Terrorism Investigation: An Overview of Counter-terrorism Agencies in the USA

Terrorism Investigation: An Overview of Counter-terrorism Agencies in the USA

Terrorism has always been one of the greatest threats to America’s peace and tranquility. Ever since the attacks of September 11th, the American Government has spent a considerable amount of resources in establishing new counter-terrorism agencies and reinforcing existing ones.

Terrorism is defined as the systematic use or threatened use of violence to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, personal, religious, or ideological change.  Terrorist attacks are designed to influence the broader society to which those killed, injured, or taken hostage belong. The dramatic focus of mass media is often ascribed as amplifying and broadcasting feelings of intense fear and anger that make terrorism more effective in the modern world. As a type of unconventional warfare, terrorism is designed to weaken or supplant existing political landscapes through capitulation or acquiescence as opposed to subversion or direct military action.

Counter-terrorism (also spelled counterterrorism) refers to the practices, tactics, techniques, and strategies that governments, military organizations, police departments and corporations adopt in response to terrorist threats and/or acts, both real and imputed.

If the terrorism is part of a broader insurgency, counter-terrorism may also form a part of a counter-insurgency doctrine, but political, economic, and other measures may focus more on the insurgency than the specific acts of terror. Foreign internal defense (FID) is a term used by several countries for programs either to suppress insurgency, or reduce the conditions under which insurgency could develop.

United States Government Agencies Responsible for Investigations

These agencies are part of a system that is said to be one of the largest and most technologically advanced. Their work involves collecting and analyzing data in order to develop the most stringent prevention measures in the war against terrorism. The top agencies that play a key role in terrorism investigations include:

FBI’s counter-terrorism division

The Counter-terrorism Division or CTD falls under the FBI’s National Security Branch. The division is primarily in charge of investigating terrorism within the borders of the US. Apart from that, the division provides information on terrorists outside the country and also tracks them down.

The CTD’s scale of operations depends on the capabilities of individual field offices. Large field offices such as the Los Angeles branch have single squads dedicated for each terrorist group as well as separate squads for terrorism financing and domestic terrorism. The smaller field offices divide the responsibilities across 2 or 3 smaller squads.

The CTD is divided into 4 main branches or sections: Operations Branch 1, Operations Branch 2, Analytical Branch, and Operational Support Branch.

Operations Branch 1 primarily focuses on Middle Eastern terrorist outfits such as Al Qaeda, Palestinian Rejectionists, Hezbollah and other suspected Middle Eastern militant groups. Operations Branch 2 focuses on terrorism financing, domestic terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist communications.

The Analytical Branch is responsible for assessment and analysis of information. The Operational Support Branch is in charge of managing the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force and also the CTD’s resource and administrative requirements.

National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC)

The NCTC is a Federal Organization that is responsible for dealing with national and international terrorism. The agency is made up of experts from various law enforcement and national security agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and the Department of Defense. The NCTC reports to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The agency’s overall duty is to advise the US Government on Terrorism. The other main activities of the NCTC include analyzing intelligence data with regard to terrorism, both domestic and international. This involves the monitoring of domestic and international communications to identify terrorist threats, develop immediate information to prevent domestic criminal activities, storing of information related to terrorism, and enable IT support for counter-terrorism measures.

The NCTC also develops counter-terrorism measures according to the instructions given by the American President, the Homeland Security Council, and the National Security Council.

Its goals include providing information on terrorists and terrorist activities to various intelligence agencies. It supports action against terrorist activities in the US and around the world. The NCTC is also responsible for providing briefings and assessments to policymakers.

Additional Resources and Information

Counter-Terrorism Proposals – Electronic Privacy Information Center – Counter-Terrorism proposals.

International Association For Counterterrorism & Security Professionals – Founded in 1992 to meet security challenges facing the world as it enters an era of globalization into the 21st century.  The IACSP is founded on the principle that a better informed society will result in a freer one.

National Strategy Against Terrorism Using Weapons of Mass Destruction – A report on the anti-terrorism readiness of the U.S.

Terrorism Background and Threat Assessments – Terrorism Background and Threat Assessments


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