Ten years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people, counterterrorism remains the Justice Department’s highest priority, according to a report released Monday.
Acting Inspector General Cynthia A. Schnedar said the deaths of al Qaeda leaders, including the May killing in Pakistan of Osama Bin Laden, have not affected the goal of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to conduct attacks inside the United States.
In addition, Ms. Schnedar noted in a lengthy report, domestic terrorism also remains a significant concern, as illustrated by the discovery in January of an improvised explosive device alongside a parade route in Spokane, Wash., and by the increasing dangers posed by anti-government militia extremism.
“Although the country and the department have made considerable progress over the past decade to combat terrorism, the present era of budget and deficit reduction means that significant challenges remain in protecting the country from those who would do it harm while not shortchanging the departments other important missions,” she said.
Ms. Schnedar also said a review by her office found that the circumstances of the 9/11 attacks make it clear that the Justice Department must ensure that it accurately processes, manages and shares the information it has regarding known and suspected terrorists.
She said her office is conducting multiple reviews and audits to assess how the department manages information relating to counterterrorism, including an examination of the FBI’s management of the terrorist watch-list nominations process and its encounters with those on the watch list.
In a previous audit, Ms. Schnedar said her office concluded that the FBI did not nominate known or suspected terrorists to the watch list in a timely manner and did not update or remove watch-list records as required. The current review follows up on that audit, she said, to ensure that the FBI is making adequate progress to improve what she described as “this important program.”
“It is critical that the watch list contain accurate and up-to-date information because it is used by government personnel to determine how to respond when a known or suspected terrorist requests entry into the United States,” she said.
According to the report, accurate tracking of counterterrorism efforts is essential to the management of Justice Department resources, as Congress and the department use statistical reports relating to terrorism to make operational and funding decisions to support its annual budget requests for counterterrorism activities.
“Particularly in this time of constrained budgets and deficit reduction efforts, it is essential that the department report with precision terrorism-related statistics, such as the number of individuals charged with terrorism as a result of terrorism investigations and the number of threats made against people, cities, and transportation facilities,” she said.
Ms. Schnedar also noted:
• Terrorists and criminal hackers are increasingly using the freedom and anonymity of the Internet to threaten national security, and their evolving methods require ongoing adaptation by the Justice Department and the FBI.
• Investigation and prosecution of terrorist financing also play an important role in the Justice Departments efforts to disrupt terrorist organizations and prevent terrorist attacks.
• The Justice Department must ensure that it is prepared to respond in the event of a terrorist attack, adding that since a June 2010 report saying the department as a whole needed to improve its preparedness to respond to a weapon of mass destruction incident, the department has formed an Emergency Preparedness Committee to assess its emergency preparedness policies and procedures, and to implement the recommendations made in the report.
• Coordination between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the event of a terrorist attack involving explosives remains a significant concern. While both agencies have made efforts to address the problems and the Justice Department has assigned lead jurisdiction over terrorism-related explosives investigations to the FBI, important questions remain.
“In sum, the effective management of counterterrorism efforts remains a fundamental challenge for the department,” Ms. Schnedar said. “Although the departments commitment to combating terrorism has been robust and steady, its management of such critical matters as information sharing and agency coordination can be substantially improved.”
The report listed nine other major management issues facing the Justice Department: Implementing cost savings and efficiencies; Southwest border security; protecting civil right and liberties; information technology systems planning, implementation and security; criminal law enforcement; restoring public confidence; financial enforcement; detention and incarceration; and grants and contracts management.