The Department of Justice's Terrorism Task Forces

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

Executive Digest

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks prompted the Department of Justice (Department) to redefine its mission, objectives, and priorities to focus its top priority on counterterrorism. As a result, the Attorney General elevated counterterrorism to the Department's first strategic goal and shifted the Department's resources to eliminating terrorist networks, preventing terrorist operations, and prosecuting perpetrators of terrorist acts. The Department also directed the formation or expansion of terrorism task forces and councils (with members from many federal, state, and local agencies and private industry) that coordinate and integrate intelligence and law enforcement functions to achieve the Department's counterterrorism goal.

In this review, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) assessed the role and operations of these terrorism task forces and councils. We examined whether the task forces and councils were achieving their purposes; whether gaps, duplication, and overlap existed in counterterrorism coverage; and how the performance of the task forces and councils is measured. We collected information through interviews of senior Department officials, task force and council managers and members, and state and local law enforcement officials; a survey of task force managers and members; document reviews; and direct observation of task force and council activities.

Specifically, we reviewed the following task forces and councils:

Deputy Attorney General's National Security Coordination Council (NSCC): The NSCC, composed of senior Department officials with responsibility for national security matters, defines, coordinates, and enhances the Department's counterterrorism strategy and resolves national security issues.

U.S. Attorneys' Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils (ATACs): The purpose of ATACs is to 1) facilitate the exchange of information at the federal, state, and local levels and between the public and private sectors; 2) conduct counterterrorism training; and 3) coordinate terrorism prosecutorial and investigative strategies within the Department. The Attorney General directed that each of the 93 U.S. Attorneys operate an ATAC. The Counterterrorism Section (CTS) of the Department's Criminal Division provides assistance to ATAC Coordinators in the development, coordination, and prosecution of terrorism cases. The Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) provides administrative support to the ATACs.

Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs): The JTTFs are operational units that conduct field investigations of actual or potential terrorism threats. Unlike the other entities reviewed in this report, the JTTFs existed before September 11, 2001. The FBI has established 103 JTTFs nationwide.

FBI's National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF): The NJTTF provides administrative, logistical, and training support to the JTTFs. The NJTTF also coordinates special information and intelligence gathering initiatives assigned by FBI headquarters and synthesizes terrorism intelligence for use by the JTTFs, member agencies, and other agencies in the intelligence community.

FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF): The FTTTF provides data to the JTTFs, NJTTF, and other government agencies that 1) prevents terrorists and their supporters from entering the United States, 2) locates those who are already present, and 3) facilitates the terrorism investigative process.



The Task Forces and Councils Contribute to the Department's Counterterrorism Efforts.

We found that the Department's terrorism task forces and advisory councils generally function as intended, without significant duplication of effort, and they contribute to the Department's goal to prevent terrorism and promote national security. The task forces and advisory councils provide distinct yet complementary forums for sharing terrorism-related information and intelligence and investigating terrorist threats. The task forces and councils also have strengthened the Department's infrastructure devoted to counterterrorism and have developed a national network of representatives from federal, state, and local agencies, and private industry to work on terrorism prevention efforts.

In addition, the task forces have taken steps to ensure that a broader group of law enforcement officials have the security clearances needed to receive and share information about terrorism issues and that information is disseminated through meetings or electronic forums. The various federal, state, and local agency members are important "force multipliers" in the Department's counterterrorism efforts. They have facilitated the development of human assets to collect terrorism-related intelligence, and have assisted in investigations of leads against terrorist groups.

Although the task forces and councils have aided the Department's counterterrorism efforts, we believe that improvements to the operations of the task forces and councils can be made.


The NSCC'S Role is Unclear for Long-Term Counterterrorism Planning, Centralizing and Coordinating Counterterrorism Policy and Operations, and Monitoring Policy Implementation by the Components.

