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By Franklin Kirby, Law Enforcement
More than 80 federal JTTFs (Joint Terrorism Task Forces) have been formed throughout the United States in the past several years and, although relatively unpublicized, are believed to have played a major role in stopping new acts of terrorism before they could start.
The creation of these task forces – which are made up primarily of Special Agents from various federal departments, as well as state and local law-enforcement officers – has enabled investigators from a large number of agencies to pool their diverse areas of expertise, and intelligence resources, to conduct investigations into terrorism, and the funding of terrorist operations, much more effectively than would
Border-search authority allows JTTF officers to act quickly on information ... by being able to intercept items that can be used for terrorist operations.
have been possible if each of the agencies involved had been acting on its own. The size of the various JTTFs varies considerably both by location and by the missions each has been assigned. Because all of the agencies participating are involved in the investigation of terrorism cases, all can use the full resources of the entire task force as and when required. As a corollary, all of these same agencies have access to the information systems and files of the other agencies represented on the same task force. Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) make up the numerically largest components of most if not all of the JTTFs. ICE, which plays an important and unique role in JTTF investigations, is the largest investigative agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS); it was created in 2003 when the investigative components of the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were merged into one agency. A Quest for Interagency Cooperation Following the 9/11 attacks, USCS started to investigate terrorism financing through what was called Operation Green Quest. That operation was successful at many levels, but other terrorism financing investigations were being conducted by the FBI at the same time, and that caused certain jurisdictional and other problems. The duplication of effort led to issuance of a 13 May 2003 Memorandum of Agreement between the FBI and DHS that designated the FBI as lead agency in terrorism and terrorist-financing investigations. Since then, ICE has closed the books on Operation Green Quest, but seasoned ICE agents continue to investigate terrorist financing cases as part of their JTTF missions. Meanwhile, DHS has started a new initiative – Operation Cornerstone, through which ICE investigates financial crimes that do not have a terrorism nexus. Any cases with a nexus to terrorism are referred to the JTTFs in which participating ICE members continue to play significant roles. State and local agencies represented on the same JTTF benefit from the unique financial skills of the ICE agents by being able to apply these skills to their own cases. The huge increase in information sharing, which is frequently critical to the efforts of law-enforcement investigations at any level of government, is perhaps the greatest fallout benefit that has resulted from representation on the JTTFs of so many diverse agencies. The intelligence produced and distributed by the various JTTF entities can be filtered, analyzed, disseminated, and acted upon without delay. Critical Access and Timely Searches Because it has access to the legacy USCS and INS information systems, ICE contributes to the availability of the JTTF intelligence in a distinctive manner. Included in the massive volume of information still available in the USCS/INS systems are detailed records on immigration status, imports and exports, cargo and passenger manifests, financial transactions, border crossings, and visas. Any and all of this information could be of critical importance to the conduct of investigations into the movement of terrorists and their funds across U.S. borders. JTTF agents are able to act on information by using the unique border-search authority that ICE contributes to the JTTF. That authority allows agents to conduct searches of persons or property without a warrant, as long as there is a nexus to the border of the United States. The border in question could be one of the nation’s physical (i.e., land or sea) borders or what is called an “effective” border – e.g., any of the arrival and departure areas at U.S. international airports. The border-search authority allows JTTF officers to act quickly on information and intelligence by being able to intercept items that can be used for terrorist operations without having to go through the frequently cumbersome process of obtaining search warrants. The search authority of ICE agents on the JTTF allows for the detention of any shipment across U.S. borders before the goods in the shipment can be entered into commerce or exported to terrorist states or organizations. In practice, the shipments are held until they can be cleared – but they may be seized if they are believed to pose a threat to the security of the United States.