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Counterterrorism Group Will Be Formed Here

The group will comprise FBI agents along with representatives from federal, state and local authorities such as the Secret Service, the ATF, INF and state and local police. It will include five fulltime FBI agents and six members of other agencies and about a dozen part-time officers.

"Once we get this [set up] it will be a permanent fixture," says Donald Thompson, special agent in charge of the Richmond FBI office. The group will work much like other crime-enforcement task forces such as those on violent crime.

"If we have to respond to a major [terrorist] incident, this will form the core for investigating it," says Thompson. "It addresses intervention and domestic and foreign based investigative techniques with a main focus on prevention and identifying terrorism."

The idea of federally mandated joint terrorism task forces — called JTTFs — is not solely a result of Sept. 11, Thompson explains. The first counterterrorism groups actually began in the 1990s as New York police sought to share resources and information about possible terrorist acts with the FBI. But since Sept. 11 efforts to speed up formalizing such task forces have been urgent — even required. The FBI has pledged to have task forces in place in each of its 56 field offices nationwide by the end of summer.

Recently one was established in Norfolk, says Thompson.

Thompson hopes to have the Richmond-based JTTF operable soon. "We're just starting off and we're going to gauge how busy we are. I don't want have bodies just hanging around," he says. But he's confident there will be much to learn and do.

"If there is an act of terrorism in the Richmond region there will be a great need to come in, identify what happened and build a prosecutorial case," he says, much like what the FBI did following the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.

"We want to ensure an open and comprehensive flow of intelligence. This kind of formalizes a mechanism to accomplish this," says Thompson. "We're trying to get rid of the Timothy McVeighs of the world and prevent and dismantle such groups." — B.W.

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