Current and former Deputy Attorneys General and NSCC members told us that the NSCC serves as a forum for Department agency heads to share counterterrorism information and advance the Department's position on national security issues. However, the NSCC does not fully perform its long-term planning, policy, and monitoring functions, as established in Attorney General guidance. The NSCC members provided us with two examples of past or present policy coordination, but could not provide any examples of the NSCC's role in centralizing counterterrorism policy and operations, conducting long-term counterterrorism planning, or monitoring the implementation of counterterrorism policy in the Department.

The FBI, CTS, and EOUSA Have No National Training Plans for the Task Forces and Councils, Notification of Available Training Is Ad Hoc, and Non-FBI Task Force Members Believe That FBI Members Get Preferential Treatment for Training.

The majority of task force and council members we interviewed or surveyed had no prior experience with counterterrorism before joining the task force or advisory council. Identifying terrorists and terrorist threats, conducting a terrorism investigation, developing sources, or planning for terrorist incidents were all new subjects for most of them. More than half (51 percent) of the survey respondents reported that they required training in counterterrorism to better perform their task force and council responsibilities.

Although many training courses are available to task force and advisory council members, FBI, CTS, and EOUSA officials stated that they had not developed national training plans for members. Without national training plans, counterterrorism training for task force and council members has been determined locally and has varied widely. There are no training standards for task force members that define minimum mandatory training. The lack of standards may affect the members' receipt of training. Although the FBI has trained many task force members in counterterrorism, our survey results showed that 29 percent of all JTTF, NJTTF, and FTTTF members had not received any counterterrorism training since becoming members. Many of the non-FBI task force members we interviewed and surveyed stated that they received no notification of training and were unaware of what training was available. To make training information and courses more available to task force members, the FBI has now included training on its intranet website, which is accessible to all members. However, some non-FBI task force members believed that FBI agents were offered more opportunities for counterterrorism training or believed that training was available only to FBI members.

The ATAC Coordinators we interviewed stated that they want guidance on the type of training that should be offered to ATAC members and on how to identify trainers. ATAC Coordinators stated that the provision of training, particularly training on terrorism prevention and planning, to law enforcement personnel and community members is a new responsibility for them. Therefore, the ATAC Coordinators need guidance and assistance from national leaders.

The FBI Has No Structured, Systemwide Orientation Program for New Task Force Members and Has Not Defined the Roles and Responsibilities of its Task Force Members in Writing.

Approximately 40 percent of both FBI and non-FBI JTTF, NJTTF, and FTTTF survey respondents did not receive an orientation to the task force. When an orientation was provided, the type of orientation varied widely and the content was inconsistent. Given the rapid pace with which the NJTTF, FTTTF, and many of the JTTFs started up after September 11, 2001, the lack of a formal orientation was understandable. However, three years later, a formal standardized orientation still does not exist for new JTTF and NJTTF task force members. In September 2004, the FTTTF developed an orientation for its members.

We also found that the FBI does not have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that define the roles, responsibilities, information sharing protocols, and length of commitment with all of the agencies participating on the JTTFs, FTTTF, and NJTTF. The FBI did not have MOUs with all of the agencies assigned to the pre-September 11 JTTFs, and those MOUs that existed were not updated to reflect the post-September 11 JTTF mission. Since November 2003, the FTTTF has had draft MOUs pending with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and intelligence community participants.

The JTTFs and ATACs Have Not Coordinated Their Efforts to Fully Interact and Share Information With Law Enforcement Agencies and First Responders in Remote Areas.

Although the FBI and ATACs have ongoing efforts to interact and share information with law enforcement agencies and first responders in remote areas, some ATACs and JTTFs have not used all their resources to reach remote agencies that do not have representatives on the task forces and councils. The state and local law enforcement agencies with members on a JTTF or ATAC were satisfied with the amount and type of terrorism information shared. In contrast, those law enforcement agencies that were outside of the metropolitan areas and that did not have task force or council members were not as satisfied. Most remote law enforcement agencies often do not have the resources or the distance is too far to commit representatives to a JTTF and ATAC, but they still need information on terrorism from the federal government as well as terrorism-related training. The JTTFs and ATACs do not have coordinated strategies with each other to address the gaps in information sharing and training. Because terrorism and the terrorism threat may be found throughout the country, remote areas cannot be overlooked.

