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  • Philip W. Thomas
  • Special Agent in Charge, Memphis Division, FBI
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management, and Intergovernmental Relations
  • Washington, DC
  • March 01, 2002

Good morning Chairman Horn, Members of the Subcommittee and distinguished Members of the Tennessee Delegation. I value the opportunity to appear before you and discuss terrorism preparedness, including threats posed by attacks involving biological, chemical or nuclear agents, as well as measures being taken by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to address these threats.


The mission of the FBI's counterterrorism program is to detect, deter, prevent, and swiftly respond to terrorist actions that threaten the U.S. national interests at home or abroad, and to coordinate those efforts with local, state, federal, and foreign entities as appropriate. The counterterrorism responsibilities of the FBI include the investigation of domestic and international terrorism. As events during the past several years demonstrate, both domestic and international terrorist organizations represent threats within the borders of the US

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the US (or its territories) without foreign direction, committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the US or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the US or any state. Acts of international terrorism are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or affect the conduct of a government. These acts transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they are intended to intimidate, or the locale in which perpetrators operate.

The FBI has developed a strong response to the threats posed by domestic and international terrorism. Between fiscal years 1993 and 2003, the number of special agents dedicated to the FBI's counterterrorism programs grew by approximately 224 percent (to 1,669--nearly 16 percent of all FBI special agents). In recent years, the FBI has strengthened its counterterrorism program to enhance its abilities to carry out these objectives.

The Memphis Division of the FBI

The Memphis Division of the FBI is comprised of the Western and Middle Federal Judicial Districts within the state of Tennessee. The Division has investigative responsibilities in 54 counties with an approximate population of 3.2 million. The headquarters office for the Division is located in Memphis with satellite offices, or Resident Agencies (RAs), in Jackson, Nashville, Clarksville, Columbia, and Cookeville. The Division personnel resource staffing level for Special Agents is approximately 84 and the professional support complement is approximately 61.

FBI Special Agents assigned to counterterrorism matters in the Memphis Division meet with their federal, state and local counterparts in designated alternating locations on a regular basis for training, discussion of investigations, and to share intelligence. This provides a necessary structure to direct counterterrorism resources toward localized terrorism problems. Domestic terrorism training has been provided by the FBI at numerous agencies within the Memphis Division including the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The FBI recently assisted the US Attorney's Office in "State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training " funded by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Approximately two and one half years ago the Memphis Division initiated working groups in Memphis and Nashville comprised of various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The primary purpose was to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute individuals and organizations planning and/or committing terrorist acts. Since September 11, 2001, training by several agencies has been provided on a monthly basis at the working group meetings in Nashville.

The establishment of those working groups required extensive background investigations on the agents/officers of such agencies as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff's Office, and the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. Those members of the working groups received Top Secret clearances in order to share classified intelligence and conduct joint classified investigations. Other federal agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the US Customs Service, the US Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ensured their clearances were updated and forwarded to the FBI.

Without delving into the specifics of current international terrorism cases, international threats to the US generally consist of state sponsors of international terrorism, formalized terrorist organizations, and the radical international jihad movement. Each of these categories represents a threat to US interests abroad and in the United States. With the Top Secret security clearances, the local, state, and federal agents/officers on the working groups are able to assist the FBI in international terrorism investigations. Since September 11, 2001, the Memphis Division has made personnel changes to address international terrorism. Through utilization of the individual working groups, the Division has been able to initiate more cases and gather additional intelligence. The Al Qaeda organization is the primary terrorist threat to which investigative efforts are directed. In conjunction with Treasury Department agencies, efforts are being made to track funding sources in the Memphis Division who may support terrorist cells in the US and overseas.

Counterterrorism Preparedness

In the counterterrorism preparedness area, the FBI's Knoxville Division (responsible for the Eastern Federal Judicial District in Tennessee) has within its territory the Oak Ridge and the Sequoia nuclear power facilities. There are no nuclear facilities within the Memphis Division. There are research facilities and chemical manufacturers such as Dupont and Williams Refinery in Shelby County. Key assets such as the lakes, dams, and facilities owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority are monitored via cooperation and liaison with that agency.

