While some lip service is made to patrol officers being a first line of defense, you wouldn't know it given the lack of terrorism intelligence that is commonly made available to officers.
Still, the arrests of Oklahoma Bomber Tim McVeigh and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph were affected by street cops, and more than one routine check at a Canadian border checkpoint has averted more stateside terrorist attacks.
According to Murray Simpkins of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Terrorist Early Warning unit, patrol cops are still making revelatory arrests, putting people on the Homeland Security radar and coming up with additional info on those already there.
Simpkins' sentiment is echoed by another West Coast terrorism expert who, speaking under conditions of anonymity, notes that recent contacts by LAPD and Pomona officers have been instrumental in the identification of terrorist supporters and sympathizers, as well as components of terrorist funding infrastructure.
If there is something that Detective X laments, it is the lack of knowledge among frontline troops in the war of terrorism, even as he to some degree understands it.
"We've had the Terrorist Screening Center up and operational since 2003," he notes. "But I'm surprised by how few officers know what I'm talking about when I speak of it."
Detective X attributes this ignorance in large part to a lack of publicity given the Center within law enforcement circles. But he hopes that officers will show initiative in familiarizing themselves with it.
"As far as I'm concerned," he says. "It's like starting your shift and having no idea how NCIC works."
According to its Web site, "Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 6, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) now provides 'one-stop shopping' so that every government screener is using the same terrorist watchlist-whether it is an airport screener, an embassy official issuing visas overseas, or a state or local law enforcement officer on the street. The TSC allows government agencies to run name checks against the same comprehensive list with the most accurate, up-to-date information about known and suspected terrorists."
Both specialists wish that patrol officers were better apprised of what to look for in contacts with people incident to traffic stops and calls.
Most of you are probably aware that various "charities" and narcotic enterprises have funneled funds and supplies to terrorists and their sympathizers. But are you also aware of the nexus between counterfeit goods and terrorism funding?
One investigation found that at least six terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Real IRA, and the Columbian FARC, use tobacco smuggling to fund their activities. Due to the small size and weight of cigarettes and the high profit margins they bring, cigarette smuggling is a highly appealing business to criminal networks and terrorist groups.
When not sending lead-contaminated toys, tainted milk, and crappy-smelling sheet rock, China indulges herself as the largest source of counterfeit cigarettes in the world, producing more than 400 billion counterfeit cigarettes annually. Ninety-nine percent of U.S counterfeit cigarettes are believed to originate in China. Paraguay and Ukraine also produce and import staggering numbers of counterfeit cigarettes far beyond the amount that could be used by each country's legitimate markets.
As Detective X observes, it's not difficult to understand the appeal of the counterfeit market: huge profits with relatively little risk. Whereas narcotics violations may ensure some lengthy prison sentences, counterfeit convictions generally result in shorter sentences, allowing perpetrators to get back in the game that much sooner.
Even then, others who are institutionalized for non-terrorist crimes become part of a growing problem: U.S. prisons account for some 30,000 to 40,000 Muslim conversions a year. Of these new disciples, an unknown number become part of the extremist movement, such as two Los Angeles men who took to committing a series of gas station robberies to finance eventual acts of domestic terrorism.
Retired CIA officer and TREXPO advisor Ed Lovette recently reminded me of a couple of patrol officer initiated contacts that helped avert tragedies:
In 2002, a Skamania County (Wash.) sheriff's deputy played a principal role when he responded to a call of gun shots on private property. After taking their names he let the men go and reported the information to the FBI who used it to develop a case against the Portland Seven Cell who were subsequently indicted for providing material support and resources to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to contribute services to Al-Qaeda.
In August 2004, three patrol officers of the Baltimore County Police Department were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge when they noticed a vehicle from which a female passenger in traditional Middle Eastern clothing was taking pictures of the bridge with a video camera. When the driver of the vehicle saw the police officers, he said something to the videographer who threw the camera to the floor of the car. At the same time the driver slammed on his brakes nearly causing a major traffic accident on the bridge. The officers made a traffic stop on the vehicle and learned that the driver was on the terrorist watch list. Identified as Ismael Elbarasse, he has already served nine months for his financial activities in support of the first World Trade Center bombing. The FBI was called to the scene and eventually took Elbarasse into custody and served a search warrant at his house.
Despite what anyone says, you can help prevent terrorism attacks.
- Make the most of your patrol contacts by being sensitive to telltale signs that the people you deal with may be up to no good. Take advantage of your probable cause or consent searches to thoroughly inspect personal belongings, including cell phone calls, text messages, Twitter tweets, etc.
- Take the time to learn as much as you can about various terrorism groups, particularly those who by virtue of demographics or target appeal-e.g., symbolic, soft or hard targets-might traverse through your area. To that end, develop a rapport with those you come in contact with. Find out where they're going and what they're up to. See if their stories are in comport with their actions.
Any one of you might just end up being the key to preventing some future terrorist attack.
(BTW, the MIPT Lawson Library has a great Terrorism Warnings and Indicator Card available for download here.)