Center for Research on Population and Security

public report of the vice president's task force on combatting terrorism


Part 3

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Task Force Conclusions
and Recommendations


Terrorists of the ‘80s have machine-gunned their way through airports, bombed U.S. Embassies and military facilities, pirated airplanes and ships, and tortured and murdered hostages as if “performing” on a global theater screen. These international criminals have seized not only innocent victims but also the attention of viewers who sit helplessly before televisions around the world.

International terrorism is clearly a growing problem and priority, requiring expanded cooperation with other countries to combat it. Emphasis must be placed on increased intelligence gathering, processing and sharing, improved physical security arrangements, more effective civil aviation and maritime security, and the ratification and enforcement of treaties.

It is equally essential, however, that our defense against terrorism be enhanced domestically. For unless the trend of terrorism around the world is broken, there is great potential for increased attacks in our own backyard.

The Task Force’s review of the current national program to combat terrorism found our interagency system and the Lead Agency concept for dealing with incidents to be soundly conceived. However, the system can be substantially enhanced through improved coordination and increased emphasis in such areas as intelligence gathering, communications procedures, law enforcement efforts, response option plans, and personal and physical security.

Terrorism is a bipartisan issue and one that members of Congress have jointly and judiciously addressed in recent years. Significant bills have been passed that markedly expand U.S. jurisdiction over terrorists and close prosecution loopholes.

However, there are stronger legislative proposals that are now before Congress that would further strengthen the nation’s ability to combat terrorism both at home and abroad. Many of these proposals merit strong Administration support. It is also essential that the Executive Branch agencies continue to work closely with Congress in reviewing our current programs and recommending other legislative initiatives as appropriate.

Terrorism deeply troubles the American people. They feel angry, victimized, vulnerable and helpless. At the same time, they clearly want the United States Government to have a strong and consistent national antiterrorist policy. While such a policy exists, the Task Force believes that better communication is necessary to educate the public to our policy and to the ramifications of using force during a terrorist attack.

Americans also believe that terrorists take advantage of our free press to achieve their goals. News coverage of terrorism has created a dilemma for media executives: how to keep the people informed without compromising public security. Solving this problem will have to be a joint effort between media and government representatives. The government must improve its communications with the media during a terrorist attack. At the same time, the media must maintain high standards of reporting to ensure that the lives of innocent victims and national security are not jeopardized.

In December 1985, the Task Force on Combatting Terrorism completed its comprehensive examination of terrorism both internationally and domestically. It also finished its review of our nation’s policy and programs for combatting terrorism.

The resultant findings emphasized the importance and appropriateness of a no-concessions position when dealing with terrorists. Some of the recommendations must remain classified, but the following unclassified Task Force recommendations are in keeping with that national policy and are intended to strengthen and streamline our current response system.




National Programming Document

Currently a number of agencies and departments within the Executive Branch are responsible for the elements of our national program to combat terrorism. While this is a reasonable and appropriate approach, the various elements should be compiled in a single programming document. Such a comprehensive listing would allow quick identification of agencies responsible for dealing with particular aspects of terrorism and their available resources.

The Task Force believes that such a document is necessary for the most effective coordination of the department and agency activities that comprise our national program. The NSC staff, in conjunction with OMB and the Departments of State and Justice, would maintain this national programming document.


Policy Criteria for Response to Terrorists

Because acts of terrorism vary so much in time, location, jurisdiction and motivation, consistent response is virtually impossible. However, the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism should prepare, and submit to the NSC for approval, policy criteria for deciding when, if and how to use force to preempt, react and retaliate. This framework will offer decisionmaking bodies a workable set of standards by which to judge each terrorist threat or incident. The use of this framework also would reassure the American people that government response is formulated consistently.

