National Security and the U.S. Attorneys Offices


National Security: The Highest Priority of United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Department of Justice

The Department of Justice has no higher priority than protecting national security. United States Attorneys’ offices, working in close partnership with the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD), are critical to these efforts.

Since 9/11, the U. S. Attorneys’ offices and the Department of Justice have addressed increasingly diverse and challenging threats to our national security. As these threats have evolved over time, we have adapted to combat and disrupt such emerging threats.

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices use all available legal tools to address these threats, including prosecution in federal courts, collection and sharing of critical intelligence, and collaboration with other federal, state, and local law enforcement entities, as well as our allies overseas.

Hundreds of terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted in federal court since 9/11. Today, there are more than 300 international or domestic terrorists incarcerated in U.S. federal prison facilities. In 2009 and 2010, there were more defendants charged with the most serious terrorism related offenses than in any similar period since 9/11. The U.S. Attorneys’ offices working in close partnership and coordination with NSD, are key to these successes.

The efforts of the U.S. Attorneys’ offices to protect our national security fall within four primary areas: counterterrorism; domestic terrorism; counterespionage (including counter-proliferation); and emerging threats such as narco-terrorism and cyber-terrorism. These efforts are supported by our Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) program and our Intelligence Specialist Program.


Counterterrorism Efforts

Counterterrorism work at the U.S. Attorneys’ offices involves investigation and prosecution, as well as other efforts aimed at preventing and disrupting acts of terrorism anywhere in the world where United States interests and persons are impacted. Examples of this work include:

  • investigating and prosecuting international terrorism cases;
  • investigating and prosecuting terrorist financing matters, including material support cases;
  • participating in the systematic collection and analysis of data and information relating to the investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases;
  • coordinating, through NSD, with U.S. government agencies (including the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and the Treasury, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. intelligence community) to facilitate prevention of terrorist activity through daily detection and analysis and to provide information and support to the field;
  • investigating and prosecuting matters involving torture, genocide, and war crimes that are linked to terrorist groups and individuals;
  • participating in training, seminars, and lectures on terrorism-related topics including substantive law, policy, procedure, and guidelines for foreign and domestic law enforcement personnel, intelligence officials, the private sector, and the general public;
  • assisting in information sharing through Anti-Terrorism Task Forces Coordinators in the U.S. Attorneys’ offices through the Regional Coordinator system by facilitating information sharing between and among prosecutors nationwide on terrorism matters, cases, and threat information.

The material support statutes continue to be cornerstones of our prosecution efforts. Cutting off the provision of support and resources to terrorists and foreign terrorist organizations is essential to preventing terrorist attacks. The two primary material support statutes are 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, providing material support to terrorists, and 18 U.S.C. § 2339B, providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. Attorneys’ offices have also used the terrorist fund-raising statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2339C, and the statute that outlaws obtaining military support from a designated foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339D, to combat terrorism. Additionally, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) provides prosecutors a useful tool to charge those who give or receive goods or services from a number of designated terrorists.

The U.S. Attorneys’ offices are also involved in a broad and diverse range of investigations and prosecutions involving many federal statutes, including:

  • aircraft piracy and related offenses (49 U.S.C. §§ 46501-07);
  • aircraft sabotage (18 U.S.C. § 32);
  • crimes against immediate family members of federal officials (18 U.S.C. § 115) and against internationally protected persons (18 U.S.C. §§ 112, 878, 1116, 1201(a)(4));
  • sea piracy (18 U.S.C. § 1651);
  • hostage taking (18 U.S.C. § 1203);
  • terrorist acts abroad, including murder, against U.S. nationals (18 U.S.C. § 2332);
  • acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries (18 U.S.C. § 2332b);
  • conspiracy within the U.S. to murder, kidnap, or maim persons or to damage property overseas (18 U.S.C. § 956);
  • provision of material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations (18 U.S.C. §§ 2339A, 2339B, 2339C, 2339D);
  • use of biological, nuclear, chemical or other weapons of mass destruction (18 U.S.C. §§ 175, 831, 2332c, 2332a);
  • genocide (18 U.S.C. § 1091);
  • war crimes (18 U.S.C. § 2441); and
  • torture (18 U.S.C. § 2340A).

The U.S. Attorneys’ offices also prosecute offenses such as identity theft and immigration violations as part of their counterterrorism efforts. Prosecution of terrorism-related targets on these types of charges, including 18 U.S.C. § 1028 (use of fraudulent identification documents), 18 U.S.C. § 1425 (immigration violations), 18 U.S.C. § 1542 (false statements in application and use of passport), 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (fraudulently obtaining travel documents) and 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (making misrepresentations to federal investigators), is often an effective method – and sometimes the only available method – of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist planning and support activities, and preventing terrorists from exploiting weaknesses in our identification, immigration, critical infrastructure, and financial systems to facilitate attacks.


