National Security Branch

National Security Branch - Eagle

The National Security Branch (NSB)—created in September 2005 in response to a presidential directive—combines the missions and resources of our counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and weapons of mass destruction elements under the leadership of a senior Bureau official.

It also includes the Terrorist Screening Center, which plays a crucial role in providing actionable intelligence to state and local law enforcement, and the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which gathers and applies the nation’s best resources to collect intelligence from key terror suspects to prevent attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

Inside the NSB 


National Security Branch Executive Assistant Director Michael Steinbach
Counterterrorism Division Assistant Director Carl Ghattas
Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director Bill Priestap

High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group Director Frazier R. Thompson, IV
Terrorist Screening Center Acting Director Charles H. Kable
Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate Assistant Director Robert Allan Jones


The National Security Branch (NSB) is led by an executive assistant director and an associate executive assistant director. The NSB consists of the following entities: Counterintelligence Division (made up of one intelligence branch, two operations branches, and a counterproliferation center); the Counterterrorism Division (made up of three operations branches); the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (made up of an operations unit and a research unit); the Terrorist Screening Center (made up of an engagement and analysis branch, an operations branch, and the principal deputy director’s office); and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (made up of a countermeasures operations section, an intelligence analysis section, and an investigations and operations section).

The National Security Branch (NSB) was established in September 2005 in response to a presidential directive to establish a “National Security Service” that combines the missions, capabilities, and resources of the FBI’s counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence elements under the leadership of a senior FBI official. The NSB is composed of the Counterintelligence Division, Counterterrorism Division, High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, Terrorist Screening Center, and WMD Directorate.

The National Security Branch carries out the FBI’s responsibilities as the lead intelligence and law enforcement agency in the nation to detect, deter, and disrupt national security threats to the United States and its interests. Our goal is to collect, analyze, and share intelligence to develop a comprehensive understanding of—and to defeat—national security threats directed against the United States while preserving civil liberties.

We continue to refine our intelligence capabilities to position ourselves to stay ahead of the evolving threats our nation faces. Intelligence directs how we understand threats, how we prioritize and investigate these threats, and how we target our resources to address them

To ensure success, we continue to integrate our intelligence and law enforcement capabilities in every operational program. The traditional distinction between national security and criminal matters is increasingly blurred as terrorists commit crimes to finance their activities and computer hackers create vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The integration of intelligence and investigations makes the FBI uniquely situated to address these threats and vulnerabilities across programs. The FBI draws on both intelligence and law enforcement tools to determine strategically where and when to disrupt threats.

The FBI’s daily successes in addressing these national security threats are reinforced by longstanding relationships with our public, private, federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners. With thousands of private and public business alliances and nearly 4,000 interagency members on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces—interagency teams of federal, state, and local partners that carry out the FBI’s responsibility for leading and coordinating all intelligence and investigative activity involving terrorism—the FBI’s partnerships are essential to achieving our mission and ensuring a coordinated approach to addressing national security threats.

Current Issues 

Related Policy Matters 

FBI Policies and Procedures for Safeguarding Personal Information as Required by PPD-28 (Signals Intelligence Activities)

Presidential Policy Directive 28 (PPD-28) is designed to reassure every American that the nation’s intelligence activities are carried out with appropriate oversight and respect for civil liberties and privacy. Among its many provisions, PPD-28 establishes safeguards for personal information collected through signals intelligence (SIGINT). According to the directive, SIGINT “activities must take into account that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.” 

Section Four of PPD-28 requires all elements of the Intelligence Community to establish procedures for safeguarding personal information collected through SIGINT activities. Although the FBI does not conduct SIGINT activities, the Bureau has applied the relevant provisions of PPD-28 to information it collects in accordance with Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which deals with the acquisition of foreign intelligence concerning non-U.S. persons outside the United States. 

For details, please read the full text of the FBI Policies and Procedures for Safeguarding Personal Information as Required by PPD-28 (SIGINT Activities).

Updated NSL Language

The FBI has changed language contained in its national security letters (NSLs) to reflect new provisions set forth in the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 concerning recipients’ ability, without time limitation, to challenge NSL nondisclosure requirements. The electronic template used by the FBI to generate NSLs has been updated so that all NSLs issued on or after September 13, 2016 contain the new language. Additionally, the FBI has sent letters to recipients of NSLs issued following the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act advising them of the updated language pursuant to the provisions of the Act. The updated language contained in the FBI’s NSL template reads as follows:

“In accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 3511(b), you have the right to have a court review the nondisclosure requirement imposed in connection with this letter. If you wish to have a court conduct such a review, you may file a petition for judicial review in any court described in 18 U.S.C. § 3511(a). In the alternative, you may notify the FBI of your desire for judicial review of the nondisclosure requirement. Written notice may be mailed or faxed to [the FBI Division Field Office that issued the NSL], with a copy mailed to FBI Headquarters, 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20535, Attention: General Counsel. Your notice should reference the date of this letter and the File Number listed on the upper left corner of this letter. If the FBI determines that the nondisclosure requirement continues to be appropriate, not later than 30 days after the date of the FBI’s receipt of the notice, the FBI shall apply in a court described in 18 U.S.C. § 3511(b)(1)(B) for an order prohibiting the disclosure of the existence or contents of this letter. The nondisclosure requirement shall remain in effect during the pendency of the legal proceedings relating to the nondisclosure requirement.”

