responsibility for this. Significant training has already occurred. We refer you specifically to the discussion of training in EOUSA's response. The information regularly distributed by CTS in the form of written guidance, memos, and monographs, as well as materials contained in the on-line CTS Counterterrorism Resource Library is the most useful training for ATAC Coordinators in their work as terrorism prosecutors. These are the tools needed by prosecutors to conduct the investigation and prosecution of substantive terrorism and terrorism-related cases, and they are widely available to all ATAC Coordinators. This information, in combination with the annual ATAC Coordinators' conference, is providing legal training needed by prosecutors.

However, a national training plan is clearly necessary. CTS will work closely to assist OLE in developing a national training plan and will provide subject matter experts as appropriate. We anticipate that this national training plan will include an initial needs assessment of ATAC Coordinators, guidance on how to manage and structure an ATAC Council, and standards and time frames for completing ATAC Coordinator training, which may include self-assessments that this requirement has already been met. We do not believe, however, that setting minimum annual training hours for ATAC Coordinators would assist ATACs in any meaningful way to achieve the goals of the program. Training is being conducted by nearly every ATAC in the country. Although reporting of such training has not been a requirement, CTS and EOUSA are aware of this activity through the CTS Regional Coordinators, who are advised of and usually invited to attend training events. Imposition of mandatory training requirements would need to be accompanied by appropriate funding. Once OLE establishes a national training plan, EOUSA can monitor compliance with that plan, assess the frequency and suitability of training, and determine if further measures are necessary to accomplish the goals of the ATAC program.

Steps have already been taken to draft a national training plan. OLE convened an ATAC Training Committee consisting of representatives from EOUSA, USAOs and CTS. Specifically, this committee is comprised of a CTS Deputy Chief, two CTS attorneys (each of whom was recently the ATAC Coordinator in their district), the CTS National ATAC Coordinator, the Deputy Counsel to the Director of EOUSA, the Assistant Director of EO USA's Office of Legal Education and ten ATAC Coordinators from diverse regions who are actively engaged in ATAC training in their districts. This group met on May 9, 2005 for an initial strategy meeting on the creation of a training program as recommended in the Report. The Committee agreed that current efforts could be supplemented by training for newly designated ATAC Coordinators who may not be experienced in the subject matter of terrorism and need an accelerated course to allow them to function rapidly in their new assignment. This concept will be given further consideration and developed by the Training Committee.

The Committee also agreed that ATAC Coordinators need assistance in determining the type of training that they should offer their ATAC membership, as well as in providing terrorism prevention training to their ATAC members. It was agreed that a survey would be formulated and circulated to assess the training needs of ATAC Coordinators and ATAC members and that a program would be created to address identified needs. It is anticipated that the Committee will convene frequently over the next several months to address these training issues.

Recommendation 7: The FBI, CTS, EOUSA, and USAOs should work jointly to develop a coordinated strategy to consistently reach remote areas.

We agree that all agencies should work jointly to develop a coordinated strategy to consistently reach remote areas. Many ATAC Coordinators and their IRSs are making substantial progress towards that end by communicating terrorism and threat information to law enforcement and other agencies in the rural areas of their districts. We note that the IG staff also found some extraordinary effort by ATAC Coordinators to reach remote areas. Unlike some JTTFs that are responsible for more than one state, ATACs are functioning in every judicial district in the country, and 24 states have two or more ATAC Councils within their state boundaries who are reaching law enforcement and other agencies in their areas. Even in those states with one ATAC for a large geographic area, ATAC Coordinators consistently reported that establishing lines of communication was the first priority when ATTFs (now ATACs) were formed. Most ATACs used part of their initial terrorism money to install computers and videoteleconferencing equipment to communicate with remote areas and establish a network for information sharing. Here are just a few examples of such practices:

  • Idaho uses email to communicate all terrorism and threat related information to ATAC members, including all Sheriffs and Chiefs in the district. They also have regional address groups for information related to a specific region such as their Northern Border and Southwest Region.
  • Wyoming has a computer network, which includes all law enforcement agencies in the state, that it uses to communicate terrorism information, and their IRS works with the FBI to travel around to conduct training in remote areas. They also participate with the Denver JTTF, which is geographically close to many remote areas of Wyoming, and work with the Wyoming DHS to maintain points of contact throughout the state.
  • South Dakota uses a state information system that is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, to transmit terrorism and threat information. Although travel and budget restraints have limited their ability to conduct training, they have coordinated with other agencies to make training opportunities available.
  • North Dakota utilizes video-teleconferencing to conduct ATAC meetings with members from all areas of the state and uses the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to communicate terrorism and threat information through their regional network. Their IRS is working to establish a link between all of their law enforcement agencies and the RISS network in the region.
  • Kansas uses an email network to communicate information to ATAC members in rural areas in the western regions of the state. They have conducted special training in multiple remote locations around the state to accommodate ATAC members who would otherwise have to drive 5-7 hours to Kansas City where most meetings are held.
  • Nebraska has installed video-teleconferencing equipment in each of the troop areas of the State Patrol. ATAC participants are invited to attend meetings by traveling to the nearest troop headquarters where the meeting is broadcast, which encourages participation from agencies as far as 500 miles away from the physical location of the meeting.

However, as illustrated by the fact that the IG Staff located some law enforcement agencies in remote areas who were not satisfied with information sharing in their area, we agree that there can be additional improvement in this area. CTS will work with the FBI and the USAOs, through their ATACs, to explore this issue and address identified short-comings in this respect.

