Home News Testimony Omaha Division Counterterrorism Initiatives
  • James F. Bogner
  • Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Omaha Division, FBI
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before House Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management, and Intergovernmental Relations
  • Washington, DC
  • July 03, 2002

Good morning Chairman Horn, Members of the Subcommittee and distinguished guests. I appreciate and value the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the FBI's efforts in terrorism prevention and preparedness in the Omaha Division. I will focus on what the FBI is doing here to assist state and local governments in preparing for potential attacks involving biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, which we collectively refer to as Weapons of Mass Destruction or the acronym "WMD." I will also address measures being taken by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to address terrorism and WMD threats in Nebraska and Iowa, the "heartland" of America.


As part of his reorganization plan, FBI Director Mueller stated, in a communication to all FBI employees on May 20th of this year, the FBI's goal in counterterrorism is prevention. It is not, as in the past, only reacting to attacks with excellence and bringing terrorists to justice. While investigating terrorist acts remains the FBI's highest priority, our primary goal is prevention of future acts of terrorism. This does not mean that prosecution is not important. Prosecution is an absolutely critical element of prevention. But making clear that the goal is prevention rather than prosecution will mean enhanced emphasis on intelligence, analysis and proactive initiatives. Counterterrorism is the top priority of the Omaha Division, as it is for every single field office of the FBI and of every component of headquarters that supports these efforts in any way. This means a constant need to reassess--and as necessary shift--resources to address counterterrorism. The FBI will need to be more flexible and agile in addressing the constantly shifting terrorism threat. Our enemy is not static and we must not be either.

We in the Omaha Division of the FBI have embraced Director Mueller's message. We have implemented numerous initiatives in the months since the 9/11 terrorist attack on our country to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent another such attack. We maintain an aggressive program of preparedness training and coordination for potential WMD attacks which we initiated well before the 9/11 attack. We have also had some notable successes in counterterrorism investigations. Before I tell you about what we're doing, I wish to take a moment to describe some unique aspects of the territory for which the Omaha Division of the FBI is responsible.

The Omaha Office of the FBI

While the Omaha Office is one of the smallest of the 56 field offices in the Bureau in terms of staffing, it has one of the most expansive and diverse geographic territories in the FBI. Indeed, the geography and demographics of the Omaha Division's territory pose unique challenges in effectively fulfilling the FBI's mission.

The Office covers the two states of Iowa and Nebraska, a territory spanning two time zones and extending from the Mississippi River to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It is approximately 800 miles from the eastern border to the western border of the division. The Omaha Division encompasses three Federal judicial districts: the District of Nebraska, the Northern District of Iowa and the Southern District of Iowa. In order to properly serve this vast territory, the Omaha Division has a headquarters city office in Omaha, Nebraska, and eight resident agencies throughout the two states. Three of the eight resident agencies are in Nebraska and five are in Iowa.

Omaha's territory includes distinctly different regions of the country ranging from urban industrial centers to Midwest farmlands and agricultural communities to the ranch lands of the Great Plains. The vastness of the territory and the resulting differences in regional culture and crime problems require the Omaha Division to maximize the leveraging of its resources and to exercise flexibility and innovation in its investigations and operations.

Omaha Division Counterterrorism & WMD Initiatives

The foundation of the Omaha Division's Counterterrorism and WMD efforts consists of the triple building blocks of communication, coordination and cooperation. These building blocks result in a solid partnership between the FBI and front-line law enforcement agencies. Here in the Midwest, the law enforcement community has traditionally enjoyed a true spirit of partnership and inclusiveness. Perhaps this is due to the pioneer and agricultural heritage of this part of the country which gave rise to such traditions as barn raisings, cooperative livestock drives and mutual harvesting operations. Regardless of the origins of these characteristics, we and our city, county, state and other Federal counterparts recognize that an inclusive partnership is the most effective means of countering terrorism. This partnership, when formalized, takes the shape of a Joint Terrorism Task Force or "JTTF."

