Fact Sheet: the Department of Justice Ten Years After 9/11
Ten years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been defined by its resolve, its values and the resilience with which it has overcome this tragedy. The 9/11 attacks and other acts of terrorism have failed to undermine our values or weaken our society. Americans continue to embrace democratic values and fundamental liberties, instead of fear and oppression.
As the Justice Department and the entire nation honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, the department remains fully committed to the fight against those who target Americans and our way of life. The best way to honor the legacies of the victims of 9/11 is to prevent further terrorist attacks on this country, which remains the highest priority and most urgent work of the department.
Even as we pledge continued vigilance against those who target Americans, our nation can be justifiably proud of its response to these threats over the past decade. America is both stronger and safer than it was a decade ago. Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, while still a serious threat, have a severely degraded capability to attack the homeland. As a result of offensive actions abroad and vigilant security measures at home, the U.S. government has reduced terrorists’ capabilities to perpetrate spectacular attacks on American soil.
For its part, the department has improved its ability to identify, penetrate and dismantle terrorist plots as a result of a series of structural reforms; the development of new intelligence and law enforcement tools; and a new mindset that values information sharing and prevention, while vigorously protecting civil liberties and privacy interests. Working with partners in the intelligence community, the military and law enforcement, as well as with communities across America and counterparts around the world, the department has not rested -- and will never rest -- in its efforts to safeguard America.
Even as we strive to thwart 100 percent of the plots against us, we know that violent extremists need only succeed once. While absolute security is not possible and much work remains to be done, the Justice Department and its partners have built a much stronger security architecture to maximize our ability to protect the homeland, and are constantly adapting operations in a way that enhances the nation’s security while further delegitimizing the actions of terrorists.
Below are some of the key actions taken by the department over the past decade to enhance the nation’s counter-terror efforts, while upholding civil liberties and privacy interests. For more information on how the department is commemorating 9/11, please see: www.justice.gov/911. To view this fact sheet online, please see: I.) Protecting America Through Investigation and Criminal Prosecution; II.) Structural Changes to Enhance Counter-Terrorism Efforts; III.) Legal Changes to Enhance Counter-Terrorism Efforts; IV.) Protecting the Privacy and Civil Liberties of Americans; V.) Partnering with the Muslim, Arab and Sikh Communities; and VI.) Partnering with Domestic and International Counterparts.
I. Protecting America Through Investigation and Criminal Prosecution
Over the past decade, the department has successfully and securely used the criminal justice system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of defendants for terrorism and terrorism-related offenses that occurred both in the United States and overseas, including plots targeting both civilian and military targets. These post-9/11 terror prosecutions have proceeded without any terror defendant escaping federal custody or terrorist retaliation against a judicial district.
Over the past three years, America has dealt with some of the most significant terrorist threats to the homeland since 9/11. These threats have become increasingly diverse and decentralized, often making them more challenging to identify and counter. There has been an expanding universe of groups and people targeting our country, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pakistani Taliban and other affiliates, as well as an increasing number of radicalized U.S. citizens and residents. There has also been greater diversity in terms of tactics, with a trend toward smaller, faster-developing plots, rather than larger, long-term plots like those carried out on 9/11.
The Justice Department has played a vital role in combating these emerging threats, and it continues to adapt its operations. During calendar years 2009 and 2010, the Justice Department charged more defendants in federal court with the most serious terrorism offenses than in any two-year period since 9/11. Some of the more significant international terrorism prosecutions in recent years include the following:
- New York Subway Plot: In September 2009, a combined law enforcement and intelligence effort thwarted an al-Qaeda-sponsored plot to attack the New York subway system. Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York in February and April 2010, respectively, in connection with their roles in the plot. Co-defendant Adis Medunjanin is currently awaiting trial. Zazi’s cousin also pleaded guilty to helping Zazi obtain al-Qaeda training and obstructing the terrorism investigation, and Zazi’s father and uncle have also been convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice in the terrorism investigation. An additional person was convicted of lying to federal agents in connection with the case. Five additional defendants, including Adnan El-Shukrijumah, who is accused of being a senior leader of al-Qaeda, have also been indicted as part of the investigation.
