Combating Terrorism: Law Enforcement Agencies Lack Directives to Assist Foreign Nations

GAO-08-144T Published: Oct 04, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 04, 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. This testimony addresses (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. In December 2004, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which charged the National Counterterrorism Center (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, Department of State, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, implementing guidance for the plan is under development, and they would not discuss the contents of the plan or the guidance. 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 program. However, we found that because most LEAs, with the exception of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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.

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