Counterterrorism preparedness includes field and table top exercises which test the ability of the response capabilities of agencies who would participate in a disaster involving biological, chemical, or nuclear attack. The Memphis Division has participated in exercises held in Memphis, Nashville, and Wilson County. The FBI, as lead agency for crisis management, was called upon to implement a plan in coordination with other law enforcement, fire, emergency, and health agencies. The response was reviewed and critiqued by the Department of Defense and DOJ.

The most recent joint field exercise was conducted at Adelphia Coliseum and involved virtually every federal, state, and local agency including the Red Cross. An instructional film was made of that exercise and is used in various venues across the US The Memphis Division also participated in a professionally made film in Nashville which will be used to train WMD personnel throughout the US Future training events include a hazardous materials drill which will be hosted by the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency in March 2002.

Other domestic terrorism responsibilities assigned to the FBI are "special events." The Memphis Division opened special event cases on the Country Music Association Awards, the Maccabi Games (an international athletic competition sponsored by the Jewish community), the National Religious Broadcasters Association, and the American Aviation Association. All FBI field offices were queried for information related to possible criminal activities directed against the events or participants.

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 National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), which was created in 1998. The NIPC is an interagency center housed at FBI headquarters 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 Memphis division. Through a 24-hour watch and other initiatives, the NIPC has developed processes to ensure that it receives information in real-time or near-real-time from relevant sources, including the US intelligence community, FBI criminal investigations, other federal agencies, the private sector, emerging intrusion detection systems, and open sources. This information is quickly evaluated to determine if a broad-scale attack is imminent or underway.

On January 16, 2002, the FBI disseminated an advisory via NLETS regarding possible attempts by terrorists to use US municipal and state web sites to obtain information on local energy infrastructures, water reservoirs, dams, highly enriched uranium storage sites, and nuclear and gas facilities. Although the FBI possesses no specific threat information regarding these apparent intrusions, these types of activities on the part of terrorists pose serious challenges to our national security.

The National Infrastructure and Computer Intrusion Program also has a role in preventing terrorist acts. The focus of NIPC's "Key Asset Initiative" includes asset identification and protection, and prevention and detection of computer intrusions. Assets include the major electrical, communications, and water facilities; transportation hubs; energy plants and other infrastructure which are instrumental in supporting societal activities and which, if attacked, would represent a major loss or disruption to Tennessee and US communities. Computer intrusions financially impact the business community and computer systems may be used to gain illegal entry into governmental or military agencies. Computer terrorists may conduct clandestine communications via computers located in educational institutions or elsewhere without the knowledge of the computer system's sponsor.

With computer technology in mind and the desire to prevent computer attacks and intrusions, the Memphis Division initiated the InfraGard Program which incorporated business, governmental, and military communities into a system similar to a Neighborhood Watch. They conduct meetings to discuss awareness of computer issues and operate a self warning system.

Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs)

Cooperation among law enforcement agencies at all levels represents an important component of a comprehensive response to terrorism. This cooperation assumes its most tangible operational form in the joint terrorism task forces (JTTFs) that are established in 44 cities across the nation. These task forces are particularly well-suited to responding to terrorism because they combine the national and international investigative resources of the FBI with the street-level expertise of local law enforcement agencies. This cop-to-cop cooperation has proven highly successful in preventing several potential terrorist attacks.

Given the success of the JTTF concept, the FBI has established 15 new JTTFs since the end of 1999. Contingent upon the FBI's 2003 budget request for funds to expand the JTTF program, the FBI plans to have established JTTFs in each of its 56 field divisions, including the Memphis Division, by the end of 2003. By integrating the investigative abilities of the FBI and local law enforcement agencies these task forces represent an effective response to the threats posed to US communities by domestic and international terrorists.

The FBI is presently working with the Department of Justice to ensure that the JTTFs are coordinated with the newly created Anti-Terrorism Task Forces located in the offices of US Attorneys throughout the country. This coordination is crucial, to avoid duplication of effort and enhance the exchange of information and overall counterterrrorism objectives. In addition to the JTTFs, the Regional Terrorism Task Force (RTTF) initiative serves as a viable means of accomplishing the benefits associated with information sharing for those areas without an established, full-time JTTF. There are currently six RTTFs : the Inland Northwest RTTF, the South Central RTTF, the Southeastern RTTF, the Northeast Border RTTF, the Deep South RTTF, and the Southwest RTTF. Special Agents from the Memphis Division have attended RTTF conferences and training in El Paso and San Antonio, along with a working group member from the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department.