Criteria for developing response options might include the following:

   Potential for injury to innocent victims

   Adequacy and reliability of intelligence

   Status of forces for preemption, reaction or retaliation

   Ability to identify the target

   Host country and international cooperation or opposition

   Risk and probability of success analysis

   U.S. public attitude and media reaction

   Conformance with national policy and objectives


Establish New National Security Council Position

A full-time NSC position with support staff is necessary to strengthen coordination of our national program. Working closely with the designated Lead Agencies, the position will be responsible for:

   participating in all interagency groups

   maintaining the national programming document

   assisting in coordinating research and development

   facilitating development of response options

   overseeing implementation of the Task Force recommendations


Speak with One Voice

Clear communications by appointed spokespersons and coordination of public statements during a terrorist incident are vital. Interagency working groups should provide specific guidance to all spokespersons on coordinating public statements. Without coordination, inaccurate information may result, intelligence resources may be compromised and political distress can result among friends and allies throughout the world — at a time when international cooperation can save lives.

Designation of spokespersons and response guidelines are especially important given the intense media pressure for comment during terrorist incidents. A misstatement or failure to consider legal issues before commenting to news media could jeopardize a criminal investigation or an eventual prosecution.


Review American Personnel Requirements in High-Threat Areas

Actions already have been taken to strengthen security of U.S. installations and to reduce personnel in dangerous areas. However, to date these efforts have not been fully coordinated among all agencies. The Department of State should direct Ambassadors in all designated high-threat areas to thoroughly review personnel requirements to determine if further personnel reductions are possible at U.S. facilities overseas. This review should include careful consideration of physical vulnerability of embassy-related facilities. The Department of Defense also should conduct a similar review for military commands abroad.



Pursue Additional International Agreements

International cooperation is crucial to long-term deterrence of terrorism. It can be achieved through multilateral and bilateral agreements. While progress in achieving a multilateral agreement has been slow, efforts should continue to reach an agreement to show that many nations are committed to fighting terrorism as an international crime against society.

In the absence of a multilateral agreement, the Department of State should aggressively continue to seek international cooperation through:

   general resolutions or agreements, in the United Nations and in other specialized organizations, concerning civil aviation, maritime affairs and tourism

   enhanced and more widely-ratified international conventions on subjects such as hijacking, hostage-taking and protection of diplomats

   less formal agreements that illustrate an international consensus to take effective action against terrorism

   improved implementation of existing agreements to fight terrorism


Close Extradition Loopholes

The United States itself is sometimes used as a safehaven for terrorists. Present extradition treaties with other countries preclude the turning over of fugitives wanted for “political offenses,” an obvious loophole for terrorists. The State Department should seek extradition treaty revisions with countries with democratic and fair judicial systems to ensure that terrorists are extradited to the country with legal jurisdiction.

The process of closing these loopholes has begun with the United Kingdom in the form of proposed revisions to the US/UK Supplementary Treaty. The State Department should vigorously pursue Senate approval of this treaty and continue the revision process with other countries to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice.


Impose Sanctions Against Vienna Convention Violators

It is a fact that certain governments actively support terrorism. These states sometimes use their diplomatic missions as safehavens for terrorists or as caches for their materiel—a direct violation of the Vienna Convention. The State Department should continue working with other governments to prevent and expose violations of the Vienna Convention. A U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the protection of terrorists in diplomatic missions could complement U.S. efforts to counter this abuse.


Evaluate and Strengthen Airport and Port Security

Pre-flight screening of passengers and carry-on baggage is a cornerstone of our domestic security program. Since 1972 these procedures have detected over 30,000 firearms and resulted in 13,000 arrests. However, the recent terrorist acts against international aviation and maritime interests indicate a need for continual monitoring and updated security procedures. This is especially true at ports and on board ships where there are no international or federally prescribed security measures.

The interagency Working Group on Maritime Security, chaired by the Department of Transportation, should survey security procedures and the threat potential to vessels, passengers and crew members. It also should review statutory authority. If adequate authority does not exist, recommendations should be made, in consultation with other appropriate agencies, for new legislation. In addition, legislation should be pursued to allow for a criminal background investigation of individuals working in restricted areas at airports and terminals. Finally, the Department of State and the Coast Guard should continue to work through the International Maritime Organization to develop internationally agreed measures to protect ships’ passengers and crews.