- Times Square Plot: In June 2010, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square on the evening of May 1, 2010. Shahzad admitted that he received explosives training from trainers affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban. In October 2010, Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.
- Mumbai and Denmark Terror Plots: In March 2010, David Headley pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Illinois to a dozen terrorism charges, admitting that he participated in planning the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as well as later planning to attack a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In June 2011, Headley co-defendant Tahawwur Rana was convicted of participating in the Denmark terror conspiracy and providing material support to the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Six other defendants, including alleged Pakistani terror leader Ilyas Kashmiri and accused Lashkar-e-Tayyiba operative Sajid Mir, have been indicted as part of the investigation.
- Al-Shabaab Terror Recruitment: Since 2009, 19 individuals have been charged in the District of Minnesota as part of “Operation Rhino,” an investigation that has focused on the recruitment of young men from the Minneapolis-area to fight on behalf of the terrorist organization, al-Shabaab, in Somalia. Six of the defendants have pleaded guilty thus far. Many other defendants remain fugitives in Somalia. The earliest group of identified travelers departed in 2007, while others left in 2008 and 2009. Upon arriving in Somalia, the men resided in al-Shabaab safe-houses until constructing an al-Shabaab training camp, where they were trained by a senior member of al-Shabaab and a senior member of al-Qaeda. At least two of the travelers from Minneapolis have died in suicide bomb attacks in Somalia and several others have been killed in combat fighting for al-Shabaab. In other judicial districts, the department has charged numerous other defendants with terror violations involving al-Shabaab.
Countering Homegrown Violent Extremism
In recent years, the Department of Justice has brought charges against an increasing number of individuals, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, who were living in this country; had become radicalized; and had taken steps to act on their extremist beliefs. While some have acted at the direction of foreign terrorist groups, many were lone actors, operating independently of foreign terrorist organizations but motivated or radicalized by terrorist propaganda. Examples of recent homegrown terror prosecutions are below:
- Michael Finton pleaded guilty in May 2011 in the Central District of Illinois to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction stemming his efforts to detonate a vehicle bomb outside a federal courthouse in Illinois. Finton was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
- Farooque Ahmed pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia in April 2011 to attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda and collecting information to assist in planning terrorist attacks on transit facilities in the Washington, D.C., area. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
- Daniel Boyd pleaded guilty in February 2011 in the Eastern District of North Carolina to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to kill abroad, stemming from his efforts to recruit and help individuals travel abroad to kill on behalf of violent extremists. Daniel’s son, Zakariya Boyd, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists in June 2011.
- Zachary Chesser pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia in February 2011 to charges of communicating threats against the writers of the South Park television show, soliciting jihadists to desensitize law enforcement and attempting to provide material support to al-Shabaab. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
- Colleen LaRose pleaded guilty in February 2011 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill abroad and other charges stemming from her role in a plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed. Her co-defendant, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
- Hosam Smadi pleaded guilty in May 2010 in the Northern District of Texas to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction stemming from his efforts to bomb a 60-story skyscraper in Dallas in 2009. Smadi was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Assisting in the Intelligence-Gathering Process
Over the past decade, in case after case, the Justice Department has sought not just to convict and incarcerate criminals but also to develop cooperators and informants who can be used to hold accountable co-conspirators and others involved in plots against the United States. Some examples from the past 10 years in which valuable information about terrorist organizations has been elicited through the questioning of individuals at different stages of the criminal justice process, are below.
- David Headley, who pleaded guilty in 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois in connection with a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper and his role in planning the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, has provided valuable intelligence on those attacks, the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and Pakistan-based terrorist leaders. Headley also testified in the trial of c o-defendant Tahawwur Rana, who was convicted in June 2011 of participating in the Denmark terror conspiracy and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.
- Earnest James Ujaama pleaded guilty in 2007 in the Southern District of New York to terrorism charges arising from his efforts to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Ore., and his efforts to facilitate violent jihad in Afghanistan. Ujaama later testified in the trial of Oussama Kassir, who was charged with a conspiracy in connection with the Bly training camp and with operating numerous terrorist websites. Kassir was found guilty of all 11 counts against him in May 2009, and received a life sentence plus 115 years in September 2009. Ujaama’s testimony was considered instrumental in helping to secure Kassir’s conviction.
