Combating Terrorism:

Issues to Be Resolved to Improve Counterterrorism Operations

NSIAD-99-135: Published: May 13, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on interagency counterterrorist operations, focusing on: (1) how agencies worked together in counterterrorist operations and special events; (2) strengths and weaknesses of international and domestic counterterrorist exercises; and (3) agency and interagency processes to capture and share lessons learned.

GAO noted that: (1) in the last 3 years, federal agencies have conducted several successful interagency operations overseas, including some in which suspected terrorists have been returned to the United States to stand trial; (2) federal agencies have deployed personnel and equipment to prepare for many special events such as the Atlanta Olympic Games; (3) federal agencies have not completed interagency guidance and resolved command and control issues; (4) proposed interagency Domestic Guidelines have not been completed, nor coordinated with all federal agencies with domestic counterterrorism roles; (5) some interagency and intergovernmental command and control issues regarding domestic counterterrorist operations have not been fully resolved; (6) to improve their preparedness to respond to terrorist incidents, federal agencies have conducted over 200 exercises; (7) however, agencies have not fully achieved the interagency counterterrorist exercise program directed in a June 1995 Presidential Directive because an interagency Exercise Subgroup has not prepared and submitted, and senior agency officials have not approved, an interagency program; (8) as a result, some complex transfers of command and control between agencies have not been exercised; (9) international counterterrorism exercises, sponsored for many years by the Department of Defense (DOD), are relatively comprehensive in that they include many federal agencies and test tactical units along with the Department of State's leadership role and DOD's command and control; (10) in contrast, domestic exercises sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are not as comprehensive; (11) the FBI exercise program focuses on its regional and field offices' tactical capabilities to respond and generally has not included the Bureau's full interagency leadership role that is expected to be critical during a domestic terrorist incident; (12) the FBI has made significant progress and taken steps to enhance its program in this regard; (13) the FEMA counterterrorism exercise program consists of tabletop exercises and does not include field exercises that would deploy personnel and equipment, and practice roles and responsibilities in realistic settings; and (14) DOD, the Department of Energy, and FEMA have requirements and processes in place to capture lessons learned from counterterrorist operations and exercises.

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