The FBI Has Not Fully Developed Outcome-Oriented Performance Measures for All Task Forces or for the Individual Members. CTS and EOUSA Have No Performance Measures for the ATAC Program.

The FBI has not developed performance measures for the NJTTF and FTTTF. Although the FBI has measures for the JTTFs as part of the field offices, many of the measures are output oriented rather than outcome oriented for the counterterrorism program. CTS and EOUSA have not developed performance measures for the ATAC program. Consequently, the FBI, CTS, and EOUSA do not have sufficient criteria to help assess their strategies, operations, and resources for the task forces and councils.

We found no established or implemented performance measures for individual task force members, and only one ATAC Coordinator we interviewed had been directly given a set of performance measures. EOUSA distributed suggested performance measures for ATAC Coordinators to the USAOs; however, ATAC Coordinators we interviewed and surveyed told us that they did not have performance measures. Without performance measures, individuals do not have guidance for prioritizing and directing their work and measuring their own progress in meeting the mission of the task force or council. Our survey results showed that 75 percent of FTTTF, JTTF, and NJTTF respondents did not receive performance measures; and 78 percent of the ATAC Coordinators did not receive performance measures.

Oversight and Management of the ATAC Program Has Been Fragmented and Coordinators Do Not Have Adequate Guidance on Their Roles or on Structuring and Managing ATACs.

The roles of EOUSA and CTS in the ATAC program are not fully understood by the ATAC Coordinators, who are uncertain which component is in charge of the ATAC program. CTS, EOUSA, and the USAOs have responsibilities for parts of the ATAC program, but no one organization within the Department has responsibility for fully managing the program. Consequently, we found that neither CTS nor EOUSA adequately monitors and assesses the ATACs' operations. Further, to determine additional funding requirements and needs, EOUSA did not strategically analyze and assess how each ATAC had spent its $100,000 allocation to purchase communications equipment and provide training for state and local law enforcement agencies, including first responders.

In addition, CTS and EOUSA have not developed enough written guidance that clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of the ATAC Coordinators. According to ATAC Coordinators that we interviewed, they do not receive sufficient guidance from the Department, CTS, or EOUSA on ATAC operations and structure. ATAC Coordinators told us they do not have a guide to use in identifying members and training opportunities, sponsoring terrorism exercises, preventing terrorism, or developing mechanisms to aid in the dissemination of information. As a result, operations of ATACs and their compliance with Department directives varied across judicial districts.

The FBI Has Not Provided the FTTTF Stable Leadership or Adequate Resources and Has Assigned the FTTTF Responsibilities Outside Its Mission; As a Result, the FTTTF's Database and Risk Assessment Work is Behind Schedule.

The FTTTF's leadership, organizational structure, and physical location changed repeatedly as the Department and the FBI were determining the FTTTF's most appropriate organizational alignment. Some FTTTF members we interviewed stated that with each change in director and management oversight, the priorities changed, the supervision became more fragmented, and the mission more unclear. The FTTTF also is not staffed fully with adequate personnel from the FBI and other agencies. Further, the FTTTF was assigned additional responsibilities not directly related to its mission, such as setting up the Terrorist Screening Center, a separate organization from the FTTTF, and screening foreign nationals seeking pilot certification (this responsibility was successfully transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in October 2004).

As a result of instability in leadership and organizational structure, numerous relocations, inadequate staffing, and additional responsibilities, the FTTTF's acquisition of government databases and development of risk assessment software is behind schedule and impairs the effectiveness and efficiency of analyses the task force is required to perform. To fulfill its mission, the FTTTF requires electronic access to large sets of data, including databases from many federal agencies, open source and private industry data, and access to the most sensitive materials from law enforcement and intelligence sources. The FTTTF's initial goal was to obtain state-of-the-art information technology with sophisticated analytical tools to mine these databases for suspicious patterns and conduct risk assessments to identify high-risk individuals. However, the FTTTF still has not acquired the number and type of databases it needs and is almost a year behind in completing its risk assessment prototype.