- Iyman Faris, who trained and fought in Kashmir and Afghanistan in the late 1980s, provided valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda operations, leaders and plans for attacks in the United States. Faris pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to casing a New York City bridge for al-Qaeda, and providing information to al-Qaeda on tools necessary for possible attacks on U.S. targets. He was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison.
- John Walker Lindh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2002 in the Eastern District of Virginia for supplying services to the Taliban while fighting on the Taliban’s front lines in Afghanistan. As part of his plea agreement, he provided valuable intelligence about training camps and fighting in Afghanistan.
II. Structural Changes to Enhance Counter-Terrorism Efforts
Over the past decade, the Justice Department and its component agencies have fundamentally restructured their operations to better address national security threats and prevent terrorist attacks. Some of the major structural reforms during this period include the following:
Creating the Justice Department’s National Security Division
In 2006, the Justice Department created the National Security Division (NSD), the first new Justice Department division in 49 years, to merge the department’s primary national security components into a single division to more effectively combat national security threats. The division brought together the former Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, the Counterterrorism Section and the Counterespionage Section from separate parts of the department. The new Office of Law and Policy, the Executive Office and the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism have completed the NSD. NSD’s structure is designed to fuse the authorities and capabilities of the law enforcement and intelligence communities to strengthen the government’s national security efforts. Since its inception, some of NSD’s accomplishments include:
- Improved coordination between prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, on the one hand, and intelligence attorneys and the Intelligence Community, on the other, to strengthen the effectiveness of the nation’s counterterrorism efforts.
- Developed and promoted a national counterterrorism enforcement program that has yielded prosecutions against hundreds of defendants as a result of collaboration with department leadership, the FBI, the intelligence community and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.
- Re-organized and dramatically increased staffing for the Office of Intelligence (formerly the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review), with three new sections to handle the increased Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) workload, better coordinate FISA litigation and improve national security oversight.
- Reviewed, processed and submitted thousands of FISA applications to the FISA Court on behalf of the government to ensure that intelligence community agencies have the legal authorities necessary to conduct intelligence operations.
- With the lowering of the FISA “wall” between intelligence and law enforcement investigations, NSD has overseen and processed a steady increase in the number of requests to use information from FISA-authorized activities as evidence in criminal prosecutions of terrorists and spies.
- Created and staffed a new Office of Law and Policy to harmonize national security legal and policy functions for the entire department, and to promote important national security priorities, such as updating FISA and other legislation, supporting cyber security efforts and strengthening counter-terrorism capabilities of our partners overseas.
- Funded and staffed the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism, and designated 159 international terrorism events to allow for U.S. victim expense reimbursement.
Transforming the FBI to Meet the New Threat
Since 9/11, the FBI has undertaken the most significant transformation in its history. The bureau has restructured its operations in order to better detect, penetrate and dismantle terrorist enterprises as part of its larger cultural shift to a threat-based, intelligence-driven, national security organization. Today, the FBI serves as a vital link between the intelligence and law enforcement communities, bringing the discipline of the criminal justice system to its domestic intelligence activities in a manner that is consistent with American expectations and protections for privacy and civil liberties. As part of this strategic shift, the FBI has overhauled its counterterrorism operations, expanded its intelligence capabilities, modernized its business practices and technologies, and improved coordination with its partners. Some of the major changes include:
- Established clear priorities emphasizing prevention while ensuring the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties.
- Established the FBI National Security Branch in 2005, which centralized the FBI’s national security programs, including its Counterterrorism Division, Counterintelligence Division, Directorate of Intelligence, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate and the Terrorist Screening Center, into a single branch.
- Established Field Intelligence Groups in all 56 FBI field offices and embedded intelligence groups in each operational division at FBI headquarters.
- Doubled the number of FBI intelligence analysts and tripled the number of linguists.
- Created the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF) at FBI headquarters, consisting of approximately 41 member agencies.
- Realigned resources , shifting some agents from criminal programs to counterterrorism matters and creating threat-based fusion cells to address the FBI’s top counterterrorism priorities, and to ensure that the collection of intelligence is focused against priority threats.