Establish a Consolidated Intelligence Center on Terrorism

Intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination play a pivotal role in combatting terrorism. Currently, while several federal departments and agencies process intelligence within their own facilities, there is no consolidated center that collects and analyzes all-source information from those agencies participating in antiterrorist activities. The addition of such a central facility would improve our capability to understand and anticipate future terrorist threats, support national crisis management and provide a common database readily accessible to individual agencies. Potentially, this center could be the focus for developing a cadre of interagency intelligence analysts specializing in the subject of terrorism.


Increased Collection of Human Intelligence

U.S. intelligence gathered by technical means is adequate and pursued appropriately. At the same time, there is clear need for certain information that can only be gained by individuals. An increase in human intelligence gathering is essential to penetrate terrorist groups and their support systems.


Exchange of Intelligence between Governments

The national intelligence effort relies heavily on collection and liaison arrangements that exist with many friendly governments. Such exchanges with like-minded nations and international law enforcement organizations have been highly useful and should be expanded to support our own intelligence efforts.



Make Murder of U.S. Citizens Outside the Country a Federal Crime

Currently, it is not a crime under U.S. law to murder an American citizen outside our borders—with the exception of diplomats and some government officials. Legal protection of diplomats should be extended to include all U.S. nationals who are victims of international terrorism. The Departments of State and Justice should continue urging Congress to adopt legislation, such as the Terrorist Prosecution Act of 1985, that would accomplish this objective.


Establish the Death Penalty for Hostage Murders

While there is legislation that allows the imposition of the death penalty if a death results from the seizure of an aircraft, there is no specific legislation that would allow for the same penalty for murder of hostages in other situations. The Justice Department should pursue legislation making anyone found guilty of murdering a hostage under any circumstances subject to the death penalty.


Form a Joint Committee on Intelligence

Procedures that the Executive Branch must follow to keep the Select Intelligence Committees informed of intelligence activities need streamlining. Adoption of a Joint Resolution introduced last year by Congressman Hyde would create a Joint Committee on Intelligence. This Resolution would reduce the number of people with access to sensitive information and provide a single secure repository for classified material. The Department of Justice should lead an Administration effort to secure passage of the Hyde proposal.


Establish Additional Incentives for Terrorist Information

The 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism authorizes payment of up to $500,000 for information in cases of domestic and international terrorism. Many feel this legislation does not go far enough.

The State Department should lead an interdepartmental push with Justice and CIA for legislation to develop a unilateral and/or bilateral program to encourage individuals to provide information about terrorists’ identity or location. In addition to monetary rewards, other incentives include immunity from prosecution for previous offenses and U.S. citizenship for the individual and immediate family.

Authorized rewards should be publicized to both foreign and American audiences and consideration should be given to raising the current $500,000 ceiling to $1 million.


Prohibit Mercenary Training Camps

The International Trafficking in Arms Regulations have been strengthened to require a license to train foreign persons in the use of certain firearms; however, mercenary/survival training camps still operate domestically within the law. Appropriate agencies should closely monitor the extent to which foreign nationals are being trained in the United States in the use of firearms and explosives and seek additional legislation if necessary.


Stop Terrorist Abuse of the Freedom of Information Act

Members of terrorist groups may have used the Freedom of Information Act to identify FBI informants, frustrate FBI investigations and tie up government resources in responding to requests. This would be a clear abuse of the Act that should be investigated by the Department of Justice and, if confirmed, addressed through legislation to close the loophole.


Study the Relationship between Terrorism and the Domestic and International Legal System

International and domestic legal systems are adequate to deal with conventional war and crime. However, on occasion, questions of jurisdiction and authority arise when it comes to terrorism. For example, there are ambiguities concerning the circumstances under which military force is appropriate in dealing with terrorism. This lack of clarity about the international law enforcement relationships and legal systems could limit governments’ power to act quickly and forcefully. The Departments of State and Justice should encourage private and academic study to determine how international law might be used to hasten—rather than hamper—efforts to respond to an act of terrorism.