Domestic Terrorism Efforts

In addition to protecting the U.S. against international terrorists, “traditional” home-grown terrorist groups continue to exist, and individuals like Timothy McVeigh, continue to present a threat. Additionally, home-grown violent extremists who are inspired by al-Qaeda and other international terrorists and terrorist groups but who have no actual connection to them, pose a threat to the security of our county.

To further protect America from the threat of terrorism on our home soil from disaffected Americans, members of domestic terrorism and extremist groups, and from homegrown violent extremists who are inspired by and seeking to emulate international terrorists, the U.S. Attorneys’ offices work to identify, disrupt, prevent and defeat domestic terrorist operations before they occur and to vigorously prosecute those who commit or intend to commit such acts.

Domestic terrorism includes acts within the territorial U.S. that are dangerous to human life, violate federal or state criminal laws, have no actual connection to international terrorists, and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence domestic government policy through intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of our government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.

Current domestic terrorism threats include animal rights extremists, eco-terrorists, anarchists, antigovernment extremists such as “sovereign citizens” and unauthorized militias, Black separatists, White supremacists, anti-abortion extremists, and other unaffiliated disaffected Americans, including “lone wolfs.” Domestic terrorism cases often involve firearms, arson or explosive offenses, crimes relating to fraud, and threats and hoaxes.


Counterespionage/Counter Proliferation Efforts

The U.S. Attorneys’ offices also work on the investigation and prosecution of cases affecting national security, foreign relations, the export of military and strategic commodities and technology, matters relating to espionage, sabotage, neutrality, atomic energy, and criminal cases involving the application of the Classified Information Procedures Act.

For example, the following types of matters are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys’ offices, in partnership with NSD’s Counterespionage Section:

Espionage – 18 U.S.C.§ 792 et seq. The espionage provisions deal with documents, material, or information, related to the national defense and activities such as gathering, transmitting to an unauthorized person, or losing information pertaining to the national defense, and to conspiracies to commit such offenses, and the willful communication of classified information concerning codes or communications intelligence or related materials to an unauthorized person.

Espionage Related Offenses Treason 18 U.S.C. §§ 2381 and 2382. The crime of treason is covered in 18 U.S.C. § 2381. It proscribes levying war against the U.S. and giving comfort to the enemy. Misprision of treason is also unlawful. 18 U.S.C. § 2382.

Computer Espionage 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1). It is unlawful to knowingly access a computer without authorization, or beyond the scope of one’s authorization, and thereby obtain information that has been classified for national defense or foreign relations reasons with the intent or reason to believe that such information is to be used to the injury of the U.S. or to the advantage of a foreign nation

Communication or Receipt of Classified Information 50 U.S.C. § 783. It is unlawful for any officer or employee of the U.S., or of any federal department or agency, to communicate to any person whom he or she knows or has reason to believe to be an agent of a foreign government, any information classified by the president or by the head of such department or agency as affecting the security of the U.S., knowing or having reason to know that such information has been so classified. Conversely, it is unlawful for a foreign agent knowingly to receive classified information from a U.S. government employee, unless special authorization has been obtained.

Disclosing Intelligence Identities 50 U.S.C. § 421. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of information identifying certain U.S. intelligence officers, agents, informants or sources.

Foreign Agents 18 U.S.C. § 951. It is unlawful for foreign agents to act as such without notifying the Attorney General, unless the agent is entitled to a statutory exemption from the registration requirement.

Export Administration Act 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 2401 to 2420. The Export Administration Act, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder, prohibit the exportation of strategic goods and technologies without a license from the Department of Commerce.

Arms Export Control Act 22 U.S.C. § 2778. The Arms Export Control Act and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder, prohibit the importation and exportation of arms, ammunition and implements of war without a license from the Department of State. Violations are investigated by the Customs Service.

Trading With the Enemy Act 50 U.S.C. App. § 5(b)/Foreign Assets Control. Pursuant to the Trading With the Enemy Act, the Secretary of the Treasury has promulgated regulations prohibiting unlicensed transactions between U.S. nationals and certain designated foreign countries and their nationals.

International Emergency Economic Powers Act 50 U.S.C. § 1701 et seq. Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the president is granted authority to declare a national emergency with respect to any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source outside the U.S., and to take action to meet that threat including the imposition of controls over property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has an interest.