- Established various units that have enhanced counterterrorism capabilities, including the 24/7 Counterterrorism Watch, which serves as the FBI’s primary point of notification for all potential terrorist threats; the Terrorism Financing Operation Section, which centralizes efforts to track and shut down terrorist financing; and fly teams, which respond to terrorism incidents or threats around the world.
- Created and implemented a new operating manual for domestic operations based on new Attorney General Guidelines that apply across all program areas.
III. Legal Changes to Enhance Counter-Terrorism Efforts
Over the past decade, the Justice Department has worked closely with Congress and other federal agencies to strengthen the nation’s laws against terrorism, update the legal authorities needed to detect and disrupt terror plots, and tear down walls hindering intelligence and law enforcement officials from gathering and sharing information critical to protecting the nation. Some of the most significant changes in this area include the following:
USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005
The USA PATRIOT Act, which was enacted in 2001, has helped investigators identify, dismantle and disrupt many terrorist plots. Expiring provisions of the Act were reauthorized by the USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, and by subsequent legislation in 2009 and 2011, allowing investigators to continue to use these vital authorities. These laws have helped law enforcement and intelligence agencies protect the nation in the following ways:
- Helped tear down the so-called FISA “wall” that prevented effective information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
- Allowed federal agents to better track sophisticated terrorists trained to evade detection, and provided national security investigators with tools comparable to those commonly used in criminal cases.
- Updated investigative tools to reflect new technologies and threats, and allowed authorities to obtain search warrants from a single court regardless of where terrorist-related activity occurred.
- Increased penalties for those who commit certain terrorist crimes and those who support them.
- The USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act added dozens of additional safeguards to protect privacy interests and civil liberties.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008
In 2008, legislation was enacted that modernized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which passed with a bipartisan majority of Congress and broad support from the intelligence community, allows intelligence professionals to more quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications, while protecting the civil liberties of Americans. Among other things, the law accomplishes the following:
- Ensures that the intelligence community has the tools it needs to determine who terrorists are communicating with, what they are saying and what they may be planning.
- Provides critical authorities that allow the intelligence community to acquire foreign intelligence information by targeting foreign persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.
- Preserves and provides new civil liberties protections for Americans.
- Requires court orders to target Americans for foreign intelligence surveillance, no matter where they are, and requires court review of the procedures used to protect information about Americans.
- Provides critical liability protections for companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country from terrorist threats.
IV. Protecting the Privacy and Civil Liberties of Americans
As the nation’s primary law enforcement agency, the Justice Department strives to be a model for ensuring that Americans’ privacy and civil liberties are forcefully protected in all the department’s national security efforts. In recent years, the department has dramatically enhanced oversight of its national security activities. It has also restored the department’s Civil Rights Division as the nation’s preeminent civil rights law enforcement agency. In Fiscal Year 2009, there were more federal criminal civil rights cases filed by the Justice Department than in any prior year – and in Fiscal Year 2010, the department broke that record once again. The department’s commitment to civil rights has never been stronger, and protecting the rights of the Muslim and Arab-American communities, and other communities, is a critical part of that commitment. Below are some of the advances the department has made since 9/11:
- The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have brought federal hate crime charges in 52 post-9/11 backlash cases, with 47 convictions to date. Department attorneys have also coordinated with state and local prosecutors in numerous non-federal criminal prosecutions, in many cases providing substantial assistance.
- The Civil Rights Division has also worked to ensure that Muslims are free to practice their religion without facing illegal barriers or discrimination. Using its authority under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the division has taken action in a number of jurisdictions around the country to ensure that land use and zoning decisions are not used to illegally prevent Muslim communities from building places of worship.
- The department appointed its first Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer in 2006, and subsequently created the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties to support the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer. The principal mission of the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties is to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people through review, oversight and coordination of the department’s privacy operations.
- The department’s National Security Division has dramatically enhanced its oversight of FBI national security activities, and in many cases, those of other intelligence community agencies, to ensure adherence to the nation’s laws, rules and regulations, including privacy interests and civil liberties.
- The FBI created the Office of Integrity and Compliance in 2007 to ensure the bureau’s compliance with laws, rules and procedures, not only in national security activities, but in all FBI activities.
