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Counter-Terrorism That Works By: Bill West
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, April 29, 2004

Within weeks of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US homeland, the Federal Government’s investigative efforts had discovered that 19 foreign nationals, mostly Saudis and members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, had hijacked those airliners.  The investigation had also determined that most of those terrorists had, at some point, spent time in the State of Florida.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, within weeks of the attacks, issued an executive order creating the Florida Domestic Security Task Force (DSTF).  The task force, headed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), was established to coordinate the State’s ability to investigate and respond to any terrorist threat or attack within the state, working in conjunction with Federal authorities.  The DSTF combined the efforts of major State law enforcement and other emergency response agencies such as fire/rescue and health care organizations.  A few weeks after the Governor issued his executive order, the State Legislature passed bills codifying the DSTF and funded the task force with an initial amount of $35 million dollars.  Before the end of 2001, the Florida State government, under the Governor’s leadership, had mobilized itself in a notable way in response to the events of 9/11. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is Florida’s statewide criminal investigative agency and enjoys an excellent reputation within the law enforcement community.  The primary function of the DSTF was and is the law enforcement ability to investigate and hopefully disrupt and prevent terrorism attacks within Florida, or to participate in any post-attack investigation.  The FDLE Commissioner the end of 2001, Tim Moore, who is now retired, was a career FDLE law enforcement officer who understood the newly-created Domestic Security Task Force would need to interface with the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies.  Knowing the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were foreign nationals, knowing Florida was a major border entry state and that Florida had a huge alien population, and that any future domestic security threat within the state would very likely involve aliens, Commissioner Moore knew that it was critical for FDLE to be able to determine the immigration status of persons involved in DSTF cases.


The Miami District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which ceased to exist on March 1, 2003 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, was responsible for all immigration functions within the State of Florida.  The Investigations Division of the INS was the interior enforcement branch of the INS.  The head of the Investigations Division for the Miami District in 2001 was James D. Goldman, who retired in 2003.  Goldman, a career INS cop, had somewhat of a maverick reputation in the agency that often dismayed his civilian bureaucrat superiors to the delight of his law enforcement subordinates.  When FDLE Commissioner Moore sought a meeting with a senior INS District Office official during December 2001 to discuss the FDLE getting access to INS record systems, the INS bureaucrats sent their local top cop Goldman.


What Commissioner Moore really wanted at that meeting was an agreement from INS to give the Florida Department of Law Enforcement full access to the INS databases, so presumably the FDLE and other State law enforcement officers could determine on their own from running those INS record checks who was and was not an illegal alien when they encountered them in their Domestic Security Task Force cases.  Goldman’s mission was to dissuade the Commissioner of such folly.  And, folly it was.  The INS automated record systems were (and still are unfortunately) a notoriously convoluted, disjointed and often-inaccurate collection of over two-dozen different subsystems.  Well-trained and highly experienced INS agents often could not make informed determination of immigration status from looking at computer records alone.  Surely non-INS law enforcement officers would fare worse.  Goldman was simply to convince Moore to walk away from those records.


Goldman and Moore, however, were career law enforcement officers.  Career detectives used to cooperative action among colleagues leading to bad guys getting locked up.  And, 9/11 changed everything anyway.  Goldman and Moore knew that, even if it hadn’t quite set into many INS bureaucrats, yet.  During their first meeting in Tallahassee in December 2001, Commissioner Moore and Goldman hatched a plan to solve the INS record problem for the DSTF…and then some.  Within the Domestic Security Task Force, there would be assigned a contingent of INS Supervisory Special Agents, one each to each of the seven FDLE Regional Offices around the state.  Working under those Supervisory Special Agents would be a unit composed of FDLE Special Agents and local police and sheriff’s office investigators.  However, those State and local law enforcement officers would be trained and delegated authority as INS law enforcement officers, with full access to all the primary INS record systems. 


