Counterterrorism – II

September 11, 2009

We’re putting the spotlight on the FBI‘s Counterterrorism Division and Assistant Director Michael Heimbach, on our previous edition of Inside the FBI, talked about the division’s mission to help Americans to live without worry about terrorism and to help prevent an attack on our homeland.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. We’re putting the spotlight on the FBI‘s Counterterrorism Division and Assistant Director Michael Heimbach, on our previous edition of Inside the FBI, talked about the division’s mission to help Americans to live without worry about terrorism and to help prevent an attack on our homeland. We asked Heimbach how the Counterterrorism Division interacts with other entities of the FBI such as the Counterintelligence, Criminal Investigative, and Cyber Divisions.

Mr. Heimbach: “We interface with all of our divisions quite regularly. Every morning I begin my morning at, well, I begin quite early at 5:00 a.m. I have my first brief at 7:15 a.m. And at 7:15 a.m. that’s a brief for me where Counterintelligence, Cyber, Criminal, Office of International Operations, all are sitting at the table. And what we’re doing is we’re going over the threats that occurred overnight, the sensitive reporting that we may be collecting on, talk about our top investigations, and each division has a role at the table so that the leadership is aware of what is a high profile, so that we are connecting strategically with each other.

Then we go to the Director of the FBI and sit with him at 7:45, and then after that we come down and brief the Attorney General of the United States, every day, Monday through Friday. Again, all the divisions are part of this senior-level briefing; that’s how we interconnect.

On a lower-scale level, on the every day business, there is a lot of blend where, two types of terrorism we look at in the FBI—international terrorism and domestic terrorism. What’s the difference? The difference is international terrorism obviously has some type of international connectivity to some type of designated foreign terrorist organization or some type of foreign power. Domestic is when we’re looking at organizations like the Neo-Nazis, the White Supremacists, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front; groups of those individuals that have a proven track record of usually violence, some time of economic destruction, economic loss, personal violence to include even death sometimes.

One of the most horrific incidents that occurred in this nation was the Oklahoma bombing; and that was led by a domestic terrorist, so we have a total focus on that, also. Many individuals that are the focus of our domestic terrorism investigations are usually involved in some type of criminal activity of some sort. So it’s important that whether it’s fraud, a white collar fraud, whether it’s some type of violent act, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, whatever the offense may be, it’s important.

Many times, are hate crimes individuals that could potentially fall under civil rights investigation. And those that are being focused under hate crimes, we have to ensure that we also are focusing on them on the domestic terrorism side and we have that cross, I refer to as pollenization, in terms of the sharing and the blend, so that we are connecting our strategic dots. Not just from national security, but on everything we do in the FBI. How is that done? That’s where we’ve created in all of our offices what we call FIGS, Field Intelligence Groups. That’s an analytical umbrella that sits in 56 (field) offices. And the FIG, if you can look at an upside-down umbrella, my analogy, basically is the collectors of every program in the FBI, within that division.

So if you have the Philadelphia Division and you have the Criminal, the Cyber, the Counterintelligence, the Counterterrorism, you name it, sitting there, then the FIG is looking at everything that’s collected by the investigators and other analysts. And then that Field Intelligence Group, with a cadre of not only professional analytical support, other professional support, is connecting the dots.

When somebody sees something come in, in a criminal element, and it happens then to tie, that somebody could have been involved in some type of health care fraud. And then they have, they run the data that we have collected, then they find it ties in to a national security case, whether it’s in counterintelligence or counterterrorism, that’s where the dots connect, then. And then what helps us do, is, then we potentially could use, and leverage potentially a criminal violation, to potentially disrupt a potential national security threat.”

Mr. Schiff: Could you take us into one of those early morning briefings with the Director where you’re discussing a threat?

Mr. Heimbach: “ Sure. Unfortunately, this nation sees numerous threats on a daily basis. Now the challenge for us is: ‘Which ones are valid? Which ones are credible? Which ones are, we refer to some as ‘red herrings?’ And the origination of the source could be from anywhere. It could be from a foreign liaison partner; it could be from a state and local police officer; it could be from a concerned citizen who calls in suspicious activity.

Now, for example, today, I think we had approximately five threats against the nation that we were working on. Most of them emanated from overseas. So then the challenge for us is, you have, it states, ‘the source of the threat came from a confidential source whose reliability and credibility are still being assessed.’ And then you’re trying to figure out how much credibility and reliability that they are going to attack or potentially are plotting and planning on attacking X, Y, or Z in the United States.

Or, they may even, in a threat reporting, give you a specific name. Many times, when we refer to it not only as a ‘red herring’ but a ‘poison pen,’ many times there are some adversaries that have a dislike or disdain for an individual. They will call up a law enforcement agency, whether in the United States or out, or talk to an intelligence service, and provide derogatory information against an individual that has no association with terrorism but will imply and will articulate to us the plotting and planning.

