Counterterrorism has always
been a top priority for the FBI, but today it is
the Bureau's overriding mission to prevent acts of
terrorism before they happen. This effort is managed
by the Counterterrorism Division at Headquarters
and carried out by every individual field office,
resident agency, and Legat. Headquarters provides
a team of analysts who work to put together bits
of information gathered by the field offices. Headquarters
also administers a national threat warning system
that allows the FBI to instantly distribute important
bulletins to law enforcement agencies and public
safety departments. "Flying Squads" provide specialized
counterterrorism knowledge and experience, language
capabilities, and analytical support as needed to
FBI field offices and Legats.
The FBI's Counterterrorism Division collects, analyzes, and shares critical
information and intelligence with the proper authorities to combat terrorism
on three fronts: 1) international terrorism operations both within the United
States and in support of extraterritorial investigations; 2) domestic terrorism
operations; and 3) counterterrorism relating to both international and domestic
An essential weapon in the battle against terrorists is the Joint Terrorism
Task Force (JTTF). A National JTTF, located at Headquarters, includes representatives
from the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Federal Emergency Management
Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Customs Service, Secret Service, and the
Immigration and Naturalization Service. Additionally, there are 66 local Joint
Terrorism Task Forces where representatives from federal agencies, state and
local law enforcement personnel, and first responders work shoulder-to-shoulder
to track down terrorists and prevent acts of terrorism in the US
For more information on the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, go to http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/terrorism.htm
On the morning of September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m., hijacked American Airlines
Flight #11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York
City. Twenty minutes later, another hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight
#175, crashed into the South Tower. One hundred fifty-seven people were killed
on the two planes, and thousands were killed in the towers and on the ground
when the two towers collapsed. At 9:39 a.m., a third hijacked plane, American
Airlines Flight #77, crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, killing
64 people on the plane and 125 on the ground. At 10:10 a.m., hijacked United
Airlines Flight #93 crashed in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania, killing
44 passengers and crew.
|The September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade
Center in New York City drove FBI personnel from
the New York Field Office. Agents and support personnel
quickly stood up a temporary command center and
worked closely with law enforcement and first responders
in the hours following the attack.
minutes of these attacks, the FBI's Command Center, the
Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) was
operational. SIOC provided analytical, logistical, and
administrative support for the teams on the ground in
New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. A new command
center in New York City had to be established because
the FBI field office was too close to "ground zero." Evidence
response teams and the FBI's Disaster Squad were deployed
to the crash sites.
Efforts began as a search-and-rescue mission. As days passed, the crash sites
became crime scenes, and the tedious process of evidence collection began.
Focus shifted from rescue efforts to a large-scale, global terrorism investigation.
The FBI quickly mobilized more than 7,000 employees to support the investigation - the
most complex and comprehensive in its history. At the peak of the investigation,
more than 6,000 Special Agents were working on the case. Over 250 Laboratory
and other personnel and 20 Legats overseas were pursuing leads and coordinating
investigative activities with their foreign counterparts.
FBI personnel worked around the clock, chasing down thousands upon thousands
of leads and conducting hundreds of interviews. They searched through mountains
of debris at ground zero and at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island looking
for clues, identifying remains, and examining vast amounts of evidence.
Several hundred Special Agents were sent around the world to pursue leads,
to interview detained terrorist suspects in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and
other locations, and to support the work of national and international partners.
FBI investigators found letters handwritten in Arabic in three separate locations.
The first was in a suitcase of hijacker Mohamed Atta, which did not make the
connection to American Airlines Flight #11; the second was in a vehicle parked
at Dulles International Airport belonging to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi; and the
third was at the crash site in Pennsylvania. Translations of the letters indicate
an alarming willingness to die on the part of the hijackers.
Flight voice and data recorders from Flight #93 confirmed that the passengers
engaged in a fight for their lives with their four hijackers, saving the lives
of unknown individuals on the ground.
Within a matter of days, the FBI identified the 19 hijackers using flight,
credit card, banking, and other records. On October 10, the FBI announced a
new "Most Wanted Terrorists List." On December 11, the Attorney General and
FBI Director announced the indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui in connection with
Case: AHMED RESSAM
On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam, a 34-year-old Algerian, was arrested at
Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the United States with components
used to manufacture improvised explosive devices. He subsequently admitted
that he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the
Millennium 2000 celebrations.