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF

The process of forming the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF reflected the unique and expansive nature of our territory and embraced the ideals of an inclusive partnership. As I am sure you already know, the first JTTF in the country was formed in 1980 by the FBI in New York. Every FBI field office that did not already have a JTTF has since formed one or is in the process of doing so. Most JTTFs consist of one main investigative entity with one or two sub-elements or annexes. We in the Omaha Division recognized that a JTT

The response of the Nebraska and Iowa law enforcement communities was gratifying: one-hundred-seventy-one (171) representatives of various local, county, state and other Federal law enforcement agencies attended our meetings. During these meetings, we gave detailed presentations about the overall terrorism threat, the FBI's counterterrorism strategy, the function and structure of the typical JTTF and local terrorism threat assessments focused on each of the regions of our territory in which meetings were held.

We proposed, and our law enforcement partners universally agreed, that the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF should have multiple, regionally focused teams because of the tremendous expanse of territory in Nebraska and Iowa. As a practical matter, one investigative entity cannot possibly cover the entire, two-state territory. Therefore, the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF was formed with five (5) regional teams that focus on regions of the two states corresponding to areas served by the various offices of the Omaha Division of the FBI. Each team conducts investigations in its geographic region; however, there is centralized intelligence sharing, coordination and administration of the overall JTTF. The five Nebraska/Iowa JTTF teams are: Eastern Nebraska /Omaha-Lincoln Metro Area, Central Nebraska, Western Nebraska, Eastern Iowa, and Central/Western Iowa. I have provided a map showing the areas of our territory covered by each of our five JTTF teams as an attachment to my written statement provided to the committee.

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF was officially approved and funded by FBI Headquarters on May 1st, 2002, and currently consists of 110 law enforcement agents or officers from more than 50 different agencies. Of the 110 JTTF agents or officers, 21 are full-time participants and 89 are part-time. We are currently in the process of finalizing security clearances and Federal deputations for the JTTF officers.

We already conducted one training session in Omaha and are in the process of scheduling a series of two-day, initial training seminars to be conducted in various regions of our territory in late July and early August of this year. This initiative is intended to provide initial, basic counterterrorism training for our 110 JTTF officers. Our planned curriculum includes the topics of: JTTF objectives and operations, interviewing and report writing techniques, the Attorney General Guidelines for preliminary and full counterterrorism investigations, an overview of the international and domestic terrorism threats, asset and informant development and operation, legal matters, counterterrorism investigative methodology, cyber-terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

After the initial, two-days of training, we plan to implement a continuing training program under which we will conduct training conferences three or four times each year and also take advantage of Department of Justice-funded State and Local Anti-terrorism Training or "SLATT" programs. In so doing, we will build a cadre of trained and experienced JTTF officers throughout our two-state territory to maximally leverage the FBI's counterterrorism resources .

In addition to the training specifically designed for our JTTF partners, we have provided Counterterrorism training to city, county, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies throughout Iowa and Nebraska. These training sessions, to attendees of the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee Conferences, Iowa 'All Agents' Conference, co-sponsored by both U.S. Attorneys in Iowa, State-wide National Academy Associates Training Conferences, The Iowa Chiefs of Police Association annual state-wide meeting, The Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska meeting, and Attorney Generals Anti-Terrorism Task Force meetings in Iowa and Nebraska, have provided the attendees with historical and background terrorism information, investigative and intelligence information, as well as table-top planning and response exercises.

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF addresses both domestic and international terrorist threats, to include the WMD threat. While the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have clearly shown that the most urgent terrorist threat currently facing our Nation is that from radical Islamic Fundamentalists, the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF will also devote appropriate efforts to domestic terrorist threats and WMD preparedness in the long term.