The U.S. Attorneys’ offices, in partnership with NSD’s Counterespionage Section, prosecute the following criminal provisions affecting, involving, or relating to the national security:

  • 2 U.S.C. § 192 (Contempts of Congress Related to National Security)
  • 8 U.S.C. § 1185(b) (Travel Controls of Citizens)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 219 et seq. (Officers and Employees of the United States Acting as Foreign Agents)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. (Espionage; Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 951 et seq. (Neutrality Laws)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1) (Computer Espionage)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1542 et seq. (Passport Violations Related to National Security)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1924 (Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1831 (Economic Espionage)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2151 et seq. (Sabotage)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2381 et seq. (Treason, Sedition and Subversive Activities)
  • 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq. (Foreign Agents Registration)
  • 22 U.S.C. § 2778 (Arms Export Control Act)
  • 42 U.S.C. § 2274 to 2278, 2284, and other Atomic Energy Violations that Affect National Security (Atomic Energy Act)
  • 50 U.S.C. § 421 (Intelligence Identities Protection Act)
  • 50 U.S.C. § 782 et seq. (Communication of Classified Information by Government Officer or Employee)
  • 50 U.S.C. § 851 et seq. (Registration of Person who has Knowledge Concerning Espionage Activities)
  • 50 U.S.C. § 1701 et seq. (International Emergency Economic Powers Act)
  • 50 U.S.C. § 2401 et seq. (Export Administration Act)
  • 50 U.S.C. App. § 5(b) (Trading With the Enemy Act)


Emerging and Innovative National Security Efforts

Narco-terrorism is a growing area of concern in our counterterrorism efforts, as terrorists exploit drug cartels to provide funding, weapons, and other support for their terrorist activities. Global terrorists also have a substantial and growing presence on the Internet, where one can find radical anti-U.S. propaganda, tutorials on bomb-making, and elaborate religious justifications for the most despicable acts of violence against defenseless civilians. The Internet permits isolated actors to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources to attack. Thus, terrorists continue to use the Internet to solicit funds and for recruitment, radicalization, training, and operational planning.

This remains a significant and growing area of concern for our counterterrorism efforts, as we seek effective means of enforcement, while protecting our cherished First Amendment freedoms. For example, the bomb-making statute (18 U.S.C. § 842(p) – distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction), is one tool for attacking prohibited conduct that terrorists seek to cloak in the garb of protected free speech. This statute forbids teaching or demonstrating the making or use of an explosive, destructive device or weapon of mass destruction, or the distribution of information concerning the manufacture of such devices, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration or information be used in furtherance of a federal crime of violence, or with the knowledge that the recipient of the teaching or demonstration intends to use the knowledge imparted in furtherance of a federal crime of violence.

The Internet is part of our critical infrastructure and attacks on that infrastructure and attempts to exploit weakness in that and similar infrastructures remains a significant emerging threat to national security that the U.S. Attorneys’ offices and NSD continue to address.

The U.S. Attorneys’ offices use all available lawful resources, including rarely used but applicable federal criminal statutes, to address emerging threats. For example, U.S. citizen Adam Gadahn was charged with treason, a statute not used by the Department of Justice since the World War II era. Gadahn, also known as “Azzam Al Amriki,” was indicted on charges of treason and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization for making a series of propaganda videotapes for al Qaeda. Gadahn is believed to be overseas and is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted List of Terrorists.


Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) Program

Every U.S. Attorney’s Office has an Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) Coordinator. The ATAC Coordinator is an experienced senior prosecutor who is responsible for:

  • Convening a council comprised of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, as well as pertinent members of the private sector and academic and professional communities, to coordinate counterterrorism efforts in their communities;
  • Coordinating specific anti-terrorism initiatives;
  • Supporting the investigative efforts of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), as appropriate; initiating training programs; and,
  • Facilitating information sharing among the ATAC membership and between field and headquarters components of the Department.

Membership of each ATAC varies from district to district, but all include a wide cross-section of federal, state, and local law enforcement, first responders, and private sector security personnel who have worked together since 9/11 to share information, train, discuss initiatives, and establish important relationships and contacts.

The ATAC Coordinator is responsible for spearheading counterterrorism efforts in his or her districts, and is the primary point of contact for the investigation and prosecution of the district’s terrorism cases. The ATAC Coordinator and ATACs work in partnership with Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), which retain primary responsibility for terrorism investigations.


Intelligence Specialists Program

Each U.S. Attorney’s Office has been allocated a position for an Intelligence Specialist. Intelligence Specialists play a vital role in the prosecution and disruption of terrorism suspects by using their experience to incorporate intelligence information into lawful investigations. Intelligence Specialists have played a role in developing financial intelligence related to material support to terrorism cases, bringing together investigative capabilities from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They have worked equally effectively with law enforcement and security personnel from the FBI and Department of Defense, as well as state, local and tribal authorities, adding their expertise in support of sensitive national security investigations.

In support of each district’s ATAC Coordinator, the Intelligence Specialists are essential in helping to communicate the threat picture to ATAC members, providing relevant context of national intelligence to local members as well as collating locally generated information for national consumption.

Through the ATAC, the Intelligence Specialists assist with coordinating training designed to familiarize local law enforcement with reporting procedures associated with national counterterrorism mechanisms and techniques used by terrorist networks and “lone wolves” to prepare attacks. By working hand-in-glove with other members of the federal government, as well as with state and local officials, the Intelligence Specialists play a vital role in preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks in their districts.