NSL Nondisclosure Termination Procedures

In accordance with the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline over Monitoring Act (USA FREEDOM Act), the U.S. Attorney General approved the attached “Termination Procedures for National Security Letter Nondisclosure Requirement.”

The procedures require the FBI to re-review the need for the nondisclosure requirement of an NSL three years after the initiation of a full investigation and at the closure of the investigation, and to terminate the nondisclosure requirement when the facts no longer support nondisclosure. These procedures apply to investigations that close or reach their three year anniversary on or after the effective date of these procedures. Upon a determination that the facts no longer support nondisclosure, the FBI will send to the recipient of the NSL a notice that the Bureau has lifted the nondisclosure obligation.

For more information, read the completed document for the Termination Procedures for National Security Letter Nondisclosure Requirement

NSB Components 

High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group

The HIG, established in 2009, brings together personnel from the U.S. Intelligence Community to conduct interrogations that strengthen national security and that are consistent with the rule of law. In addition to its operational role in eliciting accurate and actionable intelligence from high-value terrorism subjects, the HIG serves as the government’s focal point for interrogation best practices, training, and scientific research. All HIG-sponsored research is unclassified; researchers who work with the HIG are free to publish their findings, and most do.

The director of the HIG is an FBI representative and is assisted by two deputies—one from the Department of Defense and the other from the Central Intelligence Agency. Full-time HIG members are augmented part-time by HIG-trained professionals from FBI field offices and other U.S. Intelligence Community agencies.

HIG responsibilities fall under three primary areas, all of which feed into each other:

  • Interrogations: The HIG deploys expert Mobile Interrogation Teams (MITs) to collect intelligence that will prevent terrorist attacks and protect national security. Since the HIG’s creation, MITs have been deployed both within the United States and abroad. Deployment teams generally consist of a team leader, interrogators, analysts, subject matter experts, linguists, and other personnel as needed. HIG interrogators are chosen for—among other attributes—their extensive interviewing and interrogation experience and their willingness to adapt to evolving interrogation techniques based on the latest scientific research. The HIG uses only rapport-based techniques, as science has shown that non-coercive, non-threatening, rapport-based techniques elicit more credible information more quickly than any of the harsher techniques.
  • Research: The goal of the HIG’s research program is to study the effectiveness of interrogation approaches and techniques by identifying and validating existing techniques that work, and by developing new lawful techniques that may work even better. The HIG identifies research gaps in the interrogations field and commissions research products to fill in these gaps. To carry out the research, the HIG contracts with Ph.D.-level scientists from all over the world known for their expertise in interrogations and other related fields. Since its founding, the HIG has funded more than 75 interrogation research projects, some of which have covered interviews with expert interrogators, social influence tactics, the impact of interpreters, the cognitive interview, the strategic use of evidence, and science-based methods of detecting deception. All HIG research is conducted in complete compliance with international laws and U.S. laws concerning the protection of human research subjects.
  • Training: The HIG works to develop and disseminate best practices for training purposes for its own interrogators and part-time personnel and for other U.S. Intelligence Community and law enforcement partners and allies abroad. Some of the HIG’s interrogation techniques have been added to the curricula of the Department of Defense’s human intelligence training facility inArizona and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Georgia, among others. HIG interrogations are primarily terrorism-related, but the lawful interrogation techniques can also be used when questioning criminal suspects, which is why the HIG shares best practices with and conducts training sessions for select state and local law enforcement partners.

The HIG does not use torture. HIG personnel do not engage in any unlawful interrogation practices. They use authorized, lawful, non-coercive techniques that are designed to elicit voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force, threats, or promises.

The HIG does not select its own intelligence targets. With U.S. intelligence requirements in mind, targets are nominated by a U.S. intelligence agency and must be approved by appropriate partner agency leadership.

Lastly, the HIG is not the FBI. Even though the HIG is administratively housed within the FBI, it is a multi-agency organization whose principal function is intelligence gathering—not law enforcement, and it is subject to oversight through the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, and Congress. However, the actions of HIG teams are carefully documented, evidence is preserved in the event of a criminal prosecution, and its members are prepared to testify in court if necessary.


What Can You Do About Terrorism?

Terrorists want you to be afraid. They want you to imagine them in the shadows, to imagine them as something greater than they are. We hope you’ll turn that fear into a healthy awareness of what’s around you, and if you see something suspicious, report it to your local law enforcement agency or submit a tip to the FBI.

Related Links

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