The Memphis Division will initiate a JTTF in the near future. A Memorandum of Understanding will be sent to the participating agencies for their review and personnel commitments. The JTTF will enhance our already productive relationship with the agencies in our working groups by adding resources and by bringing investigators from other agencies onto the JTTF on a full-time basis. Until the Memphis Division JTTF is approved, we will continue working with our law enforcement partners via the aforementioned working groups and RTTF.

Investigations by the working groups which were displayed in the media included the case brought to the Middle Tennessee Counterterrorism Working Group in Nashville by the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. An individual was spotted by an alert citizen outside a Jewish school in his vehicle while armed with a military type long gun. After the initial investigation and a high speed chase, a search was conducted of the individual's residence and a rented storage locker. Hate literature, guns (including a .50 caliber rifle), hand grenades, pipe bombs, an inactive LAWS rocket, material for making explosives (the equivalent of 50 sticks of dynamite), survival gear, police scanners, and a computer were seized. An additional site in Maury County contained buried explosives. A search of the computer revealed his connections to the National Alliance and other hate groups, as well as a picture of Timothy McVeigh. Agencies assisting in that investigation included the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, the US Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the FBI.

Another recent example of a successful joint investigation was the case brought to the Middle Tennessee Counterterrorism Working Group by the Tennessee Highway Patrol which involved the sale of police badges via the Internet. An undercover operation revealed an individual in Florida who possessed and sold badges of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Customs Service, the US Marshals, and shields of local and state law enforcement agencies. Approximately 900 badges were bought or seized. Some were stolen, some were original, and some were counterfeit. One counterfeit badge from the FBI was included, as well as Olympic badges for the Utah Highway Patrol which were not yet on the market for collectors. This latter case received nationwide media attention. Both case examples represent the collaboration and excellent working relationships enjoyed by law enforcement agencies in the Western and Middle Districts of Tennessee. The ability of the agencies to share intelligence and pool investigative resources is key to preventing terrorist acts.

Threat Warning Systems

Because warning is critical to the prevention of terrorist acts, the FBI also has expanded the National Threat Warning System (NTWS) first implemented in 1989. The system now reaches all aspects of the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Currently, sixty federal agencies and their subcomponents receive information via secure teletype through this system. The messages also are transmitted to all 56 FBI field offices and 44 legal attaches. If threat information requires nationwide unclassified dissemination to all federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the FBI transmits messages via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS). In addition, the FBI disseminates threat information to security managers of thousands of US commercial interests through the Awareness of National Security Issues and Response (ANSIR) program. If warranted, the expanded NTWS also enables the FBI to communicate threat information directly to the American people. Since the terrorist attack of September 11, the FBI has disseminated 37 warnings via the NTWS. The FBI also has issued more than 40 "be on the lookout" (BOLO) alerts via the NLETS system. BOLO alerts provide the names of individuals who are of investigative interest to the FBI.

In an effort to further disseminate terrorism information, the Memphis Division entered into an agreement with the Regional Organized Crime Information Center (ROCIC) which is located in Nashville and which is a member of the Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) in order to enter information on the secure Internet for retrieval by Tennessee law enforcement agencies. Several meetings were held which included leaders of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, Tennessee Sheriff's Association, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, and Knoxville Police Department and it was determined that ROCIC was the best vehicle for sharing information with all law enforcement agencies in the state.

Bioterrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction

The FBI Counterterrorism Division's Weapons of Mass Destruction Countermeasures Unit (WMDCU) plans and conducts Weapons of Mass Destruction (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 WMD Coordinators who forward the request to WMDCU. Every FBI Field Division, including the Memphis Division, has a WMD Coordinator. WMDCU fully integrates state and local planning officials into the exercise planning process to ensure their requirements are specifically met. WMDCU also co-chairs the InterAgency Board (IAB) for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability. Comprised of over 48 separate local, state and federal organizations, the IAB is responsible for the creation of the Standardized Equipment List and is recognized as the leading authority in the area of WMD response equipment.