Although the FBI Has Reallocated Considerable Resources to Counterterrorism, the JTTFs Have Certain Staffing Shortages and Turnover in Leadership, and Some JTTFs Experience Problems With Space and Information Technology Connectivity.

We found that the JTTFs had inadequate administrative and analytical support, had high turnover in task force leadership, and exceeded their authorized staffing levels. Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has expanded the number of JTTFs across the country (for a total of 103), and the FBI Director mandated that every terrorism lead must be addressed. The FBI reallocated special agent and support staff to the counterterrorism program; however, addressing every lead results in a demanding workload that is surpassing these resources available to the task forces. At all sites we visited, we found that the JTTFs were exceeding their authorized staffing levels for FBI agents by 75 to 125 percent by borrowing personnel from other FBI programs (such as drugs or white-collar crime) within the field or resident agency office. However, the number of support staff has not increased proportionately to the workload expansion.

The FBI rotates managers in the field to provide opportunities for gaining varied experience. However, this frequent rotation affected the structure and stability of the JTTFs, terrorism investigations, and an important pilot information sharing project. Many JTTF members we interviewed stated that the lack of continuity in leadership created inconsistencies in the JTTFs' management, work prioritization, and operations.

We found that some JTTF members were working in cramped conditions that hampered communication, slowed work processes, and limited the JTTFs' ability to add additional members. Twenty-eight percent of the JTTF survey respondents rated the quality of their space as "poor" or "very poor." The lack of adequate work space has caused some JTTFs to limit the number of their member agencies. The FBI stated that it has fulfilled the basic requested requirements of JTTFs and field offices and acquired additional office space in offsite locations. However, the acquisition of some offsite locations has been delayed.

We also found that the JTTFs do not have adequate connectivity to information technology systems to support the members' needs. NJTTF and JTTF members described the FBI's computer systems and connectivity as "outdated" and "unreliable." Further, most offices are ill-equipped to allow members access to the Internet and non-FBI JTTF members direct access their parent agencies' databases and systems, which limits the amount of data searches that the JTTF members can complete onsite to assist investigations. Instead, non-FBI task force members must return to their parent agencies to perform data queries, which is time consuming and inefficient.

Despite the Critical Link Between Drug Trafficking and Terrorism, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Has Minimal Membership on the Task Forces.

Although Congress, the DEA, and the Department's leadership recognize the link between drug trafficking and terrorism (often called narco-terrorism), in comparison with other Department law enforcement components, the DEA has the lowest level of membership on the JTTFs. As of January 2005, the DEA has assigned only one full-time member to the JTTFs. Further, the DEA did not assign a permanent representative to the NJTTF until April 2004, approximately two years after the NJTTF's inception. According to the NJTTF and JTTF members we interviewed, the DEA has been "noticeably absent" from the Department's terrorism task force efforts. The DEA has a network of national and international sources, but the JTTF members' access to and use of these sources is limited because the DEA is not an active JTTF member. The DEA has identified points of contact, instead of full-time members, in its field offices to serve as liaisons to the JTTFs. Additionally, the DEA field offices and the headquarters Special Coordination Unit share counterterrorism information directly with the JTTFs. However, the points of contacts are unclear about their role in relation to the JTTF.

DHS's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Has Not Provided its JTTF Members Needed Direction, Has Not Cross-Trained Supervisors in Their New Areas of Responsibility, and Has Not Provided Enough Staff to Perform Task Force Work.

Many JTTF task force members from ICE told us that they received little direction from ICE or that the direction they did receive was contradictory. They also stated that the supervisors in the ICE field offices did not have functional knowledge to provide guidance to task force members. JTTF members stated that former immigration agents on the JTTFs were supervised by former customs staff that has not been cross-trained in immigration matters. The majority of JTTF members described the FBI supervision on the task force as positive, but they said that task force members also need guidance and supervision from their parent agencies on specific agency-related matters.