NE/IA JTTF Success: Lucas Helder / Mailbox Pipe Bomb Case

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF has already conducted a very successful, high profile domestic terrorism investigation despite the fact that this JTTF is still in its nascent stages. Starting on Friday, May 3, 2002, just two days after the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF was formally approved, a series of improvised bombs was left inside mailboxes in rural areas of Eastern Iowa and Northwest Illinois. Accompanying each pipe bomb was a letter addressed to the public that offered comments about life, death, pain and the impact of government on the individual. The letter suggested that the author had a grievance against some level of government. By the end of the day on May 3rd, bombs had been discovered in eight separate mailboxes and six people were injured by these pipe bomb attacks. The injured included a 70-year-old woman who was seriously injured when she opened her mail box and several rural mail carriers who were injured when trying to deliver mail.

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF mobilized within hours of the first pipe bomb explosion. The Eastern Iowa and Central Iowa JTTF teams jointly established a multi-agency command post at the FBI Resident Agency in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which was staffed around the clock by all agencies involved in the investigation. The FBI Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters instituted a watch desk in the FBI Strategic Information and Operations Center, or "SIOC." The JTTF command post in Cedar Rapids coordinated the efforts of evidence recovery and investigative teams from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and various state and local agencies.

On Saturday, May 4th, bombs accompanied by letters identical to those found in Iowa were discovered at six locations in Nebraska. In response, the Omaha/Lincoln Eastern Nebraska JTTF team swung into action. A second, multi-agency command post was established at the FBI Omaha Division headquarters city office in Omaha, Nebraska which was also staffed 24 hours a day by all agencies involved. A seventh pipe bomb was found in Nebraska on Sunday, May 5th and an eighth was found in Nebraska on Monday, May 6th. Two additional bombs were found on Monday, May 6th: one in rural Colorado and one Texas, yielding a total of 18 bombs in five states.

At this point, overall command of the investigation shifted from the Cedar Rapids, Iowa command post to the Omaha, Nebraska command post, where the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF coordinated the investigation and evidence recovery efforts in the five states in which pipe bombs had been found. The full resources of the FBI, to include specialized bomb scenting dogs, the FBI Bomb Data Center, the FBI Laboratory, national FBI aviation assets, and the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit were applied to the investigation of the 18 pipe bombs. The efforts of all of these national level resources and of the hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers were all coordinated and directed by the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF through the Omaha command post. Seven (7) different FBI field divisions were involved in the investigation which resulted in the apprehension and filing of charges against Lucas John Helder. This investigation, and the national media coverage seeking the public's assistance were also coordinated by the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF.

The Nebraska/Iowa JTTF is justifiably proud of this investigation. The identification, location, apprehension and filing of charges against an individual within five days of the first bomb being found proved that the building blocks of our JTTF foundation are indeed strong. The communication, coordination and cooperation between the dozens of law enforcement agencies and hundreds of agents and officers demonstrated by this very successful investigation will continue to be the hallmarks of Nebraska/Iowa JTTF counterterrorism efforts in the future.

Other Nebraska/Iowa JTTF Initiatives

There are other ongoing counterterrorism investigations being conducted by the Nebraska/Iowa JTTF in addition to the training initiatives and successful investigation of the mailbox pipe bombings described above. Because these investigations are still ongoing, I am unable to provide any details about them.

However, there is one Nebraska/Iowa JTTF communications initiative I wish to briefly tell you about. We are working closely with the Nebraska State Patrol and the Iowa Department of Public of Safety to establish secure, web-based communications channels that will be used by JTTF officers in both states. Both the Nebraska State Patrol and the Iowa Department of Public Safety have existing, secure, web-based intelligence sharing and communications systems accessible to law enforcement agencies. Special counterterrorism sites have already been established on each system. We are working to establish secure, JTTF subsites on these systems to which JTTF agents and officers in each state will have access. Ultimately, we hope to link the Nebraska and Iowa state systems to further enhance coordination and intelligence sharing.

WMD & Counterterrorism Preparedness

In addition to JTTF activities, the FBI Omaha Division has been involved in WMD and counterterrorism preparedness and training that predates the terrorist attacks of September 11. The FBI Counterterrorism Division's Weapons of Mass Destruction Countermeasures Unit plans and conducts WMD exercises which address the specific needs and objectives of state and local emergency responders. State and local emergency management officials may request this assistance through their respective FBI WMD Coordinators who forward the request to FBI Headquarters. Every FBI Field Division, including the Omaha Division, has a WMD Coordinator.