The bioterrorism threat has risen to a new level. The federal government, in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, has always taken threats concerning the intentional release of biological agents seriously. However, until recently, neither the federal government nor state and local responders have been required to utilize their assets to coordinate a response to an actual release of anthrax. The intentional introduction of anthrax into our infrastructure has resulted in significant alarm concerning our health and safety. I would like to comment on the manner in which the law enforcement community responds to a suspected act of terrorism involving biological agents, and reinforce the cooperative effort that is in place between the federal government and the myriad of first responders who provide guidance, assistance and expertise.

The response to a potential bioterrorist threat can be broken down into two different scenarios: overt and covert releases. The distinction between the two involves the manner in which the biological threat agent is introduced into the community and the nature of the response. Regardless of whether a biological release is overt or covert, the primary mission of law enforcement and the public health community is saving lives.

An overt scenario involves the announced release of an agent, often with some type of articulated threat. An example of this would be the receipt of a letter containing a powder and a note indicating that the recipient has been exposed to anthrax. This type of situation would prompt an immediate law enforcement response, to include local police, fire and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel. As noted earlier, each FBI field office is staffed with a WMD Coordinator whose responsibilities include liaison with first responders in the community. Due to this established relationship with first responders, the local FBI WMD Coordinator would be notified and dispatched to the scene.

The response protocol would involve securing the crime scene and initiating the FBI's interagency threat assessment process. The FBI's WMD Operations Unit of the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters, coordinates this threat assessment which determines the credibility of the threat received, the immediate concerns involving health and safety of the responding personnel, and the requisite level of response warranted by the federal government. 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 (DHHS), 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 material if the threat is deemed not credible. (In the event of a chemical, nuclear or radiological threat, a similar threat assessment would occur.)

The FBI Headquarters Counterterrorism Division interaction with the field and the WMD coordinators, along with other internal and external agencies, has improved the threat assessment process and allowed federal, state, and local agencies to scale back responses and provide a measured response. In many cases, the situation is handled with minimal publicity, therefore limiting the impact of the terrorist objective. The process has been effective in saving the federal government, and the state and local communities, time and money, and has allayed the fears of victims in rapid fashion on numerous occasions.

The method of collecting suspect material is established by protocols set forth by the FBI's Hazardous Material Response Unit (HMRU). These protocols, recognized and followed by state and local Hazmat teams, are necessary to ensure that sufficient evidentiary samples are collected, screened and over-packed according to scientific safety guidelines for transportation to the appropriate testing facility. Over 85 State Health Laboratories perform this analysis on behalf of HHS/CDC and belong to a coordinated collection of facilities known as the Laboratory Response Network (LRN). Once the testing has been completed, results are provided to the FBI for dissemination in the appropriate manner. The results of the analysis are then disseminated to the exposed person or persons, local first responders and to the local public health department. Additionally, results will be forwarded to the CDC in Atlanta, GA.

A covert release of a biological agent invokes a different type of response, driven by the public health community. By its nature, a covert introduction is not accompanied by any articulated or known threat. The presence of the disease is discovered through the presentation of unusual signs and/or symptoms in individuals reporting to local hospitals or physician clinics. In this situation, there is initially no crime scene for law enforcement personnel to investigate. The criminal act may not be revealed until days have elapsed, following the agent identification and preliminary results obtained from the epidemiological inquiry conducted by the public health sector. Contrary to an overt act where law enforcement makes the necessary notification to public health, in a covert release, notification to law enforcement is made by the public health sector. The early notification of law enforcement in this process encourages the sharing of information between criminal and epidemiological investigators. Once an indication of a criminal act utilizing a biological agent is suspected, the FBI assumes primary authority in conducting the criminal investigation, while public health maintains responsibility for the health and welfare of the citizens. At the local level, involving the FBI WMD Coordinator and the state or local public health department, and at the national level between FBI Headquarters and the CDC, an effective coordination has been accomplished to address the requisite roles and responsibilities of each agency.