Determine if Certain Private Sector Activities Are Illegal

In some cases individuals and companies have paid ransoms to terrorists for the return of kidnapped employees or stolen property. Such action is in direct conflict with the national policy against making concessions or paying ransoms to terrorists. The Department of Justice should consider whether legislation could be enacted and enforced to make such payments to terrorist organizations illegal.



Expand our Current Support Program for Hostage Families

Due to the intense pressure of a hostage situation, some family members of hostages have pressured the highest levels of government for information. While this is understandable, such activity has the potential to delay return of hostages by giving terrorists the media attention they seek or the belief that their demands are being considered. Further, the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information could jeopardize efforts to gain the release of hostages.

The family liaison program, conducted by State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, should provide a broader outreach program to include visits, hot-lines, information on private counseling services and a personal contact for each family for communication even when there is nothing new to report. Such an expanded contact program will help the families understand that the hostages’ interests are being given the highest priority by our government.


Launch a Public Education Effort

Because of the lack of understanding and currently available information concerning our national program for combatting terrorism, a broad education effort should be undertaken to inform the American public about our policy and proposals as well as the many ramifications of the use of force against terrorism, including death of innocent people, destruction of property, alienation of allies and possible terrorist reprisals. The education effort would take the form of publications, such as this report, seminars and speaking opportunities by government officials.


Working with the Media

Terrorists deliberately manufacture sensations to capture maximum media attention—a ploy that often takes advantage of U.S. press freedom. This activity can be offset by close communication between media and government. The U.S. Government should provide the media with timely information during a terrorist crisis. The media, in turn, should ensure that their reporting meets the highest professional and ethical standards.

Regular meetings between media and government officials on the coverage of terrorism could contribute to more effective government-media relations.


Appendix I


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Appendix II


Numerous federal departments and agencies contribute to the national program to combat terrorism. The following provides a detailed listing of the various activities of those agencies with major responsibilities.

The Department of State carries out programs for combatting terrorism in the following ways:

   Discharges its Lead Agency responsibilities for terrorism outside the United States

   Maintains the security of U.S. overseas diplomatic and consular facilities

   Cooperates with U.S. businesses as part of its effort to enhance the security of private U.S. citizens abroad

   Conducts research and analysis on terrorism

   Provides security for visiting foreign diplomats and dignitaries

   Protects the Secretary of State

   Provides training for personnel of U.S. overseas missions on security and crisis management

   Provides antiterrorism training and assistance to civilian security forces of friendly governments.

The principal offices involved in these functions are the Office of the Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism; the newly created Bureau of Diplomatic Security; the Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Office of Foreign Building Operations; the Foreign Service Institute; and the Office of Foreign Missions.


Department of Justice

The Department of Justice pursues the following counterterrorism-related activities and programs through the FBI, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the Immigration and Naturalization Service:

   Carries out its Lead Agency function to prevent, respond to, and investigate violent criminal activities of international and domestic terrorist groups within U.S. jurisdiction

   Investigates terrorist acts abroad under the new Hostage-Taking Statute that makes the hostage-taking of U.S. citizens overseas a federal crime

   Collects and investigates intelligence on terrorists to predict potential movement or criminal activities

   Investigates terrorist incidents and related criminal activities using investigative techniques to identify, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate those responsible

   Maintains operational liaison with local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States

   Provides training in the field and at the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia

   Participates with local and state authorities in joint terrorism task forces

   Provides computer-assisted research and analytical capability to other law enforcement and intelligence community agencies involved with counterterrorism

   Maintains contact with and conducts limited joint investigations with allied national police and security services on terrorism through 13 legal attaché offices

   Collects technical information regarding terrorist explosives and bombings within the United States and disseminates it to international bomb data centers

   Heads the national Hostage Rescue Team, a special group of highly trained FBI agents who deal with critical terrorist situations.

