Meet the National Joint Terrorism Task Force
Protecting America from Terrorist Attack
Meet the National Joint Terrorism Task Force
Deep in the operational heart of FBIHQ’s “SIOC” (the Strategic Information and Operations Center) is a room that’s always buzzing. With some 57 people from 38 U.S. agencies (law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, defense, public safety, and homeland security), you can understand why. This operational nerve center is all about one-stop shopping for terrorist intelligence...in order to prevent acts of terrorism.
As America prepares for a summer and fall of heightened threats to U.S. interests, we asked Ken Love, Acting Chief of the NJTTF, to talk about his operation.
Question: What do you mean when you describe the NJTTF as “the point of fusion?”
Mr. Love: It’s a pretty simple concept: we bring together people from every U.S. agency that collects and processes terrorist intelligence; we put them in one room and hook them into their own and into our FBI intelligence databases; and all of a sudden we have the universe of terrorist intelligence on the table—to share, to query, to coordinate, to answer questions, and to give direction and support to the 84 Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) around the country that function under us. “Fusion” means that terrorist intelligence is instantly shared vertically from HQ to our JTTFs and horizontally to all NJTTF agencies.
Question: What’s a typical day like for the 57 people in your shop?
Mr. Love: Long, intense, and usually rewarding. It starts at 5 am when we collate the day’s hot issues from multiple sources and circulate them to everyone to digest, process, and query. At 8 am, there’s a small coordination meeting with CT (Counterterrorism) Watch and SIOC supervisors on the day’s briefings, then at 9:30 am sharp, everyone in the room turns off computers, telephones, everything—and we hold an intense, formatted briefing. We cover all the top and breaking issues; we solicit input from everyone in the room for breaking news from his or her agency; we get a detailed briefing from CT watch on the current threat stream; we field questions and talk strategies and logistics. Then we get to work—and that can mean a lot of things. People send items of interest to their home agencies and run down the answers to questions their agencies have asked. They query their agency databases to answer thousands of lead and namecheck questions from our JTTFs. They coordinate special terrorism projects, unleashing all 84 JTTFs to address an issue, fill in an intelligence gap, solve a problem...or activating just one to address local threat. And much much more.
Question: How does that “typical” day change when the threat level is elevated?
Mr. Love: I’d say the normal buzz pretty much turns into a roar—a productive roar, but a roar. Our JTTFs need more questions answered...each agency represented needs many more questions answered and requires full and lengthy briefings. We go into 24/7 mode, with pre-cleared back ups for our people, and institute Saturday morning briefings.
Question: I know you make the call on special projects in your shop—both priority ones that could lead to identifying terrorists or cells and others that aim for long-term impacts. Can you give us a few examples of projects that you think have made a real difference in managing the threat environment?
Mr. Love: We’ve got an awful lot of them on the table right now, as you can imagine. So let me just hit some highlights. To identify potential terrorist sleeper cells, Operation Tripwire commissions all JTTFs to ask specific questions of specific industries (e.g., suspicious behavior of airline passengers) then looks for patterns from the collected data. We’re collecting and analyzing data on radicalism in prisons. We’re coordinating new initiatives for railroads and cruise ships.
Question: Will you be doing anything special in the coming months, with heightened threats expected?
Mr. Love: Yes, a number of things. For example, we’re about to expand our cadre of JTTFs from 84 to 100. These 16 new task forces will give us the coverage we need in areas that can produce good intelligence. We are also coordinating through the 2004 Terrorism Threat Task Force new iterations of Operation Tripwire—this time having our JTTFs collect data on ferry systems...and on the sale of unmanned aerial vehicles. These kinds of projects really show the heart of the NJTTF mission. When all our agencies work together as we do, we can find better ways to help disrupt, dismantle, and eliminate terrorist threats to America.