More About Joint Terrorism Task Forces

Document Date: January 24, 2013

There are JTTFs in 106 cities nationwide, employing approximately 4,400 members. Much of the public concern surrounding the FBI’s renewed political surveillance has focused on the role of JTTFs in those activities.

Freedom of Information Act requests filed by ACLU affiliates around the country in 2004, 2005, and 2006 revealed that JTTFs have been collecting information about peaceful political activity having nothing to do with terrorism. These inappropriate JTTF investigations targeted peaceful advocacy organizations such as the School of the America’s Watch, Greenpeace, Catholic Workers Group, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center in Colorado, and the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice in Pennsylvania, among others. In 2010, the Justice Department Inspector General released a report confirming the JTTFs had improperly spied on domestic advocacy organizations based on “speculative, after-the-fact rationalizations,” rather than contemporaneous documentation, as required. Still, the Inspector General determined that because the guidelines regulating FBI investigations established a low “information or an allegation” standard for opening Preliminary Investigations, many of these fruitless and abusive FBI investigations of advocacy groups did not violate the regulations. The FBI regulations, known as “Attorney General Guidelines,” were amended in 2008 to remove the requirement of any factual predicate at all before an investigation may begin.

A nationwide FBI investigation targeting returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to determine if they have become right-wing extremists is also likely being conducted through JTTFs, and anti-terrorism training programs improperly labeling other political dissidents as terrorism threats makes it likely more investigations are targeting Americans based on ideology rather than actual evidence of wrongdoing.

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