Forensic scientists from both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and
the FBI examined the evidence in this case. An FBI Laboratory Explosives Unit
examiner compared evidence found in Ressam's motel room with items seized in
Post Angeles. The RCMP Laboratory identified the presence of explosives and
developed a DNA profile from a pair of pants and shoes recovered in Ressam's
apartment. They also observed several holes in the pants that were consistent
with an acid spill. With this information, the FBI Seattle Field Office examined
Ressam's legs and discovered a large burn. At the trial, a doctor specializing
in burns testified that the burn on Ressam's leg was consistent with an acid
In the FBI Laboratory, a piece of hair was observed on a piece of clear tape
inside one of the four time-delay fusing systems. The questioned hair was examined
by the Trace Evidence Unit and determined to have the same microscopic characteristics
as Ahmed Ressam's hairs.
Embassy bombing, Nairobi, Kenya 1998
prints developed on the four timing devices and a map
of Los Angeles showing three airports circled were associated
with Ressam. A date book, on which 13 of Ressam's fingerprints
were developed, included the addresses of two bin Laden
collaborators. It also contained the addresses of the
firms that Ressam used to obtain the electronic components
and precursor chemicals for the manufacturing of the
Additionally, credit card purchases at several electronics shops in Montreal,
Canada, were discovered. An Explosives Unit examiner traveled to Canada and
purchased the same items, demonstrating to the jury that Ressam could have
purchased electronic components that were consistent with the components used
in the construction of the time delay fusing systems recovered in the trunk
of the rental vehicle.
After reviewing the items recovered in Montreal and Vancouver, the Explosives
Unit examiner obtained several rolls of tape and a small piece of wire insulation
for comparison. Subsequently, a forensic chemist determined that the packaging
tape and clear tape recovered in Ressam's Montreal apartment were consistent
in physical characteristics and chemical composition to those removed from
the time-delay fusing systems. Accordingly, the pieces of tape removed from
the four time delay fusing systems could have originated from the roll of packaging
tape and clear tape recovered from Ressam's apartment. In addition, a small
piece of wire insulation was recovered from the Vancouver motel room. The chemist
determined that it was consistent in physical characteristics and chemical
composition to the wires used in the time delay fusing systems.
Ahmed Ressam was tried and convicted in federal court of Conspiring to Commit
an Act of International Terrorism and eight related charges. Ressam is scheduled
to be sentenced in 2003.
Case: ABORTION CLINIC ANTHRAX THREAT
In October and November, 2001, two waves of threat letters signed by the Army
of God and claiming to contain anthrax were sent to abortion clinics and women's
health centers. The first wave was sent through the US Postal Service; the
second wave was sent by Federal Express. To date, the FBI Laboratory has received
over 200 of these letters. Chemistry Unit personnel examined the powders and
determined them to be flour and chalk dust. None tested positive for anthrax.
FBI experts made a positive link between fingerprints on threat letters and
fingerprints belonging to Clayton Lee Waagner, a 45-year-old fugitive on the
FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Waagner was arrested on December 3, 2001.
Counterterrorism Case: BOMBING OF THE USS COLE
On October 12, 2000, the US Navy destroyer USS Cole was attacked by suicide
terrorists who steered a small boat alongside the ship as it was refueling
in the Yemini port of Aden. The small boat then exploded, tearing a hole 40
feet wide near the waterline of the Cole and killing seventeen US sailors.
The FBI quickly deployed over 100 Agents from the Counterterrorism Division,
the Laboratory, and various field offices to Aden. Then-Director Louis Freeh
soon arrived to assess the situation and to meet with Yemen President Ali Abdallah
Saleh. On November 29, a guidance document was signed between the US State
Department and the Yemeni government setting protocols for questioning witnesses
and suspects. FBI and Yemini investigators proceeded with interviews, and a
large amount of physical evidence was shipped back to the FBI Laboratory for
FBI photographers took pictures of the crime scene that assisted in identifying
the victims and provided detailed photographic information regarding the impact
of the explosion. Later, FBI personnel from the Explosives Unit, Investigative
Support Section, and Special Photographic Unit, as well as Bomb Technicians
and Agents from the New York and Jackson Field Offices, traveled to Ingalls
Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Cole had been brought, to
examine the ship for additional evidence.
The extensive FBI investigation ultimately determined that members of the Al-Qaeda
terrorist network planned and carried out the bombing.
Oklahoma City bombing aftermath, April 1995