The response to an actual threat or one that is later determined not to be credible, or a hoax, is indistinguishable. This includes deployment of a Hazmat team, thorough examination of the potentially contaminated area (including situations where a telephonic reporting is received) and the disruption of the normal operations of the affected entity. Additionally, the individuals potentially exposed to the WMD may experience extreme anxiety/fear due to the reported release. Potential victims may have to be decontaminated or transported to a medical facility. The first responders must treat each incident as a real event until scientific analysis proves that the material is not a biological agent. To both the responding entities and the potentially exposed victims, the presence of powder threatening the presence of a biological agent is not a hoax, or something to be taken lightly. The individuals perpetrating such an activity must be held accountable for their actions.

In the area of Weapons of Mass Destruction Operations, the Memphis Division is in constant communication with members of the law enforcement, fire, emergency management, and medical communities. That partnership was clearly evident in the cooperation during the time period after September 11, 2001, when persons bent on further disrupting life as we know it initiated numerous anthrax hoaxes in Tennessee. In addition to those hoaxes, well meaning citizens reported hundreds of suspicious packages and other items. Since October 2001 the FBI nationwide has responded to over 16,000 reports of use or threatened use of anthrax or other hazardous materials. The anthrax cases in Florida, New York and New Jersey also required investigative attention by Memphis Division resources.

The Memphis and Nashville offices established command posts to deal with the anthrax crisis. A meeting was held with all the Nashville response agencies and the Memphis Division Domestic Program Coordinator and a resolution was agreed upon. The law enforcement, fire, emergency, and medical agencies quickly agreed on the manner of handling the responses and protocols for handling potential evidence. Dr. Michael Kimberley, Tennessee Laboratory Director, agreed to receive suspect packages from any fire, police, or emergency agency.

The FBI agents responsible for WMD investigations attend regular meetings hosted by the Nashville Office of Emergency Management, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and the Tennessee Office of Homeland Defense. The FBI immediately responded to the Nashville Office of Emergency Management command post after the events of September 11 and attends monthly meetings conducted by the Office of Emergency Management. I addressed the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police recently regarding Domestic Terrorism which, of course, includes WMD matters. The Memphis Division's Domestic Terrorism Program Coordinator recently briefed the Tennessee Sheriff's Association and the Tennessee Office of Homeland Defense as well.

In addition to providing training to other governmental entities, FBI agents assigned to work WMD matters also speak and provide instruction to such groups as the National Truck Stops Association, the Administrators of Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities and Homes for the Aged, and the Native American Health Directors. They recently spoke before the Memphis Chamber of Commerce and were featured on public access television.

The FBI Laboratory Division is also a key component in dealing with incidents involving the release of biological, chemical or nuclear agents. The FBI Laboratory has developed a response capability to support counterterrorism investigations worldwide. The FBI's mobile crime laboratory provides the capability to collect and analyze a range of physical evidence on-scene, and has been deployed at major crime scenes, including the World Trade Center bombing, Khobar towers, and the East African embassy bombings. The mobile crime laboratory contains analytical instrumentation for rapid screening and triage of explosives and other trace evidence recovered at crime scenes.

The FBI Laboratory also provides the capacity to rapidly respond to criminal acts involving the use of chemical or biological agents with the mobile, self-contained fly away laboratory (FAL). The FAL consists of twelve suites of analytical instrumentation supported by an array of equipment which allows for safe collection of hazardous materials, sample preparation, storage, and analysis in a field setting. The major objectives of the mobile crime laboratory and the FAL are to enhance the safety of deployed personnel, generate leads through rapid analysis and screening, and to preserve evidence for further examination at the FBI laboratory. In addition, the laboratory has developed agreements with several other federal agencies for rapid and effective analysis of chemical, biological, and radiological materials. One partnership, the Laboratory Response Network (LRN), is supported by the CDC and the Association of Public Health Laboratories for the Analysis of Biological Agents.


Despite the recent focus on international terrorism, it is important to remain cognizant of the full range of threats that confront the US These threats continue to include domestic and international terrorists. Terrorism represents a continuing threat to the US 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 continue to provide the most effective response.

Within the Memphis division, all of the FBI's aforementioned investigative 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 the Tennessee area federal, state, and local agencies. Communication and coordination is exceptional in all areas and the Memphis Division consistently strives to maintain and improve that cooperation.

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 look forward to responding to any questions.

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