Combating Terrorism:

Law Enforcement Agencies Lack Directives to Assist Foreign Nations to Identify, Disrupt, and Prosecute Terrorists

GAO-07-697: Published: May 25, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2007.

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Three U.S. national strategies, developed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, directed U.S. law enforcement agencies (LEA) to focus on the prevention of terrorist attacks. The strategies called for LEAs to intensify their efforts to help foreign nations identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists. GAO was asked to assess (1) the guidance for LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists and (2) the extent to which LEAs have implemented this guidance.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the President issued a series of strategies that provided broad direction for overseas law enforcement efforts to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists. However, these strategies did not articulate which LEAs should implement the guidance to enhance efforts to help foreign nations combat terrorism or how they should do so. While one of the strategies tasked State with developing and coordinating U.S. efforts to combat terrorism abroad, we found State did not develop or coordinate the development of a plan to use the combined capabilities of U.S. LEAs to help foreign nations identify, disrupt, or prosecute terrorists. In December 2004, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which charged the NCTC with developing a plan to use all elements of national power, including LEAs, to combat terrorism. NCTC officials told us they had drafted a general plan, which was approved by the President in June of 2006. According to NCTC, State, Justice, and DHS officials, implementing guidance for the plan is under development, and they would not discuss the contents of the plan or the guidance. Some LEAs have increased efforts to help foreign nations identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists. For example, DHS has implemented its Container Security Initiative to screen U.S.-bound cargo at foreign ports, and State has expanded its Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. However, we found that because most LEAs, with the exception of the FBI, have not been given clear guidance, they lacked clearly defined roles and responsibilities on helping foreign nations identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists. In one country we visited, the lack of clear roles and responsibilities between two U.S. LEAs may have compromised several joint operations intended to identify and disrupt potential terrorist activities, according to the U.S. and foreign nation LEAs. In addition, we found LEAs generally lacked guidance on using resources to assist foreign nations in addressing terrorist vulnerabilities and generally lacked performance monitoring systems and formal structures for sharing information and collaborating. We also found that, because comprehensive needs assessments were not conducted, LEAs may not be tailoring their full range of training and assistance to address key terrorism vulnerabilities in foreign countries.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS officials were unaware of any additional guidance that specifically addresses how each DHS component should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the Department of State (State) should issue clear guidance to their respective component agencies and bureaus on how those agencies and bureaus should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DHS officials were unaware of any additional guidance that specifically addresses how each DHS component should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the Department of State (State) should issue clear guidance to their respective component agencies and bureaus on how those agencies and bureaus should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) serves as the focal point for U.S. efforts to combat terrorism overseas, including those of law enforcement agencies. S/CT's Bureau Strategic and Resource Plan for Fiscal Year 2013 contains the most recent guidance from the Department of State (which funds many of the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts overseas) to its component bureaus on how they should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of law enforcement agencies to assist foreign nations to address terrorism. It acknowledges the unique capabilities and programs of each of the relevant State bureaus and indicates how they should utilize those programs to enhance foreign partners' capacity.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the Department of State (State) should issue clear guidance to their respective component agencies and bureaus on how those agencies and bureaus should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) serves as the focal point for U.S. efforts to combat terrorism overseas, including those of law enforcement agencies. S/CT's Bureau Strategic and Resource Plan for Fiscal Year 2013 contains the most recent guidance from the Department of State (which funds many of the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts overseas) to its component bureaus on how they should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of law enforcement agencies to assist foreign nations to address terrorism. It acknowledges the unique capabilities and programs of each of the relevant State bureaus and indicates how they should utilize those programs to enhance foreign partners' capacity.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the Department of State (State) should issue clear guidance to their respective component agencies and bureaus on how those agencies and bureaus should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Counterterrorism Center is responsible for overseeing U.S. government-wide efforts to combat terrorism. As such, it monitors the efforts of agencies?including law enforcement agencies?to help foreign nations combat terrorism. To fulfill this responsibility, NCTC undertakes a variety of efforts to monitor agencies' accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements. One key part of NCTC's activities is developing matrices for key counterterrorism objectives. Such matrices identify the key efforts contributing to achievement of the objective, the agency serving as the leader of the effort, the status, and remaining obstacles. The Department of Homeland Security provides this information to NCTC for efforts in which it is involved. Using this information, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center provides Congress with information on the U.S. government's efforts to combat terrorism in his "Annual Threat Assessment" testimony.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State should establish a monitoring system that provides the respective department and Congress with accurate reporting on that department's accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements in their LEAs' efforts to help foreign nations combat terrorism.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Counterterrorism Center is responsible for overseeing U.S. government-wide efforts to combat terrorism. As such, it monitors the efforts of agencies?including law enforcement agencies?to help foreign nations combat terrorism. To fulfill this responsibility, NCTC undertakes a variety of efforts to monitor agencies' accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements. One key part of NCTC's activities is developing matrices for key counterterrorism objectives. Such matrices identify the key efforts contributing to achievement of the objective, the agency serving as the leader of the effort, the status, and remaining obstacles. The Department of Homeland Security provides this information to NCTC for efforts in which it is involved. Using this information, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center provides Congress with information on the U.S. government's efforts to combat terrorism in his "Annual Threat Assessment" testimony.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State should establish a monitoring system that provides the respective department and Congress with accurate reporting on that department's accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements in their LEAs' efforts to help foreign nations combat terrorism.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOJ officials were unaware of any additional guidance that specifically addresses how each DHS component should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and the Department of State (State) should issue clear guidance to their respective component agencies and bureaus on how those agencies and bureaus should implement the national security strategies' goal of using the full capabilities of LEAs to assist foreign nations to identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National and Homeland Security Presidential Directive on United States Policy and Strategy in the War on Terror (NSPD-46/HSPD-15, signed March 6, 2006), directed the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to prepare a National Implementation Plan for the War on Terror (NIP). The first version of the NIP was approved by President George W. Bush in June 2006 and an updated version in September 2008. The 2008 NIP provides strategic guidance on the use of law enforcement agencies to help foreign nations identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Recommendation: The Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the NSC, should ensure that the implementing guidance for the NCTC plan for combating terrorism articulates a clear strategy to implement the national security goal of using the combined capabilities of LEAs to help foreign nations identify, disrupt, and prosecute terrorists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Counterterrorism Center is responsible for overseeing U.S. government-wide efforts to combat terrorism. As such, it monitors the efforts of agencies?including law enforcement agencies?to help foreign nations combat terrorism. To fulfill this responsibility, NCTC undertakes a variety of efforts to monitor agencies' accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements. One key part of NCTC's activities is developing matrices for key counterterrorism objectives. Such matrices identify the key efforts contributing to achievement of the objective, the agency serving as the leader of the effort, the status, and remaining obstacles. The Department of Homeland Security provides this information to NCTC for efforts in which it is involved. Using this information, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center provides Congress with information on the U.S. government's efforts to combat terrorism in his "Annual Threat Assessment" testimony.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State should establish a monitoring system that provides the respective department and Congress with accurate reporting on that department's accomplishments, impediments, and planned improvements in their LEAs' efforts to help foreign nations combat terrorism.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General