Many times our threats, which we use plenty of resources on, work to kind of vet through those threats to, one, make sure, first it’s not easy to determine that it was a poison pen, then we find out there was ulterior motivation behind the person who gave us this information, but that takes resources to do.

So, very challenging for us to decipher on a daily basis the credible and the uncredible threats. What the American public has to appreciate, that credible or uncredible, an extensive amount of resources go into pealing the onion back, to really come to a conclusion, that indeed, there was no credible threat.

Pre 9/11, people were making kind of gut calls. We’re saying, ‘No, there’s no substance to this.’ Today, and since then, every threat gets unraveled all the way down to the last thread, I can assure you that.”

Mr. Schiff: What is the future for the United States, the government, the FBI, in the battle against terrorism?

Mr. Heimbach: “You never have enough resources to get the job done but you do with what you have, and the challenge for us, for the future, is when we doubled, or almost tripled some of our resources in the national security arena, a lot of our other priorities, such as on the criminal side, suffered some losses. A lot of their resources were transferred to us. Now we have to get those resources back up on equal ground. I’m a firm believer that the future, there’s a lot of the subjects that we focus on, on the national security side of the house, have most of the time some criminal element attached to them; some criminal activity. And the more we stay engaged on the criminal side, the more intelligence will come from that, the more strategic dots we’ll connect, the safer we are.

The challenge for us, too, on the technology side, is to really stay up with the times, with upgrading our own internal systems. The terrorists, you know, are using the latest and greatest of technology and fortunately, I have a pretty young work force that’s up on that technology, and wants to make sure that we allow them the ability to get in there, into the same types of forums. Whether it’s different, you know, Facebook, or different types of accounts that are out there, that we found valuable, valuable information, but that’s challenging for us. How can we, technically, allow our analysts for the future, to paint a picture, all through using technology? Meaning, all the data is in there; have systems that show correlation between different subjects, different travel patterns, different types of connectivity, that allows them to cull through, in a timely manner, and not a very tedious manner, but a very expedited manner in terms of connecting the strategic dots.

That’s the future. We’ve got to stay up with the technology changes. We’re doing a good job but there’s always room for improvement there in that area.”

Mr. Schiff: What kind of message can you give to the American citizens, and people around the world that the FBI, and the United States government, is working every day, 24/7 for them, and that we’re doing the best we can?

Mr. Heimbach: “I’m asked many times in public speeches what keeps me up at night and what am I most fearful of. So what can the public do and what message do I have? First and foremost, I need their help. I need every citizen to help us be the eyes and ears. If I have millions of individuals paying attention to different nuances in their own neighborhoods, in their own backyards, we will stay safer. And most are fearful, for whatever reason, to sometimes call their state and local officers, because they’re thinking, ‘Ah, that’s nothing; ah, that’s okay.’ But let us decide. Let the trained law enforcement individuals, trained intelligence officers make those decisions. No harm, no foul. Doesn’t cost anything to pick up the phone.

We’ll go back to the U.K. ( United Kingdom) train plot where they blew up some trains over in the subway system in London. If, when the investigation unraveled, you found that where they were making the suicide bombs was in a complex in one of the suburbs of London, where they were actually using the peroxide-based ingredients to manufacture these homemade suicide bombs and suicide backpacks, which actually the smell coming from the manufacturing killed plants outside the window. It basically killed all the plants, and then, after the fact, when you talk to the neighbors and you talk to individuals within the vicinity of the neighborhood, all observed this but didn’t know what to do and didn’t know where to go and didn’t know who to call and didn’t and didn’t know what it meant. But did observe an unusual smell coming from the residence; did observe the plants dying outside the window. That’s the kind of example that we are most appreciative of. Let us decide. You’re not troubling us. We would rather you call us than not call us. The citizens should be rest assured that as we move away from 9/11, one of my biggest concerns is complacency setting in. When, just because there’s been no homeland attack, knock on wood, since 9/11, that doesn’t mean our adversaries aren’t still focused on it. I can tell you, rest assured, from the most sensitive reporting I see, they’re still focused on the homeland; they’re still focused on attacking U.S. interests; we must remain vigilant; we cannot lessen our efforts here. It’s important for not only for our safety, the welfare of all of our citizens, the core fabric of what we all believe this nation was built upon.

The reassuring the news for the public is you should be proud we have a phenomenal workforce. Not just in the FBI, but partnerships with our state, local, federal, our intelligence community, all of our foreign liaison partners who know the threat. See it. Breathe it 24/7, every day, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and you should be rest assured that when you’re sleeping comfortably in your house, you have dedicated, not only FBI personnel, but other agency personnel working 24/7 around the clock, in order that you can sleep comfortably in your bed. You can go home; you can hug your children. That’s what we’re here to do; that’s one of our main missions, to keep us safe, to eliminate you and everyone else living in fear of terrorism.”

Mr. Schiff: Be alert. You can help counterterrorism by letting your local or state police or the FBI know if something is out of the ordinary. Law enforcement is here for you. Check the Internet at for more on counterterrorism efforts around the world. That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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