- The department developed and issued guidance to federal agencies in 2003 expressly prohibiting racial profiling in federal law enforcement practices.
V. Partnering with the Muslim, Arab and Sikh Communities
In conducting national security investigations and prosecuting cases, the FBI and Justice Department rely on the support, cooperation and trust of the communities we serve and protect. Members of the Muslim and Arab-American communities are valuable partners in a shared effort to combat terrorist threats. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out, and have provided critical assistance in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization. The department and the FBI regularly engage in extensive outreach efforts with the Muslim and Arab-American communities, and many other communities, to improve our ability to perform our duties in a manner consistent with civil liberties, diversity and a commitment to religious freedom. Among the actions taken since 9/11:
- The Justice Department and the FBI have constructed strong, lasting relationships with national Arab-American, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian American organizations and their leaders.
- The Attorney General has made engagement with the Muslim American and Arab American communities a priority, and U.S. Attorneys are active in reaching out to Muslim communities in their districts, with a special focus on local situations and issues.
- The department’s Civil Rights Division holds bi-monthly meetings that bring together top officials from various federal agencies with representatives of the Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities to address civil rights issues.
- The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service has held more than 250 town and community meetings around the country in the last decade, addressing 9/11 backlash discrimination issues against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asian-Americans. The Service has also deployed conflict resolution specialists to more than 50 communities to alleviate tensions in the wake of backlash incidents.
- The FBI has launched innovative grassroots programs in each of its 56 field offices to meet the needs of Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asian-Americans, and other communities within their domains.
- FBI outreach efforts range from formal national-level relationships with established groups to local multi-cultural advisory boards, Citizen’s Academies and youth activities. Most important are the individual relationships established by FBI personnel in the field with leaders in their local communities through regular dialogue and information sharing.
VI. Partnering with Domestic and International Counterparts
In order to address terrorist networks operating around the world, the department has increased its partnerships at every level of government in the United States and has forged strong ties with its counterparts overseas. Some of these efforts include:
Coordinating with Federal, State and Local Partners
- Created Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils in each U.S. Attorney’s Office to enhance information sharing with state and local authorities in each district, and to enhance communications between the department and U.S. Attorneys on terrorism matters.
- Increased the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) around the country from 35 to 104, and increased the number of JTTF personnel from approximately 1,000 to nearly 4,500.
- Helped fund and participate in the 72 information fusion centers that have been created in states and localities around the country since 9/11 to serve as the focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information.
- Partnered with other agencies to establish the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI), which provides standards, policies and processes for federal, state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement to share timely, relevant information about behaviors recognized as precursor activities to terrorism. The NSI also is training analysts to recognize patterns and share behavior-related patterns and trends with law enforcement.
- Provided critical participation and support to the multi-agency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which integrates terrorism intelligence, conducts strategic operational planning, and serves as a central repository for terrorism intelligence.
- Provided critical leadership and support to the Terrorist Screening Center, a multi-agency center under the umbrella of the FBI’s National Security Branch that manages the consolidated terrorist watch list.
- Provided critical participation in the multi-agency Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, which provides information that helps keep foreign terrorists and their supporters out of the United States, or leads to their removal, location, detention, surveillance or prosecution.
- Created the FBI Office of Law Enforcement Coordination to build bridges to national, state, municipal, county, tribal and local partners.
Coordinating with International Counterparts
In the past 10 years, the department has leveraged international law enforcement cooperation to target and dismantle terrorist enterprises both at home and abroad. In this area, the department has:
- Expanded the number of FBI Legal Attaché offices in foreign countries from 44, on 9/11, to 62 operation offices and 13 sub-offices today.
- 112 agents and 74 support employees, in 2001, to 182 agents and 107 support personnel, for a total of 289 employees stationed abroad—an increase of nearly 55 percent.
- Responded to hundreds of formal requests from partners around the world for assistance in terrorism investigations, though our global network of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties.
- Shared thousands of pieces of threat-related information with our international partners.
- Provided critical evidence to other countries for use in terrorism-related prosecutions, and received critical evidence from other countries for use in U.S. terrorism-related prosecutions.