In order to ensure that the various state and local agencies in Iowa and Nebraska are familiar with the assistance the FBI can provide as well as our protocol for responding to a WMD incident, Omaha's WMD Coordinator has conducted or participated in nine (9) preparedness or training events in the last three years, as set forth below.

  1. 2/1999 - Participated in Nunn/Lugar/Domenici training in Omaha.
  2. 6/1999 - Coordinated and planned a three-day WMD needs assessment for the Department of Justice.
  3. 10/1999 - Participated in Domestic Preparedness Senior Officials Workshop in Lincoln.
  4. 11/1999 - 3/2000 - Assisted the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency in training all Nebraska state supervisors and managers in terrorism and preparedness issues. Training held at various locations throughout the state.
  5. 1/2000 - Participated in Nunn/Lugar/Domenici training in Lincoln.
  6. 11/2000 - Provided domestic preparedness training for Iowa emergency managers.
  7. 2/2001 - 4/2001 - Assisted the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency with terrorism awareness training. Training held at various locations throughout the state.
  8. 12/2001 - Assisted University of Nebraska Extension Coordinator with chemical/pesticide safety and security training program.
  9. 1/2002 - Provided WMD response training for Iowa emergency managers and law enforcement.

WMD Response training for Iowa emergency managers and law enforcement conducted in January 2002 (the last entry in the listing above) merits some additional discussion because of the innovative manner in which it was conducted. This training was jointly produced and conducted by the Omaha FBI in partnership with the Iowa Emergency Management Division. The focus of the training was crisis management and coordination of responses to WMD incidents with an emphasis on bio terrorism incidents. This training was televised and broadcast live throughout Iowa on the Iowa Cable Network. All Iowa law enforcement, fire and rescue agencies were invited to participate in the training which featured an interactive, call-in question and answer period after the formal presentations. In addition to the FBI, the Iowa Emergency Management Division and the Iowa Public Health Laboratory presented blocks of instruction.

The FBI's portion of this training dealt with its response protocol and the FBI's interagency threat assessment process. The FBI's WMD Operations Unit, which is in the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters, coordinates this threat assessment to determine the credibility of the threat received, the immediate concerns involving health and safety of responding personnel, and the requisite level of response warranted by the federal government. To conduct the threat assessment, the FBI obtains detailed information from the on-scene personnel and input from the necessary federal agencies with responsibility in the particular incident. In a biological event, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the key agencies called upon to assist FBI personnel in assessing the particular threat. Based upon the assessment, a determination is made as to the level of response necessary to adequately address the particular threat, which could range from a full federal response if the threat is deemed credible, to collection of the material in an effort to rule out the presence of any biological pathogens if the threat is deemed not credible. A similar threat assessment process occurs in the event of a chemical or nuclear threat.

The Omaha FBI WMD coordinator is also a member of the steering committee for the Omaha Metropolitan Medical Response System, or "OMMRS." Representatives of all major health care facilities and public health officials in the Omaha metropolitan area participate in the OMMRS. The OMMRS mission is to maximize preparedness and coordination in the health care community to ensure effective responses to major public health incidents, including bio terrorism and WMD attacks. The OMMRS meets on a monthly basis.

Our counterterrorism preparedness efforts include regular participation in field and table top exercises to test the response capabilities of agencies who would participate in a disaster involving biological, chemical, or nuclear attack. The Omaha Division has participated in 10 exercises in the past three years, as set forth below.

  1. 3/2000 - Participated in a chemical weapons attack tabletop exercise in Omaha, assisted in exercise planning.
  2. 5/2000 - Participated in a functional chemical weapons attack field exercise in Omaha, assisted in planning.
  3. 9/2000 - Participated in an airport security tabletop exercise.
  4. 3/2002 - Participated in a biological weapons attack table top exercise in Lincoln, NE assisted in planning.
  5. 5/2002 - Participated in a functional chemical weapons attack field exercise in Lincoln, NE assisted in planning.