   Provides legal direction and support during terrorism investigations

   Supervises and coordinates subsequent prosecution of members of domestic and international terrorist groups whose acts violate federal criminal law

   Inspects and determines eligibility for applicants to enter the United States

   Maintains national and local lookout systems containing data relating to excludable aliens, including suspect or known terrorists.


Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Coast Guard and the Office of the Secretary conduct antiterrorism programs by carrying out the following:

   Conducts Lead Agency responsibilities through the Federal Aviation Administration by promoting the security of civil aviation, including prevention of air piracy, sabotage and criminal activities within the jurisdiction of the United States

   Provides assistance to law enforcement agencies in interdicting movements into the United States of dangerous drugs and narcotics that may be connected with terrorist activities

   Maintains operational, investigative, communications, and liaison arrangements, with many foreign governments and private organizations such as aircraft manufacturers and airline pilots’ associations

   Devotes substantial resources to airport and aircraft security programs both inside the United States and abroad

   Assures the safety and security of vessels, ports, and waterways, and their related shore facilities

   Offers transportation safety courses at domestic facilities in support of the Department of State’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program

   Advises on transportation security matters; provides security programs to protect personnel, communications equipment, and facilities


Department of Defense

Defense Department agencies involved in combatting terrorism include the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Individual armed services antiterrorist programs supplement the overall Defense Department effort. After the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the Department of Defense established a counterterrorist organization with permanent staff and specialized forces. These forces, which report to the National Command Authorities through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide a range of response options designed to counter specific acts of terrorism.

Additionally, the Defense Department maintains worldwide technical collection systems for gathering round-the-clock information on terrorism, which it disseminates to other federal agencies. It also contributes intelligence analysis and operational support to the national counterterrorism effort, maintains data on terrorist groups and produces publications on incidents and advisory and warning messages.


Central Intelligence Agency

The Central Intelligence Agency and other elements of the intelligence community contribute vitally important intelligence to the NSC and the Lead Agencies before, during and after terrorist incidents. This organization is particularly crucial in the flow of information between the United States and other countries.

Analytical units of the CIA prepare both current and long-term reports on terrorist organizations, individuals and trends, and disseminate these reports on a timely basis to all government agencies with counterterrorist responsibilities. Should the White House direct military action in a counterterrorist situation, the CIA is prepared to provide intelligence support to the Defense Department.

The Director of Central Intelligence has overall coordinating responsibility within the intelligence community for counterterrorism. He has designated the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism as the focal point to coordinate national counterterrorism intelligence activities and to ensure counterterrorism priorities are established for the intelligence community.


Department of the Treasury

Treasury’s role in the fight against terrorism involves protection, investigation, intelligence, interdiction, training and response. Its activities range from thwarting an assault on the President, to investigating an arms export case, to imposing and enforcing economic sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism.

Principal Treasury agencies are the United States Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the United States Customs Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Internal Revenue Service.


Interagency Programs

Numerous interagency bodies contribute significantly to the national program. The major coordination effort, however, is carried out by the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism, which is chaired by the Department of State and comprised of representatives from over a dozen departments and agencies.

Specific working groups have been established under the auspices of the Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism. Some of the more noteworthy are:

   Technical Support Working Group—assures the development of appropriate counterterrorism technological efforts

   Public Diplomacy Working Group—designed to generate greater global understanding of the threat of terrorism and efforts to resist it

   Anti-terrorist Assistance Coordinating Committee—coordinates the antiterrorism training programs of State, Defense and the CIA

   Rewards Committee—develops procedures for the monetary rewards program for information on terrorists

   Exercise Committee— coordinates antiterrorism exercise programs

   Maritime Security Working Group—assesses port and shipping vulnerabilities to terrorism

   Legislative Group—reviews legislative proposals and develops future antiterrorist initiatives.


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