  10. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While NCTC has made progress in identifying the various roles and responsibilities of LEAs in counterterrorism, it has not issued implementing guidance that ensures comprehensive efforts to (1) assess the needs of foreign nations for identifying, disrupting, and prosecuting terrorists; (2) decide which needs U.S. LEAs should help address; (3) determine which U.S. LEA programs or activities are best suited to address those needs; and (4) ensure that U.S. LEAs are provided guidance on setting funding priorities and providing resources to address those needs.

    Recommendation: The Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the NSC, should ensure that the implementing guidance for the NCTC plan for combating terrorism includes a mechanism for comprehensively (1) assessing the needs of foreign nations for identifying, disrupting, and prosecuting terrorists; (2) deciding which needs U.S. LEAs should help address; (3) determining which U.S. LEA programs or activities are best suited to address those needs; and (4) ensuring that U.S. LEAs are provided guidance on setting funding priorities and providing resources to address those needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Special Assistant to the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, State discussed whether to create new mechanisms to enhance coordination and information sharing among law enforcement agencies at embassies. However, it was determined that the existing law enforcement working groups were the most appropriate forum for such activities. However, he acknowledged that, consistent with GAO's work, additional steps were needed to improve coordination of U.S. efforts to enhance foreign partners' capacity building needs. As a result, State's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism has begun working within the existing law enforcement working groups to coordinate agencies' efforts to perform needs assessments, especially when conducting site visits. Ensuring, to the extent practical, that all key agencies are represented during needs assessments can avoid duplication of effort and ensure that the most appropriate U.S. programs are utilized.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security should explore the creation of new structures at U.S. embassies to improve information sharing and coordination among U.S. LEAs for assisting foreign nations combat terrorism.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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