In addition to the formal training provided and participation in various exercises, the Omaha FBI WMD Coordinator maintains liaison on a daily basis with city, county and state law enforcement and emergency management agencies.

WMD Investigations and Operations

In the area of WMD investigations and operations, the Omaha Division is in constant communication with members of the law enforcement, fire, emergency management, and medical communities. This partnership was clearly evident in the cooperation during the time period after September 11, 2001, when anthrax hoaxes occurred in Iowa and Nebraska. In addition to those hoaxes, well-meaning citizens reported hundreds of suspicious packages and other items. Since October 2001, nationwide the FBI has responded to more than 16,000 reports of use or threatened use of anthrax or other hazardous materials and the Omaha Division has had its share of these. We have provided advice and guidance on more than 800 incidents of suspected anthrax, physically responded to the scene approximately 75 times, and have several pending investigations related to various WMD threats.

Another example of the high degree of interagency cooperation we enjoy here in the Omaha Division is that the local ATF office provided agents who worked hand-in-glove with the FBI to handle the federal response to anthrax reports in the Omaha metropolitan area. FBI Agents and ATF Agents responded to the calls on a rotational basis with such seamless cooperation that the general public was not even aware that different agencies were responding. The Omaha FBI also coordinated and facilitated the laboratory testing of suspicious parcels throughout Iowa and Nebraska.

National Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Terrorism

Because of its relevance to the topic of this hearing, specifically the threat to nuclear and chemical facilities, I would like to briefly discuss the Omaha FBI's efforts in support of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection mission. I know that you have already received a number of briefings about the National Infrastructure Protection Center, or "NIPC," which is an interagency center that serves as the focal point for the government's effort to warn of and respond to cyber intrusions, both domestic and international. NIPC programs have been established in each of the FBI's 56 field divisions, including the Omaha Division.

A key component of the FBI's infrastructure protection efforts is the InfraGard Program which incorporates a variety of entities, all of which have a stake in protecting our national infrastructure against cyber attacks, into a system similar to a Neighborhood Watch. InfraGard is a national, cooperative undertaking between the FBI and non-FBI members which typically include businesses, academic institutions, military installations, state and local law enforcement agencies and other selected participants. InfraGard is dedicated to increasing the security of the critical infrastructure of the United States. InfraGard chapters engage in various training and coordination activities, share intelligence related to computer issues, and operate a self warning system.

The Omaha Division of the FBI has initiated InfraGard chapters in Omaha, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa. Members of the Omaha InfraGard chapter include the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, which controls the entire nuclear arsenal of the United States; and the Peter Kiewit Institute, a world leader in technology research and development.


Despite the recent focus on international terrorism, it is important to remain cognizant of the full range of threats that confront the U.S. These threats continue to include domestic and international terrorists. Terrorism represents a continuing threat to the U.S. and a formidable challenge to the FBI. In response to this threat, the FBI has developed a broad-based counterterrorism program, based on investigations to disrupt terrorist activities, interagency cooperation, and effective warning. While this approach has yielded many successes, the dynamic nature of the terrorist threat demands that our capabilities continually be refined and adapted to provide the most effective response.

In the Omaha Division, all of the FBI's investigative and preparedness responsibilities are conducted jointly with other law enforcement agencies and often with the appropriate fire, emergency response, and medical agencies. It is impossible for the FBI to conduct investigations and obtain intelligence without the assistance of all Iowa and Nebraska federal, state, and local agencies. Communication, coordination and cooperation are exceptional in all areas and the Omaha Division consistently strives to maintain and improve upon these building blocks to maximize the effectiveness of our counterterrorism investigations and preparedness.

Chairman Horn, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would like to express appreciation for this subcommittee's concentration on the issue of terrorism preparedness and I would be happy to respond to any questions at this time.

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