Recommendation 9: CTS and EOUSA should develop outcome-oriented performance measures for the ATAC program. The measures for the ATAC program could include the following:

  • Quality and timeliness of information shared with member and outside agencies that resulted in improved understanding of terrorism issues and improved prevention activities;
  • Quality and timeliness of training for members that resulted in improved understanding of terrorism issues and improved prevention activities;
  • Outreach efforts that resulted in increasing targeted membership; and
  • Quality and currency of threat assessments that result in improved prevention activities.

We concur with the recommendation that performance measures should be developed for the ATAC program. We would add that this effort, in part, has already begun, as CTS has developed a performance measure for CTS staff that directly addresses the ATAC program. As recommended by the Report, CTS will also assist EOUSA in establishing performance measures for ATAC members, drawing as appropriate on the performance measure already established by CTS for the National and Regional Coordinators within CTS. Given the vast differences among ATACs, it would be difficult to use one standard measure issued by EOUSA to evaluate the success of ATAC programs in all districts. Therefore, we recommend the ATAC performance measures be developed based on a survey of ATAC council members in each district and tailored to the particular needs and interests of the district.

Recommendation 11: CTS and EOUSA should jointly issue written guidance defining their roles and responsibilities in the ATAC program, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the Regional ATAC Coordinators, the National ATAC Coordinator, and the EOUSA point of contact for ATACs. This written guidance should be communicated to the ATAC Coordinators.

We agree with the recommendation and understand the importance of defining the roles and responsibilities of the various entities involved in the ATAC program. This effort, in part, has already begun, as CTS has issued written guidance to this effect as it relates to CTS staff. CTS issued guidance on the roles and responsibilities of the Regional ATAC Coordinators and the National ATAC Coordinator in February 2004 and circulated that guidance to the ATAC Coordinators at that time. As recommended, CTS will assist EOUSA in drafting and issuing similar guidance as to the roles and responsibilities of the EOUSA point of contact for ATACs. CTS' understanding of the respective roles of EOUSA and CTS for the ATAC program is the same as that of the IG Staff as indicated in the Report: EOUSA is responsible for general oversight, monitoring ATAC operations, evaluating success of the ATAC program, and enforcing compliance; CTS is responsible for guidance, consultation and approval of terrorism cases and investigations and related information sharing, as outlined in the DAG's Interim Guidance Concerning Terrorism Matters. If the DAG determines that further clarification of the respective roles and responsibilities of CTS and EOUSA in the ATAC program is needed, CTS will work with EOUSA to jointly draft and issue such guidance.

Recommendation 12: CTS or EOUSA should issue written guidance for ATAC Coordinators that includes a definition of roles, how to determine membership base, and how to structure and manage an ATAC.

We agree that written guidance should be issued to ATAC Coordinators that includes a definition of roles, how to determine membership base, and how to structure and manage an ATAC, and we believe that such guidance should come from EOUSA consistent with its responsibility for general oversight, monitoring ATAC operations, evaluating success of the ATAC program, and enforcing compliance. To the extent that CTS, through the National and Regional ATAC Coordinators, has acquired insight into some of these matters, CTS will assist EOUSA and USAOs to develop such written guidance. The Training Committee described above in connection with Recommendation 3 should contribute to the drafting of this guidance; they can draw on their experiences in running these programs since their inception. There is no body of law or research on the subject of how to run an ATAC council, and any instruction from those who have not done so is likely to be disregarded.

III. Minor Factual Modifications

With respect to examples of prominent JTTF cases, the following factual information should be updated (Report at 12-13).

  • 2001 - Investigation and conviction of a Hizbollah cell through the arrests and conviction of 20 individuals in North Carolina. A related investigation by the Detroit JTTF has yielded 14 convictions.
  • 2004 - On April 22, 2005, a Virginia jury convicted Mohammed Ali Al-Timimi on all ten counts of the indictment. Al-Timimi, the spiritual leader of the Virginia Jihad training group disrupted last year, was indicted for his involvement in the recruitment of US citizens for extremist training and jihad preparation.
  • In Detroit, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani was convicted in the Eastern District of Michigan of conspiracy charges, relating to his assisting others to raise monies for Hizballah.
  • TTIC is now the National Counterterrorism Center. (Report at 56).

IV. Conclusion

As the IG Report states, the ATAC program is a novel program that has been overwhelmingly successful in improving counterterrorism efforts in the post-9/11 world. CTS worked very hard to identify its responsibilities under the ATAC program, meet its responsibilities, and implement additional enhancements. The success of the ATAC program, however, has been accomplished through the combined efforts of the USAOs, CTS, and EOUSA. We appreciate the recognition in the Report of those joint efforts and the results achieved by the ATAC program. We are encouraged by the findings in the Report based on the IG's survey of the ATAC Council members (Report at 38, 40, 239). The implementation of the recommendations contained in the Report relating to the ATAC program will help make the program even more successful. CTS will continue to work closely with EOUSA and the USAOs to further the goals of the ATAC program and implement the recommendations of the IG.


  1. As we emphasized at the Exit Conference, and formally document in this response, the energy, commitment and work ethic of the Deputy Counsel to the Director of EOUSA has been extraordinary. In both word and deed, her efforts to forge a joint partnership between and among CTS, EOUSA and the USAOs have been significant and successful.

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