Most JTTF and FTTTF members and supervisors also stated that additional ICE agents, particularly former immigration agents, are needed on both task forces since most international terrorism cases have some link to immigration. Even the ICE agents who were formerly customs agents emphasized the need for additional agents with immigration experience on the JTTFs and FTTTF. The NJTTF Director, at the request of the DHS ICE, conducted a staffing needs assessment by asking the JTTF field supervisors to determine how many ICE agents were needed on each of their task forces. The results of this assessment showed that in November 2003 there were 159 full-time and 22 part-time ICE agents on 86 JTTFs. The JTTFs had requested an additional 138 full-time ICE agents. As of October 26, 2004, ICE had 269 full-time members and 42 part-time members on JTTFs. However, it is not clear if this increase is a result of the NJTTF needs assessment submitted to DHS in November 2003, or as a result of the increase in the overall number of JTTFs. A former senior ICE representative on the FTTTF stated he personally contacted a high-ranking manager at DHS and asked for additional personnel for the FTTTF, but he did not receive a response.


We concluded that the task forces and councils have enhanced information sharing, partnerships, and investigative capabilities for the Department's counterterrorism efforts. The task forces and councils have separate functions that generally are not duplicative, and they have strengthened the Department's counterterrorism infrastructure and relationships with other federal, state, local, and private agencies. Although we recognize that the task forces and councils were established or expanded quickly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Department has not ensured their organizational development or that all their functions have been accomplished. We believe some improvements to their operations could be made. For example, we concluded that the Department 1) does not use the NSCC for centralizing counterterrorism planning, policy, and operations, and monitoring policy implementation across the Department; 2) has not ensured that the JTTFs and ATACs have a coordinated strategy for sharing information with law enforcement agencies and first responders in remote areas; 3) has not clearly defined what organization has oversight authority for the ATAC program; 4) has not ensured the FTTTF's timely acquisition of databases and development of its risk assessment tool for terrorist tracking; and 5) has not ensured sufficient task force membership from certain internal and external organizations to facilitate counterterrorism efforts.

From an organizational development perspective, we concluded that the Department 1) has not ensured sufficient minimum training in counterterrorism, which is a new subject to many task force and council members; 2) has not ensured stability and continuity in task force leadership; 3) has not addressed continuing problems with computer connectivity that interfere with task force work; and 4) has not fully developed adequate performance measures to determine the outcomes of the task forces and councils and the contributions of individual members.

Our report contains 28 recommendations to help the Department improve the operations of the counterterrorism task forces and councils:

  • The Department should determine whether the NSCC is the most appropriate forum for performing long-term counterterrorism planning, centralizing and coordinating counterterrorism policy and operations, and monitoring policy implementation.

  • The FBI should develop a national training plan for each task force, and CTS and EOUSA should develop a national training plan for ATACs.

  • The FBI should develop a formal standardized orientation program for all new JTTF and NJTTF members and provide it within 30 days of the new member's start date.

  • The FBI should finalize MOUs with all agencies participating on the Department's terrorism task forces.

  • The FBI, CTS, EOUSA, and USAOs should work jointly to develop a coordinated strategy to consistently reach out to remote areas. The USAOs also should work with state homeland security task forces to coordinate activities related to information sharing and training.

  • The FBI, CTS, and EOUSA should develop overall performance measures for their respective task forces and members and councils.

  • The Department should clarify what organization has oversight for the ATAC program, and CTS and EOUSA should provide guidance to their staff and the ATAC Coordinators on their roles and on structuring and managing ATACs.

  • The FBI should ensure long-term, stable leadership, organizational structure, and housing for the FTTTF, determine the appropriate level of resources for the FTTTF to accomplish its mission, and address obstacles encountered by the FTTTF in acquiring databases from other agencies.

  • The FBI should determine staffing requirements and allocations, ensure stability in JTTF leadership, and plan for activating new, and upgrading existing, JTTFs with adequate space and equipment.

  • The DEA should increase its membership on the JTTFs and work with the FBI to assess the optimum locations for new DEA members, and issue written guidance that defines the roles and responsibilities of the DEA's JTTF members and points of contact.

  • The Deputy Attorney General should work jointly with DHS officials to ensure sufficient DHS membership on the Department's task forces.

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