This was a bold and major plan.  It had never been done before.  The legal authority to delegate INS law enforcement authority to state and local police came into existence as part of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996 amending Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  It was a strong change in the US immigration laws, one of those made by a Republican Congress and apparently “tolerated” by the Clinton Administration, because it was never implemented nor utilized by that Administration.  A similar change was Title V of the Immigration and Nationality Act, creating the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, created by the AEDPA, and also never utilized by the Janet Reno Department of Justice.  These were examples of strong immigration laws not enforced by liberal policy makers appointed by left-wing politicians.


Goldman knew he had stirred the INS pot in a big way, and knew the INS civilian bureaucrats would never support the plan.  From Tallahassee, he called his National Security Section Chief and proceeded to make me a coconspirator in his plan to shake up the INS establishment.  I signed on instantly.  In quick subsequent discussions with Commissioner Moore, he was advised that the normal INS chain of command process for getting approval for the plan would be the death knell of it.  In a day, Commissioner Moore visited Governor Bush and presented the plan.  Within a few days, Governor Bush was in Washington visiting the White House and the Attorney General.  Within two weeks, formal approval had been given to the FDLE/INS plan.  For probably the first time ever, the lethargic nearly do-nothing bureaucracy that was INS Headquarters, populated by too many leftover technocrats installed by almost a decade of left-wing political appointees, was bypassed and a truly meaningful and dynamic immigration law enforcement project was quickly approved and implemented.  It was a beautiful thing.


That does not mean the project was up and running without problems.  It took nearly six months to put it all together.  From identifying and selecting thirty-five State and local officers, to creating and certifying a completely new training course, to obtaining office space, to designing and creating identification credentials and drafting operational policies and regulations acceptable to both the State and Federal governments.  Six months, actually, was a something of a record anyway.


In the summer of 2002, those thirty-five State and local officers graduated from their training program and were sworn as Immigration Law Enforcement Officers and began their DSTF investigative duties, working under the direction of seven INS Supervisory Special Agents.  An end of year review, which reflected only a half year of real operations, revealed well over a hundred arrests statewide of suspects on immigration charges.  But, these were suspects identified from investigations related to potential threats to the domestic security of the State of Florida.  The state and local officers have meaningful and authorized access to critical Federal law enforcement and intelligence information and, conversely, the Feds have immediate and direct access to a plethora of field level law enforcement information fed into the DSTF from police forces around the state.  And, the investigative efforts throughout the state were conducted in close coordination with the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces.  Instead of overlap and confusion, there was support and cohesion.  The program, hatched in Tallahassee in December of 2001, was and is a resounding success and continues today with Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security.


Of course, the plan and the project were not without outside critics.  Various immigrant advocacy groups and certain liberal leaning legal advocates complained strenuously that granting immigration law enforcement authority to state and local law enforcement officers would be a terrible thing.  This would overburden already overworked police.  Overzealous police would arrest poor immigrants, illegal or not, when making simple traffic stops.  Immigrant communities would fear calling the police to report crimes.  Before the DSTF project was implemented, the State of Florida made a statewide outreach effort to educate the public about what the project was and was not…specifically that these thirty-five delegated officers would be investigating domestic security cases and not writing traffic tickets.  Of course, none of the issues raised by the nay Sayers came to fruition.


While the Florida project continues, other states also took notice.  To date, a cadre of Alabama State troopers has received training and is operating under Section 287(g) authority.  Officers in Phoenix and Los Angeles are next on the agenda.  This groundbreaking joint Federal/State Domestic Security Task Force program in Florida is an example of a swift aggressive and progressive law enforcement response to the 9/11 attacks.  It was thinking outside the box by senior law enforcement managers and taking powerful law that had been previously ignored by leftist political leaders and policy makers and turning it into a significant protective tool.  That plan, to be sanctioned and implemented as quickly as it was, required the notice and approval literally of the Governor of Florida and beyond.  It got that notice and approval, the right thing was done and the citizens of Florida are safer for it.  As the program expands in other states, it can prove to be yet another powerful domestic weapon in America’s arsenal against its foreign enemies.                       


Bill West is a retired INS Supervisory Special Agent.  He is now a consultant on counter-terrorism matters and a freelance writer.      

Bill West is a retired INS/ICE Supervisory Special Agent who ran organized crime and national security investigations. He is now a counter-terrorism consultant and freelance writer.

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