War on Terrorism

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

NOW AND THE FUTURE: The Joint Terrorism Task Force at 30

By Retired Supervisory Special Agent Joe Valiquette and Public Affairs Specialist J. Peter Donald, FBI New York

As the JTTF entered its third decade of service, the worst terrorist attack in the history of the country would occur just blocks from FBI offices. On September 11, 2001, the towers of the World Trade Center fell at the hands of al Qaeda. The JTTF was at the forefront of the investigation, given its long experience with and knowledge of the terrorist organization. Just a year earlier, a number of its investigators had been in Yemen investigating the attack on the USS Cole. As a result of the 9/11 attack, the size and scope of the New York JTTF continued to grow. Approximately 500 investigators and analysts from more than 50 federal, state, and local government agencies now participate. Although its offices have now moved to Chelsea, the task force still serves the original mission: preventing terrorism from homegrown extremists and foreign nationals and investigating such incidents when they occur.

In a post September 11 world, the number of JTTFs has grown from 35 to more than 100. Although many other agencies participate, the FBI funds the entire operation, including all JTTF task force member vehicles and equipment. The JTTF serves as both a proactive and reactive group for all terrorism-related matters that happen in New York and in our jurisdiction abroad, looking to garner intelligence and develop information to prevent future attacks.

Members of the JTTF include the FBI, the Amtrak Police, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the New York Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, the State Department Diplomatic Security Service, and many, many others.

No successful terrorist attacks have occurred on U.S. soil since 2001, but the threat remains to New Yorkers and to all Americans. Recently thwarted and failed terror plots like the plan to blow up jet fuel lines to Kennedy Airport, last year’s arrests by the JTTF of Najibullah Zazi and others plotting to attack the New York City subway system, and the unsuccessful Times Square car bomb are proof that New York City remains at the top of the terrorist target list.

The New York Office and JTTF also have extraterritorial responsibilities to investigate criminal and terrorist attacks targeting U.S. citizens and our interests abroad in cooperation with the host countries. In July 2010, an attack during the final match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup occurred in Kampala, Uganda. The FBI New York JTTF led the largest international response since the 2000 USS Cole attack, investigating several bombs that killed scores of people. Al Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack.

New York was the first office to create a JTTF,” said Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk. “This year, on the 30th anniversary, we renew our commitment to proactively investigate all forms of terrorism, solidifying our role as a leader for JTTFs across the nation. We have learned much over the past three decades, and we will take these lessons with us as we work towards our 40th year of service.”

As threats continue to change, there is no doubt that the Joint Terrorism Task Force will adapt quickly and judiciously to face emerging threats and patterns. “From one of the first investigations of a domestic terrorist group’s armored car robbery in 1981 to the 2010 attempted Times Square bombing,” said Counterterrorism Special Agent in Charge Gregory A. Fowler, “the JTTF continues to adapt to new threats both here and abroad.”

“The cases handled by the JTTF are intelligence-driven, and our team of analysts and agents are critical partners with the JTTF,” said Special Agent in Charge for the Intelligence Division James Trainor. “We sit and work together to gather, analyze, and disseminate threat and case-related intelligence.”

As President Obama told members of the JTTF in October 2009 when he visited their offices to congratulate them in the wake of the Zazi arrest, “You’re setting the standard…and you’re showing us what focused and integrated counterterrorism work really looks like. And the record of your service is written in the attacks that never occur—because you thwarted them; and because of the countless Americans who are alive today as a consequence of that work.”

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